Broadcasting now. Watch Live.

It Matters What You Believe - Part 4

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:18-27


1 John 2. Last week I mentioned to you a survey that Ligonier had taken - The 2020 State of Theology survey. So, now a couple of years ago, in which 3000 US adults were asked to respond to a variety of theological statements. So, they would simply throw a statement out there and ask those who had identified themselves in various ways to respond to that statement. Last week I shared with you several troubling responses from that survey about the person of Jesus Christ. The most troubling was that there were way too many people who said that Jesus Christ became the Son of God in Bethlehem, denying His eternality, His identity as eternal Son of God, by denying the Trinity. And all of that is deeply troubling.

But in that same survey, there were also theological statements about other issues. One of them was about sin. Listen to this. Here's one of the statements and see how you would respond: "Most people are good by nature." Now, that's a theological softball. I hope most of you get that. But, shockingly, to that statement, "Most people are good by nature", 46% of those who said they were evangelical, agreed. 61% of those who say they go to church every week, agreed - most people are good by nature.

Here's another one: "Even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation." Now, again, that's an easy question. If you're a believer, if you know the Scripture, you know the answer to that is, "Absolutely!" God is perfectly holy, and the smallest sin is an act of rebellion against heaven's high King. It is an act of treason and deserves the greatest punishment. That's what the Scriptures teach. But to the statement, "Even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation", 49% of professed evangelicals, disagreed. And 44% of those who attend church weekly, disagreed. I don't know what happened there. It's like evangelicals were further out there than the rest of them. So, that's sin.

Let's go to salvation. There were several theological statements offered about salvation. Again, see how you do. Here's the first: "Jesus Christ's death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin." Another softball. Only 62% of weekly church attenders strongly agree with that statement. 62% - let's do it the other way. 40% of those who attend Christian churches in America every week said that they agree strongly that Jesus Christ's death on the cross is the only sacrifice. I'm sorry, I should say it the other way. I did the 40%. Let me do it again. 40% say they strongly do not agree that Christ's death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of sin. Here's a second about salvation: "Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God's free gift of eternal salvation." Another easy one. Only 55% of weekly church attenders agree with that.

A third: "God counts a person as righteous not because of one's works, but only because of one's faith in Jesus Christ." Only 75% of evangelicals strongly agree with that statement. That means 25% of people who say, "I'm an evangelical", don't strongly agree that's true. And only 55% of weekly church attenders strongly agree that it's not because of works that we are saved.

Just as we saw with the person of Jesus Christ last week, we also have to acknowledge that there is an abysmal ignorance of the gospel in professing Christendom in America. In his first letter, the apostle John is teaching us that what you believe about matters - what you believe about sin, what you believe about salvation, what you believe about the gospel - that determines whether you are a true Christian or not.

Now, just to set the context for those who may be our guest today, let me remind you about 1 John. 1 John is tests of eternal life. He gives three tests, and he repeats those three tests three separate times. So, there are three cycles or three movements. But in each of those cycles or movements, he comes back to these same three tests.

We're looking at the first movement or the first cycle of these three tests. And we've seen so far, the moral test: obedience to Jesus Christ and His Word. That's chapter 1:5 through chapter 2:6.

We've also studied the social test: love for God and for His people - chapter 2:7-17. If you in fact are a new creation, if the Holy Spirit lives within you, you have, not in perfection, but you have a love for God and a love for His people.

We're studying the third test in this first movement, and it's the doctrinal test: faith in the biblical Jesus and in the biblical gospel. So, the theme, then, of chapter 1, or I'm sorry, of chapter 2:18-27 is that a true Christian always knows, believes, and perseveres in the biblically orthodox teaching about Jesus Christ and His gospel. Let me say that again, and I know that's wordy, but all of those words are important. A true Christian always knows - you have to know the truth to believe it. There's certain facts about the gospel and Christ you have to know. A true Christian always knows, believes, and perseveres in - it's not okay to believe once in the past, to have prayed a prayer, walked an aisle, signed a card, and be a Christian. A true Christian perseveres in, that is, continues in the biblically orthodox teaching about Jesus Christ and His gospel. What you believe matters. Just as there are vital signs to determine if a person is physically alive, there are doctrinal vital signs that tell us whether or not a person has spiritual life. To be a true Christian, you have to believe certain biblical truths.

Now, last week we considered the truths that you must believe about the person of Jesus Christ. Today, I want us to consider the truths that you need to believe about the gospel of Jesus Christ. And let me just fill that out. It's not that the gospel isn't about Christ. Obviously, it is. We covered that last week. But in addition to getting the person of Jesus Christ right, the gospel also includes two other important components. One of those is the work that Jesus Christ accomplished in order to purchase our salvation. You have to understand, not only who He is, but what He did. And the third necessary component of this biblical gospel is, you have to understand how that work that Jesus did becomes yours, how it's applied to you. There are a lot of people who misunderstand how the work of Jesus Christ becomes there's. So, we're looking at that today.

Let me give you a running start though, what we've seen so far. The first vital sign that we studied, that's part of this doctrinal test is this: do you belong to a biblical church? Do you belong to a biblical church? Look at verses 18 and 19: "Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming [that is, the future man of sin, the ultimate opposition to Christ, the embodiment of opposition to Christ who'll come during the Tribulation period. You heard he's coming. Well, John says], even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour." Who are these antichrists? Verse 19: "They went out from us..." He's talking about people who've belonged to the churches he served in Asia Minor, who listened to false teachers. And the false teachers and their false disciples left the churches and went out to form their own thing because they had a different Christ and a different gospel. And he says, "They went out from us, but they were not really of us [they weren't truly part of the church of Jesus Christ. They appeared to belong, but they didn't really belong]; for [because] if they had been of us [if they had truly, spiritually belonged to Christ's church], they would have remained with us [true believers]; but they went out, so that it would be shown [so that it would become evident, manifest] that they all are not of us." The point of these verses is this: a true Christian doesn't abandon a biblically orthodox church to follow a false teacher and become part of a false church. It doesn't happen. True Christians don't do that. Why is that? Well, we're going to see in just a moment.

But let's go, then, to the second doctrinal sign of spiritual life. The first, in verses 18 and 19, is: do you belong to a biblical church? The second is: do you believe the essential gospel? Do you believe the essential gospel? This is the message of verses 20 to 25. Now, the main point of these verses is that, because of something John calls the anointing, something every believer received at the moment of salvation - he's clear that every believer, regardless of how old they are in Christ, has this anointing. And so, as we discovered together couple of weeks ago, this is the Holy Spirit. The anointing is the Holy Spirit. If you're a Christian at the moment of salvation, the Spirit came to indwell you and He is the Spirit of truth. So, you have this anointing now because of that.

A true Christian knows, believes, and perseveres in the essential elements of saving truth. That's the message of verses 20 and 21. A true Christian knows, believes and perseveres in the essential elements of saving truth. Verse 20: "But you have an anointing [that is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth. You received] from the Holy One [here, probably a reference to Jesus Christ, as we saw], and you all know [doesn't mean you know everything. There's something important that you know. Read on - verse 21]. I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because [you know that] no lie is of the truth."

As we learned in these verses, it's not that the Spirit we have in us protects us from all error, from misunderstanding the Scriptures, from being led astray in certain issues. What John is promising here is that because you have the Holy Spirit, no Christian will ever embrace damning error. You'll never embrace a false Jesus and a false gospel, because he has the anointing, which is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, who protects him from that. So, they persevere in the essential elements of saving truth. That's a general statement. But in the following verses, John is going to fill that out. He's going to explain exactly what those essential elements of saving truth are. In verses 22 and 23, there're truths about the person of Jesus Christ. And in verses 24 and 25, there're truths about the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Now, last week, we discovered, then, that a true Christian knows, believes, and perseveres in the biblical truth about Jesus Christ. Look at verses 22 and 23: "Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus [the human person, Jesus of Nazareth] is the Christ [the divine Messiah]? This is the antichrist, the one who denies [in their denial of the Son, they also deny] the Father and the Son." Verse 23: "Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also." Notice how he changes from the name Jesus and even Jesus as the divine Messiah, to His being the Son. We looked at that at length. He's affirming the eternal Sonship of Jesus Christ, that He is eternally the Son of God, and that He became a human at conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary. He is fully God, fully man. This is the person of our Lord. A true Christian confesses that the human Jesus of Nazareth is the divine Messiah, the eternal Son of God, coequal with and of the same nature as the Father. He is at the same time, since His conception, not only fully God, which He always was, but He has now become, as well, fully man. He is now the Godman.

Now, today, John reminds us that another essential element of saving truth is not only that about the person of Jesus Christ, but also, it's this - number 3: a true Christian knows, believes, and perseveres in the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the message of verses 24 and 25. Let's read them together. "As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life."

Now, let me just start by warning you that we're not going to make it through those two verses because there is a huge amount of content that is contained in those two verses that we need to unpack together this week and next. So, let's start though. Let me start with the first part of verse 24. And I want to read it to you literally as it translates from the Greek - the word order is obviously different, but with the different word order you get an emphasis. So, listen carefully. This is how it reads literally from the Greek text at the beginning of our 24: "You, that which you heard from the beginning, in you, let it be remaining." Let me read it again. "You, that which you heard from the beginning, in you, let it be remaining."

Now, you'll notice that that verse actually begins with the plural pronoun, "you". By that, he means all of those to whom he's writing. It's plural and it's emphatic. He puts it first to stress it. You see, John, when he begins verse 24, is making a contrast. He's making a contrast between those, who in the previous verses, used to belong to the churches there in Asia Minor, and who for a time professed to believe the biblical truth about Jesus and the biblical gospel, but who have now followed the false teachers, did not remain in the churches, did not persevere in the gospel that they at first claimed believe. He's contrasting them with those, on the other hand, who stayed in true churches and who continued to believe the gospel that they heard from the beginning. So, in verse 24, John is talking to true believers again.

He, next, after the word "you", brings in this expression, "that which you heard from the beginning", "that which you heard from the beginning". Now, obviously a key question is, what is he talking about? What does he intend by that expression? So, track with me here. Think about this for a moment. What is it that every genuine Christian hears at the beginning of their Christian life - that's what he means by "at the beginning" - what is it that every genuine Christian hears at the beginning of their Christian life, and they continue to hear across the years since they believed? There's only one thing that every Christian heard from the beginning of their Christian life and on, and that is, it's the gospel, the biblical gospel. That's what he means by that expression, "that which you heard from the beginning".

That'll become clear as we work our way through these two verses. In addition, I'll just tell you that that is the overwhelming number of biblical scholars and commentaries - where they land on this expression. It's not just about Jesus, as the previous two verses were. It certainly includes that because Jesus is the center of the gospel. But it's more than just His person. It's also His work and how His work becomes ours. It's the biblical gospel. It is the gospel of our Lord that has been revealed in the Scripture.

Now, this is an important place to stop for a moment and remind ourselves that the New Testament gospel isn't new with the New Testament. In fact, turn back with me to Romans 3. We spent many years going through this great book, and it begins, after the introduction in verses 1 to 17 of chapter 1, in chapter 1:18, it begins with the need for the gospel. Paul first, in chapter 1, indicts pagans - those who don't claim to worship the true God, who worship idols. He says, "They need the gospel." In chapter 2, he indicts the Jews and says they say they believe the Scriptures; they teach the Scriptures; they don't obey the Scriptures - they need the gospel too. In chapter 3 he says, beginning in verse 9 of chapter 3 running down through verse 20, everybody without exception needs the gospel. And he says whether you're Jew or Greek, we're all alike under sin and he gives that amazing litany and description of human depravity that he brings forth from the Old Testament. He concludes in chapter 3, notice verse 19: "Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so 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 in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. He says, "Listen, there's no way that you're ever going to achieve a right standing before God based on your own actions and activity."

And that brings him then, having shown the need for the gospel in the first three chapters, to the explanation of the gospel that begins in chapter 3:21, runs through the end of chapter 4. And look how he begins. Chapter 3:21: "But now [contrary to that other idea about pursuing God, but now] apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested..." What kind of righteousness? Go to verse 22: "even the righteousness of God [the gift of righteousness that God gives because of our] through faith in Jesus Christ [and He gives it] for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, [and in the same way, Jew and Gentile, all of us who are justified are] being justified [notice this - we are being declared right with God (that's justified)] as a gift by His grace [and it's only possible] through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus [through what Jesus did]..." What did He do? Verse 25: "whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation [that word means, as the satisfaction of God's wrath against our sins. God displayed Jesus as the full and complete satisfaction of His wrath against sin and that happened, notice] in His blood [that is, in His violent death as a sacrifice. And it becomes ours] through faith." And he ends verse 26 by saying, "[God did it this way] so that He would be [at the same time] just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus..."

The point I want you to see is back up in verse 21. This gospel is, verse 21 says, "being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets..." He said, "Listen, it was already being talked about in the Old Testament." The Law and the Prophets are the total description of what we call the Old Testament (the Hebrew Scriptures) - the Law: the first five books of the Old Testament, and the Prophets: the rest of the Old Testament. He says, "It was - this gospel was being witnessed there."

Turn over to 2 Timothy 3. Of course, we quote verses 16 and 17, but I want you to go back to chapter 3:1. He says, "But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come." They're going to be false teachers. Verse 7: "[These false teachers are] always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth [that is, the truth of the gospel - how to be right with God]." And verse 13 - it's just going to get worse. Verse 14: "You, however [Timothy], continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings [that is, your mother and your grandmother taught you the Scriptures]." And notice how he describes the Scriptures here: "the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." What's he talking about? Well, the fact that he's talking about Timothy learning that from the Scriptures when he was a kid, means he's talking pre–New Testament revelation. He's talking about the Old Testament - the Old Testament. Look at verse 14 again, or verse 15 rather: "[is] able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ [Messiah] Jesus..."

You say, how was it witnessed to? How was this New Testament gospel witnessed to in the Old Testament? Well, it was witnessed to through the promises that Messiah would come beginning in Genesis 3:15 and on through the Old Testament. It was witnessed in what the Messiah would accomplish in Isaiah 53. It was witnessed in the sacrificial system that Jesus was the perfect fulfillment of. It was witnessed in God's gracious dealings with individuals. Remember, when Paul wants to defend the New Testament gospel, and show that it's rooted in the Old Testament (in Romans 4), who does he talk about? Abraham - Genesis 15: "Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness." And David, Psalm 32, "How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity [credit their sin] ..." So, understand then, that this New Testament gospel was witnessed to in the Old Testament but, it was clearly revealed in the ministry of our Lord and the ministry of His Apostles.

Look at Mark 1. Mark 1:14: "Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God..." Jesus was a gospel preacher. And what was the sort of essence of His message? Verse 15: "and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand [the kingdom of God is near. You want into the kingdom? Here's how you get into the kingdom]; repent and believe in the gospel [believe in the good news].'" This is what Jesus brought.

Turn over to Hebrews 2. Hebrews 2:3, as the writer of Hebrews is contrasting the law that was mediated through angels, in verses 1 and 2, and how you should not disobey that. If you did, you were penalized. Verse 3: "how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation [that's clearly been revealed to us]? [And then notice how he describes this gospel message] After it was at the first spoken through the Lord [He's the one who brought this new, clear, powerful, transparent revelation of the New Testament gospel], it was confirmed to us by those who heard..." The writer of Hebrews - we don't know exactly who it is. I personally lean toward Apollos. But what we do know is he was writing shortly before the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. And he's looking back, and he says, "The Lord brought this gospel. Then those who heard Him, that is the apostles, they preached this gospel to us. And oh, by the way, 'God also testifying [verse 4] with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.'"

By the way, this is just one small part of one argument for the cessation of the miraculous gifts. Here's a New Testament author, near 70 A.D., saying those things are in the past. That's what happened with them, not with us.

But don't miss the main point here. And that is, this gospel was witnessed in the Old Testament, but it was clearly, transparently, powerfully revealed in the ministry of our Lord and the ministry of His apostles in the New Testament. That, folks, is what we have believed. Going back to our text in 1 John, that's what everyone of us have heard from the beginning. We need, John says in our text, we need to let that gospel that we heard from the beginning, that was witnessed in the Old Testament, that was revealed by our Lord and His apostles, let that gospel abide in us. In other words, just keep on believing what you believed at the beginning. Don't give up that gospel.

Now, this raises a crucial question that we have to answer (and this is why it's going to take more than a week to deal with this text) is, what is the gospel? What is that which we heard from the beginning? Obviously, John was ministering among these people. They had heard him teach, heard him preach for many years, almost 30 years by the time he writes this letter. And so, he in just short fashion, summarizes all of that. We need to fill that out in our understanding. What is the biblical, biblically inspired, saving gospel? We need to make sure that that is in fact what we have believed.

But before we actually define the true biblical gospel, today, I want to start by making sure that we clear away some misunderstandings. I want to follow one of my mentors that I never met, Martyn Lloyd Jones, whose ministry I so much appreciate. But he often started by saying, "Let's talk about what this is not - what it's not." Well, we want to talk about what the gospel is not because there are a whole lot of misunderstandings.

So, we want to begin today with considering some deviations from the gospel - common, false gospels. Do you understand that our world is filled with false gospels? In 2 Corinthians 11:3-4, Paul writes to the Corinthians, "But I am afraid [that's an interesting way for the apostle to begin - I am afraid] that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. For if one comes [and the implication here is this happens all the time and they were open to it. If one comes] and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully." He says, "My fear is that somebody is going to come along with a different Jesus and a different gospel and you're going to listen. You're going to give him the time of day. You're going to be tempted to embrace it."

Now, we're learning in 1 John that a true believer will never embrace damning error. He has the anointing; he has the Holy Spirit within him. But we can certainly be tempted in that direction. We can be distracted and, of course, false believers can be drawn away to follow false gospels. In Jude, our Lord's half-brother, in Jude 3-4, writes this. He said, "I wanted to write to you about the common faith that we have and enjoy." He said, "But I first have to do something else." He says, "I want you to contend earnestly. I want you to fight for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints." Why? Why, Jude, do we need to fight for the gospel? "[Because] For certain persons have crept [that is, crept into churches. They have crept] in unnoticed... [and they] turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ." So, folks, there are a lot of false gospels out there and we need to know what they are.

But we also need to ask ourselves honestly this question: have I embraced one of those false gospels? So, let me just take us all a little test this morning. Here are some of the common false gospels. See how you do.

The first is this: denying the need for individual salvation altogether. There are plenty people in our world who have a flawed view of humanity. They don't see man as spiritually dead, as Ephesians 2 says. They don't even see man as spiritually sick. They see man as perfectly well, who just needs some example and direction. This is contrary to the Scripture.

Now, this denial of the need for salvation comes primarily in our day in two forms. The first form is universalism. Universalism teaches that every single person who has ever lived on this planet will eventually be saved, and belong to God, and be in heaven regardless of what they believe. This isn't too popular in churches today, but it was just a few years ago, during the Emergent Church movement, which is now, at least the form of it, is dead. Unfortunately, the bad teaching lingers on but. But in that movement, there was a man who presented himself as an evangelical. His name was Rob Bell, and he said this is true. He wrote a book called, "Love Wins" - winsome title. But what he meant by that is God's love is eventually going to win and everybody is going to be in heaven - everybody without exception. That's universalism and that is contrary to our Lord's own words that these will go into eternal life and these into eternal destruction. So, that's one form - universalism.

Another form of this denial of the need for individual salvation, that's more popular today, is inclusivism. Inclusivism teaches that all religions lead to God and to a right relationship with Him. So, it doesn't really matter what you believe. You just - if you're sincere, you keep pursuing that, and eventually you're going to end up in the presence of the one, true God. It's, you know - you've heard the illustration. You know, there's this mountain, and God's at the top of the mountain, and there're a lot of different paths up the mountain so it doesn't matter which path you choose. It's all going to be fine in the end. Well, what does our Lord say? "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me" (John 14:6). Acts 4:12: "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved [that's the name of Jesus Christ]." But this is what some have believed.

So, let me ask you this morning, do you believe... I'm not asking, now, what you write down somewhere. I'm asking in your heart of hearts what you believe. Do you believe that you need to be rescued from your sins? If you don't believe that, then you have bought into a false gospel.

Here's a second false gospel: trusting your own merit or works to gain a right standing with God (and notice these words, these are key) instead of the person and work of Jesus Christ alone. Now, this is the view of most Americans. You ask the average man on the street, "Okay, so you get to heaven, you're at the judgment, what hope do you have that you're actually going to be accepted by God?" And their answer will go something like this: "Well, you know, I know I do some bad things. I'm basically, though, a good person and I believe that when I get to heaven and God has those scales there in front of Him at his judgment throne and He puts my good deeds that I've done - you know, I love people, I try to be a good neighbor, I've given money to the Ukraine Relief Fund, I do all these things - when He puts those good things on one side of the scale, and He puts my sin on the other, it may be close, but even if I'm 51%, I'm in! My good deeds will outweigh my bad deeds."

This is the flawed approach that I think is exemplified by the rich young ruler in Mark's gospel. Turn to Mark, Mark 13. I'm sorry, Mark 10. Mark 10. And I wish I had time to set the context, but I just want you to look. In both Matthew's account and Mark's account, the verses right before the rich young ruler - the same story. And here's the punchline. Look at chapter 10 of Mark, verse 15. Jesus says, "Truly I say to you, whoever does not [notice this word] receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all." He says, "Listen, you want into the kingdom, there's only one way in. You get it as a gift. And you have to receive that gift like a child." What does He mean? He means just like a child has done nothing, accomplished nothing, has nothing to offer - they have to take what you give them. That's how you get in. You take the kingdom like a gift and having done nothing to earn it in anyway. That's the context then. Look at verse 17: "As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, 'Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?'" What shall I do to inherit eternal life? Just in case that question isn't clear enough, listen to how Matthew phrases it in Matthew 19:16: "Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?" You see, he had this wrong view of the gospel. He thought that by doing something himself, he could enter into the kingdom; he could earn his way into God's favor.

Now, Jesus' response is shocking in verse 18: "And Jesus said to him, 'Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.'" Now, don't misunderstand. By the way, if you want a fuller explanation and exposition of this, I taught through Mark. I love this passage. You can go back and listen. But here's the short version. He's not saying... Jesus is not saying, "I'm not good." Other places He said, "No one can convict me of sin." He allowed the apostles to say that, you know, "in Him there is no sin". So, He's not saying, "I'm not good." And He's not saying, "I'm not God." He claimed in many places to be God. What He's saying is, "Young man, you have a flawed view of human nature, and you have a flawed view of salvation." He said, "Because you think I'm just a rabbi. You think I'm just a man. And yet, you think that I'm good, that I've somehow learned the secret. Here's what you have to do to be acceptable to God. And you think I'm going to tell you what the secret is. You have a flawed view of human nature. Nobody is good except God alone." And He says, "You have a flawed view of salvation."

Notice how He puts it though. Verse 19: "You know the commandments, 'DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.'" Jesus just breaks out some of the Ten Commandments and says, "You want to earn your way into God's favor? Just keep those." To which (verse 20), this young man says, "Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up." Is that true? Yes and no. It's true in the way he understood them, which was purely external although, I doubt he was being honest with his own heart. But even if he was, it was pure externalism. He didn't understand that the commandments had to do with his heart. So, he says I've kept those.

And so, Jesus says, "Well, let Me show you that you haven't kept them." Verse 21: "Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, 'One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.' But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property." What's going on here is Jesus saying? "You know, if you sell everything - that's what every Christian needs to do. You become a Christian, sell everything you have, and go live in, you know, a cave somewhere." No! He's putting His finger on this man's idol. This man just said, "I've kept God's law." And Jesus says, "Well, let Me show you that's not true. Let Me show you your idol. It's the stuff you own. So, here's what I'm telling you. Go sell what you own, give it to the poor, and come follow Me." You know, what He was saying? He was saying, "You don't love God because if you loved God, you'd be willing to let go of the stuff you have if God tells you to do it. And you don't love man because you're not thinking about the people around you; you're thinking about yourself. So, you haven't kept any of the law. You need to receive the kingdom as a gift, like a little child because you have nothing - nothing to earn your way in."

Let me ask you, if you're here this morning and you have this American idea that I'm going to show up at the judgment and my good works are going to outweigh my bad, let me tell you, you have no good works. Romans 3 says, "There is none who does good, there is not even one." You aren't the exception. And so, when you get to the judgment, if you're trusting in that, let me tell you what the scales are going to be. There's going to be nothing on one side of the scales, and your entire life is going to be a life of sin and rebellion against God, and the scales are going to flip immediately, and the judgment will come quickly. Your only hope is a different gospel than that one.

Number three: trusting your own merit or works to gain a right standing with God (now, notice the wording change) in addition to faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This is not a person who says, "I don't believe in Christ and the gospel. I don't need all that. I'll just live a good life and God will accept me but based on my good life." This is the person who says, "No, I believe in Jesus, and I believe the gospel, and I believe He died for forgiveness of sins, and I've trusted in Him, and I believe He was raised from the dead, and I believe all of those things, and..." This is a person who adds to his trust in Christ.

Turn to Galatians 1. That's what Paul is dealing with in the book of Galatians. He's dealing with the Judaizers. The Judaizers were a group who believed everything evangelical Christians believe about the gospel. They believed - they believed who Jesus was. They believed that He died, that He lived a perfect life, that He died for sins as man's substitute, that He was raised from the dead, that forgiveness was found in Jesus Christ. You needed to believe in Christ. It was God's grace - was the basis on which you were saved. And you needed to be circumcised. And you needed to keep the law of God. And that addition changed the entire equation. Look at chapter 1 - Galatians 1:6: "I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed [damned]! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received [that's the - what you received from Christ and from the apostles under His authority], he is to be accursed [damned]!"

So, you see what happens? When you take even something God has commanded, like circumcision for the Jews, and you add it to faith in Christ as the grounds for your acceptance before God, you're not believing the biblical gospel; you're believing a false gospel. The most common forms of this today are when people add to Christ, things like trust in their good deeds. So, it's Christ and my works. That's what the Roman Catholic church teaches. Or it's Christ and my baptism. That's what the Church of Christ teaches. There are others who teach that. If you add any basis or any grounds to your acceptance with God other than Jesus Christ alone, even if it's something God commanded, you are believing another gospel.

So, ask yourself this question: when you stand before God and God says, "Why should I let you into my heaven?", what's your answer going to be? I mean, really. What are you going to say in that moment when God says, "Why should I let you into heaven?" If you're going to say anything but "The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, my Lord", then you've believed a false gospel.

Number four: following Jesus solely for temporal blessings including health, wealth, and power. I wish I had time to develop this, but just look at John 6 very quickly. Just two verses here. John 6. You remember, Jesus fed the 5000. And the crowd that got the bread, hunted Him down the next day. John 6:25 - they find Him. Verse 26, John 6: "Jesus answered them and said, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs [signs that point to who I am and you want to really believe in Me], but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.'" Now, notice verse 27: "Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you..." Do you see what Jesus is saying? Their brand of following Jesus, to get some temporal needs met, wasn't eternal life. It was something short of that. It wasn't the biblical gospel. They weren't following Jesus because they loved Him and because they were trusting in Him alone. They followed Jesus for all the wrong reasons like Judas Iscariot. They weren't true followers at all. They were false Christians. And later in this chapter, they turn away. So, they were disciples in name only and they were disciples for what they could get - the temporal blessings they could get out of Jesus.

Now, today, the primary manifestation of this perversion is the Prosperity Gospel. The Prosperity Gospel teaches that Jesus is a means to achieve health, wealth, and power now, for your best life now. Now, Charismatics themselves estimate that the Prosperity Gospel makes up more than 40% of their movement worldwide. That means that, by their own numbers, more than 40% of the Charismatic Movement has embraced a false, damning gospel.

So, ask yourself this morning. Why is it that you are following Jesus as His disciple? Is it because of what you can get out of Him in temporal, temporary blessings of this life - health, wealth, and so forth? It's a false gospel.

Number five - very quickly: redefining the nature of saving faith. Redefining the nature of saving faith. In other words, you say, "I believe!" You just come up with a new bait and switch definition of faith. There are two basic forms of this out there today. One is easy-believism. I'll call it that. This is teaching that saving faith is solely intellectual assent to the factual truths of the gospel. In fact, one teacher, one professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, Zane Hodges, years ago, wrote a book in which he argued that if any point in your life, for a moment's time, you said, "Yes, I believe Jesus - who He is and what He did is true." That's all you had to say. If you said that in a moment's time, you were a Christian forever even if you went on the rest of your life to deny Him. That's not saving faith.

This idea is very big here in Dallas because it was championed by two well-known DTS professors - Charles Ryrie and Zane Hodges. It's been promoted in many area-Bible churches. If you've been a part of some of them, you may have heard this. It's historical faith. In James 2, James is dealing with historical faith, and he says this, "[Listen], You believe that God is one. [Well, get in line] You do well; the demons also believe..." The demons have historical faith. They believe everything about Jesus that evangelicals believe. When they saw Him, what did they say? "You are the Holy One of God." So, it's not enough to intellectually assent that the gospel is true.

Romans 10:9-10 says, " [must] confess [Him] Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead..." Luke 6:46, Jesus says, "Why do you call Me, 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I say?" And, of course, in Matthew 7 He says they're going to be people lining up at the judgment saying, "Lord, we know You. Let us in!" And He's going to say, "I don't know you. Depart from Me." Now, a lot of Christians fear that. A lot of true Christians fear that. You don't have to because He explains there who they'll be. He says this, "Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness." In other words, there are people who say, "I love Jesus. I follow Jesus", but it doesn't matter how you live. It doesn't matter at all. So, easy-believism.

A partner to that idea is antinomianism - it means "against the law". These folks redefine saving faith so that it doesn't matter how you live after you make that profession. You make a profession and then live however you want. Well, listen to Jude 4: "For certain persons have crept in unnoticed... ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness [license]..." They're not Christians at all. It's a false gospel. Antinomianism denies how a professing Christian lives, matters. James says in James 2:26, " without works is dead." Doesn't mean your works earn your way into heaven. It means your works demonstrate that your faith is real, living, saving faith. It ignores the reality of regeneration. Remember Ezekiel 36:25 and following? When you are regenerated, when you're born again, God makes you a new person. He gives you His Holy Spirit and He says this in Ezekiel 36, "[I will] cause you to walk in My statutes [ways]." If you have true saving faith, that's going to happen.

Now, I just want you to look at that list. I want you to look at that list and I want you to honestly ask yourself, "Have I believed one of those false gospels?" Because if you've believed one of those things is the way you're getting into heaven, you have believed a false gospel and I plead with you to go back in your mind to Romans 3. We saw it there. The only way you can be made right with God is through the work of Jesus Christ, when God made Him a propitiation, when He substituted for all of those who would believe in Him, satisfied the wrath of God, and died in the place of every sinner who would believe in Him, so that God could forgive our sins. And then God raised Him from the dead the third day. That is the only way. That's the only gospel. There's much more to say about what the true gospel is, and Lord willing, we'll look at that together next week.

Let's pray.

Father, thank You for Your amazing goodness to us in the gospel. Father, protect us by Your Spirit from the false gospel. All of us who are true believers, who have believed the true gospel, Lord, thank You that we have the anointing, we have the Holy Spirit who guards and protects us. But help us to remain in, as John urges us, the gospel we believed from the beginning. And Lord, I pray for those here today who have to admit they have believed a false gospel. Lord, help them today to see the truth, to see the reality. Draw them to Yourself. Call them through the gospel they've heard today. I pray in Jesus' name, Amen!


It Matters What You Believe - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:18-27

It Matters What You Believe - Part 4

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:18-27

It Matters What You Believe - Part 5

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:18-27

More from this Series

1 John


An Introduction to 1 John

Tom Pennington 1 John

The Apostles' Proclamation - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:1-4

The Apostles' Proclamation - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:1-4

The Apostles' Proclamation - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:1-4

The Believer's New Relationship to Sin - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:5-2:6

The Believer's New Relationship to Sin - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:5-2:6

The Believer's New Relationship to Sin - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:5-2:6

The Believer's New Relationship to Sin - Part 4

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:5-2:6

The Believer's New Relationship to Sin - Part 5

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:5-2:6

The Believer's New Relationship to Sin - Part 6

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:5-2:6

The Priority of Love

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:7-8

Loving One Another - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:9-11

Loving One Another - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:9-11

A Child of the Father

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:12-14

Do Not Love the World

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:15-17

It Matters What You Believe - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:18-27

It Matters What You Believe - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:18-27

It Matters What You Believe - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:18-27

It Matters What You Believe - Part 4

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:18-27

It Matters What You Believe - Part 5

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:18-27

It Matters What You Believe - Part 6

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:18-27

The Christian's DNA - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:28-3:3

The Christian's DNA - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:28-3:3

The Christian's DNA - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:28-3:3

The Christian's DNA - Part 4

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:28-3:3

The Christian's DNA - Part 5

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:28-3:3

Oil & Water

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:4-6

Researching Your Spiritual Ancestry - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:7-10

Researching Your Spiritual Ancestry - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:7-10

Love as a Sign of Life - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24

Love as a Sign of Life - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24

Love as a Sign of Life - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24

Love as a Sign of Life - Part 4

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24

Love as a Sign of Life - Part 5

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24

Love as a Sign of Life - Part 6

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24

Love As a Sign of Life - Part 7

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24

Recognizing False Teachers - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6

Recognizing False Teachers - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6

Recognizing False Teachers - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6

Recognizing False Teachers - Part 4

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6

Recognizing False Teachers - Part 5

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6

Recognizing False Teachers - Part 6

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6

This Is Love - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:7-21

This Is Love - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:7-21

This Is Love - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:7-21

This Is Love - Part 4

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:7-21

This Is Love - Part 5

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:7-21

The Nature of Saving Faith

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:1-13

The Nature of Saving Faith - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:1-13

The Nature of Saving Faith - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:1-13

The Nature of Saving Faith - Part 4

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:1-13

The Nature of Saving Faith - Part 5

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:1-13

The Nature of Saving Faith - Part 6

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:1-13

The Nature of Saving Faith - Part 7

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:1-15

Real Christians & Deepfakes - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:16-21

Real Christians & Deep Fakes - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:16-21

Real Christians & Deep Fakes - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:16-21