WHAT IT MEANS TO CONFESS JESUS
1 John 4:2-3a
1. In a letter which was written so that our joy can be complete and so that we can know we have eternal life, our text is perhaps the key statement.
2. The fact that it was necessary to make this point tells us at least two things.
a. The first is that from the beginning of the gospel age the confession of Jesus as Christ come in the flesh was the foundation of the church.
b. The other is that some deceptive versions of exactly what this meant were already in the air by the time John wrote this letter.
3. Being clear about what it means to confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh is essential to maintaining our joy and assurance as children of God.
1. Understanding the issue
a. What is at stake is not a proposition about history but the nature of a person.
i. The question isn’t whether it is agreed that Jesus Christ lived in the flesh; the question is whether the person making the confession shares the conviction that in the flesh of Jesus the Christ actually lived.
ii. Remember that the “deceivers” of whom John writes had been part of the church and still had enough access to the members to be a dangerous influence–they would have said they believed in Jesus, but they wouldn’t have meant that he was the Son of God in the flesh.
iii. The point of our next would be more easily seen if it were translated, “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus is Christ come in the flesh is from God.”
b. The “come in the flesh” part of this was an issue because the doctrine of Christ was being accommodated to a human philosophy that was fashionable at the time.
i. At the root of it was the idea that everything material is inherently evil, while the spirit is entirely good.
(1) That sounds innocent enough, but critical implications followed.
(2) One was that a good God, being spirit, could not have made this material universe, so it must have been the work of some far-removed emanation of him.
(3) Another was that man’s body, which is matter, is therefore evil and stands in contrast to God, who is good because he is spirit.
ii. In this thought system, salvation meant escape from the body rather than the redemption of it.
(1) The human spirit was like a good seed which just needed to be rescued from the dirty soil of the body.
(2) That had to be done, not by effective redemptive work in the body, but by special knowledge of the secret spirit realm.
(3) “Gnosis” was the word for knowledge, so this philosophy was ultimately to be called “Gnosticism.”
iii. When this viewpoint met Christianity, of course, the big question was what to make of the relation of Christ, the eternal Son, to the human body of Jesus.
(1) The scriptural answer is straightforward: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
(2) “But,” the adherents of this philosophy reasoned, “he only seemed to have a body. It wasn’t real because he wouldn’t really have occupied something that was evil.” They denied his true humanity.
(3) “Or,” some others thought, “the divine Christ fell upon the man Jesus in the form of a dove at his baptism and left him before he died because he, being good, would not have come in contact with such evil.” They denied that he was ever both Jesus and Christ and the same time.
iv. A misunderstanding of yourself combined with a misrepresentation of the Lord is bound to lead to ethical problems, the deceptive system John was dealing with certainly did.
(1) Oddly enough, it led in two very different directions.
(2) On the one hand, since the body was considered evil, some thought it had to be treated harshly. They practiced asceticism, the depriving of the body from any pleasure or comfort.
(3) But others went to the opposite extreme. Their reasoning was that since it’s the body, not the breaking of God’s law, which is evil, and because of their knowledge of spirit things, what the body did was of no moral consequence. They practiced lawlessness.
v. That, of course, means that a system like this would lead to broken relationships among people, even to serious problems.
(1) Individuals sold on their own knowledge and pursuing their own way developed a sense of superiority that could set people aside or descend to hatred.
(2) There was little about the shadowy philosophy to suggest that whole persons are to be valued.
(3) The outlook of our own time is so much like this, except we are in danger of concluding that all matter is inherently good, and anything that may be termed spirit is to be discounted.
c. The issue at the heart of the matter, then, is what it means to confess Jesus. Consider John’s parallels to confessing “that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh:”
i. 2:23 – “Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.”
ii. 4:3 – “And every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.”
iii. 4:15 – “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.”
2. Recognizing the significance
a. The design of First John is to meet and conquer a whole philosophical system with one great thought: the truth of the incarnation.
i. 1:1 – “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.”
ii. 4:14 – “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.”
iii. 5:6 – “This is he who came by water and blood–Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood....”
b. But the significance is not just that it happened; the significance is that what had to happen has happened.
i. God had to be made known where alienation from him had produced ignorance of him so, by Christ’s coming in the flesh, the life “which was with the Father was made manifest to us” (1:4).
ii. The moral authority to lead had to be gained, so he walked in the light and invited us to walk in the same way (1:7; 2:6).
iii. Sin had to be judged so “he appeared to take away sins” (3:5) by becoming “the propitiation for our sins” (2:2), being righteous himself but bearing our sins in his body.
iv. Death had to be conquered, so the Son of God appeared in the body to destroy the works of the devil (3:8); he was born to keep the evil one from touching us (5:18).
v. Fellowship had to be made real, so he became a sharer in what can be seen and heard in order to be able to faithfully represent us with the Father (2:1). If Christ did not really become a man and live in the flesh, not one of these things is possible.
3. Facing the truth
a. John intended to see to it that when someone said he believed in Jesus, he meant the same thing as the gospel teaches.
i. The word for “confess” means to “say the same thing.”
ii. Jesus made the good confession by saying that he, standing there in the flesh, was Christ, the king sent from heaven (1 Tim. 6:13; Mk. 14:62; Jn. 18:37).
iii. When we confess him, that is the same thing we should mean.
b. First John is blunt and practical about how to tell when that confession is made truly.
i. 2:22 – “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.”
ii. 1:6 – “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”
iii. 4:20 – “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
1. Because as the Son of God he came in the flesh of Jesus, Christ deserves to be believed in, obeyed, and imitated.
2. 4:9 – “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.”