We now find ourselves so privileged as to hear the voice of God by turning to His Word, 2 John. Second John. And looking, really, at the last portion of this very brief letter, verses 9 through 13. And we’ll read those in a moment. Let me introduce our fourth and final look at this little epistle by reminding you that we have titled it, “Living in the Truth.”
Now, all genuine and faithful Christians have always understood the great commission. All true believers who understand what the New Testament teaches and what Jesus commands know what our duty is. It is to take the gospel to the ends of the earth and to preach it to every creature. That is unmistakable, unambiguous. It is a clear command. It is a mandate. It is an obligation. It is a duty not without privilege but rather with high privilege but nonetheless a duty. We know we have been told to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.
We also know and Christians have always known that apart from the knowledge of the true gospel and faith in the true Christ, no one can go to heaven. That is not a revolutionary statement, that is a fact laid down in Scripture and affirmed by true Christians since the New Testament. Sinners must hear the gospel. They must believe the gospel. And they must embrace the gospel. This clear command, understood by all faithful biblical Christians, has been maintained through the centuries by all of those who sought to obey the Lord.
It is behind all the witnessing and all the evangelizing and all the missionary work that has ever gone on. Since faith comes by hearing, and hearing only by the message of Christ, we know what we are to do. We are to preach Christ and Him crucified. Time, years, lifetimes of millions of people have been invested in this, the highest and greatest of all duties. Money - incalculable sums of money has been spent in this effort, teaching, preaching, witnessing, training, strategizing, acquiring languages, traveling, building, establishing, printing, producing media that the gospel indeed might be taken to the ends of the earth to every creature, an unrelenting effort to use every means available and call every Christian to this duty and this privilege.
And here we are at a time when we have the greatest means to do this in history - unquestionably. We have the capability, virtually, to reach the world. We can get there physically faster than ever. We can translate and print material faster than ever with the use of computers. We can mobilize people, train people, and dispense people faster than ever. We can use the media. It’s instantaneous, whether it’s the Internet or whether it’s tapes or whether it’s CDs or DVDs or videos or - you name it. Never has the church had this capability to fulfill the great commission - never - to disseminate the gospel to the ends of the earth.
It is astounding to me that just when the church has its greatest opportunity, it has become confused about its message. This is unthinkable. This is unimaginable. Frankly, for me this is inconceivable, that we would reach the point - really the ultimate point in all of the history of the church when we can go everywhere faster than ever and get the gospel in the hands of people and now we’re not sure what the message is. In fact, the church is confused enough to debate what the message is, to argue what the message is, to tolerate a minimal kind of gospel.
The church seems to be embarrassed by its narrowness. It seems eager to redesign it to make it more acceptable. Now that we can reach everybody, we’re afraid of what they’re going to say when they get the message. All those people who gave their lives for all those centuries, all those people who battled and fought in the hardest periods of the church’s history to train and prepare and to learn the meaning of the Word of God without all the tools we have today, without all the endless books and commentaries and resources, all those people who traveled for months and sometimes years, all those people who made sacrifices away from their families.
All those people who died from diseases in hard places, all those people who laboriously worked to create languages, reduce into writing and translate the Scripture, all of that effort passed down to us, and here we are in the high-tech world, we can expedite all of that like never before and we’re not sure, one, what we want to say, and, two, whether or not we want to say it because we’re a little embarrassed about the fact that it’s going to condemn them.
And in fact, the latest wave is aw, the whole deal might not even be necessary. Might not even be necessary. I can’t resist reviewing something that I said to you - couple of years ago. This view has risen to the forefront in evangelical theology. This idea - we have these people who aren’t sure what the gospel is. We have these people who are embarrassed by the gospel and they’re trying to tweak it and take out anything that’s offensive. And then we have the people who aren’t sure we need to even bother with the gospel. And they all call themselves evangelical Christians.
And this last group has come up with a view called “natural theology,” and that says that man by his natural reasoning powers, apart from written revelation, apart from Scripture, apart from the gospel, man by his natural reasoning powers can discern that there is a God. And if he can discern there is a God and desires to know that God, God will accept his rational effort to know Him without requiring belief in the gospel, without requiring the knowledge of the name of God or any of His revelation, without requiring any knowledge of Jesus Christ. Sinners can get to heaven without the Bible and without the knowledge of the gospel.
Now, this has always been Roman Catholic theology, but it’s never been Protestant evangelical theology. It was Pope John Paul II who said, “All who live a just life will be saved, even if they do not believe in Jesus Christ.” That’s Catholic theology. The new Roman Catholic catechism says, “The biblical teaching that salvation only comes in response to faith in Jesus Christ is to be rejected. It is unreasonable and cruel. The heathen are saved if they just live good lives.”
Well, that’s Catholic theology and yet I told you a couple of years ago that well-known evangelists have said this: They may not even know the name of Jesus, but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don’t have and they turn to the only light they have, and I think they’re saved and they’re going to be with us in heaven. Even though they don’t know Jesus? Or His name? This is a sort of “natural theology” idea that you ascend as high as you can get and God says that’s good enough. You sort of crawl up this rational ladder to the point where you believe there’s a God.
There’s another view that even goes beyond that, it’s called the “wider mercy” view. And this view, the advocates of this view say people can actually be saved through non-Christian religions. The first view would say that they sort of have to believe there’s a God up there and come to that God. And the second view says that they may be aided by their false religion.
Clark Pinnock says, and I quote, “When we approach the man of faith other than our own” - another faith - “it will be with a spirit of expectancy to find out how God has been speaking to him and what new understanding of the grace and love of God we may ourselves discover in this encounter. Our first task in approaching another people, another culture, another religion is to take off our shoes, the place where approaching is holy. We may forget that God was there before our arrival.”
What in the world are you saying? These people who are engaged in non-Christian and false religions know God? That God is speaking to them? And God has been there before we arrived with the gospel? He adds, “God has more going on by way of redemption than what happened in first-century Palestine.” He does? He has more going on by way of redemption than what happened in first-century Palestine? Are you trivializing, minimizing the work of Christ?
You ask, “How can people believe this?” Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me.” Acts 4:12, “Neither is there salvation in any other, there’s no other name under heaven whereby we must be saved.”
Then there’s that view called trans-dispensationalism which says, well, God saves people without the gospel by treating them as if they lived in some other dispensation before there was a revelation from God. Sort of pre-Mosaic or pre-Abrahamic.
Does God save people without the truth? Does God save people without the gospel, without the knowledge of Jesus Christ? Does He take just whatever they’ve got to give? That’s not what the Bible teachers. That’s not what Protestant, biblical, orthodox Christianity has ever believed. And this is such a tragic, tragic moment for us to come to such conclusions, just when we have the greatest potential to spread the message. We’re not sure what it is. We’re not sure we want to offend with it. We’re not sure it’s even necessary.
Does the Scripture support these concepts? Does it support the idea that you can be saved without the gospel? Let me remind you of some passages briefly. Romans 1 - Romans 1. This is a very important Word that I’m giving you tonight, very important for us, and you’ll see its connection to our text. We’ll get there. Romans 1:18: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness because that which is known about God is evident within them, for God made it evident to them through reason and moral law.
“For since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks. They became futile in their speculations. Their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools.”
What happens is, built into man is the reason that would take you to the conclusion there is a God. The moral law that would take you to the conclusion that that God is a holy and just and righteous God and lawgiver. While that truth about God is evident within us and verified by the creation around us that there is a great and powerful Creator, even though we know that, where man goes with that isn’t where he should. He doesn’t honor God as God. He doesn’t give Him thanks. He becomes empty in his speculations. His foolish heart is darkened.
He thinks he’s wise. He becomes a fool. He exchanges the glory of the incorruptible God for an image or an idol in the form of corruptible man, of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Man has ample evidence for God in the creation, but it doesn’t lead him to God. It only makes him inexcusable when God judges him. And his problem is back in verse 18: he suppresses the truth in unrighteousness.
The bottom line is his unrighteousness, his depravity, his wretchedness negates the possibility of reason leading him to God. His depraved passion leads him to dishonor the Creator, to refuse to be thankful, to develop empty ideas, to end up in the dark, a fool, proud, idolatrous, and even wicked. Verse 24 and following, “God gave them over to lusts because” - as verse 25 says - they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator who is blessed forever.
Natural revelation will only take you far enough to be inexcusable when God judges you. It’s not enough to save you; it’s only enough to damn you. And to see why that’s true, go to 1 Corinthians chapter 1. First Corinthians chapter 1 unfolds why that is so. No one through the rational pursuit of God who is the Creator can achieve salvation, it doesn’t get you there, it just makes you inexcusable when God judges you. And the reason is, you have to go beyond that.
Verse 18, 1 Corinthians 1: “For the word of the cross is, to those who are perishing, foolishness, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God, for it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the cleverness of the clever I’ll set aside. Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?’” This is an amazing diagnosis of man. They think they’re wise - they’re fools. The conclusion of the wise, the conclusions of the scribes or the scholars, the conclusions of the debaters of this age all together, the sum of them is foolishness. Why?
Verse 21, here’s the key: “For since in the wisdom of God the world, through its wisdom, didn’t come to know God.” There’s the bottom line. You can’t get there through human wisdom because God determined that that’s how it would be. In God’s wisdom, people can’t be saved through their wisdom. “Rather” - verse 21 says - “God was well pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” The only people who will ever be saved are those who believe the message preached.
And what is the message? Well, verse 22, “The Jews ask for signs, the Greeks search for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified. To Jews a stumbling block, to gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
The only way you can be saved is through the message of the cross. That’s why in chapter 2 of this same book, verse 1, Paul says, “When I came to you, brethren, I didn’t come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” That’s all I ever preached. Down in verse 5, “So that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men but on the power of God.” And that power is released only through the gospel.
So Romans 1 says man by reason only brings himself to maximum culpability. He is inexcusable because by himself, in his own reason, he will suppress the truth because he is so dominated by sin. And he will twist that truth, end up dishonoring God, refusing to be thankful, developing empty ideas, finding himself in the dark, a proud, idolatrous, and wicked fool. And here we further understand that the reason the wisest of the wise and the scholars and the debaters don’t ever find God through their own wisdom is because God designed it to be impossible.
The only way you can ever come to God is through the message preached. And what is the message? We preach Christ crucified. Only the message of the cross can save. And that takes you back to verse 18 in 1 Corinthians 1, “For the Word or the message of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” Man, left to himself, left to his own wisdom, lowers God, elevates himself, denies the truth, believes lies. And so it is absolutely critical that men never be thought capable of attaining to the knowledge of God through human reason.
In 2 Corinthians 4 and verse 3, Paul says, “If our gospel is veiled” - and it is - “it is veiled to those who are perishing.” Why so? Because the god of this world, Satan, has blinded the minds of the unbelieving that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God. Double blindness. They’re blind by virtue of their nature and they’re blind by virtue of Satan. It is a compounded stone blindness. The highest achievements of human wisdom will be destroyed along with the most meager achievements of human wisdom.
The wisdom that is from below - that is, earthly wisdom - is characterized in James this way, “This wisdom that is from below is earthly, natural, demonic.” Earthly, natural, demonic. The only supernatural connection you make through human reason is with Satan. No person by natural reason, no person by religious intuition can come to know God and be saved from hell.
Now, you’re in 1 Corinthians 2, go down to verse 11. Let me show you another very important portion of Scripture. First Corinthians 2:11. Well, verse 10, we need that one. “For to us God revealed them” - “them” meaning the things that God has prepared for us in salvation, God revealed these saving realities through the Spirit. Of course, this is in the Scripture, “For the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God, for who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so, the thoughts of God knows no one except the Spirit of God.”
You can’t know God’s mind, you can’t know God’s thoughts, you can’t read God’s mind, you cannot know what God requires through intuition, through human wisdom, through religion. You don’t get to God, you get to Satan. The best that men can do cannot reveal to them the mind of God. The only one who knows the thoughts of God is the Spirit of God. Verse 12 says, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God that we might know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit.”
What Paul is saying is this: We have to have words from God brought to us by the Spirit to know what God thinks, what God wants, what pleases God. You can’t know God through human wisdom. You can’t get there. Only the Spirit of God knows the mind of God. You are dependent upon the Spirit of God conveying to you the words of God, not in words taught by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit. And that’s what the Bible is, it is words taught by the Spirit. It is combining spiritual realities with spiritual words.
But you know what? Even if you have that, even if you have a Bible, verse 14 says, “A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, they’re foolishness to him and he can’t understand them because they’re spiritually appraised.” You can’t get there - listen to this - you can’t get there through human wisdom. You can’t even get there through divine revelation as a natural man. Not only will natural theology, wider mercy, trans-dispensationalism, or any other term, not only will they not get you there, you can’t get there on your own even with this because your mind is so darkened by sin, compounded, you are blinded by Satan, and naturally do not accept the things of the Spirit of God.
You see, what the Bible teaches is absolutely the opposite. You can’t get there by your own wisdom, your own intuition, your own insight, your own rationality. You can only get there by the revelation of the Holy Spirit, and you can’t even get there by the revelation of the Holy Spirit on your own. Man, in his natural capacity, no hope - no hope. Holy Spirit has to go beyond the Scripture and illuminate the soul - right? - and awake the dead and regenerate the corpse.
Look at Acts 17 - Acts 17. I’m preparing you for a eureka when you hit 2 John. It’s all going to be clear. Acts 17, Paul’s on Mars Hill. He stood in the midst of the Areopagus. I’ve preached there several times, it’s quite an experience. He said, “Men of Athens” - in fact, I preached on this very text - “I observe that you’re very religious in all respects. You’re a very religious group.” This is the religious elite of the great city of Athens, where the most erudite and brilliant people were. And this is the philosophical ground, the high ground, the high place where the philosophers and religionists gather.
“You’re very religious in all respects. While I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.” Here’s your problem, you’re worshiping the God you don’t know because you can’t know Him. So I’m here to tell you about Him. “He is the God” - verse 24 - “who made the world and all things in it. Since He is Lord of heaven and earth, doesn’t dwell in temples made with hands.
“Neither is He served with human hands as though He needed anything since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things.” Your whole religious thing has got it all wrong. You’ve got all these temples, He doesn’t need that. You’ve got all these people taking food to serve these imaginary gods, He doesn’t want that. He is the God who gives to all life and breath and all things. He gives, He doesn’t need. “He made from one every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He’s not far from each of us.”
This is the dilemma the sinner has. He reaches out in his rational mind to that Creator he knows is there, that moral lawgiver he knows is there, and he gropes to try find Him. And he’s not far away because verse 28 says, “We’re actually living and moving and existing right in His presence.”
What do we conclude? Verse 29, “That the divine nature is gold or silver or stone, some image formed by art and the thought of men?” Verse 30 describes this as the times of ignorance. Forget all that. All that religious effort going on in the epitome of human culture in Athens, the pinnacle of Greek learning, all of that ended up in ignorance. And verse 30 says, “God is now declaring to men that all men everywhere must repent.” Whatever your religion, turn from it. It’s taking you in the wrong direction. That’s the point. You have to repent of your religion.
God isn’t going to say, “Ah, you’re going down the right path, you’re nearly there, just another step.” He says, “Repent of it all,” which means to turn and go the other way. You’re going entirely in the wrong direction and you better repent because God has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a man whom He has appointed having furnished proof to all men by what? Raising Him from the dead. It was the resurrection that proved that Jesus was the Savior. It was the resurrection that proved He was God.
And so what does Paul say on Mars Hill? “Oh, you guys are doing really well.” Does he get up there and say, “Oh, hey, guys, what’s God been saying to you lately? Has God been here before I arrived?” He says, “Whatever it is that you believe in, whatever your religion, repent, turn around and go the other direction, go in the direction of that man.” And you can believe this isn’t the whole sermon. He told them who that man was. “In the direction of the Lord Jesus Christ who is the Savior and the judge as proven by His resurrection from the dead.”
We know Paul said more because verse 32 says, “When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, they began to sneer and others said, ‘We’ll hear you again concerning this.’ Paul went out of their midst but some men joined him and believed” - and believed. The full message of Christ was there and it was given. Some believed. Natural reason is incapable, natural reason is ignorant. Natural reason is idolatrous. Natural reason is hopeless. You have to repent of it.
First Corinthians chapter 10 takes it a step further. If you want to know where people get without the gospel, this is the last word on it. First Corinthians 10:19. Paul says, “A thing sacrificed to idols,” talking about pagans who gave their offerings to idols, something that had gone on through the centuries. Is an idol anything? What are you doing when you do that? What are you doing? There’s no god there because there’s only one God. So this idol that you think is God, like the people down at the other end of the block who bring food and put it at the feet of the fat Buddha, who is that? There is no god Buddha, there’s only one true and living God.
So the thing sacrificed to that god, what is that? Who is that god? What are they really doing? Verse 20, “I say the things which the gentiles” - which the heathen - “sacrifice, they sacrifice to” - whom? - “demons” - demons - “not to God.” You can’t get there by human reason. You can’t get there by the wrong religion. All you end up with is demons and Satan. No one comes to the true God through human reason, no one comes to the true God through human wisdom, no one comes to the true God through false religion, no one comes to the true God apart from the message of the cross. Church has always known that.
And there’s another reason why it can’t happen. Romans 3. I keep thinking of other passages, pardon me. Romans 3:9 and 10. Well, verse 10 would be enough, “There’s none righteous, not even one. There’s none who understands, there’s none who seeks for God.” That’s enough, isn’t it? Whatever they’re doing, they’re not seeking the true God. Whatever they’re learning, they don’t understand what they need to understand. And however good they are, they’re not good enough. So if you can’t be good enough and you can’t really understand and you’re not really looking for the true God, why would you think God would save you?
It’s just the opposite. They’re not seeking God. They’ve turned aside. Even that which they knew about God, they rejected, Romans 1. “They turned aside. Together they’ve become useless. There’s none who does good, there’s not even one. Their throat is an open grave. With their tongue, they keep deceiving. The poison of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and misery are in their paths and the path of peace have they not known. There’s no fear of God before their eyes.
“Therefore” - verse 19 - “we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God because by the works of the law, no flesh will be justified.” You can’t make your life right with God by any kind of religious action. You can’t get there from there. No one gets to God on his own because he can’t.
Now, 2 Thessalonians 1. And this is the last one and then we’ll go to our text. Second Thessalonians 1 and verse 7, middle of the verse. It talks about when Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire. It’s talking about His return. And verse 8 defines this very clearly. “He will deal out retribution” - or punishment - “to those who do not know God,” and then a modifying, equalizing phrase, “who do not know God,” or another way to say it, “who do not obey” - what? - “the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” You don’t know God if you don’t obey the gospel. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction.
Now, do you understand why I’m so passionate about this? We only have one message. Here we are at the greatest point in church history in terms of being able to deliver that message, and we don’t know what it is. Or we think people might be offended by it, and so we want to change it. Or the easy way out, aw, they don’t need it anyway. Any effort to confuse the gospel, any effort that ends up with an embarrassment about the gospel, or any effort that says you don’t need the gospel doesn’t come from God, does it? It comes from the enemy of men’s souls.
Now please turn to 2 John. This passage has to be added to the list I’ve just given you. Second John 9, “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ does not have God. The one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.” Can it be any more clear than that? Even if you deviate from the biblical teaching of Christ, if you do not abide, remain in the teaching of Christ, you do not have God. This seals the case. Salvation, knowing God, having God requires the truth about Christ being believed.
Now, this brief letter to a Christian lady and her children is a call to all Christians to live in the truth. And I’ve sort of poured my heart out on these last three and then this message, telling you that there’s nothing more important than the truth and we’re all in a battle to fight to protect it. Both 2 John and 3 John emphasize the centrality of the truth.
And do you remember the setting? This is written to a lady and her children about how to live in the truth and love in the truth and be loyal to the truth. And what really prompted this letter was the issue of Christian hospitality. As I’ve been telling you, in those times there were preachers who traveled around to the churches to preach the gospel and to bring the truth of God to the people of God. And the only way they could do that would be to be received into the homes. Inns were unacceptable, dangerous places, immoral places, and so people opened their homes.
In fact, the Bible lays down hospitality as a very important part of Christian life. One of the dangers, of course, was that false teachers knew about this, and they wanted to get in too, just like they want to get into Christian radio, Christian television, Christian publications, et cetera. I asked one of the great publishers in America why he published a heretical book and he looked at me like, “What do you mean? We publish everything.” Didn’t even understand the question.
These people want to get in everywhere. They don’t want to operate outside the Kingdom, they want to operate as much inside as they can. So they push their Trojan Horse through the city gates and then let loose the damaging army of error. And what happened was, in the early church, false teachers pretending to represent Christ would travel around - it was a great gig - to make a living. You went in, you stayed with somebody, ate their food, they took an offering for you, and you went to the next place, and you just kept getting more money and more money as you went along. And at the time, of course, you were representing Satan and undermining the truth and damaging the lives of people.
Apparently, this lady, in wanting to be hospitable, had done this. She had allowed herself to be put in a very compromising situation, a very dangerous situation for both her and the church, to give a place where the false teacher could be embedded in the very fellowship of saints. And so John writes this letter to warn her and her children and everybody else. And maybe he had heard about this from her sister, who is mentioned in verse 13, because as he was writing, most likely, from Ephesus, he says to her, “The children of your chosen sister greet you.”
So she had a sister and maybe it was the sister that had told him about this problem. Here was probably a compassionate, tender-hearted, gracious lady and her children that wanted to allow these people who said they were Christ’s into the home. And so the letter is written as a warning. The church was loving, the church was hospitable. Church was gracious and so they were vulnerable. So John writes to establish the limits of our loving. We live in the truth. We love within the confines of the truth. And we are loyal to the truth.
Now we come to verse 9, and let me add another little “L” in our list, living in the truth, loving in the truth, being loyal to the truth, we have to be looking for the truth. We have to be looking for the truth. The perspective here in verse 9 through 11 is a perspective of protection - protection. John laid out the reality of the truth of redemption back in 1 John when repeatedly in 1 John he talks about one of the marks of a true believer being an understanding of the Son of God and the Father. First John 2:22, “Who is a liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist. Whoever denies the Son doesn’t have the Father, the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.”
In chapter 4, very similar, verse 14, “And we have beheld and bear witness that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God.” Chapter 5, verse 1, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” Verse 12, “He who has the Son has the life. He who doesn’t have the Son of God doesn’t have the life.” Everything in the gospel comes down to the Son. If you don’t have the Son, you don’t have the life. If you don’t believe in the true Christ, you can’t be a true Christian.
Satan’s strategy was to deceive. Verses 7 and 8, “Many deceivers have gone out into the world.” And what do they characteristically do? Well, they do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. They have a warped Christology. “This is the deceiver and the antichrist, watch yourselves.” You’ve got to be alert. You’ve got to protect yourself. You’ve got to be loyal to the truth. Just because someone uses the term Jesus Christ doesn’t mean they represent Him. They may well represent Satan. In fact, sometimes I think there are - there are maybe more popular people who claim the name of Jesus Christ who belong to Satan’s kingdom than God’s.
So you have to learn to look for the truth. And so verse 9 says, “Anyone who goes too far” - proagō, to run ahead, to go beyond. That is to say, to offer teaching beyond what? Beyond what? Where is all the teaching we need about Christ? Scripture. So when somebody comes along and offers teaching beyond Scripture, you have a problem.
First Corinthians 4:6. Listen to this. “Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes” - listen to this one line - “that in us you might learn not to exceed what is written.” You can underline that, 1 Corinthians 4:6. “Not to exceed what is written.” Don’t go beyond that.
And so, verse 9 says, “Anyone who goes beyond what is written and does not remain in the teaching of Christ does not have God.” Now, the teaching of Christ - immediately you’re asking yourself - what does that mean? Is that a subjective genitive or an objective genitive? That is, is Christ the subject or the object? Is it His teaching or is it teaching about Him? Answer: Yes, yes. It is the teaching about Him which, of course, is consistent with His teaching. You could never separate the two, could you?
And that’s why you don’t need to argue over whether the Greek subjective or objective genitive is in view here, there’s nothing to choose between. Both are the same. The truth about Christ is taught by Christ. The point is, the biblical revelation about Jesus Christ, if someone goes beyond that or does not remain true to that, they do not have God.
Listen. You can’t be saved without the gospel. You can’t even be saved with a warped gospel. You can’t be saved without believing in Jesus Christ. You can’t even be saved without believing in the one true Christ.
Galatians 1, Paul says - and it can’t be, again, argued what he means because it is crystal clear. “Even though we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you,” let him be what? - “let him be damned.” And in case you didn’t get that. Verse 9, “As we said before, I say again, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you’ve received, let him be damned.” You can’t get there without the gospel and you can’t get there with a warped gospel.
Anyone who doesn’t acknowledge the true Christ and the true gospel does not know God, does not have God, no matter what he claims. The one who abides in the teaching of Christ about Christ, he has both the Father and the Son.
You know, you really have to look for this today. I mean you have to have your theological magnifying glass with the little nuances people want to use to somehow escape a real assessment. The one who is faithful to a biblical Christology, the one who menō, remains in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. You don’t get the Father without the Son. You don’t get the Son disconnected from the Father. There’s no possibility of knowing God apart from knowing Christ. This is the strongest statement on gospel exclusivity anywhere. It’s a package deal. You don’t know the Father except by the Son. “No man comes unto the Father but by me.”
So that is the principle of looking for the truth. And when you meet someone who has perverted it, deviated from it, added to it, gone beyond it, act wisely - act wisely. And how would you act wisely? Verse 10, “If anyone comes to you,” and they did, this is a - “A” with the indicative, a likely condition. Probably happened to this lady, as I said, as to many through the centuries and many even today, and even us as they kind of come into our house through the television and radio and whatever and sometimes even knocking on the door.
“If anyone comes to you and does not bear this teaching” - what teaching? The teaching of Christ, that is about Him by Him - “do not receive him into your house.” This is not someone coming to learn from you or you’d never be able to witness to an unbeliever. This is someone coming to teach you lies. You understand the difference? We answer the questions of the ignorant. We answer the questions of those who want to know. We don’t affirm or give a platform to the deceivers. The fastest way to put them out of business is to make sure that you never receive them.
If anyone comes to you - I’m not talking about someone ignorant who wants to understand the truth. We’re talking about an apostate, lying deceiver looking for a foothold embedded in the fellowship of believers to make money off the unsuspecting while he plies his evil lies. Don’t receive him into your house. He could have said, “Don’t receive him in your church.” That’s true, but then churches were not the first place they would go. Why? Because churches were protected by what group of men? Elders.
And what - what was necessary to be an elder? First Timothy 3, they had to be - end of verse 2 - didaktikos, skilled teachers. So you wouldn’t expect a false teacher to just invade a church. He’s not going to get in here. We have elders who are skilled teachers. Titus 1:9, “Elders are able to hold fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the doctrine and are able both to exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict.” And they can handle the rebellious men, the empty talkers, and deceivers. That’s what elders and pastors do.
So they don’t come to the church. That’s where they ultimately end up, that’s where they’d like to end up. They don’t come there first, they go to the home. They want to get you on your front porch. They want to get you through the television or the radio. They want to find their way to those who are vulnerable. In 2 Timothy 3 and verse 5, it says, “These false teachers have a form of godliness without power.”
And verse 6 says, “They enter into households and they captivate weak women.” Hmm. It’s what they do. They look for the weak and the sympathetic and tender-hearted and compassionate and embed themselves there and start their divesting of those people’s resources and the confusion of their minds.
Don’t let them in your house. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly.” And this doesn’t apply to new Christians or those who seek a full knowledge of Christ. These people are not learners, they are what? Teachers. The emissaries of deception.
But that’s not all it says. They are so dangerous, not only do you not let them in, look at the end of verse 10. “Do not give him a greeting.” Do not give him a greeting.” Saintly Polycarp met a heretic and greeted him with this, “I recognize Satan’s firstborn.” Greeting - greeting is chairein. Means to give a greeting, literally means to rejoice. That was the Christian greeting, standard Christian greeting, to rejoice. That is to say to someone, “Rejoice.” In other words, this is a happy occasion to see you, it produces joy. Your presence is a source of joy. Welcome to the fellowship, as an affirmation of solidarity.
You don’t ever want to say that to a false teacher and a deceiver and a liar and an emissary of Satan, somebody who’s gone beyond what the Bible teaches about Christ. Don’t ever say that to a false teacher. You say, “Well, that’s narrow.” You bet. You say, “That’s harsh.” You got it right. You say, “That’s unloving.” Absolutely. But nothing is as dangerous as deception because nothing is as precious as truth, right? He’s speaking of dangerous wolves, Acts 20. He’s speaking of thieves in the language of Jesus in John 10 who come to kill and destroy the flock.
Any hospitality, any commendation, any acceptance of them would be dangerous exposure to antichrist influences. You can’t overstate this. It would be impossible to overstate this. If you ever put yourself in a position in which you give yourself over to lying teachers, you’re in defiance of this text. You may think they’re academic and you may think there’s something very elite about being a part of some academic environment. The appropriate thing would be to borrow from Polycarp and tell your Christ-denying religious professor, “I recognize Satan’s firstborn when I see him.” Shut the door in their face, John says.
John was a real shepherd. He was protecting his flock. Quickest way to contribute to their failure is to shut the door and give them no affirming greeting at all. Their mouths, Titus 1 says, must be stopped. And the church today is not willing to do this - not willing to do this. How serious is this? You say, “Well, I should do it for the love of the truth.” Right. “I should do it for the honor of God.” Right. But John goes beyond that. Look at verse 11. “For the one” - not the one who lets him in the house - “the one who gives him” a what? - “a greeting participates in his evil deeds.”
Wow. Koinōnos with him, fellowships, shares, partakes literally in the evil works of him. That’s amazing. If you even show hospitality, beyond that, if you even give him an affirming greeting, that’s a tight, narrow responsibility. Don’t do anything to acknowledge them as Christians.
You know, the government - government locks up criminals. Why? Why does the government put people in prison, people who kill and plunder and rape and steal? Why does the government put them in prison? For their rehabilitation? Not really. Doesn’t do that. But they put them in prison, you hear this all the time, “I just want to see that guy off the streets.” You put them in jail to protect people, right? Put them in there to protect everybody else. The government understands the destruction these people do physically.
And yet I wonder if the church understands the destruction that liars and deceivers do spiritually. Church must never aid or abet or encourage spiritual criminals in any way. So unmistakably, we are commanded to live and love in the truth, to be loyal to the truth and to look for the truth in all who claim to speak for God.
One final thought - or so. Learning the truth. John closes this little letter with the reminder that no matter how much you know, you don’t know enough. Verse 12, “Having many things to write to you” - I love that. “Having many things to write to you, I do not want to do so with paper and ink, but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that your joy may be made full.” John sort of signs off here, before his final word there in verse 13, by reminding us that there’s more to know.
If we’re going to be vigilant, if we’re going to be diligent, if we’re going to be protectors of the truth, if we’re going to be protectors of the sacredness of the church, if we’re going to care for the little lambs and be guardians of the people of God, we’ll never know enough - never know enough. I never cease to be amazed at the nuances and the subtleties of error that just keep coming. So John says, “Having many things to write to you.”
By the way, that’s how he closed 3 John. Look at verse 13 in 3 John. “I had many things to write to you, but I’m not willing to write them to you with pen and ink, but I hope to see you shortly and we’ll speak face to face.” It’s the same thing. And it’s appropriate with a short letter to say that, isn’t it? So much more to say. So much more you need to know, dear lady, so much more I want you to know.
This is the reality of every growing Christian’s experience. There’s so much more in the vast truth of Scripture to know, you’ve got to go from the milk level of the truth to the meat level of the truth. I know I’ve been doing this a long time, and there’s so much more to know. I don’t know it all, by any stretch of the imagination. I stand like a man in front of the ocean with a bucket full looking at the vast ocean ahead of me and realize the depth and height and breadth and length of the wonder of divine truth. I haven’t begun to even approach grasping it all.
And then John opens his heart as a pastor and he says, “I don’t want to do so with paper and ink.” The word ink is actually the word black. What they wrote with in those days was a combination of water, charcoal, and gum resin that made ink. I don’t want to write this to you, I don’t want to write it, I hope to come to you - personal touch - and speak, I love this, speak - and here’s the Greek phrase, stoma pros stoma, mouth to mouth. It’s not mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, not talking about an actual contact. We would say eyeball to eyeball.
But the Greek idiom was stoma pros stoma. It’s the way God spoke to Moses in Numbers 12:8, as a man speaks to a man, mouth to mouth. I want to come and have a personal conversation. This is so wonderful. Here is the apostle, the last living apostle, the last one who had walked and talked with Jesus, the beloved apostle John at the end of his life, and he still could say, “Dear lady, I want to come and I want personally to bring more truth to you, and I can’t discern in a letter what it is you need or how I may be required to apply that truth. And so we’ll have to wait until we see each other face to face.”
And then he says, “In order that your joy may be made full.” In order that your joy may be made full. What kind of joy is he talking about? The joy that is produced by knowing the truth. I don’t know what your highest joy is. Mine is found in knowing the truth. John, 1 John 1:4, “These things I write unto you that your joy may be full” - full. It’s the truth that produces joy. Like Luke 24, I think it’s verse 32, they walked on the road to Emmaus, and after having been taught by Jesus, they said, “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked with us in the way?” The burning heart of joy over learning the truth.
Jeremiah says, “Thy words are found and I did eat them, and thy Word was in me the joy and rejoicing of my heart.” So John says you’ve got to keep learning and I want to come and I want to see you and see your situation and know what you know and I want to tell you what you need to know so that you can come to fullness of joy. The fullness of joy is connected to the greatest knowledge of the truth. Truth of God, dear ones, is our life. It saves us, it sanctifies us, it assures us of eternal glory and it protects us and it protects God’s church. And so we live in the truth, we love in the truth, we’re loyal to the truth, we look discerningly for the truth in those we embrace, and we keep learning the truth.
And then John says a brief goodbye in verse 13, “The children of your chosen sister greet you.” It’s a personal letter and she would want to know that her sister had sent her greetings. This is the tender touch of John, the sister and children send their love to the sister and her children. They greet you, aspazetai, simply means to greet. But it’s not the word greet that we saw back in verse 10, that was the Christian greeting chairein. This greet you is a very common New Testament word which was a technical term used at the end of letters.
You find it at the end of Romans, Romans 16:22. You find it at the end of Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 16:21. It was the final way to sign off. So from his location, the old man John signs off after having called this dear lady to the truth. He embraces her in his heart personally, hopes to come, fill in what she doesn’t know so that she can live in the truth, love in the truth, be loyal to the truth, look for the truth and learn the truth, and sends her the love of her own sister.
We live in a tender family, a loving family. In some ways it’s too loving to be a battlefield, but in other ways we have to see that it is. We fight to protect the love that we enjoy in the truth.
Father, we thank you again for this wonderful epistle. John signs off and we sign off, never to forget the richness of this letter. Thank you for it, Amen.
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