RPM, Volume 15, Number 13, March 24 to March 30, 2013

The Third and Most Important Test

1 John 2:18-27
(Series on 1 John: No. 9)

By Robert Rayburn

Earlier in this same chapter, John had introduced the first two of three tests by which we can judge whether our own or our brother's claim to be a Christian is genuine or counterfeit. The first was the test of obedience: does this person who calls Jesus 'Lord', actually submit to his Lordship and rule? The second was the test of love: does this person who claims to have entered into the experience and knowledge of God's love for his people, give evidence of it in the love he shows for others?

After a digression of several verses, John now comes to the third, and by far the most important, of these three tests. We might call it the 'doctrinal' test, but, if we do, we must understand that we mean not the bare assent to certain teaching about Jesus Christ, but a whole-souled commitment to and embracing of that teaching as the truth and the truth which alone can set a man or a woman free.

False teachers--John calls them 'anti-christs', had come among these Christians: and the burden of their teaching, according to John, was, as we read in v. 22, that Jesus was not the Christ, or, in v. 23, that he was not the Son of God.

Now it is very important for you to understand that this is John's judgment of the case. The false teachers themselves would almost certainly have been hotly offended at the suggestion that they were denying Jesus Christ. These teachers thought themselves Christians; they spoke and they preached about Jesus Christ. They had no doubt that he was the Messiah; in some way or another, he was the Savior and they revered him as such.

They would have posed no great danger to the church if they had come proclaiming that someone else beside Jesus was the Messiah; or that Jesus was a figment of an overactive imagination. No, their great danger was due precisely to the fact that in so many ways their teaching sounded Christian, in so many ways it seemed to resemble what these Christians had always heard and known. It was not at first and immediately apparent that what they were teaching so completely overturned the truth about Jesus Christ.

It was a Christian heresy they taught; and it took a little doing to sort out the heresy from the Christianity. And it was just because of its appearance of Christianity that the heresy was so dangerous and so likely to beguile the church.

They called Jesus the Messiah; and they called him the Savior; but, as John makes still more clear in 4:2 and in 2 John 7, what they denied was that Jesus of Nazareth was, in fact, the eternal second person of the Triune God, come now in the flesh, having added to himself an authentic human nature.

In other words, they denied the 'incarnation.' Deeply influenced, as they were, by the philosophies of their day, they would not believe that God, being pure spirit, could actually join himself to flesh and blood. They taught, probably, a view which has been quite popular in one form or another in recent years, viz. that Jesus of Nazareth was a man, in whom the presence of God was made manifest in a unique way. But they were not willing to believe that Jesus of Nazareth and the Eternal Son of God were one and the same person. They did not believe that Jesus possessed two natures: one divine from eternity, one human from his conception in the womb of the virgin Mary, and that he is and ever remains God and man, in two distinct natures, and one person forever.

But John did not speak about this theological viewpoint as people are accustomed to speak of it today. He did not speak appreciatively of this teaching as a complementary insight; or this much needed emphasis upon the true humanity of Jesus; or this needed corrective to a one-sided emphasis upon Christ's divine nature. No; to John, this denial that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God is a lie, and anyone who teaches it is a liar. He is an antichrist. And, what is more, any claim to Christianity which is built upon this denial of a real incarnation, a real coming in the flesh of the eternal Son of God, is counterfeit.

John's 'blacks and whites' are so contrary to the drift of the modern mind, soaked as it is in relativism, that you find very few, even among evangelical scholars of the Bible, following him in his rhetoric and his passionate dismissal of such errors as diabolical lies. But we would do better to listen to the Apostle John than to the bland and soft words of accommodation which are the custom of our day.

For the whole Bible agrees that Jesus Christ is the key to everything and especially to eternal life. That there is no more fundamental, no more crucial question to answer than just this question: 'Who is Jesus Christ?' And there is no answer with more eternally profound implications than just the answer you give to that greatest of all questions.

John says here several times, as in v. 23, if you do not have Christ, you do not have God the Father. It is just his apostolic way of saying what his Savior said before him: 'I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father, but by me.' There are not many roads that lead to God; there is only one and it is Jesus Christ.

And, therefore, any denial of Christ, any refusal to accept the truth about him, any unwillingness to see him as he is, cuts off a person from the hope of eternal life.

Now John's main point in introducing this third test of life is not to elaborate the test itself. He will do that in chapters 4 and 5. Here, he is more interested in saying to the brothers and sisters to whom he is writing that he has confidence in them, that they know and have received the truth about Jesus. And he exhorts them to continue faithful to that truth.

'You have an anointing from the Holy One and all of you know the truth...

'As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you...as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit--just as it has taught you, remain in him.'

'See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you...'

He tells them first that because they have been taught by the Holy Spirit--that is, because their eyes have been opened to see the truth and their ears opened to hear it by the Spirit's work within them, renewing their natures, they have come to know the truth about Jesus Christ.

He is simply saying in another way what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:12-14: 'The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually discerned. WE have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.' And chief among all those things that man, by his fallen nature cannot understand and considers foolishness, is what God has taught us by his Holy Spirit about Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of God being born of a woman, born under the law, that he might redeem those under the law.

We preach Christ crucified, Paul wrote, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles... And it was exactly that--foolishness--to these teachers who had made their way into the churches to whom John is writing. They could not conceive of God in human flesh--the idea was ridiculous to them; or of God suffering; or of God associated with the humiliation of a cross. And so they taught instead that Jesus was not, in fact, God. But, says John, you know better because the Spirit of God has opened your eyes to see the truth and has taught you that in no other way but by the incarnation, suffering, and death of the Son of God could man be saved from his sin and the death that sin deserves.

But he does not simply say that they know the truth because the Spirit of God has been their teacher. No, he goes on to say that knowing it, they must continue in that truth.

'See that what you heard from the beginning remains in you...'

Now how do we do that? How do we see that the truth remains in us? What, exactly, does that mean? Well, as v. 27 indicates, it means pretty much the same thing as it means to remain in Christ. But what does that mean? John does not say so here. He merely tells us 'see to it that the truth remains in you' and 'remain in him.'

But, taking the Bible together, it is not difficult to know what John means or what he expects us to do in obedience to his command.

I. In the first place, if we are to hold fast to the truth we must master that truth.

If the truth about Jesus Christ, who he is, about the incarnation, how it came about, what it means, is the truth which divides mankind, if this is the decisive issue in the salvation of any sinner, including you and me. Then, does it not go without saying, that this truth ought to be one we study and ponder until we are expert in it. We ought to want to know the Bible's doctrine of the person of Jesus Christ inside and out, ought to want to know its great principles and its intricate details.

You will hear some Christians saying that 'doctrine' is not practical, that it stands in the way of real spirituality, that it is head knowledge at the expense of heart knowledge and the like. But no one can say that after reading 1 John 2. Doctrine is a word which means, simply, 'teaching' and what the Bible 'teaches' about Jesus Christ and his incarnation is so practical that it separates men between heaven and hell.

Lloyd Jones once said: 'The man whose doctrine is shaky will be shaky in his whole life. I always find that those who are driven with every wind of doctrine are those who are too lazy to study doctrine. There is nothing so fatuous as the view that Christian doctrine is removed from life. There is nothing which is more practical.'

How about you, brother and sister? Are you an expert in the Bible's doctrine of Jesus Christ? Have you engaged your mind and heart to search out the incarnation, to investigate its wonders and its mysteries? Are you clear in your mind about Christ being a high priest after the order of Mechizedek or about all the fulness of the Godhead dwelling in him in bodily form? And parents, are you instructing your children in such things?

Have you pondered how the Son of God could sit weary by a well in Samaria or how a carpenter's son from Nazareth could command the wind and the waves to be still? Have you exercised your thought on the difference between God and man, and what it must have been for the Son of God to be among men and not only not be recognized as their Maker, but not even to be considered by them a good man? Do you know the classical, orthodox doctrine of the person of Jesus Christ? Can you derive that doctrine yourself from Holy Scripture?

No one who hears John the Apostle say: 'see to it that the truth about Christ remains in you...' will be content to remain with a childlike grasp of this doctrine. He will want to master it and so he will study his Bible and the best books and search out answers to his questions until he knows as much about Jesus Christ as can be known in this world.

That is the first way to see to it that the truth about Jesus remains in us: set ourselves to master that truth.

II. Second, we must apply that truth to our lives.

Most of us who have been Christians for a time know people who are interested in doctrine in the abstract, but who do not seem to be as interested in living according to it. They are like a person who is fascinated with maps, with cartography, but who doesn't like to travel.

But doctrine is never for its own sake in the Bible. It is for faith and for life; for peace, for hope, and above all, for love. And no doctrine is more intended for application to the heart than the doctrine of Jesus Christ.

Too many Christians, however, seem to think that the doctrine will apply itself, without our effort, thought, and intention. But it will not and by now we all ought to know that well enough.

If you lack peace, you must apply the truth about Jesus Christ to your own soul as surely as you would apply a bandaid to a wound. Speak to your heart about the Son of God coming into the world to make peace for us with God; about him sitting now at the right hand making intercession for you; about the immensity of divine love which brought the incarnation to pass, which love is still set upon your and will never be removed.

If you lack zeal and fervor and obedience, you need to speak directly and pointedly to yourself of what the Son of God did for your salvation; what an infinite distance he travelled down from his high throne to the cold and dirty hovel in which he was born a man--and all for you; and with what zeal he carried out his mission--whole nights of prayer, sweating as it were drops of blood, enduring every manner of ignominy at the hands of his creatures, and finally the whole of Divine wrath against sin, and all for you and your salvation.

If you lack courage, you need to remind yourself of who it is that is your Savior and your King, and how utterly inexcusable it is for a Christian to shrink back in cowardice when the living God is for Him.

If you lack love, or purity, or hope, or joy there is medicine enough for all your ailments in this truth that Jesus Christ is the Son of God come to be a man for man's salvation.

But you must write that truth on your heart, drive it deep, 'chase it into your heart' as the Puritans used to say, until that truth is not simply known, but lived every day.

III. And finally, beyond study and application, you must experience that truth.

You must, as John himself suggests in v. 27, not only remain in the truth, but remain in him. The truth must finally lead you deeper into the experience of the Lord Christ himself. It is not enough to know about Jesus, you must know him! It is not even enough to apply the truth about Christ to the practical interests of your life. Above and beyond that, you must walk with the Lord himself, commune with him in your heart, and know his presence in your life. The truth about Christ is a map to direct you to Him! This is a more complicated thing, for the Lord himself will determine the measure of his presence he bestows on anyone of his children. But we must seek him and seek to have his presence in our lives daily; and we have this promise: that we will seek him and find him, when we seek him with all our hearts.

Here we must look past the truth to the God/Man himself; we must pray to him and for him; we must cry out to be brought near to the Lord; we must stand against anything in our lives which would offend the Lord or keep him at a distance. And, like so many of the psalm-writers, we must never come to church, never open our Bible's, never fall to our knees, without first desiring and then praying to find the Lord Christ there.

Here then is the third test of true life in Christ. The doctrinal test. Does one hold to the truth about Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God? But, the test is not, says John, merely a measurement of intellectual assent and agreement; but much more of the full engagement of heart and soul with that truth, and still much more, with the Son of God himself.

You do not pass the test if you know the facts only. You pass the test if those facts have awakened in you a deep intensity of commitment not only to that truth, but much more to the One who stands behind it. A real Christian is someone who is 'intense' about Jesus Christ. Who knows all about Jesus Christ, and wants in every way to live according to what he knows, and, still more, wants to be closer and closer to the Lord Christ himself, every day he lives, and cannot wait for the day he will finally lay eyes on the Redeemer and fall at his nail scarred feet.

Some of you know of the films of Paul Schrader. Schrader was a product of a CRC home and a graduate of Calvin College. But he lost his faith and now in Hollywood as an influential film writer and director, he tends to portray the darker side of life. 'Taxi Driver' and 'Mishima' are two of his films. Another, starring George C. Scott, is perhaps the most autobiographical of Scrader's films. In it, Scott plays a man from Grand Rapids, Michigan, a Mr. van Dorn, an elder in the Dutch Reformation Church--a thinly disguised reference to Schrader's own former church, the Christian Reformed Church. Indeed, the film begins with a discussion, around the Van Dorn dining room table, about what constitutes the sin against the Holy Spirit. The story is this: Van Dorn's daughter has run away from a 'Youth Calvinist Convention' to Hollywood, and there has been sucked into the seamy underworld of pornography. The film is about the father's efforts to locate and rescue his daughter.

There is a scene in the movie in which van Dorn has a conversation with a prostitute about religion. She is helping him locate his daughter and they are sitting in an airport waiting for a plane and she asks him what he believes. She is a member of the Venusian church and believes in 'love and reincarnation.' But what does he believe. Well, he believes in 'TULIP' he says; and in a few short sentences explains very poorly and inaccurately, by the way, the acrostic summary of the Calvinist doctrine of salvation. But Schrader makes his explanation stilted, lifeless, and colorless. He is obviously embarrassed discussing religion with this woman and he doesn't really care about her, as he later admits. And his confession of faith all comes across, as no doubt Schrader intended, as an enumeration of theological principles which are as dry as they are heartless, more like a table of logarithms than a living affirmation of the heart. Facts only, without power or joy or love.

And that is how one ex-member of the reformed church thinks about our doctrine. And I do not doubt that there are many in reformed churches whose grasp of the truth is as devoid of heart, soul, color, life, and fire as was Van Dorn's in Schrader's film. After all, Schrader got the idea from somewhere; someone gave him this image of doctrinal, orthodox Christianity.

But that is not what the Apostle John is talking about. True doctrine, yes. Absolutely. But this truth is so wonderful, so grand, so exhilarating, that one has not truly grasped it unless it has also gripped him or her, unless it is not only accepted intellectually, but woven into the fabric of daily life, and unless it has set the Christian after the Lord Jesus himself, to walk with him in joy and love and commune with him, to know him as Savior, as Lord, as Brother, and as Friend.

Here is the great test of genuineness in the Christian life; does a person so hold to the truth which God has revealed in his Word about his incarnate Son, that he or she not only believes it, but practices it, and, still more, loves the Lord Jesus for it. Is there an intensity, a passion, a devotion to the Lord Jesus, the incarnate Son of God? There should be brethren! Search your hearts.

Subscribe to RPM
RPM subscribers receive an email notification each time a new issue is published. Notifications include the title, author, and description of each article in the issue, as well as links directly to the articles. Like RPM itself, subscriptions are free. Click here to subscribe.