April 30, 2008

How Do I Know If I am a Christian? – Part 3

Posted in Assurance, Christian life, Gospel, Reformed Theology at 11:45 pm by Dan Lowe

This is the third installment in a series entitled “How Do I Know If I’m a Christian?”

Matthew 16:13-18 (ESV) – 13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The key distinction between the multitudes and the disciples is that, by God’s grace, the disciples know who Jesus is.  They understand that He is the Christ (the Messiah, God’s Anointed King and promised Savior), the Son of the Living God (implying deity.)  Jesus states that upon this confession of faith, proclaimed through the apostles, He would build His Church (cf. Eph 2:19-22.)

We have been examining how we can know if we are a Christian.  We have been examining this topic from the First Epistle of John, in which the Apostle John provides a series of tests for whether or not we are a Christian.  We have seen four tests of whether or not we are a Christian:

1)      Christians have fellowship with God (I Jn 1:1-4.)

2)      Christians strive to avoid sin and seek righteousness (I Jn 3:4-10.)

3)      Christians love one another (I Jn 3:14, 4:20-21.)

4)      Christians do not love the world or the things in the world (I Jn 2:15-17.)

The fifth test of whether or not we are a Christian is, “Do we believe the biblical teaching regarding the person and work of Jesus?”

1 John 2:18-22 (ESV) – 18 Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. 21 I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 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.

John is warning Christians about the presence of many “antichrists” in the world.  The term translated “antichrist” (ἀντίχριστος, pronounced antichristos) literally refers to someone or something which is “in the place of Christ” and which “opposes Christ” (Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary on First John, Baker, I Jn 2:18.)  These “antichrists” oppose Christ by presenting false understandings of Christ in an attempt to deceive the unsuspecting.

Following is a list of the characteristics of “antichrists” in I John:

1)      They have separated from “us” (from the church and an orthodox understanding of apostolic doctrine)

1 John 2:19 (ESV) – 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

Unfortunately, we see this all the time today.  Given our present, postmodern context, it is quite common for teachers to “reinvent” or “re-imagine” doctrine.   Christians must take care to hold fast to the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3.)

2)      They deny that Jesus is the Christ.

1 John 2:22 (ESV) – 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.

To deny that Jesus is the Christ is to deny that He is God’s Anointed King and promised Savior.  This is probably a denial of the work which Jesus was commissioned by the Father to accomplish (i.e. I Jn 4:14.)

We see this among theological liberals and those in the emergent church.  Many have rejected the biblical doctrine of the substitutionary atonement of Christ (I Jn 2:1-2) and have redefined the intended work of Jesus as being simply that of an example for us to follow.  Although Jesus certainly is our example (for example: Phil 2:5-8), the overwhelming evidence of Scripture is that the purpose of God in sending Jesus into the world was to die for the sins of His people (see Old Testament sacrificial system, Isaiah 53, Mk 10:45, Lk 19:10, etc…)  When someone redefines the work of Christ in another way, then they are an “antichrist.”

3)      They deny that Jesus came in the flesh.

1 John 4:1-3 (ESV) – 1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.

John was probably arguing against a proto-Gnostic heresy which stated that Jesus was not truly human, but only appeared to be human (i.e. Docetism.)  However, the full humanity of Christ is absolutely essential for the completion of Jesus’ mission to provide a substitutionary atonement for His people.

Hebrews 2:14-18 (ESV) – 14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Apart from possessing full humanity, Jesus could not function as our representative (“high priest.”)  Apart from possessing full humanity, Jesus could not make propitiation for the sins of His people.

This heretical view of the person of Christ is not particularly prevalent today.  However, we might find some variations of this in certain new age spiritualities.

4)      They are from the world… and the world listens to them.

1 John 4:5-6 (ESV) – 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

Notice that antichrists are accepted by the world.  The world listens to them, because they are from the world.  At the same time, the world “does not listen to us” (cf. I Cor 1:18 – the gospel is foolishness to them.)

This should be a strong warning sign for us as Christians.  If the world accepts a particular teaching, then we should examine it closely to ascertain whether or not it is biblical, because the world does not accept that which is of God.

5)      They deny that Jesus is the Son of God.

1 John 5:4-5 (ESV) – 4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

The world… and the world’s teachers (i.e. antichrists) are overcome by the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

Although the doctrine of the deity of Christ has been constantly disputed throughout church history, Scripture is abundantly clear that Jesus is “very God of very God.”

John 1:1-3 (ESV) – 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

Colossians 1:15-20 (ESV) – 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Colossians 2:9 (ESV) – 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,

Hebrews 1:1-3 (ESV) – 1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

Given all this, the biblical teaching regarding Jesus in First John can be summed up as follows:

1)      Jesus is the eternal Son of God.

2)      Jesus is fully human, like us in every way, but without sin.

3)      Jesus is the Christ, God’s Anointed King and the Savior of His people through His substitutionary death upon the cross.

If a person does not adhere to this understanding of Jesus, then they are not a Christian.

1 John 2:23-25 (ESV) – 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.

Christians hold fast to the gospel (“what you heard from the beginning”, cf. I Jn 1:1-4.)  Those who deny the biblical teaching regarding Jesus do not have a relationship with the Father.  Those who know Jesus and are trusting in Him “abide in the Father” and they have eternal life.  They are Christians!

Who do you say Jesus is?

Do you believe that He is the eternal Son of God?

Do you believe that He is fully human and fully divine?

Do you believe that Jesus died for your sins, that He was buried and that He rose again the third day?

Do you pass the test?

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