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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The Truth Vs. The Lie

For many deceivers have gone out into the world, people who do not confess Jesus as Christ coming in the flesh. This person is the deceiver and the antichrist! Watch out, so that you do not lose the things we have worked for, but receive a full reward. – 2 John 1:7-8 ESV

John is encouraging his readers to live their lives according to the truth of the Gospel. And at the core of the gospel message can be found the love of God. The “good news” is that God sent His Son to be the payment for mankind’s sin debt. Jesus Christ took on human flesh so that He might do what no other human being has ever been able to do: Obey every single law given by God. And Jesus did so willingly and perfectly.  The apostle Paul points out the necessity for Jesus to become a man so that He might obey God’s commands “in the flesh.”

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. – Romans 8:3 NLT

The author of Hebrews supports Paul’s point, adding that Jesus became like us so that He might become the acceptable substitute for us.

…it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. – Hebrews 2:17 NLT

And Paul expands the scope of God’s actions by pointing out that it was Jesus’ sinlessness or purity that made Him an acceptable sacrifice to God. He paid for our sins with His life and provided a means by which we can be restored to a right relationship with God.

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

And all of this was done because God “so loved the world” (John 3:16). The truly amazing thing is that God’s love was despite us, not because of us. He loved us when we were at our worst. As Paul points out in Romans, it was “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 ESV). And it is that same kind of selfless, sacrificial love that we are to share with those around us, especially to those within the body of Christ. We are to live our lives according to the truth of the Gospel – in keeping with the love displayed through the Gospel.

But John had some words of warning for the local fellowship to whom he was writing. He wanted them to recognize the very real threat of those who would seek to distort the truth. John had been around long enough to know that the message of the Gospel was under constant attack, from without and from within. There were those outside the church who opposed the truth regarding Jesus Christ. They rejected the claims that He was the Messiah and the Savior of the world. They denied the reality of the resurrection. To them, Christianity was nothing more than just another cult or sect of Judaism. But even the Jews themselves took issue with this movement they labeled “the way.” To them, Christians were, at best, a nuisance and, at worst, a very real threat to their religious system. So, the Jews persecuted Christians wherever and whenever they could.

But the greatest threats to the faith usually come from within. And the agents behind these threats are subtle and sinister, disguising themselves as purveyors of truth and beacons of light. But notice that John describes these people as “deceivers.” They claim to be fellow followers of Christ, yet all the while denying His deity.  John pulls no punches when he states that they “do not confess Jesus as Christ coming in the flesh” (2 John 1:7 ESV). The New Living Translation puts it this way: “They deny that Jesus Christ came in a real body.

The truth regarding the incarnation of Jesus was under constant attack. And there were those who, while claiming to be followers of Jesus, regularly denied the teaching that Jesus took on human flesh. And you can see why this bothered John. If Jesus did not become a man, then the Gospel lost its power. It was the humanity of Jesus that made Him the perfect sacrifice for the sins of man. Yet these deceivers were eliminating the possibility of the incarnation. In fact, John talked about the impact of these false teachers in his first letter.

For there are many false prophets in the world. This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. – 1 John 4:2 NLT

So, what were these “deceivers” saying about Jesus? Obviously, they denied His humanity. They were claiming that Jesus, the man, had not been born of the Father and was, therefore, not divine. By denying the deity of Jesus, they were contradicting the testimony of God Himself, and John pointed this out in his previous letter.

All who believe in the Son of God know in their hearts that this testimony is true. Those who don’t believe this are actually calling God a liar because they don’t believe what God has testified about his Son. – 1 John 5:10 NLT

These false teachers denied that Jesus was God’s Anointed One who had come in the flesh. And John labels anyone propagating these lies as “the deceiver and the antichrist!” (2 John 1:7 ESV). In essence, John accuses these people of being Satan himself. John remembered how Jesus had described Satan: “He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44 NLT).

In his second letter to the believers in Thessalonica, Paul warned them about a future day when the Antichrist, the man of lawlessness, would appear on the scene.

This man will come to do the work of Satan with counterfeit power and signs and miracles. He will use every kind of evil deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them. So God will cause them to be greatly deceived, and they will believe these lies. Then they will be condemned for enjoying evil rather than believing the truth. – 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 NLT

This end-times character will show up on the world scene, exhibiting great power and utilizing deception to turn the world away from the truth of the Gospel. As a pawn of Satan, the Antichrist will convince people to reject the truth that could save them – the truth regarding God’s love as displayed through the incarnation of His Son, and demonstrated by His sacrificial death on the cross as the payment for their sin debt.

And while the Antichrist is not scheduled to appear until the period known as the Great Tribulation, his spirit is alive and well. Even in John’s day, this deceptive influence was making its way through the local church as these false teachers spread around the world, disseminating their half-truths and pious-sounding platitudes about Jesus. That is why John warned his readers to “Watch out, so that you do not lose the things we have worked for, but receive a full reward” (2 John 1:8 ESV). 

But what is John saying here? Is he inferring that the believers to whom he is writing can somehow lose their salvation? John refers to them losing “the things we have worked for.” He and the rest of the apostles had spent their lives spreading the truth of the Gospel all around the known world. They had diligently and faithfully preached the life-transformative power of the gospel to save and sanctify. John had fully believed and taught the words of Jesus: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV).

He wanted his fellow Christ-followers to experience all that Jesus had died to deliver to them. He longed for them to experience the abundant life Jesus had promised. But if they bought into the lies of the false teachers and began to question the very deity of Jesus, they would find themselves doubting the very truth of the Gospel and questioning their own salvation.

John is in no way suggesting that Christians can lose their reward. They are at no risk of missing out on eternity. In fact, it seems that John is warning that if you accept the lies of the false teachers, you never really believed the truth of the Gospel to begin with. Your faith was false all along. Which brings us back to love, the topic John covered in the previous verses of his letter. Love is the driving force of the Gospel message, as illustrated in God sending His own Son in the likeness of human flesh. The apostle Paul points out that Jesus…“gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8 NLT).

And He did it out of love. If you fail to believe that, you have failed to experience the love of God. And you will never experience the abundant life Jesus came to offer. And if you deny that Jesus was God in the flesh, you have no hope of ever enjoying the ultimate reward of 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

The Highway of Holiness

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.– Matthew 7:12-14 ESV

Verse 12 has come to be commonly referred to as The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It is essentially a summation of all that Jesus has said, and acts as a bookend to verse 17 of chapter five:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

These two verses comprise what is known as an inclusio, bracketing all that is contained between them and forming a single unit of thought. The over-arching theme has been Jesus’ treatment of the Law and the Prophets or the Old Testament revelation. Here, in verse 12, Jesus brings His thoughts to a conclusion, summarizing all that He has said in one succinct and simple statement: So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them. This is the law of love, and it supersedes and fully expresses all that was written in the law. Paul summarizes it well:

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. – Romans 13:8-10 ESV

He simplified it, even more, when he wrote to the believers in Galatia:

For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Galatians 5:14 NLT

And not long before Jesus was to go to the cross, He would tell His disciples:

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” – John 13:34-35 NLT

But it is essential that we understand what Jesus is saying. In our sinful, self-centered state, it would be easy to draw a faulty conclusion from His words that allows us to focus on what we want from others. In other words, if we want our back scratched, we will reluctantly scratch someone else’s back, expecting them to do the same to us in return. Our outwardly, gracious actions would be selfishly motivated. But that is not the kind of love Jesus is talking about. He is referring to a selfless kind of love that expects and demands nothing in return. It is focused on giving, not getting. The apostle Paul warned against turning the law of love into some kind of self-centered mechanism to get what you want.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:1-4 ESV

No one enjoys being hated, so why would we choose to hate others? There is no joy in being taken advantage of, so why would we treat someone else that way? If the idea of someone having an affair with your spouse offends you, it should also prevent you from ever considering doing the same thing to someone else. Jesus’ statement is not intended to be self-centered but other-focused. He is telling us that the law was essentially about loving God and loving others, and not yourself. And those who have been blessed or approved by God will love as He loves. They will do as Jesus did, which Paul sums up in his letter to the Philippians:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. – Philippians 2:5-8 ESV

Jesus knows that the life of love and self-sacrifice to which He is calling His audience would not be easy. He is fully aware that His words have been difficult to hear and that what He has been commanding them to do would be impossible to pull off. The crowds who had followed Jesus to the hillside in Galilee had been attracted by His miracles. They were enamored by His ability to heal the sick and cast out demons. There was something attractive about this man who could do the impossible. But now, they were hearing that He expected the impossible of them.

He was teaching that if they wanted to be part of God’s kingdom, they were going to have to live radically different lives. Their status as descendants of Abraham was not going to be enough. Their adherence to man-made laws and religious rules was not going to win them favor with God. In fact, Jesus breaks the news that the path to God was actually narrow and quite difficult, and the number of those who take that path would be quite small. But, in contrast, the path to hell is like a broad, sprawling avenue, filled with countless people who have chosen that way because it is easy and rather enjoyable.

Jesus is letting His listeners know that the way to God was not what they thought. It was not going to be through keeping the law. It would not be due to their ethnic identity as Jews and descendants of Abraham. Jesus is presenting another, exclusive way to God: Himself.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6 ESV

He would also present Himself as the gate or door that provides the sole means by which men and women might be saved and find entrance into God’s kingdom.

“Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures.” – John 10:9 NLT

Obviously, Jesus did not believe in universalism, the false, yet popular, doctrine that teaches that all will eventually be welcomed into heaven by God because of His love. Jesus promoted Himself as the sole means by which anyone is made right with God. He is the way, not just one of many ways. He alone has satisfied the just demands of God and paid for the sins of mankind with His own life. And He offers Himself to any and all who will receive Him as their Savior and sin substitute.

Those who accept His selfless sacrifice on their behalf receive the forgiveness of their sins and enjoy a restored relationship with God the Father. But Jesus warns that few will take Him up on His offer because the gate is small. It’s narrow and limited. It requires faith. And the path beyond that gate is difficult.

The Christian life is not an easy road. Salvation provides us with freedom from condemnation for our sins but does not provide us with a trouble-free life on this earth. We will face tribulation and difficulty. Living out our faith in the midst of a fallen world will be trying at times. Too often, Christianity is sold as a panacea for all of life’s problems. We falsely advertise faith in Christ as a solution to difficulty and the key to happiness. It explains why a book with the title, Your Best Life Now can become an international best-seller. But that is not what Jesus came to bring.

Jesus did not die in order for us to have our best life now. Yes, He did promise to give us life and life more abundantly, but not our own terms. The real benefit we receive from placing our faith in Christ is not our best life now, but eternal life to come. We have been promised a future sinless state, free from pain, suffering, sorrow, and tears. We have been guaranteed a place in God’s kingdom and no one can take it from us. So, with that in mind, we are encouraged to view our life on this earth as temporary. We are on a journey to a better place. We are on a path that will eventually lead us to our eternal home. This is why the author of Hebrews encourages us to, “strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us” (Hebrews 12:1 NLT).

The prophet, Isaiah, tells us of another path, a highway that will lead through the barren and desolate land, a highway of holiness. It will provide a path for the redeemed into God’s earthly kingdom, where His Son will reign in Jerusalem. Those who enter the narrow way now and walk the path provided by Jesus’ death and resurrection, will one day walk that Highway of Holiness, free from sorrow and sin.

And a great road will go through that once deserted land. It will be named the Highway of Holiness. Evil-minded people will never travel on it. It will be only for those who walk in God’s ways; fools will never walk there. Lions will not lurk along its course, nor any other ferocious beasts. There will be no other dangers. Only the redeemed will walk on it. Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return. They will enter Jerusalem singing, crowned with everlasting joy. Sorrow and mourning will disappear, and they will be filled with joy and gladness. – Isaiah 35:8-10 NLT

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

As Good As Your Word

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. – Matthew 5:33-37 ESV

God puts a high value on truthfulness. He keeps His word and He expects those who belong to Him to do the same. In Jesus’ day, oaths were commonplace and used as proof or validation that what one had said was true. If you made a statement, you would back it up with an oath, saying something like, “By the temple, I swear that what I am saying is true.” If you were promising to do something, you might add an oath, like “I swear by Yahweh.” Basically, you were adding credence to your words by using something of greater significance and value as proof of your sincerity.

But there were several problems with this practice. First of all, God had long ago warned the people of Israel to value and protect His name. God’s name was directly tied to His character. To profane or misuse His name was to treat God with dishonor. So, God had said, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7 ESV). What comes to our minds when we read that passage is the use of foul or inappropriate language that invokes the name of God.  And while that most certainly is a way of using His name in vain, the original context had to do with using God’s name in any way that brought contempt or dishonor to His character.

Over in the book of Leviticus, we read: “You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:12 ESV). Don’t miss the word “falsely.” If you made a statement and used God’s name as a form of guarantee, and then it became clear that what you had said was untrue, you were guilty of profaning His name. You would have lied in the name of God, and this was clearly forbidden. And yet, in Jesus’ day, it had become a commonplace occurrence.

The religious leaders had come up with an elaborate system of curses that provided loopholes and escape clauses so that your oath didn’t have to be binding. In essence, they developed a hierarchy of oaths, where some were more binding than others. If you swore by God’s name, it was considered binding. If you swore by heaven and earth, it was not. Swearing toward Jerusalem was binding, but swearing by Jerusalem was not. And the problem in all of this was the underlying lack of truthfulness. That is what Jesus is trying to expose. Listen to the harsh accusations He would later level at the religious leaders.

“Blind guides! What sorrow awaits you! For you say that it means nothing to swear ‘by God’s Temple,’ but that it is binding to swear ‘by the gold in the Temple.’ Blind fools! Which is more important—the gold or the Temple that makes the gold sacred? And you say that to swear ‘by the altar’ is not binding, but to swear ‘by the gifts on the altar’ is binding. How blind! For which is more important—the gift on the altar or the altar that makes the gift sacred? When you swear ‘by the altar,’ you are swearing by it and by everything on it. And when you swear ‘by the Temple,’ you are swearing by it and by God, who lives in it. And when you swear ‘by heaven,’ you are swearing by the throne of God and by God, who sits on the throne.” – Matthew 23:16-22 NLT

You see, the Jews believed that it was their obligation to back up their promises with oaths. That was their distorted perception of the Old Testament teaching concerning oaths. In their mind, making an oath kept you honest, at least in the eyes of others. One of the problems we face in reading these verses is that we don’t quite understand what it means to make an oath. You may have heard someone say something like, “I swear on a stack of Bibles,” but you wouldn’t put a lot of stock in a statement like that. If someone were to say to you, “I swear on my life,” it wouldn’t necessarily provide you with any more confidence that what they were saying was true. Even if we hear someone say, “I swear to God,” we don’t automatically give that person’s words more credence or credibility. In fact, we might doubt their word even more. Someone who has to back up his word with some form of oath is probably lacking in integrity and questionable as to their reliability.

Jesus is exposing the underlying issue of dishonesty – a lack of truthfulness. He tells His audience to back up their promises with action. Do what they say they are going to do. Speak truth. And the truth is, if you’re honest, an oath won’t be necessary. Be a man of your word. Be a woman who is known for integrity of speech. No exaggeration. No half-truths. No broken promises or false commitments. Jesus puts it in easy-to-understand terms: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’” (Matthew 5:37 ESV).

You’re probably familiar with the term: “My word is my bond.” It simply means that my word should be the guarantee, and no written contract outlining obligations or penalties is necessary. What I say, I will do. What I promise, I will fulfill. My word is truth. That takes integrity. And in Jesus’ day, that was a quickly disappearing character trait. But He came to establish a new way of living. He came to provide a new kind of righteousness that mirrored the very character of God.

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through? – Numbers 23:19 NLT

God is truthful and trustworthy. He doesn’t lie. He never breaks His covenants. He keeps His word. And He expects the people of God to live the same way. We are to be a people of our word, not just people of the Word.

One day, while Jesus was speaking with a crowd of followers, He made the statement, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32 NLT). Confused by what Jesus had said, they responded, “But we are descendants of Abraham. We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?” (John 8:33 NLT). They couldn’t comprehend what Jesus was saying. And so they fell back on their status as descendants of Abraham. They claimed special rank because God was their father. But Jesus told them something quite the opposite.

“For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44 NLT

Satan is the father of lies, and he is your father. Now, that’s the way to win friends and influence enemies. But Jesus was not out to win a popularity contest. He had come to reveal the truth. He would even go on to claim, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT). Truth and lies cannot coexist together. A people who make a habit out of lying and justify their actions with elaborate oath systems are not trustworthy or truthful. They don’t reflect the nature and character of God. And Jesus was letting His listeners know that their actions were out of step with God’s will for their lives.

James, the half-brother of Jesus, who would later become a leader in the church in Jerusalem, took the teachings of Jesus and applied them to those under his care.

“But most of all, my brothers and sisters, never take an oath, by heaven or earth or anything else. Just say a simple yes or no, so that you will not sin and be condemned.” – James 5:12 NLT

People whose hearts and lives have been changed by God through faith in the death of His Son don’t need to lie. They will speak the truth. Jesus would later say, “But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander” (Matthew 15:18-19 NLT). In bringing up the issue of oaths, Jesus was revealing an underlying problem with dishonesty. But He had come to change all that. But it would only happen if those who lie, recognize their problem, and turn from the father of lies to God the Father through Christ, His Son. By placing our faith in Christ, we are given the capacity to live as He did, reflecting the very nature of God in both word and deed.

The apostle John provides us with the reminder that right actions stem from a right relationship with God. Our lives will be characterized by truth when we have come to know Christ as our Savior.

If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. – 1 John 2:5-6 NLT

Living as Jesus did: honestly, truthfully, and with integrity. The truth has set us free. And so we are free to speak truth. We are free to live in truth. The apostle John goes on to remind us that knowing the truth must show up in the practice of the truth. In other words, our beliefs should influence our behavior.

This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. – 1 John 1:5-6 NLT

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

A Prophet Like Me

15 “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— 16 just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ 17 And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. 20 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ 21 And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— 22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. – Deuteronomy 18:15-22 ESV

The preceding verses contain a God-ordained ban on “anyone who practices divination, an omen reader, a soothsayer, a sorcerer,  one who casts spells, one who conjures up spirits, a practitioner of the occult, or a necromancer” (Deuteronomy 18:10-11 NLT). There is a special significance to these particular pagan practices because they were often used as a means of discerning the future or of obtaining divine guidance.

According to the NET Bible Study Notes, divination was “a means employed to determine the future or the outcome of events by observation of various omens and signs.” An omen reader was, in essence, a fortune-teller who supposedly possessed the power to predict the future based on the reading of signs. A soothsayer was someone who had the power to divine the future. The pagans believed that anyone who possessed the ability to cast spells could control the future. They also placed high stock in those who claimed to be able to communicate with the spirit world because these people could gain insights that were inaccessible to others. The term, “practitioner of the occult” is actually one word in Hebrew and it refers to a wizard or what we might refer to as a false prophet. The word actually means “knower” and is a reference to their knowledge or insight into the unknown. Finally, a necromancer was someone who had the ability to communicate with the dead.

All of these practices were closely associated with the pursuit of supernatural guidance or assistance. Which is why Moses bans their practice among the Israelites. The people of God were to have one source of divine input, and that was to be God Almighty, and God had chosen to communicate His will through Moses. With Moses having been banned by God from entering the land of Canaan, there was a greater-than-normal risk that the people of Israel would be tempted to use pagan practices to gain divine insight. So, speaking through Moses, God assured His people that He would continue to speak to them through men whom He would appoint.

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you—from your fellow Israelites; you must listen to him.” – Deuteronomy 18:15 NLT

God would not leave them without a means of receiving His guidance and direction. And Moses reminded them that this promise of a God-appointed prophet was in keeping with the request they had made at Mount Sinai.

All the people were seeing the thundering and the lightning, and heard the sound of the horn, and saw the mountain smoking—and when the people saw it they trembled with fear and kept their distance. They said to Moses, “You speak to us and we will listen, but do not let God speak with us, lest we die.” – Exodus 20:18-19 NLT

The powerful manifestations of God’s glory had left the Israelites paralyzed by fear. So, they had demanded that Moses act as God’s mouthpiece, communicating His divine will and protecting them from God’s holiness. And God had given His divine approval of this plan, assuring Moses, “What they have said is good. I will raise up a prophet like you for them from among their fellow Israelites. I will put my words in his mouth and he will speak to them whatever I command” (Deuteronomy 18:17-18 NLT).

The prophet of God was required to speak on behalf of God and was not allowed to communicate anything other than the word of God. In a sense, a prophet was like a preacher, disseminating divine wisdom to the people of God. He was expected to be a truth-teller, speaking only what He had received directly from God Himself. And since the prophet was God’s primary means of communication, the people were obligated to listen to and obey all that the prophet said. And Moses warned that God would hold the people personally responsible for refusing to heed the words of His prophets.

This dire warning would become particularly pertinent centuries later, when God sent His prophets to warn of coming judgment if they did not repent. God would even warn His prophet, Jeremiah, that his words would fall on deaf ears.

“Tell them all this, but do not expect them to listen. Shout out your warnings, but do not expect them to respond.” – Jeremiah 7:27 NLT

God would promise to give Jeremiah the words to speak, but also the strength to withstand the anger of the people when they chose to reject what he had to say.

“But you, Jeremiah, get yourself ready! Go and tell these people everything I instruct you to say. Do not be terrified of them, or I will give you good reason to be terrified of them. I, the Lord, hereby promise to make you as strong as a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall. You will be able to stand up against all who live in the land, including the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and all the people of the land. They will attack you but they will not be able to overcome you, for I will be with you to rescue you.” – Jeremiah 1:17-19 NLT

The role of the prophet was a divinely-appointed one, and while anyone could claim to be speaking on behalf of God, there were serious repercussions for those who did so and proved to be lying. They were to be put to death. And the litmus test for determining the veracity of someone’s claim to be a prophet was whether what they prophesied actually happened.

“…whenever a prophet speaks in my name and the prediction is not fulfilled, then I have not spoken it; the prophet has presumed to speak it, so you need not fear him.” – Deuteronomy 18:22 NLT

So, Moses assured the people that they would have no reason to seek the pagan forms of divination as a means of knowing the future. God would continue to speak to them through prophets whom He would appoint. Their only obligation was to listen to what the prophets had to say.

And, there is a final aspect of this passage that must not be overlooked. Two separate times Moses states, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you” (Deuteronomy 18:15 ESV). The tense is in the singular. And while the context of the verses clearly indicates that there would be many prophets who would follow Moses, there is a sense in which these verses predict the coming of a particular prophet, one who would show up in the same way that Moses had. This prophet would be a deliverer, just as Moses had been. He too would be sent by God to rescue the people from captivity, but rather than deliverance from slavery in Egypt, this prophet would provide release from slavery to sin and death.

The author of Hebrews provides a comparison between Moses and this future deliverer/prophet who would be similar to, but greater than Moses.

For he has come to deserve greater glory than Moses, just as the builder of a house deserves greater honor than the house itself! For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that would be spoken. But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. We are of his house, if in fact we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope we take pride in. – Hebrews 3:3-6 NLT

God promises to send “a prophet” who will speak on His behalf.

“I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.” – Deuteronomy 18:18-19 ESV

The apostle John would later write of Jesus, the promised prophet of God:

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. – John 1:10-13 NLT

And John would later quote Jesus Himself as He provided clarification for what God had meant when He told the people of Israel that for all those who refused to believe His prophet, He would “require it of him.”

“God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.” – John 3:17-18 NLT

God would not leave His people without direction. He would continue to guide them and provide for them. But they were obligated to obey the words of His prophets. And the day would come when He would send His final prophet, Jesus Christ, in order to deliver the most important message ever delivered by God through the lips of man.

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6 NLT

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

 

 

 

The Right Response to Wrong Doctrine

17 But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. – Jude 1:17-23 ESV

Throughout his letter, Jude has said some extremely harsh things regarding the false teachers who had infiltrated the local congregation to whom he was writing. HIs purpose has been to expose these people for what they were: A real danger to the faith community. But it is interesing to note that, in no part of his letter, does Jude demand that these people be removed from the flock. He doesn’t call for their banishment. In fact, he doesn’t even call them by name.

While there is little doubt that he saw these people as a serious threat to the church’s spiritual health, he does not suggest their removal as the cure. Jude seems to understand that false teachers and false teaching will always be a part of the church’s future. The truth of God’s Word will always be challenged by the lies of the enemy. Just as Satan infiltrated the perfection of the garden and sowed doubt into the hearts of the first man and woman, by subtly twisting the words of God, he continues to spread his lies wherever the faith community gathers, and the gospel is preached.

James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote the following words of counsel in his letter:

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. – James 4:7-8 NLT

James uses the Greek word, anthistēmi, which carries the idea of standing opposed to something, to withstand its onslaught. James is suggesting that the best strategy against the enemy is a good defense. And the apostle Paul gives similar counsel in his letter to the believers in Ephesus.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. – Ephesians 6:10-11 ESV

And Paul lets us know that the real threat to the body of Christ is much more powerful and sinister than false teachers communicating erroneous doctrine. It is Satan himself.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12 ESV

Which is why Paul tells us to “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13 ESV). And that is exactly what Jude is telling his readers to do. He reminds them to turn their attention to what the apostles of Jesus had taught. And Jude seems to be picking up the words of Peter, written in his second letter.

This is my second letter to you, dear friends, and in both of them I have tried to stimulate your wholesome thinking and refresh your memory. I want you to remember what the holy prophets said long ago and what our Lord and Savior commanded through your apostles. – 2 Peter 3:2 NLT

Peter was an apostle, and he was calling believers to listen to what he and the rest of the apostles had been teaching them. In a sense, Peter was placing their words on an equal plane as those of the Old Testament prophets, because they had received their teaching directly from Jesus Christ Himself. And Peter went on to tell them:

Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. – 2 Peter 3:3 NLT

These are the very words Jude quotes, and he uses them to let his readers know that the false teachers were guilty of mocking the truth and of following their own self-centered passions. And Jude refers to the words of Peter as if his audience was already familiar with them. He writes, “They said to you,” indicating that Peter’s letter had been intended for all believers, not just a single congregation. And it is likely that his letter had made it to their local community where it had been read at one of their gatherings.

So, Jude is simply reminding them of what Peter had told them would happen. The scoffers had shown up just as he had said they would. And they were mocking the truth of God. Jude accuses them of being divisive, worldly and devoid of the Spirit. It is impossible to know if Jude is suggesting that these people were without the indwelling presence of the Spirit and, therefore, unsaved. Or whether he is suggesting that they were believers who were guilty of quenching the Spirit and living according to their own sinful flesh. But either way, they were damaging the spiritual integrity of the body of Christ by their actions.

So, what were the people to do? How were they to respond to this cancer in their midst?  Jude uses two Greek words to convey their next steps: epoikodomeō and proseuchomai. The first one is translated, “building yourselves up,” but it can mean “to build upon” or “augment.” Rather than allow the teaching of the people to rock their spiritual world, they were to increase their faith in the truth of the gospel. And the primary message of the gospel is our future glorification and eternal life. Jude tells them to build up their faith while “waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (Jude 1:21 ESV). The lies of the enemy will always attack the truth of God’s promises. Satan asked Eve, “Did God actually say…” (Genesis 3:1 ESV). Then he followed that question regarding the integrity of God’s word with a direct rebuttal of God’s command: “You will not surely die…” (Genesis 3:4 ESV).

Believers must constantly build up their faith in the Word of God, reminding one another that what He has said is true and what He has promised will happen. And the best way to augment or bolster our faith is to pray in the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul would have us remember that “the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words” (Romans 8:26 NLT). When Jude refers to praying in the Holy Spirit, he is conveying the idea of dependence and reliance upon the Spirit. It is a form of submission to the Spirit, which is why Paul encourages us to “let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves” (Galatians 5:16 NLT).

Jude adds an interesting and somewhat confusing bit of counsel. He writes, “keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 1:21 ESV). At first glance, it might appear that he is suggesting that we have to earn God’s love through self-effort. But that advice would be in direct contradiction to Scripture. Paul told the believers in Rome, “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). So, when Jude tells them to keep themselves in God’s love, it is a reminder to focus their attention of the highest expression of that love: The gracious gift of His Son as payment for their sins and a guarantee of their eternal life.  And Paul went on to expand on the unwavering nature of God’s love.

…nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39 NLT

Finally, after reminding his audience to remain fully confident in the love of God, building one another up in their belief in the gospel message, and relying upon the assistance of the indwelling Spirit, Jude turns their attention to the weak among them. He demands that they show mercy on anyone struggling with doubt. Don’t attack or ostracize them. Come alongside them and build them up in their faith. And for those who seem ready to be consumed by the fire of falsehood, Jude encourages rescue. Don’t give up on them. But he also warns that all of this must be done with extreme caution and an awareness of the danger.

“…do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.” – Jude 1:23 NLT

This is the spiritual battle that Paul referred to so frequently. We are in a war, and it is not against flesh and blood. It is an epic and unseen conflict that has been going on since the fall, and that involves spiritual forces far beyond our comprehension, and well beyond our capacity to withstand. False teaching is not to be treated lightly. It is dangerous and deadly and a sign of the enemy’s presence in our midst. But the best way to fight lies is with the truth. The most effective weapon against doubt is faith. And the greatest power we have in our battle with the enemy is the gospel itself.

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.s

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

Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?

Here’s how you test for the genuine Spirit of God. Everyone who confesses openly his faith in Jesus Christ—the Son of God, who came as an actual flesh-and-blood person—comes from God and belongs to God. – 1 John 4:2 MSG

1 John 4:1-6

There are so many versions of Jesus being offered up today that it’s hard to keep track. There is Jesus, the life coach, whose sole purpose was to provide us with a model for self-improvement. Just follow His instructions and you can be just like Him. Then there’s Jesus, the moralistic monk, who gave us a host of wise sayings to quote and even to live out if we so choose. This Jesus was kind of a Hebrew Muhatma Gandhi, who spoke against social injustices and promoted peace and love. There’s Jesus, the martyr, a radical peasant who tried to bring about a social revolution, but died while trying. His faithful followers picked up where He left off and kept the spirit of His cause alive. There’s even Jesus, the Son of God, who whose a man chosen by God to be a living example of what it looks like when men learn to live in harmony with their Creator.

But the problem with all these versions of Jesus is that they are not the real Jesus. They may give us brief glimpses of some aspect of His life or a partial view of His nature, but they leave out the most important, life-altering point of His existence. He is Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God who took on human flesh, in order to pay for the sins of mankind and satisfy the just demands of a holy, just and righteous God. John made this point clear at the very beginning of his letter, stating, “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 — the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us” (1 John 1:1-2 ESV). Jesus, the eternal life, had been manifested or made known to John and the other disciples. They had seen, touched, and heard Him. They had spent over three years living with Him. They had seen Him perform miracles, transfigured, walk on water, raise the dead, and suffer a brutal death by crucifixion. But they had also seen Him alive three days after He had been buried in a borrowed tomb that had been surrounded by guards. They had heard Him say that He was going away, but that He would be returning for them some day. And they had clearly heard His parting words as He gave them His great commission to spread the good news regarding Him to all the world. This is the Jesus John preached. This is the Jesus Paul proclaimed and gave his life for. This is the Jesus of Peter, Matthew, Mark, Luke, Titus, Timothy, the Philippian jailer, Lydia, Silas, Barnabas, James, Tabitha, Phillip and millions upon millions of others over the last 2000-plus years.

But we live in a society that has a difficult time accepting the truth about Jesus. So they re-invent Him. They come up with their version of Him that makes Him more palatable and acceptable. The Jesus of John and the disciples is too intolerant and demanding. Their version of the gospel doesn’t come across as good news at all. So people reject it or simply revise it to suit their tastes. In his book, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society, Lesslie Newbigin writes:

The gospel is news of what has happened. The problem of communicating it in a pluralistic society is that it simply disappears into the undifferentiated ocean of information. It represents one opinion among millions of others. It cannot be “the truth,” since in a pluralistic society truth is not one but many. It may be “true for you,” but it cannot be true for everyone. To claim that it is true for everyone is simply arrogance. It is permitted as one opinion among many.

The problem is that John and the disciples present Jesus as the only way. “Everyone who confesses openly his faith in Jesus Christ—the Son of God, who came as an actual flesh-and-blood person—comes from God and belongs to God” (1 John 4:2 MSG). Even Jesus Himself claimed, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). He wasn’t one way among many. He wasn’t just another option. He was the only way. The exclusive, no-other-alternative-available way. It was A. W. Tozer who said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” But I would add, what comes into our mind when we think about Jesus is what will determine our relationship with God. Jesus was and is the Son of God. He is the God-man, 100 percent deity and 100 percent humanity. A mystery that is inexplicable by man, but essential for the salvation of mankind. Jesus lived a sinless life. Yet He was required to die a sinner’s death, in order to pay the penalty due for the sin’s of mankind. He died in our place. He took on our sin and the punishment we deserved, so that we might receive forgiveness, pardon, and escape from the condemnation of death. But we must believe that He was who He claimed to be. We must accept the gift that He so graciously offers. We must believe in and trust our lives to the Jesus Christ as sent by God, proclaimed by the apostles, taught in the Bible and confirmed by the presence of the Holy Spirit. No other Jesus will do. No other way will suffice. No other version of the truth will work. “And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5 ESV).

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.

Who Do You Say That I Am?

Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. – 1 John 2:22-23 ESV

The world in which we live is diametrically opposed to God. Although it was created by Him, it vehemently resists His sovereign right to rule and reign. It rejects His Son as King and denies in any way that men are subjects of His Kingdom. In his letter, John goes out of his way to present Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah. But he wants his readers to know that Jesus was far more than just a man who lived a good life and taught strong moral truths. He was “that which was from the beginning” (1 John 1:1 ESV). He was the eternal word of life and was made manifest, made visible, so that men could see Him. Not only that, He was the propitiation for the sins of man. His death satisfied the just demands of a holy God. And now He sits at the right hand of God the Father where He intercedes on our behalf, acting as our advocate or mediator. But the world would have us believe it is all a lie. The god of this world is doing everything in his power to dissuade us of any notion as to Jesus being the Son of God or the Savior of the world. He wants us to reject the very idea that we even need a Savior. To do that, he gets us to doubt the reality of our own sin. Sinless people don’t need salvation or a Savior. Rather than confess our sins, Satan would have us deny them. Rather than recognize God’s holiness our own sinfulness, Satan would prefer that we measure our righteousness by a more subjective standard. Morality becomes relative and unenforceable. Goodness becomes a personal matter. Right and wrong become totally subjective and subject to interpretation. Isaiah warned about this kind of attitude. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!” (Isaiah 5:20-21 ESV). This is the spirit of the antichrist. It is the antithesis of everything for which God stands. No rules. No law. No judgment. No sin. No savior. No hell. And it is all a lie.

John tells his readers, “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). Those to whom he was writing knew the truth regarding Jesus. He was the Son of God. He had come to die on the cross on their behalf. His death had provided them with justification before God. They had enjoyed forgiveness for their sins, a restored relationship with God the Father, and were assured on eternal life. Just hours before His trials and crucifixion, while alone in the garden, Jesus had prayed, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3 ESV). This is at the heart of eternal life. An intimate knowledge of and belief in Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of the world, and the Father as the loving source of that invaluable gift. Anyone who teaches anything other than that is not only sorely mistaken, they are deadly wrong. Jesus Himself boldly and categorically claimed, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). There is no other way. There is no other path. There is no other option. Case closed. End of discussion.

A belief in Jesus that is accompanied by a rejection of sin is nothing less than a lie. A belief in God that does not include His Son as Savior is close, but not good enough. “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23 ESV). One of the most important questions Jesus ever asked His disciples is recorded in the gospels. He started out by asking them, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13 ESV). They provided a number of options, clarifying the range of perceptions held by the common people of the day. But then Jesus posed a question for which the answer remains the most significant one any man or woman will ever have to give. He asked, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15 ESV). Forget about everybody else. Don’t worry about what everyone else is saying. What do you say? Who is Jesus to you? And we know by Jesus response that Peter gave the right answer. He simply stated, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mathew 16:16 ESV). Which is why John could say that anyone who denies that Jesus is the Christ is a liar. To deny Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, is to deny that He was God. It is to deny that He was sinless. It is to deny that we are sinners. It is to deny that we need saving. It is to deny that God is holy. It is to deny that punishment for sin is possible or even probable. It is to deny the resurrection. It is to deny eternal life and the reality of heaven. And it is to deny the existence of hell. That is the spirit of antichrist. And it is all around us. But we know better. We know Him. We know the truth. We have the light. And we have the life. Let us live like it and love like it. Let us walk as Jesus walked. In the truth of who He is and what He has done.

Deuteronomy 15-16, John 17

The Truth.

Deuteronomy 15-16, John 17

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. ­– John 17:17 ESV

One of the things the Israelites were constantly having to learn was to trust God when He spoke. Much of what God told them to do sounded bizarre and far-fetched. His rules and regulations had to have seemed onerous and arbitrary at times. The sacrificial system He commanded them to keep had to have been burdensome and costly to keep. His commands regarding the release of all debts during the sabbatical year had to have seemed unfair and unjust. But God kept reminding them that His laws were to be obeyed and His commands were to be kept – at all times and at all costs. He repeatedly told them, “You shall…” and “You shall not…” God’s commands were to be obeyed, even when they seemed to make no sense. His appointed festivals and feasts were to be celebrated on time and in the manner He prescribed. Everything was a reminder of God’s faithfulness and goodness. Their expressions of mercy toward one another were to be reflections of the mercy God had shown them. Their celebrations of the festivals and feasts were regular reminders of God’s past deliverance and daily provision in their lives. They were to live according to God’s word, trusting that what He said was true and trustworthy. They were to listen to His instructions and obey His commands, regardless of what the other nations around them did. God’s word was not to be treated as a suggestion or an option to be considered, but as truth to be believed and obeyed.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God’s word is truth. It isn’t just another version of the truth, it is the truth. It is not to be treated as optional or negotiable. It is not to be considered as one of several options to be considered. God didn’t give the Israelites a choice as to whether or not they could obey His word. Of course, they often did disobey His word, but it always came with consequences. Failure to fully comply with His commands always resulted in a less-than-enjoyable outcome. One of the ways the Israelites learned to believe God’s word was to disobey it. They often found out the hard way that what God said was true. They inevitably discovered that God’s way was always the better way. His word was worth obeying. One of the difficult things about living in this world is our constant struggle with knowing the difference between truth and falsehood. The Israelites would constantly find themselves tempted to worship false gods. They would struggle with listening to alternate versions of the truth. This world is the domain of the enemy. Jesus referred to him as the father of lies. “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44 ESV). But God is truth. He is the essence of truth. What we see around us is tainted by the effects of the fall. It is not as it should be. It is not as God intended it should be. Injustice, poverty, disease, war, suffering, heartache, and death are not God’s invention or intention, but the result of sin entering into the world. God’s word brings life. Even when God ordered the seeming death of the innocent, there was always a just and righteous reason for it. Even His command that His own Son die in the place of sinful man was a justifiable, righteous and true. It was right. It was necessary.

When Jesus claimed, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV), He was including His own death as part of the equation. His death was necessary for Him to become the way. His death was a required part of God’s truth. His death had to happen for eternal life to be possible. And while the disciples had a hard time understanding and embracing the gravity of Jesus’ words, it was the truth. It was the revealed word of God. It was His divine plan to deal with the problem on man’s sin and separation from His presence.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Man has always been in a desperate search to know the truth. Where did we come from? Why is there suffering in the world? How can we eradicate disease and forestall death? What comes after death? But we are limited in our understanding and prone to believe lies instead of the truth. We turn to just about anything and anyone in our search for the truth. We listen to the lies of men. We embrace the false assumptions of science. We turn to our intellect and rely upon reason. But we continually find ourselves wondering what is true and what is false. We question who we can believe and trust. But unless our search for truth takes us to God, we will constantly find ourselves believing the lie and living with a false sense of hope and an unreliable version of reality. Jesus told the Jews in His day, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32 ESV). There is only one version of the truth, and it can only be found in God’s written word, the Bible, and through the Living Word, Jesus Christ. Anyone who seeks truth in the Scriptures, but fails to see the Son of God, will miss the whole point of God’s written word. To turn the Bible into a self-help guide or a manual for living is to distort the truth of God’s word. The Bible reveals God to man, and the greatest manifestations of God was Jesus Christ, the very Son of God in human flesh. Praying to His Heavenly Father in His High Priestly Prayer, Jesus said, “For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me” (John 17:8 ESV). Jesus was sent from God. He was the very truth of God revealed to men. He was God’s revealed plan for the salvation of mankind. And yet, men refused to believe Him. They refused to acknowledge Him as the way, the truth and the life. He didn’t fit their definition of truth. They had embraced a different truth – one of their own making. But for those who believed the truth and placed their faith in Jesus as their Messiah or Savior, Jesus revealed to them the truth of God regarding man’s sin and the divine plan for salvation and their own sanctification.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Jesus asked the Father, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17 ESV). The truth not only includes our salvation, but our ongoing sanctification. The Bible reveals man’s plight and God’s plan for restoring mankind to a right relationship with Him. The Bible tells us the truth about God and man. It reveals to us who God is and tells us the truth about who we are and how desperate our condition. The truth of God’s word paints a vivid and realistic picture of the world and mankind’s need for a Savior. Even as a believer, I must depend upon God’s word to expose me to the truth – enlightening me to my ever-present need for God’s ongoing salvation and His Spirit’s constant transformation of my life. Just as God’s word reveals that no man can save Himself, it also teaches me that I cannot sanctify myself. I can’t make myself holy. I can’t make myself Christ-like and righteous. Salvation and sanctification are the work of God alone. That truth should be a source of freedom and release for me. The truth is, I must live in this world, surrounded by lies and falsehood. I must attempt to grow in Christ-likeness and increase in holiness. But I don’t have to do it alone. My ongoing spiritual maturity and increasing holiness is a result of God’s work in my life. As Jesus said, I am sanctified in truth – the truth of God’s word.

Father, we are surrounded by lies. We are constantly tempted to believe anything and anyone, except You. Thank You for opening my eyes to the truth regarding Your Son and His offer of salvation. But help me to understand that the truth found in Christ also includes my ongoing sanctification or growth in spiritual maturity or Christ-likeness. You have shown me through Your Word how maturity takes place. Sometimes it sounds farfetched and difficult, but I know it is the truth. Sometimes Your Holy Spirit seems distant and hard to comprehend, but I know He’s there because Your Word promises it. Help me trust Your Word and live according to Your truth. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org