The “D” Word

Study #5 (2 John 8-9)

The “D” Word

There is a tension of attitudes in our world today. It’s the result of a tragic error and misunderstanding.

We humans are complex beings. God made us that way so that we would have the potential of showing his moral and personal nature. No other created thing is as equipped to display God’s nature as well as we humans. That is what it means in Genesis 1 when it says we are made in the image of God. The many things we are able to do include: thinking reasonably, feeling emotions, and evaluating things to make choices.

There are some who reduce every decision to mere physical facts. They often ignore our emotional needs and how we feel in response to things. In the church these are the “rationalists”. They tend to deny emotions and treat our feelings as just unfortunate hindrances. These cold technicians of reason find the idea of “feelings” to be a sign of weakness.

There are others who reduce every decision to just how we feel. They often ignore sound advice and careful, scholarly studies. In the church they are the “emotionalists”. They tend to deny that scholarship is important and despise careful study. These careless navigators of emotion find the idea of “doctrine” to be a sign of danger. To them “doctrine”, that “D” word, is offensive, divisive, and the enemy of the church.

Of course, according to God’s word, both extremes are very wrong! We need to draw upon the full scope of our humanity when we make decisions, both our intellect and our inner attitude toward things.

On the one hand we ought to carefully consider and stay within the limits of what God has said in his word. His word must set the boundaries for every belief and decision. Where we are unclear about what that word teaches, we ought to be restrained. It’s far better to be skeptical of new things or uncertain ideas, than to wander into unknown territory coming up with theories and presumed doctrines that might offend our loving Lord.

On the other hand we must consider the attitudes and emotions God created and stirs in us. In his word God tells us to have tender compassion, to seek what makes for peace, to be kind and gentle in spirit, to be suspect of those who are mean spirited and uncaring. Jesus and Moses often used the word “love” rather than just the word “obedience” when describing our relationship with God and with others. While love includes and is bounded by obedience to what is right, it’s a word that also has to do with our humanity acting not as machines, but as emotional and morally responsible creatures who care and feel.

To ignore either the rational or emotional part of man is one of the effects of our depravity. The fallen human can’t perceive things as they really are, nor can he live as honors God. Even those who are made spiritually alive again in Christ struggle with this since our sanctification and spiritual maturity are never complete in this life.

To make sure we can learn what is right and good, God gave us his word. To make sure that word is understood and not abused or perverted God also gave us his Spirit. That Spirit lives in us effecting our minds and attitudes, and producing fruit in out lives as evidence. God’s word is to be studied carefully, accepted, and obeyed lest our feelings mislead us.

Those who don’t show the Spirit’s fruit in their lives are considered “dead spiritually”. Those who show no respect for God’s revealed word are considered “enemies of God”.

There’s a growing attitude in many churches that reflects the frustrations of modern society. Appealing to the suspicions of many that all scholarship is cold and rationalistic, they promote an emotionalism and mysticism and say, “Doctrine divides.” Of course that in itself is a “doctrinal statement”. All of us have doctrines, teachings we accept as foundational to our lives and faith.

The choice is not between “doctrine” and “feelings”. It’s between what doctrines we accept and how our attitude directs us. If our doctrines are based on our feelings, then God’s word is not our authority. If our attitudes and inner feelings aren’t informed by sound biblical teachings, God’s Spirit is not at work in us.

Just as words of profanity are often referred to by their first letter to avoid saying them, many modern churches treat “doctrine” as if it should be just thought of as the “D” word.

Doctrine ought not to be considered as offensive to Christ’s church.
The Apostle John writes …

8. Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.
9. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.

His main theme here is: Take caution: Do not go too far and abandon the teachings of Christ. We need to watch out! The Apostle is not just making a request or suggestion here. He is commanding the believer with the authority of Christ. He is telling us to be on the alert to a very real danger! There are consequences to the dangers that threaten us.

Verse 8 is translated differently in various translations because there are differences in some of the ancient copies we have of the Greek text. Some have “we” (first person plural) where others have “you” (second person plural). While other synonyms in English are used for other words, the basic variations are like this: “…so that (you/we) may not lose what (you/we) have worked for, but that (you/we) may win a full reward.” Obviously the differences are trivial. Whether John is including himself in the wording or just advising the elect lady is irrelevant. He is stating a general principle that includes all believers. The debate over these differences is over rated.

– There is something worked for that must not be lost.
– There is a reward that may be fully received.

1. What is the thing accomplished, or worked for?
It’s something that might be lost. Therefore it can’t be our salvation. Salvation is not something that can be lost as it’s presented in Scripture. That’s not the subject John is dealing with here.

The context is about obedience to God’s revealed truth. John introduces the topic by referring to it as “walking in truth” (verse 4). In verse 7, right before his comment here, John was warning about deceivers, anti-christs. In the next section (verses 10-11) John mentions those promoting false teachings and evil deeds.

He and the elect lady and her children had worked to bring their understanding and lives into submission to the revealed truth of God. The danger is that the influence of these deceivers could confuse that truth they are to be walking in. If the truth is confused, then they will wander off the path. That for which they were being commended will be lost.

2. What is the reward that might be fully obtained?
John makes a contrast with what happens when we lose what has been accomplished. If we don’t lose what has been accomplished, there will be a full reward.

God is the cause of our obedience by grace through Christ. Therefore any reward we receive for our obedience is a further evidence of his grace at work in us. Yet he credits that work to us so that in Christ we are said to be the doers of the good work. Since he works it in us so that we actually choose and do the work, he properly calls the work ours, and promises to further reward us in many ways.
– There are civil rewards to those who avoid breaking the civil laws: They have freedom and protection by those rightly enforcing our civil laws (See Romans 13:3-4).
– There are spiritual rewards to those who avoid breaking God’s moral laws: They are promised a peace that passes understanding, acceptance before God through the Savior, and will receive pleasure in honoring the Lord. When God’s people walk in truth, and resist being deceived, they enjoy life to the fullest and avoid the pain of sin and error.

In speaking of the revealed precepts of God the Psalmist says,
Psalm 19:11, “Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”

Abandoning the doctrines of Christ shows alienation from God.

9. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.

When we are being lead through a physically dangerous and confusing place by a guide who knows the way, it’s dangerous to run on ahead on our own. That’s the imagery here. If someone ignores God’s instruction and rushes on ahead, he is not following Christ. It shows a reckless concern for the teachings of Jesus, his doctrines.

Those who despise “doctrine” and who live only by our fallible feelings, are showing a lack of the work of grace upon their hearts. Those without the work of grace, show the absence of spiritual life. Every good thing John is speaking of here is our reward only by grace. That’s the enablement we need so that we can learn and obey, and to receive the promised rewards.

If obedience is missing, and the learning of God’s word is missing, then we suspect that God’s enabling grace is missing. If that grace is missing so is the reward which is only ours in Christ by imputation.

Jesus said in John 7:16-18, “… ‘My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.’ ”

Embracing and remaining in the doctrines of Christ evidences union with the Triune God. A person abiding in, or maintaining, the teachings of Christ has both the Father and the Son. John regularly assumes the fundamental doctrine of the deity of Christ. In combating the threatening teaching of the early Cerintians, he makes it clear both the Father and the Son are persons in the One True God.

As he said repeatedly in his First Epistle, restored union with God is by the blood of Jesus Christ and is evidenced by loving obedience. Obedience includes the written truth of God as its guide, and the presence of the Holy Spirit as its enablement and motive.

True Christians ought to love the Bible’s teachings, and oppose any other source of doctrine. Biblical doctrine ought to live in the true believer, not just be expressed by him. The living doctrines of Christ produce great reward and prove our union with God.

Those who see “doctrine” as a bad and divisive thing, show a disregard for the guidance of Christ. We should be concerned about the salvation of those who would walk only by feelings, and of those who walk only by a legal code with no concern for a deep appreciation and love of our Savior and of others in the redeemed family of believers.

The believer loves to know God’s truth so that he might walk in it faithfully. He who lives only by feelings, neglects the natural deceptions of his fallen nature, and shows little regard for the warnings of his Heavenly Father.

The believer is careful not to divorce God’s truth from the work of the Holy Spirit upon the person. He who lets Bible study become a mere academic exercise, does not walk obediently. When this happens the fallen mind corrupts the truth to justify things God points out as sin and blunts our awareness of its guilt.

Be careful! Don’t let what has been accomplished become lost along with its full rewards.

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Bob Burridge ©2017
Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted

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