This week we began our series titled ASSURANCE, a 14-week traipse through the three letters of John. The letters of John are essentially a basic introduction to New Testament Theology. Unlike a traditional letter, John begins his by establishing his authority to teach as an eyewitness to Jesus. False teaching wolves have infiltrated the flock and are now leading sheep astray and away into new grazing fields. These are the fields are full of ear-tickling false doctrine, specifically, a false understanding of who Jesus is. Paul warned in 2Corinthians 11 of false teachers coming with “another Jesus, another spirit, and another gospel” , and in these letters, we read how a 90+ year old “Son of Thunder” faces them head on.
Like often happens today, persuasive wolves have drawn people out of a gospel-centered community and started their own church. John carefully delineates between these two churches, a new false one which has a “cool community” with one another, and the old true church which has “gospel community” with one another…AND God. In battling these wolves, John doesn’t launch some sort of envious attack against their different style, unique methods, or even their questionable character (yet). Like a loving and strong pastor does, he attacks the purity of their doctrine.
In my introduction to this series, I wanted to emphasize what I thought John emphasized: DOCTRINE MATTERS. John argues that true doctrine leads us into true fellowship (with each other and God) which leads us into true joy. The implication seems to be, that those who are teaching and believing falsely, not only have false doctrine, they also have false fellowship, and in some way lack contentment. And though sound doctrine and good theology are perhaps not the first things that come to mind as causes for spiritual depression, it should. If we don’t believe the promises of God which lead to life, we will follow the promises of sin which leads to death (though it tells us otherwise). Good doctrine, sound teaching, and biblical truth about who I am, who God is, and what He has done for me is essential to living…and dying for that matter. False Doctrine (like what Satan preached in the garden) is what enslaves us to sin. True Doctrine is what frees us and what we are freed do: But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching (NKJV ‘doctrine’) to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6.17-18).
Like Paul does here, when we speak of committing to sound doctrine, this is more than the mind, it is a commitment of the heart. A commitment to sound doctrine in the mind only is not a commitment to sound doctrine at all. More than that, it is a recipe for sinful pride. BUT Gospel doctrine, confessed with the mouth and believed in the heart, is the firm foundation that enables us to weather any physical, emotional, or spiritual trial. Gospel truth is what encourages us when we fail, and humbles us when we succeed. Gospel truth is what binds us together in a family, to be encouraged and to encourage, to be strengthened and to strengthen. Gospel truth is what carries us through trials, what we use to combat the lies of Satan, what saves us, what protects us, what guides us, what gives us hope and contentment in this life on our way to the next.
There are many for whom words like doctrine or theology generate a negative reaction. Perhaps they have never opened their bible, never studied deeply, or worse, their idea of doctrine has been shaped by arrogant theologians, insensitive Bible thumpers, or false teachers who wrongly used theology to abuse versus edify the church. Ironically, arrogance, (genuine) insensitivity, and theological abuse is in fact the result of bad doctrine–serving to strengthen John’s point. Alas, some well meaning but ignorant folks will still argue that, “We don’t need doctrine. It only matters how we live.” While I agree that the bible encourages believes to do “good works”, I would add that this is a natural (naturally spiritually that is) response to the doctrine of the gospel. And as much anyone might want to distance themselves from holding to “a doctrine,” statements about moral living prove they in fact hold to false doctrine. Regardless of how good a statement like, “it only matters how you live” makes you or feel, or others applaud, it is not biblical. It is, however, a doctrine. The doctrine is called self-justification or works-based righteousness where God’s approval is based on my good behavior. It is the very opposite of gospel doctrine. The gospel does not say it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you obey, rather, that it doesn’t matter if you obey only that you believe. The gospel is not about moral reformation but heart transformation which leads to a way of living for and like Jesus.
So, doctrine matters, whether you admit it or not. No one who believes anything and acts in accord with those beliefs can get away from doctrine. Doctrine is simply another word for sound teaching. And John intends to assure right teaching about Jesus. Why? Because a wrong view of Jesus leads to a wrong view of God which leads to wrong behavior in this life and eternal death in the next.