TODAY’S READING: 2 JOHN, 3 JOHN, JUDE
“For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh.” (2 John 7)
John seems to make a very simple statement.
A deceiver, an impostor, does not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh.
But, it’s not as simple as it seems. For, to truly understand John’ statement we need to answer two questions.
- What does it mean to confess?
- Whose flesh is John referring to?
The Greek word for confess is homologeo. It is a compound word literally meaning the same word.
Generally, we think of confession as something done with our mouths. I believe this is why Christians have latched onto Romans 10.9-10, which says, “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes is and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Further, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12.3)
Therefore, American Christianity has made spreading the faith a matter of getting someone to say the right words. All that needs to be done is to get someone to say confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Lord. We just need to get people to make a profession of faith.
However, without denying these scriptures, we need to understand that true confession goes beyond the words that we say.
In Matthew 7.21-23, Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, your workers of lawlessness.”
Here are people that say “Lord, Lord.” They are confessing Jesus with their mouths. They even do mighty works – prophesying and casting out demons. But, the implication is that they have not done the will of God. They are workers of lawlessness.
Why does Jesus call them workers of lawlessness?
They prophesied and cast out demons. Neither of those actions are against the will of God or against the law.
Jesus summed up the law in two commandments – love for God and love for neighbor. To be a worker of lawlessness is to be a worker without love. Therefore, in 1 Corinthians 13.1-3, Paul says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
We can say the right words and do the right actions, but if they are not motivated by love, then the words and actions are empty, hollow.
We can say “Lord, Lord,” but not do the will of God – love. Without love as our motivation, our foundation, Jesus will declare he never knew us.
In Titus 1.16, Paul says of deceivers, “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works.” The Greek word for profess is homologeo. So, you can confess, say with your mouth, that you know God, but at the same time you can deny God by your works. While the verse doesn’t say it, it is likely that the works deny God because they aren’t done in love.
So, confession goes beyond merely saying the right words. True confession is made by works of love.
What is love?
Love is best known through the cross (1 John 4). Therefore, love can be defined by the giving of one’s self, one’s life, for the benefit of others. That we can most easily understand love through the cross shows that love is best known through actions not words.
So, whose flesh is John referring to?
Is John saying that a deceiver does not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in his own flesh as a person?
Or, is John saying that a deceiver does not confess in the deceiver’s own flesh the coming of Jesus Christ?
A deceiver says one thing and does another. A deceiver can say with his mouth “Lord, Lord,” but his actions will not line up with those words. A deceiver’s mouth confesses Jesus, but his actions aren’t motivated by love. This can be known because in his own flesh, his own body, he is not giving himself for the benefit of others.
How did Paul make Jesus known?
How did Paul compare his ministry with those he believed were deceivers?
Paul did this through suffering in his own flesh just as Jesus. Paul touted his sufferings as proof of his confession because deceivers could not.
In 2 Corinthians 11.12-13, Paul says, “And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.”
And how does Paul boast in a way that is different than the false apostles and deceitful workmen?
By his sufferings in his flesh.
“Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one – I am talking like a madman – with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” (2 Corinthians 11.23-28)
In Colossians 1.24, Paul says, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.”
Paul says in his ministry he has “renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways” and refuses “to practice cunning.” (2 Corinthians 4.2)
If he doesn’t use these tactics in his ministry to proclaim “the open statement of the truth” about Jesus, then how does Paul do it?
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” (2 Corinthians 4.7-11)
Paul’s open statement of the truth made in the sufferings of his own body. His confession was made with much more than words. He gave his very life for those he was ministering to.
A deceiver will have no problem lying, saying that indeed Jesus Christ came in the flesh.
But, a deceiver will never be able to show that in the flesh, in his own body, by his own sufferings.
All of this goes to show that we are to confess Jesus with words. But, much more than that, we are to confess Jesus Christ in the sufferings of our own flesh.
This then reveals that Jesus did not come to get us to merely believe the right things about him. He came to transform us. He came so that we could be conformed to his image.
Therefore, true confession of Jesus Christ is made through a life of transformation that has conformed us to the very image of Christ. We are now people willing to die on a cross with no self defense saying, “Father, forgive them.”