The Eighth in a Series of Sermons on John's Epistles
In his first Epistle, John is defending the doctrine that Jesus is God manifest in the flesh against a group of false teachers who have departed from the truth by teaching that Jesus was not a flesh and blood Savior, but a deity who merely appeared in the form of a human. John calls this teaching–which is known to us today as the heresy of docetism–the spirit of antichrist. For the Apostle, Christianity is not a religion in which one learns a set of secret principles revealed to a few enlightened individuals who have managed to gain insight into the “real” teaching of Jesus. For John, Christianity is a religion grounded in the historical work of a flesh and blood Savior (Jesus Christ) whom John has heard preach, whom John witnessed perform miracles, and whom John even touched with his own hands. To deny that Jesus is truly human is to deny Christianity. Given the importance of this essential point, John once again returns to a discussion of the nature of the Christian truth claim, and warns us yet again of false teachers and antichrists, who will inevitably come and attempt to deceive God’s people. But John does more than merely warn us about these false teachers, he gives us a test to determine whether or not someone has imbibed from the Gnostic heresy–“does a teacher confess that Jesus is God in human flesh?”
We have been working our way through John’s epistles, and we now come to fourth chapter of 1 John. As we have seen in each of the last few sermons, John is returning to issues in chapter 3 he’s already addressed in the first couple of chapters. John likely does this for the sake of emphasis. In chapter two John had emphasized the need for Christians to obey God’s commandments, to reject worldliness (the non-Christian way of thinking and doing), and to heed his warning about the presence of many antichrists in the age in which we now live.
In chapter three, John repeats these themes while emphasizing different aspects of them. For example, not only must God’s people strive to obey his commandments, they are no longer to be characterized by the practice of sin. Furthermore, Christians will strive to love their brothers and sisters in Christ, while rejecting the murderous ways of Cain, who is the epitome of worldliness, and whose indifference toward God (i.e., his produce offering) and hatred of his brother Abel (whom he killed) prefigures those whom John describes as antichrists. These false teachers, says John, deny that Jesus is God in the flesh. They seek out “esoteric,” secret truths about God, and they deceive themselves into thinking that they have somehow risen above sin. This explains their indifference to God’s commandments and their lack of love for both God and his people. They may claim to have gained “wisdom,” but John has repeatedly exposed them to be theologically clueless, which is a very serious and dangerous place to be.
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