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Recognizing False Teachers - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6


Well, as you probably know, there is a debate that is raging in America about the real Jesus. You see it in a number of ways; perhaps you read or heard about a group of Christian business owners and donors, convinced that Jesus has a bad reputation, and so they launched a one-hundred-million-dollar ad campaign, including on the Super Bowl called, “He Gets Us.” The president of the company behind that ad campaign said this, “Churches that are aligned with the ‘He Gets Us’ campaign include Catholic and Protestant, churches of various sizes, ethnicities, languages and geography.” And then as if all of that wasn't troubling enough, he says, “Ultimately, the goal is inspiration, not conversion.” The goal is inspiration, not conversion.

The governor of California has weighed in on who Jesus is, He authorized billboards across the country that imply that to have Jesus’ compassion is to want to make abortions possible for women, and that the state of California has the compassion of Jesus, therefore, you should come to California to get your abortion. Skeptics argue that Jesus never existed; you can go on YouTube or other venues online and see “academic” skeptics rail against the historical Jesus. Some Atheists say that when you really look at what Jesus claimed and taught, the truth is He was not a good man; He was a bad man. They even use the word immoral to describe Jesus. Of course, that means judged against the standard of the new morality.

To others, many in our country and far more across the world, Jesus is just like a genie in a bottle. He is the secret to success and prosperity to your best life now. And there are countless other views of Jesus that circulate and percolate through the culture. But the question is this, “Who is the real Jesus?”

Well, John the Apostle, one of Jesus’ official authorized biographers, answers that crucial question in our study of his first letter this morning. Just to remind you, today, we continue our study of the third and final test of eternal life in what is the second movement in this letter. This third test is a doctrinal test. It's the test of whether or not you believe in the biblical Jesus and the biblical gospel. Let's read it together, 1 John, chapter 4, beginning in verse 1.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

In these verses, John demands that all of us who are true followers of Jesus Christ, diligently apply several biblical tests, and that we apply those tests to every spiritual idea, every spiritual message, in order to distinguish genuine teachers who teach God’s saving truth from false teachers who teach damning error. As I noted for you in the six verses, we discovered two crucial details about false teachers.

In verse 1, we learn of “The Continual Danger of False Teachers,” don't believe every spirit. You need to test them because there are many false prophets out there, false teachers who have taken to the streets and the airways to make their case for their version of Jesus. So, it's a continual danger; it was in John's day, it still is.

In the rest of this passage, verses 2 through 6, John then goes on to explain “The Chief Tests for False Teachers.” In fact, John lays out several specific doctrinal tests that will equip us to recognize, to identify, to root out false teachers. Last time we studied 1 John together, we noted that the first test is to ask whether or not they have and worship “A Different God.” Today, we come to a second test, a second doctrinal test, and that is, look to discover if they have “A Different Jesus.” That's the message of verses 2 and 3; that's the heart of the message of verses 2 and 3. You see, false teachers often teach a Jesus other than the One in Scripture.

That was even true in the first century. The Apostle Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians, chapter 11, verse 4, “…if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached…you bear this beautifully.” The Corinthians had lacked discernment, somebody showed up, preached a different Jesus, and they said, “Oh, they love Jesus, isn't that wonderful?”

So, to help us sort this out, John provides us here in verses 2 and 3, “The Biblical Test,” pertaining to Jesus and who He is. Now in verse 2, he presents this test “Positively,” in verse 3, “Negatively.” I'm not going to keep that simple with my outline; I'm going to develop it a little differently. But you can see the positive in verse 2, the negative in verse 3. But as he presents this test, John begins by underscoring “Its Consistent Accuracy,” this test works. Verse 2, “By this, you know the Spirit of God.”

Now, in case you don't remember or maybe you weren't here, let me just remind you that what John means by this is that behind every person, claiming to teach the Christian faith, is either the Holy Spirit in the case of the true Christian faith, or a demon in the case of false Christianity. And the human teacher and the spirit who empowers that teacher are so intimately related, that John is going to describe in verses 2 and 3, the spirit behind the teacher, and not the teacher as the one making this confession. The origin, listen carefully, the origin of the empowering spirit behind a human teacher can be identified simply by examining his content; “What does he teach?” And you can know whether he's from God and the Spirit of God, or whether he's empowered instead by demonic powers.

Notice what he says in verse 2, “By this (That is, by the test I'm about to give you, by this, literally,) you are knowing.” When you carefully observe the evidence and use this test, you will find that, John says, to be consistently accurate. He says, “By this you are knowing the Spirit of God.” You will know when it's the Holy Spirit. Here's the test verse 2, “…every spirit. (This test is comprehensive. Every spirit) that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.”

Now, don't misunderstand what John is saying. There are other tests of a false teacher as well. There's their character, their conduct, their converts, their disciples, look at the ones who follow them. Do they have lives of holiness? Does their teaching produce that in their followers? Or does it produce kind of lawless antinomianism? So, there are other things to look at to discern a false teacher and I hope to at least briefly address those in a couple of weeks.

But here in this passage, the test is not about their character; it's not about their conduct; it’s not about their converts. The test here is about their content; it's doctrinal. What is it that they teach? And John says, “You can know the Holy Spirit is behind a teacher when he or she confesses the biblical Jesus.” (Paraphrase.) Now, it works, it's consistently accurate.

But notice, secondly, regarding this biblical test, “Its Confessional Form,” its confessional form. Notice the word ‘confesses.’ By the way, the verb tense in Greek makes it clear that this is a continual confession; this is not a momentary agreement with the facts about Christ. And in contexts like this, this Greek word translated ‘confesses’ has two related nuances, and you need to know both of them.

The first nuance of behind ‘confess’ is to openly affirm that certain propositions are true. The leading Greek Lexicon puts it this way, ‘to acknowledge something ordinarily in public, to acknowledge to claim or to profess.’ So, the first nuance of this word ‘confess’ is to openly affirm that certain propositions are true.

Secondly, it is ‘to profess personal allegiance in either the person or that truth.’ That's the way it’s used, for example, in Romans, chapter 10, verses 9 and 10, right? If you'll “…believe in your heart that God raised (Jesus) from the dead,” and if you'll (What?) “confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord.” He doesn't mean just that you acknowledge the facts are true; the demons did that. They saw Jesus walking around in first century Israel and what did they say? “You are the Holy One of God.” But they didn't pronounce their personal allegiance to Him. They didn't say, “You are my Lord. So, this word includes not only openly affirming certain propositions to be true; but professing personal allegiance to the person or the truth. I think John intends both of these ideas here with this word ‘confess.’

In fact, no less a commentator than Westcott, one of the great commentators in the New Testament is right when he says, “This is a profession of faith in Jesus Christ incarnate, openly and personally.” A teacher must publicly affirm the truth about Jesus and profess personal allegiance to Jesus and to the truth about Him. In other words, they say something like this, “I believe everything that Scripture teaches, and that people have understood that Scripture to historically teach about Jesus, that it's true, and I am confessing that Jesus as my Lord and Savior.” That's what it means to ‘confess.’

But what must an orthodox teacher confess? Notice thirdly, as we think about this test, “It's Christological Content,” verse 2, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.” Now, there's a lot of discussion in the commentaries of exactly about the content of this confession because the wording in Greek could go a couple of different directions. It could mean John is saying, “Confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.” That's the way it's translated in our NAS, in which case the emphasis is on primarily the reality of the Incarnation, and that's certainly possible. It could also mean, secondly, “Confess Jesus the Messiah come in the flesh.” I personally think the evidence leans in that direction. I think John intends to punctuate every single one of these words and say, “This is what you need to confess.” A teacher must affirm as true and confess his or her allegiance to the One who is here declared to be Jesus, meaning the historical person known as Jesus of Nazareth. And as Christ, that's ‘Christos,’ meaning ‘The Anointed One’ in Hebrew, the Messiah. The historical Jesus, then, you must profess or confess is the divine Messiah promised in the Old Testament, and that divine Messiah who is Jesus has come in the flesh, literally, the text says, “has come in flesh,” which is even more definitive.

Notice he does not say what the false teachers, in John's day, said. He does not say the divine Christ came into the flesh of the human Jesus. That's what the Gnostic heretics believed and taught. Instead, he says that Jesus of Nazareth is the divine Messiah who has come in the flesh. He is the Son of God incarnate, the One promised. Notice, the verb ‘has come.’ In Greek as in English, it's the perfect tense, meaning it happened and the results continue. Unlike what the Gnostics taught, the divine Christ did not come upon the human Jesus at His baptism and leave Him before the cross. The Word became flesh at His conception, and He never laid it aside. He is forever the God-Man. Verse 2 says, “…every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” In other words, that teacher, at least on this specific doctrinal issue, has God as his or her source. John Stott is right when he says this is, “The fundamental Christian doctrine which can never be compromised, the eternal, divine human person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Now, with this biblical test about Jesus, I want you to notice fourthly, “It's Diabolical Contrast,” in verse 3. Here's the opposite, “and every spirit (again, comprehensive, every spirit) that does not confess Jesus (And I love the way this is stated in Greek; in Greek, it's literally “every spirit that does not confess ‘The Jesus.)’” And that's a use of the definite article to say, kind of like the demonstrative pronoun ‘that.’

In other words, “…every spirit that does not confess ‘that Jesus,’ (the one I just talked about in the previous verse, that Jesus) is not from God,” if they won't confess that Jesus. You see, there's no neutral ground. Either a teacher positively confesses the biblical Jesus and is from God, or he doesn't and he's not from God.

The other thing that interests me here about what he says in verse 3, is he doesn't say, “every spirit that denies Jesus,” which would take something, you know, kind of overt and positive, (Right?) or positively negative–you know what I mean? No, he says, “…every spirit that does not confess (the biblical) Jesus,” and that's more inclusive because it includes those who don't openly deny the biblical Jesus, but either hide their real view of Jesus and just don't talk about Him, or they just never talk about Him at all because He doesn't really matter (to them).

And I have seen both of these with false teachers. I remember when I was in California, one time, a layman who headed a men's group of United Methodist, some terribly liberal United Methodist Church in the valley there, ran into me at a concert and found out I was a pastor and asked me if I'd come speak to the men's group. I was happy to do that. I went and taught on the reality of the resurrection from John. And the men were just so responsive and eating it up. But there was a guy in the back, and I knew who it was, it was the pastor, and he scowled at me the entire time. And when it came time for the Question-and-Answer Session at the end, his was the first hand up. And with this smirk on his face, he says, “Isn't it true, that we don't even know if John wrote the Gospel of John?” Here's a man who absolutely denies the biblical Jesus in every sense. Frankly, I kind of expected that so I was prepared. So, I brought up the Rylands Papyrus from 125 A.D. and said, “Well, it just happens to be a document written twenty-five years after John's death. Do you know any other ancient documents that were written we have copies of that close to the author?” “Well, you know…” So, there's the overt denier.

But there's also, there's the person who just doesn't talk about Jesus. There are a lot of churches you walk in, and there's a whole lot of talk about God, and you know, God is this and God is love and we love God, and nobody ever says Jesus Christ is Lord. Those who do not confess Jesus, the spirit behind a teacher who refuses to affirm the biblical truth about Jesus, or who refuses to profess his allegiance to Jesus, is not out of God. Where does he come from? Verse 3, “…this is the spirit of the antichrist.” If a teacher presents a different Jesus than the one taught in the New Testament, it identifies him or her as empowered by Satan, the same spirit that will empower the final Antichrist. Listen, if you happen on a teacher who teaches a Jesus, another Jesus, not the one in the Bible, they're not just wrong, they're from the devil himself, the father of lies, and in their denial of who Jesus is, they are the embodiment of the spirit of the coming Antichrist.

By the way, the Greek prefix ‘anti’ before antichrist, means both ‘against, against the true Christ;’ it also means ‘in place of, or as a substitute for the real Christ.’ Both are true.

One commentator says, “Everything depends on what a person believes about Jesus Christ. If an individual does not believe that Jesus of Nazareth was and is the Christ, God's own Son sent from the Father, then he is, literally, against Christ.”

Verse 3 goes on, “…the spirit of antichrist (is that) of which you have heard that it is coming.” Likely they heard this warning from John himself. John said, “Listen, eventually, Satan is going to raise up a human being, and he's going to so fill and empower that human, that he will then offer that person to the world as a substitute for the real Messiah. He is The Antichrist.” He's mentioned in chapter 2, verse 18; if you want to read more about him, come on Sunday nights or read 2 Thessalonians, chapter 2.

Verse 3 goes on that spirit of antichrist “…now it is already in the world.” Although the Antichrist has not yet come, the same spirit that he will display eventually, is already in the world. And you can see the spirit of Antichrist in the many false prophets and false teachers in the world.

Look back at chapter 2, verse 18, “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour.” Turn over to, 2 John, verse 7, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. (That's the same expression as in our text.) This is the deceiver and the antichrist,” meaning guilty of the spirit of antichrist.

Now, listen carefully, don't miss this, this is really important. As important as these truths about Jesus are that are in our text, they are not the only truths about Jesus that you have to believe to be orthodox. John includes these because he was countering the false teaching that he was running into in Asia Minor in the first century. But the larger implication of these verses is that we can recognize false teachers because they often teach a different Jesus. That raises a really important question, and that is, “How do you know?” What are the non-negotiable truths about Jesus that a person must affirm? Well, let's look at it; we've seen the biblical test.

Let's consider secondly, “The Biblical Jesus.” Who is the biblical Jesus? There are several key biblical truths about the person of Jesus Christ that every Orthodox teacher will affirm. Now, I want to present these to you in two ways. The first way is I'm going to give you a definite article, an adjective and a noun. That's just like a handle to help you remember them, alright? So, you won't remember the sentence I'm going to give you, but you will remember, if you'll work at it, you can remember that label. And then I'm going to give you a complete sentence that sort of fills out the details; you may not remember the sentence, but the components of them are very important. And then finally, I'm going to give you a few verses that prove that point. Now, let me just tell you, I am so frustrated with only being able to give you a handful of example verses; there are so many, but trust me, okay? I just can't, but I'll give you a few. So, let's walk through it.

The first biblical truth about our Lord that an orthodox teacher will affirm is “The Historical Jesus.” Now let me just say right away, I don't mean by that what’s circulating online. What they mean, is, “You can't trust what the Bible says, so let's search back and in our unbelief, see if we can construct out of our own minds who we think Jesus was.” That's not what I mean. What I mean is this, “He, (Jesus, the biblical Jesus) is the historical person who was born in Bethlehem, grew up in Nazareth, and ministered in the land of Israel in the early first century AD.” He was a real person who lived in a place you can still visit; He walked there and talked there and slept there and ate there and died there and was raised there. He's a person of history. This is a key point in a number of places, but look Acts 2 as Peter begins his sermon on the Day of Pentecost. He begins with this, verse 22, Acts 2.

Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene (the One from Nazareth, He's–) a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him (Don't miss this.) in your midst, just as you yourselves know– (This is the One who's now the Savior and has been raised from the dead.)

So, “The Historical Jesus,” meaning He's the Jesus of history, He really lived, He really existed. Peter comes back to this in Acts, chapter 10 with Cornelius; look at Acts 10 and notice, verse 36.

The word which He (God) sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (Messiah) (He is Lord of all)–you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem… (that's the one they) put Him to death. (And verse 40, that) God raised (again).

He stresses the historicity of Jesus. “You know who I'm talking about,” he says, “You know this, you know what happened.” John begins his first letter this way. Look at 1 John, chapter 1, verse 1.

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at (examined) and (what we've) touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life–and the life was manifested, we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us–what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you.

He is the Jesus of history, He's real, He existed, He lived.

Secondly, He is “The Eternal Son.” “He is the eternal, one-of-a-kind Son of God, of one substance with and coequal with the Father and the Holy Spirit.” He is the second member of the Trinity, equal with God and is God in every way. Again, this is the clear testimony of Scripture. In Matthew, chapter 3, verse 17, at Jesus’ baptism, a voice out of the heavens said, “…This is my beloved Son, with whom I'm well-pleased.” In Mark, chapter 1, verse 1, Mark begins his gospel, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, (Messiah), the Son of God.” I love Jesus’ own testimony; go to Mark 14. This is one of my favorite passages. Mark 14, it's during the Jewish trial of Jesus, one phase of the Jewish trial, and in verse 61, Jesus, to this point, had kept silent and did not answer. So, Mark 14:61:

Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, “Are You the Christ, (Messiah?), (Are you) the Son of the Blessed One?” (He puts Jesus under oath, and under oath.) …Jesus said, “I am.” (“Yes, I am the Son of God.” And then, just to make it really clear, He says.) and you shall see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING WITH THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN.”

That's a quote from Daniel 1; Jesus said, “I'm the One in Daniel 7 who comes up to the Ancient of Days and is given everything as my dominion.” They got it! The next verse, “Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, ‘What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy…’” (I am the Son of God, yes, I am!)

There are so many other places. I, again, wish I had time to take you there. But let's just go back to 1 John. Let me show you in 1 John, look at chapter 4, verse 15, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he and God.” In other words, that's a true believer if he confesses that Jesus is the Son of God. Chapter 5, verse 5, “Who is the one who overcomes the world, (In John's terms, is a true believer.) but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” And then he extends that beginning in verse 9, we need to listen to God's testimony about His Son, verse 10, “The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself.” And verse 11, “...the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, …this life is in His Son.” How do you get assurance? Verse 13, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

Listen, if you don't believe in Jesus as the Son of God, the Eternal, coequal Son of God, you don't have eternal life, you're not a Christian; “The Historical Jesus,” that is the Jesus of history, and “The Eternal Son.”

Thirdly, “The Promised Messiah.” And by that, I mean, “He is the divine Messiah promised in the Hebrew Scripture as the One who would permanently deal with man's sin problem.” Again, listen to Matthew, this is how Matthew begins his gospel, chapter 1, verse 1, “The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah.” In Matthew 16, you remember, verse 15 and following Jesus says, “Who do you say that I am?” To which Peter replies what? “…You are the Christ (Christos, You are the Messiah.), the Son of the living God.” And Jesus says, “You're right, and you weren't taught this by any human; the Father taught you this.” (Summary paraphrase.)

In Luke, chapter 2, look at it, Luke, chapter 2, in the Annunciation of the angel to the shepherds in Bethlehem, Luke, chapter 2, verse 11, “for today in the city of David there has been born for you as Savior, who is Christ (Messiah) the Lord.” Turn to John, chapter 1, and notice verse 17, “…the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus (Messiah).” Verse 41, Andrew found his brother Peter and said to him, “…We have found the Messiah (which translated means Christ).” Verse 45, “Philip found Nathaniel and said to him, ‘We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote (That is, the Messiah.)–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’” And turn to 1 John, chapter 2, verse 22, “Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah?)” You must profess that Jesus is the promised divine Messiah.

Number four, that he is “The Perfect Man,” the perfect man. Let me fill that out; here's what we mean. “He took upon himself a complete human nature consisting of both body and soul–yet without sin–having been conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit.” John 1:14, “…the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” Romans 1:3, God’s Son “…was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh.” In our text, saying, “You've got to confess that Jesus the Messiah has come in the flesh.” He was conceived and born of a virgin prophesied in Isaiah 7:14; fulfilled in Matthew 1, where twice we’re told that Mary was a virgin. In fact, the last verse of Matthew 1 says that “Joseph kept her a virgin until she gave birth to her firstborn son.” (Paraphrase.) In Luke chapter 1, you see the same thing with Mary interacting with the angel there. Jesus had a human body, Luke, chapter 24, verse 39, He says, “See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” That was His glorified body. But before He was glorified, He experienced things that we experience in a human body. Matthew 4:2, He “became hungry,” Matthew 8:24, He “was asleep,” John 4:6, He was “wearied” from a journey, John 19:28, He was “thirsty.” He had a human body; He had a human soul. In Matthew 26:38, He says, “…My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death.” He was fully and completely human, and yet 1 John 3:5 says, “…in Him, there is no sin.”

And number five, if you're going to be Orthodox, you must also affirm “The God-Man,” God hyphen man. That's how it's historically written. Why? Because here's the definition:

He is one person with two whole distinct natures, joined without confusion, without change, without division, and without separation, so that from the Incarnation (from the moment He was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary) and forever He is fully God and fully man.

He is the God-Man!

There are a number of passages where both of those, both natures have to be present for the statements to be true. Isaiah 9:6, “For unto us a child is born. unto us a son is given;” (Paraphrase…the human nature, and here's the divine nature) “And His name (shall) be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God.” At salvation, a person needs to understand those truths at some basic level but may not fully understand the nuances, the implications of those truths. However, listen carefully, “A true believer cannot know and understand those truths and reject them!” Those propositions represent the biblical Jesus.

So very briefly, let me give you some heresies that deny the biblical Jesus. These are ancient heresies. I'm going to start with the ones that aren't as common today, and I won't make many comments on them, but I want to at least give you the history of heretical teaching about Jesus. First of all, “Gnosticism.” This was what John had to deal with in the first century; “They denied the humanity of Christ.” Gnosticism’s basic tenant is dualism; spirit is good, material is evil. Since flesh is evil, God couldn't become flesh. So, the Gnostics had a problem; what do we do with Jesus? And so, they solved it one of two ways. One group said, the divine Christ came upon the human Jesus at His baptism and departed shortly before His death. This is known as Adoptionism or Cerinthian Gnosticism. That was one solution. The other solution: “Well, Jesus only seemed to be in flesh, He only appeared to have flesh, so that He didn't really suffer or die on the cross.” This is known Docetic Gnosticism. This is only around today in some Eastern kinds of forms of Christianity.

Second, is “Apollinarianism–They denied Jesus full humanity.” They had a wrong view of man; they said man was three parts: body, soul, and spirit. That's a different message for a different time. But they said what happened is Jesus had a soul and body, but the divine Logos took the place of the Spirit. So, the divine Christ, then, only had the material part of human nature; He wasn't fully man in every way.

Thirdly, “Nestorianism.” They taught in effect that “Christ consisted of two natures and two persons.” They believed the divine Logos simply indwelt the human Jesus, and the result was that Christ was a divided person, two persons, one human and one divine.

“Eutychianism taught that Christ had only one nature–a divine nature,” and that the deity and the humanity were blended together, fused together to create neither deity nor humanity, but some third nature that was neither, but something different. Those, for the most part, aren’t around today.

Let's get to the ones that are. Here are several common heresies about Jesus around today, alive and well. You have met them; they've knocked on your door. Here we go. “Ebionites.” Ebionites “denied the deity of Jesus.” Now, the way this started was back in the early history of the church; they were Jews seeking to Judaize Christianity, that is to make Christianity more Jewish. Let's go back and let's not get rid of the ceremonial, let's include that. And so, they taught that Jesus was the son of Mary and Joseph, that He fulfilled the Mosaic Law, and so God chose Him to be the Messiah. And he became conscious of this at His baptism when He received the Spirit. They really ended up denying Jesus’ deity because they saw it as incompatible with the chief statement of Judaism, that God is One. They saw it as incompatible with monotheism. Of course, it's not, we believe that God is One in three Persons, but they saw that whole concept as one to be rejected. And so, they came up with this position.

By the way, this isn't Christianity, but this essentially is the position of Islam. Inside the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, and I've seen this is an inscription from the Quran that says this, “It is not befitting to the Majesty of Allah that He should take to himself a son.” It's a clear denial of Jesus’ deity and, therefore, of the biblical God. But unfortunately, this concept is alive and well in sort of larger Christianity as well. Many in the exploding Hebrew Roots Movement are essentially Ebionites.

Now, let me just be clear, I'm not saying all of them; there are some in the Hebrew Roots Movement that still hold a biblical view of Jesus. But many of them, connected with this movement, have a different Jesus. One branch downplays Jesus’ role, implying that He was merely a very good Jewish rabbi in the first century, but He was not the unique Son of God. Another HRM website hub writes that Jesus was Jesus-the-Son, is the body of God.

An even more radical branch teaches that Jesus of Nazareth never existed or may be Satan. Also closely aligned with the Ebionite heresy is a group called the Black Hebrew Israelites. As one Black Hebrew Israelite congregation explains their view:

We believe that there is a distinction between God and Jesus of Nazareth. In particular, we believe that God is the supreme being in the universe, and that Jesus was merely a human being, a noteworthy prophet, but a human being, nonetheless.

Beware of groups that aren't just celebrating a Jewish heritage but want to take Christianity back and make it Jewish. That is a rejection often of the New Testament and of the biblical Jesus.

Another heresy is “Arianism.” This one's alive and well. They denied “the full deity of Jesus.” Arianism taught that Christ existed before all other creatures, “other” creatures, and was the agent that God used to create everything else, but that “He Himself was also created.” They believe that Jesus was the first of the created beings; that He is ‘a god’ but not ‘The God.’ There are several modern groups that teach some variation of Arianism.

First of all, the “Jehovah's Witnesses” are the classic. When a Jehovah's Witness knocks on your door and says, “I believe in Jesus,” here's where you need to start. It's a different Jesus! Here’s from a Jehovah’s Witness’s official publication entitled, Should You Believe the Trinity?

Jesus had an existence in heaven before coming to earth. But was it as one of the persons in an almighty eternal triune Godhead? No, Jesus was a created being, just as angels were spirit beings created by God, neither the angels nor Jesus had existed before their creation.

In 1921, in the edition of The Harp of God, the JW’s write this, “The incarnation is Scripturally erroneous. Indeed, if Christ had been an incarnate being, He could never have redeemed mankind.” So, it's a different Jesus; it's not the Jesus you worship.

The “Mormons” also can be put into this category. Now, let me just be honest with you; they can be put under several of these categories. They have a very bizarre view of God and of Jesus, but I think they can fit here and do fit here. Mormon Apostle James Talmage writes this:

Jesus Christ is the Son of Elohim, both as spiritual and bodily offspring. That is to say, Elohim is literally the Father of the Spirit of Jesus Christ and also of the body in which Jesus performed His mission in the flesh.

You see, they thought that God had sex with a woman and gave birth to Jesus. The official Mormon student manual Doctrines of the Gospel says this:

The plan of salvation which Elohim designed was to save His children, Christ included. Neither Christ nor Lucifer (You say, “Why would they put them together?” They believe they’re brothers, Christ and Lucifer brothers. They're the physical offspring of God and a woman. Neither Christ nor Lucifer) could of themselves save anyone.

And frankly, a lot of evangelicals or those who profess to be are confused on this point as well. A couple of years ago, there was a survey, in fact in 2000, I think it was 2017 or 18, there was a survey by Ligonier in which they asked a lot of Americans, “Do you believe that Jesus was the first created being?” And a huge number of professing evangelicals said, “Yes!” They're Arians and they don't even know it.

One final heresy that's very much alive and well today is “Socinianism.” Socinianism “rejects the Trinity and teaches that Jesus is just a man.” There are a number of groups that hold to this; here are three representative ones. First of all, “Theological Liberals” in most of the mainline Protestant denominations are de facto Socinians. They don't believe Jesus is God. They don't believe the miracles of the New Testament. They don't believe the virgin birth. They don't believe all the things that define Jesus as the eternal Son of God come in the flesh. “Unitarians” are Socinian essentially.

Another group that may surprise you is the “Free Masons.” They also deny the deity of Jesus Christ. Jim Shaw, a thirty-third degree Mason, past Worshipful Master of the Blue Lodge, past Master of all Scottish Rite Bodies, and a Knight Commander of the Court of Honor, acknowledges that official Masonic doctrine teaches “Jesus was just a man. He was one of the exemplars, one of the great men of the past, but not divine, and certainly not the only means of redemption of lost mankind.” In fact, the Masonic ritual for Maunday Thursday states officially that here's what they celebrate on Maunday Thursday, “We meet this day to commemorate the death of Jesus, not as inspired or divine, for this is not for us to decide.” So, there you have it, there's a list of the major heresies about Jesus Christ.

What are the lessons for us? Very quickly, there are two of them. First of all, and this is the real point of this passage, “Teaching the biblical Jesus is an accurate test of a Christian leader’s orthodoxy.” If a teacher or a sect teaches anything other than the biblical Jesus that’s summarized in the propositions I gave you just a few minutes ago, they are false teachers. They are not empowered by the Holy Spirit; they are empowered by demons, and their version of the Christian faith is not the true saving faith, but it is a false damning substitute. John Stott writes:

The person of Christ is central. No system can be tolerated, however loud its claims or learned its adherents, which denies that Jesus is the Christ come in the flesh. (In other words, either his eternal Deity or his historical humanity.) Those who deny the Son have neither the Father nor the Spirit.

So, the next time you turn on the television or the radio or you pick up some YouTuber talking about Jesus, ask yourself, “Is it the biblical Jesus, or is it another Jesus?” Because, if it's another Jesus, that teacher is not just misguided, he is empowered by, inspired by, Satan himself.

Secondly, “Loving the biblical Jesus is an accurate test of a professing Christian’s faith.” Can I ask you this morning and I want you to answer this question in your mind. Don't just pass over this, answer this question in your mind. “Do you love the biblical Jesus?” That's a great test of whether or not you're a genuine Christian. Let me give it to you negatively and positively. First of all, negatively, 1 Corinthians 16:22. Paul ends his letter to the Corinthians with these words, “If someone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed.” Let him be damned; he's not a true believer.

Here's positively, the way he ends Ephesians. Ephesians 6:24, “Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love.” A true believer loves the biblical Jesus. So, ask yourself this morning, “Do I love the biblical Jesus? And do I follow Him? Is He my Master, my Lord? Am I learning from Him, wanting to be like Him, obeying Him because I love Him?”

Let's pray together. Father, thank You for Your Word. Thank You for its clarity. Lord, use these things in our lives, I pray, Lord, You would help us who are Christians, not to be gullible, but to be discerning, to ask ourselves if the teachers we're listening to are teaching a different God, or a different Jesus? Lord, don't let us be like those who are so naive as to say, “Well, they talk about Jesus.” Father, I pray as well that you'd help us to truly love Him, to follow Him, to want to know Him better.

And, Father, I pray for those who may be here this morning, who may factually acknowledge the biblical Jesus, but who have to admit in their heart of hearts, they don't love Him because they don't know Him, because to truly know Him is to love Him. Lord, I pray that today You would draw them to the truth about Jesus, through His life, death, and resurrection, to Yourself. We pray in Jesus’ wonderful name. Amen.


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

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1 John


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