Yesterday we talked about an early test of Christian fellowship. One that wasn’t based on different opinions but one that was based on the truth of Jesus’ incarnation.
There is a familiar passage in 2 John that has been used in the past to teach quite the opposite position. I’ll provide it here in the KJV.
“Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.” (2 John 9, KJV)
At least in my experience, this passage is used to draw boundaries of fellowship using doctrinal strokes – too often with a coarse brush. In this case, when we read “the doctrine of Christ” we interpret it at “the doctrine that Christ taught” and by proxy “the doctrine that the Apostles taught” which is, nearly every time, the doctrine that Preacher Fill-in-the-blank happens to be preaching. In other words, some see the doctrine of Christ in this passage to be an umbrella term for all, and I do mean all, of Christian teachings.
But what if we shouldn’t read “the doctrine of Christ” in this way? What if “the doctrine of Christ” is better understood as “the doctrine about Christ” instead of the “doctrine he taught”? Read the passage again in its context from the NLT. Ask yourself, “What doctrine of Jesus is in question?”
“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. Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked so hard to achieve. Be diligent so that you receive your full reward. Anyone who wanders away from this teaching has no relationship with God. But anyone who remains in the teaching of Christ has a relationship with both the Father and the Son.” (2 John 7–9, NLT)
It seems like the doctrine of Christ, in 2 John 9, is the doctrine about incarnation. Please don’t read something into this that I’m not saying. I’m not saying the doctrine that Jesus taught is not important, I’m saying that John isn’t specifically talking about this here. Correct incarnational theology is what John is talking about not only here but in his first letter as well, and in his gospel for that matter.
Gnosticism was, and still is, a heresy that to developed in the first few generations of Christianity. Without getting into too much detail, they believed that all matter was evil and deity couldn’t possibly have come in flesh for flesh was evil. The goal of Gnostic existence is to escape this fleshy prison and exist in a spiritual state. The first Christians fought against this understanding of Jesus insisting that he did come in the flesh and that he was bodily resurrected.
It’s amazing how Gnosticism has managed to hang around in Christian circles today. We don’t call it that anymore, but we still are plagued with Gnostic tendencies. Consider this hymn that we sing in our churches today. Gnostics would have loved this hymn. After all, this world is a prison to be escaped from?
But the world can’t be evil, can it? God created it and what did he say? “It is very good!” Can flesh be bad? NO! God came in the flesh! He is incarnate! Do we await a spiritual existence, free from this flesh? NO! Jesus was resurrected bodily. THE TOMB IS EMPTY! If the flesh was evil then Jesus would have left it behind.
I’m afraid we have forgotten how important the incarnation is.
Meditate on the incarnation today and how by being incarnate, God has blessed and redeemed all creation. From the beginning, the incarnation and resurrection have been foundational to Christian faith. When the Christians met in Nicea in 325, they sought to define the boundaries of Christian faith which included correct thinking about incarnation, divinity, and resurrection. The Nicene Creed was revised in 381 by the Eastern church and the text from that creed will serve as our prayer today. It is a confession of faith nearly 1700 years old.
I believe in one God, Father Almighty, Creator of
heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of
God, begotten of the Father before all ages;
Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten,
not created, of one essence with the Father
through Whom all things were made.
Who for us men and for our salvation
came down from heaven and was incarnate
of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man.
He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate,
and suffered and was buried;
And He rose on the third day,
according to the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father;
And He will come again with glory to judge the living
and dead. His kingdom shall have no end.
And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Creator of life,
Who proceeds from the Father, Who together with the
Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, Who
spoke through the prophets.
In one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
I look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the age to come.