Bible Study Opportunities
Abiding in The Teaching of Christ
By Jon W. Quinn
“Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching (doctrine - kjv) of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.” (2 John 9). The word translated into “teaching” (nasb) or “doctrine” (kjv) is in fact correctly translated either way. The word “doctrine” simply means teaching. This verse very obviously shows that doctrine is important. Sometimes, those who stress the importance and significance of doctrine in our relationships with God are ridiculed. Many do not think “doctrine” matters much as long as one believes the basics about Jesus. But this verse tells us that being correct and responsible in our doctrinal stands is a “make or break” issue.
What importance we place upon the teaching will make a big difference in how we view what constitutes faithful living and also with whom we are willing to have fellowship. The word “fellowship” means to have joint participation.
There are two extremes on this question. On the one hand, there are those that say doctrine is completely unimportant. They will have fellowship with about anyone who accepts the fact that Jesus is the Son of God regardless of other doctrines. Things such as baptism, the Lord's Supper, the work of the church and so forth are doctrinal and do not matter much.
On the other extreme are those who not only require sound doctrine, as we all ought to do, but also require that others accept their inferences and opinions as well. A good example of this has to do with the Holy Spirit. It will not be enough to simply say one believes that the Holy Spirit dwells in the Christian, they must also reach the conclusion that the Holy Spirit dwells in one figuratively through the word, or that He must dwell in one literally. The Bible says He dwells in us, but does not really say whether it is a figurative or literal thing. I might have an idea about it, and good reasons for my thoughts, but I must not demand that others draw the same conclusions as I have if the Bible does not specify. But that's another topic for another day. Let's consider the teaching, or doctrine of Christ.
A Common But Erroneous Idea
A very common idea is that the phrase “doctrine of Christ” as used by John in 2 John 9 refers to teachings about Christ, not teachings from Christ. If I teach that Jesus was not the Son of God come in the flesh, then I do not have God. They would contend that this has nothing to do with teachings from Christ, such as His teachings on baptism and the like. What this means is that they can have fellowship with anyone who holds the same idea about Christ's identity whether they accept and obey His teachings or not.
They will usually contend that John is battling first century Gnosticism, or at least its precursor. These false teachers, the ones the Bible calls “the antichrists”, denied that Jesus was God's Son in the flesh (read 1 John 2:18-19;22; 4:2-3; 14-15; 5:20; 2 John 7). While it is so that John was contending with these false teachers who denied that the Son had become flesh, he also dealt with the the ramifications of all this teaching on their doctrines We ought not to limit the “doctrine of Christ” to just the teachings about Christ.
Background of Gnosticism
The word “Gnostic” means “knowing one.” These early false teachers felt that they were in command of secret knowledge; which was actually a mixture of Greek philosophy and Christianity.
They taught that God was inherently good and was all spirit. Good so far. But they also taught that all matter was inherently evil. Of course, this is wrong. Even God said of His creation that it was “very good” when He had finished His work.
Since we human creatures are matter and spirit, we are inherently evil, but we do have that good spiritual side as well. Gnostics therefore said that God could not have become flesh; therefore the Christ never really did come in the flesh. They handled Jesus in different ways; some saying He was an illusion, for example. He really did not die in the flesh upon the cross because He, being God the Son, could not really become flesh.
But there is more. Many Gnostics also practiced very wild and corrupt living, full of immorality. They simply contended that it was impossible to live any other way because they were flesh, but as long as they believed, their special knowledge would keep their spirits clean even though they lived immorally. It is important to understand this as one considers what John is saying in 2 John 9 as well as the rest of First and Second John.
The Doctrine of Christ
John was fighting against this false teaching, which included both the denial that the Son of God came in the flesh as well as a license to practice sin while not being held accountable for it.
The doctrine of the Gnostics held that you could live anyway you wanted to and still know God and be saved because your spirit would not be held responsible for what your flesh did. John responds that to know God we must keep His word; “And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, 'I have come to know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” (1 John 2:3-6).
John explained that to be righteous in God's eyes requires that we practice righteousness, and if we practice unrighteousness then we are not of God but of Satan (1 John 3:6-10).
John emphasized the need to obey the Lord's doctrines (1 John 5:2,3). He stressed that behavior, or how we walk, must be in the truth (2 John 4). He said that “this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it.” (1 John 6).
As John defends both the concepts that Jesus is God in the flesh and that we must walk according to His commandments, he comes to our text: “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching (doctrine - kjv) of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.” (2 John 9). This includes accepting the truth of Jesus' identity as well as to keep His commandments (1 John 3:24).
Reprinted From the Bradley Banner Bradley Church of Christ Bradley, Illinois July 7, 2001
The “doctrine of Christ” means the things He taught, not only the things taught about Him (just like “doctrine of the Pharisees” means the things they taught - Matthew 16:12; see also Colossians 2:22 and Revelation 2:14). We must abide in those things that Jesus taught. If we do not, then we do not have God. If we do, then we have both the Father and the Son.