Another Gospel

Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works. – 2 John 1:9-11 ESV

John, as an apostle of Jesus Christ, took his role seriously. He had high regard for the teachings of Jesus and a strong sense of responsibility when it came to the wellbeing of the body of Christ. Like Paul, his fellow apostle, John was always on the lookout for those who would do harm to the church of Jesus Christ. They were both very aware that the enemy was out to destroy what Jesus had created. And Jesus, on the very night He was betrayed into the hands of the Jewish religious leaders, had made a heartfelt request of His Heavenly Father:

“I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.” – John 17:14-19 NLT

Jesus knew His followers were going to face intense opposition. Satan was going to throw all his resources against those who aligned themselves with Jesus Christ. When his attempt to thwart the redemptive plan of God by murdering the Son of God proved an abysmal failure, Satan would ramp up his efforts to stifle the Gospel by diluting and distorting it with lies and half-truths. But notice what Jesus prayed that night. He asked that His Father would keep His followers holy or set apart by the truth of His Word.

The truth of the Gospel message was going to be the key to resisting the lies of the enemy. And John warns his readers that anyone who did not remain committed to the teachings of Jesus never really knew Him. If they ended up rejecting the claims of Jesus to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world, it would be because they never truly believed in Him, to begin with. And John bluntly states that the rejection of Jesus as the incarnation of God in the flesh was to reject God Himself.

Anyone who wanders away from this teaching has no relationship with God. – 2 John 1:9 NLT

It is interesting to note that John describes these deserters of the Gospel as “running ahead.” He used the Greek word, parabainō, which conveys the idea of passing over or stepping around something. It is often translated as “transgress.” Under the influence of the false teachers, these people would choose to walk around the truths regarding Jesus and pass on to something new and seemingly better. Convinced that they were hearing new and improved information regarding Jesus, they would leave the teachings of the apostles behind. But John warns that, in doing so, they would be turning their backs on God. And John was not making this up. He was simply repeating what He had heard Jesus say.

“If I were to testify on my own behalf, my testimony would not be valid. But someone else is also testifying about me, and I assure you that everything he says about me is true. In fact, you sent investigators to listen to John the Baptist, and his testimony about me was true. Of course, I have no need of human witnesses, but I say these things so you might be saved. John was like a burning and shining lamp, and you were excited for a while about his message. But I have a greater witness than John—my teachings and my miracles. The Father gave me these works to accomplish, and they prove that he sent me. And the Father who sent me has testified about me himself. You have never heard his voice or seen him face to face, and you do not have his message in your hearts, because you do not believe me—the one he sent to you.” – John 5:31-38 NLT

The testimony of God verified the claims of Jesus. And no additional truth or new revelations from the lips of men were going to replace what God had declared about Jesus. “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him” (Luke 9:35 NLT).

John had no doubt as to Jesus’ deity and His claims of divinity. He had heard Jesus boldly claim, “I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me” (John 8:18 ESV). And John had been an eye-witness to not only the crucifixion of Jesus but also His miraculous resurrection. Everything had happened just as Jesus had said it would. He had risen from the dead, and John had seen it with his own eyes. 

So, John flatly asserts that if anyone suddenly decided that the truth as testified by God was false, they were the ones who were in error. John could well remember the extremely harsh words Jesus had spoken to the religious leaders of the Jews.

“Since you don’t know who I am, you don’t know who my Father is. If you knew me, you would also know my Father.” – John 8:19 NLT

A false understanding of Jesus and His identity will lead to a false understanding of God. If Jesus was just a man, then God is a liar. If Jesus did not resurrect from the dead, then God has provided no means by which men can be restored to a right relationship with Him. The apostle Paul pointed out the futility of faith in a Jesus who did not rise from the grave.

…if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. – 1 Corinthians 15:17-18 NLT

But Paul goes on to provide the truth regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection.

But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. – 1 Corinthians 15:19 NLT

And John fully supports Paul’s assertion when he states, “But anyone who remains in the teaching of Christ has a relationship with both the Father and the Son” (2 John 1:9 NLT). Those who remain committed to and dependent upon the promise of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone will not be disappointed. To know Jesus is to know the Father. That is why Jesus claimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!” (John 14:6-7 NLT).

John wanted his audience to know that they were to have nothing to do with those who preached a different version of Jesus. If their teaching contradicted that of Jesus and the apostles, the church was to have nothing to do with them.

If anyone comes to your meeting and does not teach the truth about Christ, don’t invite that person into your home or give any kind of encouragement. – 2 John 1:10 NLT

When it came to the Gospel, there was to be no place for toleration of alternate versions or new insights into who Jesus was and what He had come to do. The apostle Paul accused the church in Corinth of happily putting up with all kinds of false messages, including “a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed” (2 Corinthians 11:4 NLT). He issued a similar condemnation to the church in Galatia.

I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News. – Galatians 1:6 NLT

This was a real problem in the early days of the church, and it remains so even today. And the warning John gave to the members of the church in Asia Minor is just as relevant for us as it was for them.

Anyone who encourages such people becomes a partner in their evil work… – 2 John 1:11 NLT

The Gospel is the Gospel. It is not to be added to, distorted in any way, clarified, or amplified. In fact, the apostle Paul warns that anyone who tampers with the Gospel message as testified by God, proclaimed by Jesus, and preached by the apostles was to be cursed.

Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed. – Galatians 1:8-9 NLT

Serious and sober words because the message of the Gospel is the key to eternal life.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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So Easily Deceived.

I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. Indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things. Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God’s gospel to you free of charge?  – 2 Corinthians 11:1-7 ESV

The debate that Paul was waging with his adversaries in Corinth was about far more than his authority and who was going to get credit for the spiritual state of the Corinthian church. This was about deception. Those who were standing against Paul and his ministry were actually leading the Corinthians astray. They were proclaiming another Jesus, promoting a different spirit, and preaching a different gospel. And the thing that bothered Paul the most was that the Corinthians “put up with it readily enough” (2 Corinthians 11:4b ESV). Maybe it was because these “super-apostles,” as he sarcastically refers to them, were skilled in speech and the Corinthians found themselves easily swayed by their rhetoric. With Paul physically out of the picture, it was easy for them to tear about his message and discredit his ministry. He was not here to defend himself. Which is what led him to write this letter. And Paul is forced to remind them of their long-standing relationship with him.

He begs them to bear with a “little foolishness” as he recounts his role in their “betrothal” to Christ. What makes it all so foolish is the fact that he is having to take time to remind them at all. Paul had been the one to introduce them to Christ. Like a father of a bride, he had given them in marriage to Jesus and his goal was to keep them pure until the day their marriage was consummated. It was not enough to Paul that they came to know Christ, he wanted them to remain pure until the day He returned for them or called them home. And yet, he found that they were easily deceived. He even compares them to Eve, who had been deceived and led astray from the truth of God by Satan in the garden. Her deception resulted in her banishment from presence of God. And Paul fears that the Corinthians, due to their willing reception of the false teaching of his critics, would be “led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3b ESV).

It is important to note that as Satan led Eve to question the veracity and reliability of God’s word, so these false teachers were causing the Corinthians to question the very heart and soul of the gospel that Paul had preached. They were offering a different gospel that promoted a different Jesus. While Paul does not elaborate on what their message was, it is clear that they were leading the Corinthians astray. The apostle John describes these kinds of people as having the spirit of the Antichrist.

But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here. – 1 John 4:3 NLT

I say this because many deceivers have gone out into the world. They deny that Jesus Christ came in a real body. Such a person is a deceiver and an antichrist. – 2 John 1:7 NLT

Whether these people were denying the incarnation of Jesus or questioning His death and resurrection, we do not know. But it is clear that their message was in direct opposition to the one that Paul had preached. And they had found the Corinthians to be a willing and receptive audience. This was particularly disturbing to Paul, because he had sacrificed so much to ensure that they heard the unadulterated gospel. He brought them the good news of Jesus, free of charge, with no strings attached. He had not come to them demanding that they idolize him or treat him like a god. He humbled himself so that they might be exalted to a right relationship with God through a knowledge of Jesus Christ. He took a backseat, playing the role of the humble mouthpiece for God. He had simply been the messenger, the bearer of good news. And now, to hear that they were so easily accepting another version of the gospel, was disturbing and disconcerting. But Paul was not one to sit back and let his work among the Corinthians go to waste. He loved them too much.

The gospel is always under attack, and most often from within. Satan is the great deceiver and he would much rather promote a slightly false version of the truth than an outright lie. He tends to blend truth with just enough falsehood to make it palatable, but just as deadly. He is more than willing to have people accept Jesus, as long as it is a slightly different Jesus. He loves the idea of a Jesus who was a good man and lived a life worth emulating. He likes to promote Jesus as the great teacher and moral prophet. He prefers a Jesus who was nothing more than a martyr to a cause. But the Jesus Satan promotes is never the Son of God and Savior of the world. He is never the selfless, spotless sacrifice that paid the penalty for man’s sins. He is never the source of man’s justification and the power behind his sanctification. He is never the resurrected and ascended King of kings and Lord of lords who sits at the right hand of God the Father and is one day going to return. That is the Jesus of the gospel. And any other Jesus is a false Jesus.

Not Man’s Gospel.

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me. – Galatians 1:9-24 ESV

Paul pulled no punches when it came to his feelings about those who were preaching another gospel. These individuals were altering the nature of the gospel by adding conditions or extra requirements to it. And Paul would have none of it. In fact, he said, “even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8 ESV). Whatever authority these individuals claimed, Paul rejected. He deemed them anathema or under the judgment of God. This was serious business to Paul.The gospel was God’s message and not man’s. No one had the authority or right to alter the message of the gospel in any way. Adding to it, detracting from it, or preaching a different version of it were all equally dangerous in Paul’s mind. And this wasn’t about getting the approval of men. Paul wasn’t out to please anyone. He wasn’t in this to win friends and influence enemies. He was out to transform lives with the truth of the gospel of God as revealed in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And he had received his commission from Jesus Christ Himself. First and foremost, he was a servant of Christ, not of men. Paul often referred to himself as a slave of Christ. He did exactly what Christ had called him to do and his faithfulness to that calling often left him with more enemies than friends. His commission to carry the gospel to the Gentiles had cost him dearly. At one point, he gave a detailed description of his sufferings to the believers in Corinth:

I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. – 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 NLT

Paul wasn’t in this for popularity. He wasn’t out to win the approval of men. And the gospel he preached wasn’t something he learned from the lips of men. He had received it as a direct revelation from Christ. And to emphasize his God-given authority to preach the gospel in its original, unaltered form, he relayed the details of his conversion and commission. “I received my message from no human source, and no one taught me. Instead, I received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12 NLT). The remarkable thing about Paul’s conversion was the radical redirection it gave his life. At one point, his mission in life had been to destroy the followers of Christ, discrediting their “Messiah” and exposing their good news as nothing but a pipe dream. But God had had other plans for Paul. “But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by his marvelous grace. Then it pleased him to reveal his Son to me so that I would proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles” (Galatians 1:15-16 NLT).

His encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus had given his life new meaning and purpose. His life goals had been irrevocably altered and his mission had gone from persecution to proclamation. He was transformed from mercenary to missionary. And his reputation spread throughout the church, even reaching the apostles in Jerusalem. Even before they had met Paul, they had heard about him. “All they knew was that people were saying, ‘The one who used to persecute us is now preaching the very faith he tried to destroy!’ And they praised God because of me” (Galatians 1:23-24 NLT).

What’s Paul’s point? What is he trying to prove? The issue has to do with the message, its messenger and the authority behind both. Those who were preaching a different gospel were claiming to have authority to do so. But Paul trumped their authority, by stating that his message came directly from the risen Christ. His commission was God-given. Long before he had met the apostles, he had been preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. He had been sent by God, not the church in Jerusalem. There was no middle man, no human court of commissioning. What Paul preached had come directly from the lips of Jesus Himself. And no one could claim a higher authority or argue that their message had more validity than Paul’s. The gospel message is not up to interpretation. It needs no alteration or improvement. It requires no human intervention or clever repackaging. It doesn’t need to be softened, added to, rewritten, glitzed up, or glossed over – “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16 ESV). It is the gospel of God, not man. And that is what makes it life-altering, sin-forgiving, righteousness-giving and holiness-producing.

A Contrary Gospel.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. – Galatians 1:6-10 ESV

Paul is astonished. It had probably only been a few months since he had been to the province of Galatia and helped launch the first house churches. But now he had received word that those who had accepted Christ were beginning to abandon the gospel message they had heard for another one. There is no doubt that Paul had made clear to them the gospel message. He had probably told them the very same thing he had said to the believers in Corinth:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. – 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 ESV

The heart of the gospel is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. That is what Paul believed and that is what he preached. He had had a personal encounter with Jesus after His death. He knew the resurrection was true. He knew the gospel to be powerful because it had radically transformed his own life. And so, when he received news that the believers in Galatia were “so quickly deserting” the gospel for a “different” one, he was amazed and appalled. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

The Greek word Paul uses is μετατίθημι (metatithēmi) and it can mean “to transfer one’s self or suffer one’s self to be transferred” (“G3346 – metatithēmi (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org). Under the influence of others, the believers in Galatia had begun to transpose or translate their allegiance from the gospel that Paul had preached to another version of the gospel. Paul called it ἕτερος (heteros) – another gospel. It was different in nature, form, class, and kind. It wasn’t an expansion of Paul’s gospel, but a different one altogether. It was a distortion or perversion of what Paul and the apostles had preached. Yet those who were preaching this contrary gospel didn’t make that distinction. They were promoting it as the gospel of Jesus Christ. They were pawning it off as the real thing and that is what made it so dangerous.

Paul was so adamant in his stance against these purveyors of counterfeit gospels, that he desired them to be accursed – ἀνάθεμα (anathema). In essence, Paul was delivering them over to God’s judgment. The Greek word Paul used means “a thing devoted to God without hope of being redeemed” (“G331 – anathema (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org). These are strong words from Paul and they convey how seriously he took the gospel. It was not something to be toyed with, added to, expounded upon or distorted in any way.

Paul was not out to win friends and influence enemies. He was out to preach the good news of salvation made possible through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He was determined to preach a message of life change and transformation. His was a message of faith, not works. It was based on the law of the Spirit of life, not the Mosaic law. The gospel that Paul preached made man completely dependent upon the grace and mercy of God. No one could save themselves. No one was capable of earning favor with God through human effort. And anyone who taught that man could achieve righteousness and earn justification with God apart from faith in Christ alone was preaching a false and deadly gospel.

Paul wasn’t out to please men. If he had been, he wouldn’t have preached the message he did. No one likes to hear that they are sinners and that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 ESV). No one enjoys being told that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). Who wants to be told that they are under God’s wrath and totally incapable of doing anything about it? And yet, that is the message Paul preached, over and over again. He was not telling people what they wanted to hear. He was telling them what they needed to hear: the good news of God’s grace made available through the death of His Son.

There are many gospels today. Some are slight variations on the real gospel. Others are complete aberrations, distortions of the truth of God masquerading as hope. They tell people what they want to hear. They make false promises. They take salvation out of the hands of God and place it in the hands of men. Religious rule-keeping becomes the means of redemption. Self-effort replaces dying to self. Men become their own saviors and salvation becomes little more than escape from the troubles of this life rather than the promise of eternal life. False gospels almost always show up in the form of either legalism or license. They promote self-salvation or self-gratification. They become all about living up to a set of rules or living as if there are no rules. Both are false. Both are dangerous. And Paul would have us avoid them like the plague.

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Delivered and Determined.

Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers who are with me,

To the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. – Galatians 1:1-5 ESV

Paul wrote this letter to believers living in the Roman province of Galatia. The churches there were likely founded by Paul on his first missionary journey, so he had a vested interest in the spiritual well-being of their congregations. It seems that they were under the influence of the Judaizers, a group of Jews who claimed to be Christ-followers but who demanded that all Gentile converts follow the Mosaic law and honor all the Jewish rituals and regulations. These individuals seem to have popped up wherever Paul planted churches and their presence caused much confusion and consternation to the new converts that Paul left behind. And because of Paul’s constant travels, he was left no other recourse than to address this issue through the use of letters.

Because of the vital importance of the content of his letter, Paul opens up with a brief defense of his apostleship. There seemed to be no shortage of individuals who were willing to question or even deny the validity of his claim to being an apostle. After all, every other apostle had been a disciple of Jesus. They had been personally chosen by Him and spent three years of their lives following and learning from Him. But Paul was a late-comer. He claimed to have been appointed to his position as an apostle by the resurrected Lord. Luke records the testimony of Paul as he shared it before King Agrippa:

I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” And I said, “Who are you, Lord?” And the Lord said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” – Acts 26:12-18 ESV

Paul’s fantastic “Damascus road experience” was constantly coming under question by those who opposed him. They denied he had the right to speak on behalf of Christ as one of His apostles. I am sure they raised questions such as, “Who can verify your claim?” or “How are we to know that any of this ever took place?” They most likely denied Paul’s credentials and raised concerns about his former lifestyle as a pawn of the high priest and his personal persecutor of Christians. But Paul vehemently defended his apostleship in virtually every one of his letters. And this one is no exception. He opens up by describing himself as “Paul, an apostle.” The title “apostle” meant “a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders” (“G652 – apostolos (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org). It was a common Greek word and was not unique to Christianity. Which is why Paul quickly clarified that he was an apostle “not from men nor through men” (Galatians 1:1 ESV). In other words, he had not been sent by men or had not received his message from men. What he shared he had received directly from the lips of Jesus Himself. Just a few verses later in this letter, Paul will explain, “I did not receive it [the gospel] from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12 ESV).

Luke records that immediately after Paul’s conversion, Jesus had appeared to a disciple names Ananias and told him to go to the house where Paul was and lay hands on him so that he might regain his sight. Jesus told Ananias, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15 ESV).

There was no doubt in Paul’s mind that he was a messenger sent from Jesus. Which is why he boldly claimed that he was an apostle “through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Galatians 1:1 ESV). The Greek preposition Paul used is dia and it can mean “by reason of” or “on account of” (“G1223 – dia (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org). Paul was not a self-proclaimed apostle, but a God-ordained one, by virtue of the resurrected Christ. His salvation had been made possible by God and his message came directly from God. He will spend the rest of this letter defending not only his apostleship, but the gospel itself, because that was what was really under attack.

Paul’s desire is that the recipients of his letter enjoy the grace and peace of God. He wants them to comprehend the magnitude of the gift they had received. Jesus Christ had given himself for their sins so that they might be delivered from the present evil age. The world in which these new believers lived was hostile. It was anti-Christian and intolerant of their beliefs. Many of them had already suffered persecution for their beliefs. They had been rejected by family members and ostracized from society. They were under constant pressure to give up their faith or simply compromise it. We face the same threat today. But we must remember that we have been delivered from this age. Yes, we are still here, but our future is secure. We have been promised by God an eternal existence in His presence, free from the effects of sin – no pain, no sorrow, no death. Yet as we wait for that day, we are to live as children of God. The apostle John reminds us, “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3 NLT).

Paul’s call to his readers will be for them to remain steadfast. He wanted them to remain committed to the truth of the gospel and faithful to the call of Christ on their lives. It would not be easy, but it would be well worth the effort in the long run. Regardless of what they might be experiencing, they were smack dab in the middle of God’s will for their lives.

 

Staying Power.

So you must remain faithful to what you have been taught from the beginning. If you do, you will remain in fellowship with the Son and with the Father. – 1 John 2:24 NLT

There are always going to be reasons for believers to lose hope and doubt their faith. The enemy is real, his attacks are relentless and the pressure to doubt God is ever-present. John knew that those to whom he wrote were faced with all kinds of questions regarding their beliefs. They were having the very foundation of their faith shaken by those who claimed to be their brothers and sisters in Christ. Their fellowship had been rocked by the recent departure of a group who no longer believed what they believed. They had a different view about Jesus. At first glance, their perspective probably hadn’t sounded all that different, but over time it became clear that they were espousing a radically different doctrine regarding the identity and role of Jesus. Evidently, they had come to believe that Jesus was nothing more than a man. He was not the Son of God. He was not God in human flesh. In other words, they were rejecting the very idea of the incarnation. And it seems clear from John’s letter, that they were even doubting their need for a Savior, because they were denying their own sinfulness. John called this “the spirit of the antichrist” (1 John 4:3 ESV). Their views regarding Jesus were more than just opinions, they were heresy, dangerous and destructive teachings that undermined the very foundation of the faith and denied the Word of God. John called them what they were: liars. “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ?” (1 John 2:22 ESV). To deny that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah and Savior of the world, was to deny that He was God. It was to disagree with what God said about Jesus and what Jesus claimed about Himself. It was to reject the teaching of the apostles, like John, who had been eye-witnesses of not only His earthly ministry, but His death and resurrection.

So John gives his struggling flock two ways for staying strong in the face of unrelenting attacks on their faith. The first was that they must remain faithful to what they had been taught. They must consider the source. John wrote, “So you must remain faithful to what you have been taught from the beginning. If you do, you will remain in fellowship with the Son and with the Father” (1 John 2:24 NLT). The Message paraphrase puts it this way: “Stay with what you heard from the beginning, the original message. Let it sink into your life. If what you heard from the beginning lives deeply in you, you will live deeply in both Son and Father.” Where did that original message come from? The apostles. They had been the messengers sent by Jesus to spread the good news regarding the gift of eternal life made possible by His death on the cross. They had brought the message of forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God that Jesus’ death and resurrection had made possible. And their message hinged on the reality of Jesus being the sinless Son of God. He was NOT just a man who lived a good life and died a martyr’s death. He was God’s own Son, and He had taken on human flesh, lived a sinless life, died a sinner’s death, as a payment to satisfy the just penalty required by a righteous and holy God. That is what the apostles had been taught. That is what they had shared. That is what the recipients of John’s letter had originally believed, and it had radically changed their lives. So John was encouraging them to remain faithful to what they had heard. There would be plenty of other opinions about God. There would be other views regarding Jesus and the way of salvation. But Jesus had said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). He had boldly claimed, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25 ESV). And John, who had personally seen Jesus in His post-crucifixion, resurrected state, had written, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 ESV).

But there was one more thing John told his readers to remember. “But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you” (1 John 2:27 NLT). They had experienced the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus had promised. When they had believed what the apostles had taught, it had been confirmed by the filling of the Spirit. John reminded them that because the Spirit of God lived or remained within them, they could know that what they had been taught by the apostles had been true. They didn’t need any “new” teaching. “…so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ” (1 John 2:27 NLT). This did not mean that they were omniscient or all-knowing. It simply meant that they already knew the truth regarding Jesus and His claim to be the Son of God. The very presence of the Holy Spirit within them was the proof. Just like those to whom John was writing, we have the Word of God and the Spirit of God. We have the testimony of the apostles and the presence of the Spirit. We know the truth. We know Jesus – the way, the truth, and the life. He is who He who claimed to be. The Word of God declares it. The apostles gave their lives to defend it. And the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God makes it impossible to deny it.

Truth Is NOT Relative.

I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. – 1 John 2:21 ESV

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). That’s a rather exclusive, intolerant and non-subjective statement. Jesus claims to be THE way, THE truth, and THE life – not just one of many options or alternatives. Nobody gets to the Father without going through Jesus. And when John tells his readers that they know the truth, He is referring not only to the teaching concerning Jesus, but to the person of Jesus Himself. They know Him personally. They know Him as He who is from the beginning. He is the life. He is eternal life. He is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. He is the propitiation for their sins and their advocate before the Father. They know THE truth. And anyone who teaches anything other than that is a liar. No matter how reasonable what they say may sound. There are not variations of the truth. There is only THE truth – Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul had to deal with this problem in the early days of the church. He wrote to the believers in Galatia, warning them, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7 ESV). There were those who were presenting a different version of the truth. They were selling a variation of the truth which was really just a lie. And Paul was very blunt in his assessment of these individuals. “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9 ESV). A contrary or contradictory gospel is a false gospel. Any good news that does not present Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life is ultimately bad news. And yet, we are so susceptible to subjective truth. So were the believers in Corinth. Paul had to reprimand them for their unhealthy tolerance of alternative truth narratives. “You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed” (2 Corinthians 11:4 NLT). Paul feared that their “pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent” (2 Corinthians 11:3 NLT). Rather than keep their focus on the truth about Jesus, they would allow themselves to be distracted and deceived by the lies of the enemy. If you recall, when Satan tempted Eve, he didn’t totally contradict the word of God, he simply twisted the truth and turned it into a subtly deceptive lie. He got Eve to doubt God’s word, not reject it. And that is what the enemy does with us regarding the truth. His goal is not to get us to reject it outright, but to simply distort it or dilute it by creating a more acceptable version. But if it denies Jesus as the way, the truth and the life, it is unacceptable. If it presents Jesus as one of many ways to God, it is a lie. Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). So either He was a liar or He was telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And John has gone out of his way to remind his readers that they know the truth. They know Jesus. They know Him who is from the beginning. As a result, they know the Father. They have a relationship with God because of what Jesus has done. And their sins have been forgiven. They are strong. The word abides in them. And they have overcome the evil one.

The lies are all around us. The enemy is constantly attempting to get us to accept false versions of the truth – distorted variations on the theme. But we know THE truth. It is Jesus. Jesus the Son of God. Jesus, God in human flesh. Jesus the sinless sacrifice. Jesus the payment for our penalty. Jesus the resurrected Christ. Jesus our advocate. Jesus our coming King. He alone is the way, the truth and the life. No one comes into a right relationship with God the Father but through Him. There is no other truth. There is no other way.

The Incarnation.

It has been interesting to see some of the responses to my recent posts concerning the book of First John. Much of what John was dealing with in his letter head to do with heresies entering the early Church. As Christianity spread, so did the variety and numbers of different interpretations of the gospel. The book of First John is a pastoral letter addressed to believers and designed to both warn and encourage them. His intention was to provide them with assurance concerning their beliefs in Christ. Throughout the letter John used the phrase, “by this we know.” He wanted them to know, without a shadow of doubt, that Jesus Christ was the Messiah. But He was much more than just a human savior, an earthly deliverer who would provide them with victory over their earthly enemies. He came to be their Savior from sin and their means for enjoying a right relationship with God. For generations, the Jews had believed that the Mosaic Law was the key to achieving a right relationship with God. Human effort had been the accepted means by which men could find favor with God. The sacrificial system, given by God, was used by men to have their sins cleansed and forgiven. The very fact that the sacrificial system existed was proof that men were incapable of keeping God’s commands. Paul writes, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,  so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:20-21 ESV). The law revealed man’s sin, but could do nothing to remove it. The law simply exposed man’s inability to meet God’s holy standards. Which is why God provided a Savior.

But it is at that point that so many continue to stumble today. I have received comments from some who refuse to accept the deity of Christ. They argue that Jesus was nothing more than a man, created by God. This is not a new view. John battled the same errant belief in his day. One of the comments I received stated, “‘And the Word was made flesh’ talks about the Word or the Speaking which became a reality, namely a man of flesh and blood, who after his resurrection proved to his disciples that he was not a Spirit (though God is Spirit) and told them so.” It is subtle, but what he is saying is that Jesus was nothing more than a man into whom the Word or Spirit of God entered. He was flesh and blood. But the disturbing point about this teaching is that it rejects the deity of Christ. For John, the deity of Christ was a non-negotiable ingredient to the gospel. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life…” (1 John 1:1 ESV). He was not speaking of some disembodied Spirit or force, but of Jesus Christ Himself. He was from the beginning. He was the eternal life. As John states in his gospel, “He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:2-3 ESV).

There are those today who still reject the deity of Christ. They refuse to accept Him as God. This was the same problem Jesus ran into during His earthly ministry. On one occasion, as Jesus was walking through the temple in Jerusalem, the Jews demand to know if He is the Messiah. Jesus makes a simple, but direct comment: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30 ESV). And the immediate response of the Jews was to pick up stones and kill Him. Why? They provided the answer. “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:33 ESV). The Jews clearly understood Jesus’ claim to be God. He was not just claiming to be a man who had the Spirit of God within Him. He and God the Father were one. It is Jesus’ deity, miraculously blended with His humanity, that made Him a fitting sacrifice for the sins of man. To believe anything else is to believe another gospel. If we believe that we can simply emulate the life of Christ and share in the divine Spirit as He did, we miss the point of His life, death, and resurrection. The belief that God became flesh is essential to the gospel. Yet, as in John’s day, there are those who refuse to accept it.  Again, one of the recent comments I received put it this way: “Having come down in the form of a god, does not mean Jesus came down as the God of gods.” In other words, Jesus was NOT God, but a little god. And according to this teaching, we can become a little god by following His example. But this is NOT the gospel. And the apostle Paul had strong words for those who would attempt to explain away the true essence of the gospel message. “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:6-9 ESV).