How many times I have heard well-meaning Christians remark, “As long as someone is preaching Jesus, isn’t that all that matters?” “After all,” they will misguidingly add, “doctrine is not important anyway as long as you are teaching about Jesus.” While those who make such a remark may be sincere, they are sincerely wrong. If our doctrine of Christ is wrong, then our message is wrong and is powerless to forgive sin and change a life.
Is it possible to tell if the one who is preaching/teaching Christ is communicating the Jesus of the Bible or another Jesus of man’s making and fashioning? The Apostle John in his second epistle gives clear guidance as how one may know whether or not the Jesus of the Bible is being proclaimed. That aged Apostle writes, “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. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds” (2 John 9-11).
In a day when all kinds of Jesus’ are being proclaimed, a thorough examination of these verses will prove helpful. The authorized English version reads in verse nine, “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God.” The word translated “transgresseth” comes from the Greek word προάγω (proago) which means “to go before, to run ahead of.” It is used in verse nine to go before or run ahead of in a bad sense, speaking of going beyond the boundaries of true Biblical doctrine in regard to the person of Christ. (In v. 9 the Greek word translated “doctrine” is didache meaning “teachings about Christ.”) Proago is present active participle which means those John is warning about continue to run outside the boundaries of true Christian doctrine. John is clear in I John 4:1-3 as to what is meant by going beyond the boundaries in regard to the doctrine of Christ, ”Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God.”
What did John mean by he “that confesses not that Jesus is come in the flesh is not of God” (I Jh 4:3)? The word translated “confesses” in the Greek is ὁμολογέω (homologeó) , meaning “to speak the same thing as another, to agree with another” on a particular matter. Thus, every teacher who is in agreement with the Bible and teaches “that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God. And every spirit that confesses not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God” (I Jh 4:2-3) So, when someone’s teaching goes beyond the teaching of the Incarnation of the Son in human flesh, thus denying the Incarnation, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, John is clear that they are “not of God” (I Jh 4:3). When someone teaches that Jesus is other than the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior, the One the Old Testament predicted would come to deal with the sins of humanity, then they have gone beyond the boundaries in regard to the doctrine of Christ. When someone teaches that Jesus is not the only remedy for the sins of humanity for the forgiveness of sins and entering into fellowship with a holy God, they have gone beyond the boundaries in regard to the doctrine of Christ. If one teaches other than that God was not only the One who offered the Sacrifice for our sin, but in Christ He was the Sacrifice, then one is preaching other than the Biblical doctrine of Christ. If one teaches that Jesus was only a man, though the Exemplar of humanity, but not the Savior, then they have gone beyond the boundaries in regard to the doctrine of Christ. If Jesus is not preeminent (Col. 1:18) in one’s theology, He being the atoning sacrifice (I John 2:2) for our sins and in whom “there is no other name given among men whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 ), then one has gone beyond the boundaries of the doctrine of Christ.
John is clear that if one holds to a different doctrine concerning Christ, we are not to “receive” them or support them; we are not to tolerate them. Those words seem harsh and are an offense to many today who bow at the altar of “tolerance” of anything no matter how theologically incorrect or off center it may be. But John is clear, “they are not of God” no matter how flowery their language. John says to tolerate their unsound teaching regarding the personhood of Christ, is to partake of their evil deeds (2 Jh 11).
John and Paul both warn there are those who abide not in the doctrine of Christ, but pervert it (2 John 9-11; Galatians 1:1-16). John says test the teaching (I John 4:1-4); the Greek word translated “test or try” being dokimazō “to test to see if it is genuine, to test for the purpose of approving.” How do we do that? By listening to how the teaching depicts and describes Christ. Is the emphasis on Christ blessing us with earthly riches or bringing us eternal redemption; on Christ being a man but not the God-Man; on Christ rebuilding one’s self-esteem or rescuing one from sin; on Christ being a prominent messenger of God but not the promised Messiah from God; on a Gospel that is anthropocentric not Christocentric; on Christ interested in our happiness but not our holiness, on Christ saving us in our sin not saving us out of our sin, focusing solely on Christ’s principles for our steps to the exclusion of focusing on Christ’s provision for our sins, and a Christ who serves us not we who serve Him.
It is not new contemporary verbiage that is needed today in an attempt to repackage the doctrine of Christ in order to appease and be appealing to society, but what is needed is a return to proclaiming that God became flesh and dwelt among us (Jh 1:14), revealing Himself in Jesus Christ and in grace He came to do for sinful man what he could not do for himself – and man being unable to comply with the holy demands of a righteous God, our Creator in Jesus Christ became the Redeemer and on Calvary’s Hill man’s sin debt was paid in full.
P.T. Forsyth said it eloquently, “In the fullness of time, God came in the God-man Christ, the living Word; in whom God was present, reconciling the world unto Himself … He acted not only through Christ but in Christ … In Christ we have God Himself. Christ was more than a mere messenger from God but He was God, therefore, and His death was God in action. He was not simply the witness of God’s grace, He was its fact, its incarnation. His death was not merely a seal to His work; it was His consummate work. It gathered up His whole person. It was more than a confirmatory pledge; it was the effective atonement of the gracious God, with His real presence at its core. Something was done at the cross once for all, and the subject doer of it was God…. It is not our experience we preach, but the Christ who comes in our experience. We preach not ourselves, but Christ” (Forsyth, Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind, 358).
Yes, it does matter the Christ that is being preached/taught. Test the teaching. There is no need to dress up the doctrine of Christ in gaudy colors to attract the world; to the sinful soul the finished work of Christ on the Cross is attraction enough. The words to an ol’ hymn strike a beautiful cord of joyous music in our hearts, “I need no other argument, I need no other plea; It is enough that Jesus died, And that He died for me. Enough for me that Jesus saves, this ends my fear and doubt; A sinful soul I come to Him, He’ll never cast me out. ”
Amen, what a Savior!