March 14, 2021
For the past two years, The Christian & Missionary Alliance has been reviewing, updating and editing its Statement of Faith – its doctrinal statement. It had not been done since the 1960s, and I think the changes were largely in order. For example, the language has been changed to rightly be more inclusive – instead of reading, the Bible is the complete revelation of His will for the salvation of men, it will now read, the salvation of people. Most appropriate.
Probably most substantive in the edits is removing the word Premillennial from the statement. While I am personally premillennial – that is, I believe Jesus will return and set up a millennial kingdom on earth, there are those faithful and godly, Bible-believing brothers and sisters who are Amillennial – that is, while they do believe Jesus is coming back (that’s a nonnegotiable), they say we will then go straight to the eternal kingdom – new heaven and new earth. Our Presbyterian brothers and sisters hold that position, and it is not unorthodox. There are some in the C&MA who hold the position, and it is not thought to be something to divide over. I actually agree.
Why do I bring this up? Because statements of faith, doctrinal statements, and creeds are really helpful – even important. The earliest creed, outside those short statements written by Paul – one of which we’ll review today – was the Apostles Creed. You know that one:
I believe in God,
the Father Almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
He descended into hell; (interestingly, that has been edited to read, He descended to the dead)
on the third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from there He will come to judge the living and the dead. (notice, nothing about the millennial kingdom)
I believe in the Holy Spirit, (that’s nice, the Holy Spirit gets one line)
the holy catholic (universal) Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.
Amen. Hallelujah – we recite it, we sing it, and we should.
It’s a great statement that some suggest goes all the way back to the first century AD. Many others have been written and are worthy of study. I have a list, if you’re interested. Doctrine or theology is actually indispensably important to us as followers of Jesus. They define what we believe concerning the truths of the Christian Faith. It’s kind of a boiled down systematic theology. And all those statements of belief should be found in and consistent with the Word of God.
Now, every once in a while, you may hear a well-intentioned pastor say, we don’t need a creed – we have the Bible – that’s all we need. And that is essentially true. But these doctrinal creeds, found in the Bible, help prioritize, synthesize, and systematize our beliefs. You do understand, doctrine or theology is found in the Bible. Again, sometimes you hear people say, don’t give me doctrine, don’t give me theology, just tell me what the Bible says. Or, they seem to side with the Beatles, all we need is love. But, I would suggest, if you get the Bible, you get doctrine.
Now, I am perhaps as surprised as you that there is so much doctrine in the book of I John –because, you see, he was dealing with false teachers, specifically regarding the Trinity, the person and work of the Holy Spirit, and the person and work of Jesus. You see, from the earliest days of church history, the church fought for orthodoxy – meaning right teaching – against heterodoxy – different teaching – and heresy – false teaching opposed to orthodoxy. And from the earliest days of church history, no heterodoxy or heresy was directed more than toward the Trinity, the person and work of the Holy Spirit, and the person and work of Jesus Christ.
You see, the evil one knows, if he can destroy the truth of the Trinity, of the Holy Spirit, of Jesus, and also salvation, then he can destroy the Christian faith. We must believe rightly about these things – and in some cases, to deny them or believe wrongly means our faith is sub-Christian. Of course, in those early days, it was the testimony of the prophets of the OT and apostles of the NT as they wrote Scripture, that was the standard of orthodoxy.
You would think that after two thousand years, we would have things figured out by now. But not so. Old heresies, formerly condemned by the church, continue to rise. For example, Arianism was condemned by the Council of Nicaea in 325 – but modern-day Jehovah’s Witnesses teach the same heresy – that is, they deny the deity of Jesus Christ. Which means they are not Christian – I’m not even sure they want to be called Christians.
Modalism, infamously taught by Sabellius and others, which denies the Trinity and suggests that God manifests Himself not in three persons but in three modes, was condemned by early church fathers such as Tertullian and Athanasius. And yet today, Oneness Pentecostals teach the same thing heresy. It is not Christian orthodoxy.
Further, new twists on heresies, clearly opposed to the teaching of Scripture, continue to arise. Now, I am not talking about minor differences as it relates to our understanding of Scripture – premillennialism verses amillennialism, for example. Or a pre-trib or post-trib return of Christ. Or if all of the spiritual gifts are for today, or only some of them are, or none of them are. Or whether you baptize babies or believers. Yes, I have strong and I believe biblical thoughts and even convictions about those things. But I’m talking about the indispensable orthodox truths of the Christian faith. I’ve said it already this morning – and several times through our study of I John: attacks against the person and work of Jesus Christ are central to most heresies.
In John’s day, he was dealing with successionists, who had left the church, and who had somehow denied that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, come in the flesh. Some of the earliest heresies related to the person of Christ were Gnostic heresies that I’ve regularly mentioned:
Cerinthus taught that Jesus was merely a man, and the Spirit of God came on Him at His baptism, but left Him before the crucifixion. In other words, he denied the deity of Jesus.
Docetism, which means to seem, taught that Jesus only appeared to be human – He was an illusion. Thus, it denied the humanity of Jesus.
This has always been the problem regarding the person of Jesus – denying that He was fully God or that He was fully man. Orthodoxy teaches He was fully both – two natures, one person. He was and is always fully God, and at the incarnation, He became a man – the God-man.
Now, there is a modern take on that heresy, the person of Jesus, which is most concerning to me, because it’s found in the so-called evangelical church. It came about in the late 18th Century and is still with us today. It goes like this: it denies the deity of Jesus while He walked on the earth.
It is called Kenotic Christology or Kenotic Heresy, and is especially prevalent in the New Apostolic Reformation – the NAR. It is a destructive heresy. It is based, they say, on Philippians 2, but I suggest it is a serious misunderstanding of the text. It is one of the most Christ-glorifying texts in the entire Bible. In fact, some have called it a hymn – or a creed – a statement of faith about the person and work of Jesus, succinctly said. Look at it with me (Paul had just told them, do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves. Do not merely look out for…):
5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,
6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.
8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
That is a glorious statement about Jesus. I said it this way when we studied Philippians: Paul shares a portrait of Christ that, if it were a piece of art, would be the centerpiece in the Louvre. If it were a gem, it would be displayed with the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London. If it were a precious metal, it would be in Fort Knox. If we had the original letter, it would be on display at the National Archives. It is most glorious, and some have profaned it.
How? The problem comes in verse 7, but emptied Himself. The word emptied is the word kenao – or kenosis. So Jesus emptied Himself, but of what? Paul doesn’t say. There is no direct object. But not to fear, the kenotic heresy supplies the object without biblical warrant – in fact, the reason I call it heresy is because it goes against the clear teaching of the full panorama of Scripture. This teaching says that Jesus emptied Himself of His deity, and walked simply as a man on the earth. He was not the God-man – He was only man.
That ought to make your blood boil. Now why do they say that? We don’t have to wonder. One prominent teacher of kenotic Christology writes: “Jesus lived His earthly life with human limitations. He laid His divinity aside as He sought to fulfill the assignment given to Him by the Father: to live life as a man without sin, and then die in the place of mankind for sin.” So the idea of kenotic theory is that Jesus emptied Himself of His deity and lived fully surrendered to the Father through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Why is this important?
Again, the same author writes, “Jesus could not heal the sick. Neither could He deliver the tormented from demons or raise the dead. To believe otherwise is to ignore what he said about Himself, and more importantly, to miss the purpose of His self-imposed restriction to live as a man. Jesus Christ said of Himself, ‘The Son of God can do nothing.’…He had NO supernatural capabilities whatsoever! While He was 100 percent God, He chose to live with the same limitations that man would face once He was redeemed….Jesus became the model for all who would embrace the invitation to invade the impossible in His name. He performed miracles, wonders, and signs, as a man in right relationship to God…not as God. If He performed miracles because He was God, then they would be unattainable to us. But if He did them as a man, I am responsible to pursue His lifestyle.”
Don’t miss what the author is saying. Jesus demonstrated what a redeemed/saved person could do if fully surrendered to the power of the Spirit – in right relationship with God. He did what He did not as God, but as a man. And you can do the same things. Please notice – he is diminishing the person of Jesus as God in order to elevate man. In fact, you should know that many take this teaching to its natural end to say that we are all little gods. That we are as much the incarnation of God as Jesus was. That’s a direct quote.
Is this what Paul meant when he wrote Jesus emptied Himself? That He emptied Himself of His deity? Time does not permit to go through the Gospel narratives to demonstrate all His divine attributes – driving out demons who were smart enough to realize who Jesus was, the Holy One of God, calming storms, raising the dead, healing the sick, walking on water, knowing people’s thoughts, forgiving sin. Even the people understood only God could forgive sin – and Jesus said, true, so what’s the big deal. Paul was saying that Jesus emptied Himself of the glorious display of His attributes – He emptied Himself of the rightful display of His glory – not that He emptied Himself of His deity. He veiled Himself in human flesh. He was fully man, yes, with human limitations – meaning He slept, He ate, and He died. But He was also fully God. Paul, the same author, wrote in Colossians, He is the image of the invisible God, and, in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.
We noted a couple weeks ago, the author of Hebrews said that Jesus was the exact representation of His nature. So why is this important? Isn’t this just a matter of semantics? Well, the church for 2000 years of its history didn’t think so. Creed after creed, council after council affirmed the full humanity and deity of Jesus. Further, Hebrews 2 says:
14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil,
15 and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives….
17 Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
The point is, Paul’s point in the self-emptying, is Jesus, the Son of God and God the Son took on human flesh – becoming like us in all things, except for sin, that He might die for our sins. As God, He represented God to us, as man, He represented man to God. Apart from His full deity and humanity, He would not have been the propitiation for our sins.
And this denial of the full deity and humanity of Jesus was somehow denied by the successionists in John’s day. It became a test of orthodoxy – a theological test to determine if you were truly a Christian. If you say you are a Christian, you must believe that Jesus was the Son of God, come in the flesh as the Christ – the anointed one of God – to die for the sins of His people. To say anything less is unorthodox, further, it is heresy. John refers to this over and over – as I have – because it is of greatest importance. And in the process, he dives deep into doctrine – theology. Read the text with me – I John 4:13-16.
Right away, I want you to notice the Trinitarian nature of this passage. It is all over the place. The Father has sent His Spirit to abide in us. The Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world. Jesus is the Son of God, the Father. If we confess that Jesus is the Son of God, we abide in God, and God in us. I want to remind you that Christianity is monotheistic – that is, we worship one God. But, that one true and living God has eternally manifested Himself in three persons: Father, Son and Spirit – who are one in essence or substance, but distinct in person with distinct functions, who are co-equal and co-eternal.
I’ve already preached my message this morning, but look at the distinct functions of the Trinity with this outline:
- God the Father Sent His Holy Spirit to Abide in Us (13) – Jesus was with us in the incarnation – the Holy Spirit is with us and in us.
- God the Father Sent His Only Son to Save Us (14)
- Confession of Jesus as the Son of God Results in Reception of the Spirit (15)
- Love is the Evidence of God’s Abiding Presence (16)
I’m only going to comment on these. First, please note the entire Trinity is involved in your salvation. This is a passage of assurance. Your salvation is so important that the Father directed the plan, the Son enacted the plan, and the Spirit applies the plan. You can know that you know God (13,16), that you are saved because the Spirit lives in you – the Spirit testifies with your spirit that you are children of God; you confess Jesus as the Son of God; and you love like God loves. You bear the family resemblance.
Point one, you can know that God abides in you by His Spirit. We know that we abide in Him and He is us because He has given us His Spirit. This is a fulfillment of the promise of the New Covenant – that God would give us His Spirit. In the OT, under the Old Covenant, the Spirit would come upon people for a special task. But under the New Covenant, God gives us His Spirit. We have made reference to the Farewell Discourse in John 14-16 a number of times. The Farewell Discourse is the final conversation Jesus had with His disciples either in the upper room or on the way to Gethsemane. And he promised over and over to send the Spirit – another counselor – another helper/comforter – to be in us and with us forever. And He would guide us to all truth, reminding us, first the disciples then us through their writings of all that Jesus taught.
And don’t miss that the primary responsibility of the Spirit as the Spirit of truth is to testify about Jesus. To not make much of Himself, but much of Jesus. He is to point people to Jesus. We know, for example, that we are regenerated, born again, by the Holy Spirit through the finished work of Christ. So as He comes to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment, He does that primarily by pointing to Christ. John 15:26 says, “When the Helper comes, whom I send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me.” A great Trinitarian verse.
So, the Spirit has come to abide in us, and cause us to abide in God – a mutual indwelling. Second, the Father sent the Son to save us – and not only us, but to be the Savior of the world. We remember John the Baptist one day pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Two things I would have you note about that. First, Jesus is alone the Son of God. The only begotten Son. And as the Son of God, He is God the Son. Fully God. Fully man.
Second, Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the Savior of the world. (John 4 – Samaritans – only other time the phrase, Savior of the world, is used.) Not just the Jews, although Jesus came through the Jews, as God promised Abraham 4000 years ago, “Through your seed, Abraham, all the nations of the world will be blessed.” All the nations of the world would be blessed because the Jewish Messiah would be our Messiah – the Savior. He came to save all people – not universally, not without exception, but without distinction. He came to save black and white, yellow and red; young and old; rich and poor; male and female; Jew and Gentile. No distinction. As I said earlier, the CMA statement of faith is being changed to be more inclusive – inclusive of all people – because the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for all those who believe. If you believe, you can be saved.
Which brings us to our third point – the one who confesses that Jesus is the Son of God receives the Spirit who abides in the ones believing, and the ones believing abide in God. Only Christians – those who confess Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, come in the flesh to die for sinners – have the Spirit of truth living within them.
Which brings us to our last point and conclusion. The evidence of this mutual abiding is love. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. Behold what manner of love…. This transitions us back to love – John’s main point in this section, which we’ll finish next week. So, I’ll only say this. He repeats what he said in verse 8, God is love. So, the one who abides in love – who is loving like the Father is loving, abides in God, and God abides in Him. This is the summary of the passage: we know that we live in God and He lives in us because He has given us His Spirit, and we know He has given us His Spirit because we believe Jesus is the Son of God, and we know that we have His Spirit because we love. Without His Spirit, we would neither believe, nor love.
As I close, can I take us back a moment to that glorious creed – hymn – in Philippians 2. This is all intended to glorify the Triune God. The condescension of the Son in the incarnation, to die a death He did not deserve – even death on a cross. But dead He did not remain. God raised Him from the dead, and has now super exalted Him to the highest place. And there is coming a day when every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Everyone – no one is exempt. The only question is – will you do it now, willingly in worship as a follower of Christ, or will you do it then, unwillingly before the throne of God, and before He casts you from His presence because you chose not to believe? You can bow now, or you can bow then – but you will bow.