“The Doctrine of Christ”
"For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward. Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.” -- 2 John 7-11
Without question, 2 John 7-11 speaks specifically of those who deny the incarnation as being antichrist. However, John’s statement is not to be interpreted as merely meaning that those who deny the fact of the incarnation are antichrist. He is telling us that all preachers, teachers, and religious leaders who deny the eternal deity and godhead of Christ, the necessity of his incarnation to save fallen men, the efficacy of his redemptive work as the incarnate God, and the glory of his exaltation and dominion as the God-man are deceivers and antichrists. In other words - All who teach any doctrine which in any way perverts the gospel of God’s free, sovereign, effectual, and irresistible grace in Christ are deceivers and are antichrists. We are to have nothing to do with them.
However, my purpose in this study is to demonstrate the fact that the doctrine of Christ and the doctrine of the Bible are synonymous. The teachings of Holy Scripture are Christ. I do not mean to say only that the teachings of the Bible are the teachings of Christ. Though that is certainly true. I mean that all the teachings of God’s Word are Christ himself. He is the Truth of whom the Scriptures speak. Christ is the living Word of whom the written Word speaks. All the doctrines, all the teachings of Holy Scripture are designed of God to reveal and exalt God’s dear Son, our Savior, and to lead us to faith in him.
That which separates the truth from a mere religion is that the truth concerns a person, the Lord Jesus Christ. That may appear to some to be a trite and worn out phrase, but it is true that salvation is a Person, not a doctrine. The importance of this distinction cannot be over stated. There are many who find fault with insistence upon this point. I am constantly told, “That is an over simplification. You cannot preach the Bible without preaching doctrine; and you cannot always preach Christ and the gospel if you faithfully expound the Word of God.”
The first part of that objection is true. “We cannot preach the Bible without preaching doctrine.” I make no apology for preaching and teaching doctrine, or for being a doctrinal preacher. The word doctrine simply means teaching. Certainly you cannot teach without teaching. To teach is to indoctrinate. It would be impossible to preach the person and work of Christ without preaching doctrine. However, it is quite easy to preach doctrine and never preach Christ. However, I take strong exception to the notion that “you cannot always preach Christ and the gospel if you faithfully expound the Word of God.”
To preach all the counsel of God is to preach the gospel. It is to preach Jesus Christ and him crucified. I repeat, the message of Scripture is Jesus Christ himself (Lk. 24:27, 44-46; John 1:45; 5:39; Acts 10:43). What Paul said to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:27) and that which he wrote to the saints at Corinth (1 Cor. 1:23; 2:2) are but two ways of stating the same thing. Christ crucified is all the counsel of God. This fact is demonstrated in the Book of Acts. In that inspired history of the church’s earliest years, the words preach, preached, and preaching are used thirty-seven times. Every time they are used, the subject preached was a person - the Lord Jesus Christ. “The apostles’ doctrine” was not a creed, but a person (Acts 5:42).
Truth is in some ways like a jigsaw puzzle. A jigsaw puzzle is made of many parts, each one important. The puzzle could not be complete if any individual part were missing. Yet, we all realize that the value of such a puzzle does not lie in the individual pieces, but in the image that is made when all these pieces are joined together in their proper relationship. Even though an unassembled jigsaw puzzle contains the very same materials and pieces as an assembled one, there is a great difference between the two. The assembled puzzle gives us an image, a picture to enjoy. An unassembled puzzle is just a box of cardboard pieces.
The Word of God is similar: It is made of many parts, each one important. Yet the value of these parts lies not in themselves, but in the image they create when assembled through the preaching of the gospel. All the doctrines of the Scriptures are pieces of a divine puzzle which, when assembled, provide us with an image of the Lord Jesus. One may emphasize the various individual pieces of this puzzle, and become quite expert in them, and never see the image which they were designed to create.
Our Savior said to the Pharisees, "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” The Pharisees were expert in the pieces but utterly ignorant of the image they made. I fear that most preachers and Bible teachers in our day are very much like the Pharisees. Like ignorant babies playing with the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, they play with and are greatly consumed in playing with the pieces of Holy Scripture. If someone stands up and plainly preaches the gospel, plainly sets forth Jesus Christ and him crucified, like babies with a puzzle, they start pulling out the pieces.
Those who preach, but do not preach Christ, those who teach from the Bible, but do not teach the gospel, do not understand the Word of God at all. That doctrine which does not have Christ crucified for its beginning, middle, and end is false doctrine. Be sure you understand the words of Peter in I Peter chapter one. The Word of God has not been preached unless the gospel has been preached, unless the gospel of Christ has been preached (1 Pet. 1:23-25).
Every man sent of God to preach the gospel is in total agreement with every other man sent of God to preach the gospel, in so far as the message they preach is concerned. They all see eye to eye in this matter (Isa. 52:7-8). “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord.” When the Scriptures speak of "preaching Christ," this is what they mean:
· All preaching is to be done with the purpose of revealing Christ and making him known, so that chosen sinners may see him, believe on him, and worship him. The goal of all the apostles and their successors has been to make Christ known in truth.
· To that end, preaching Christ means we must view all Scripture as a revelation of Him and interpreting it according to that rule, not being satisfied with the mere pieces of truth, but determined to learn and declare how each piece fits into the puzzle.
This understanding of Scripture and this kind of preaching will help us in seven distinct ways.
1. Preaching Christ will deliver us from becoming a mere religious movement.
Someone once said that all organizations go through three stages: "the man (who founded it), the movement (an organization that carries on under the momentum the man generated), and the monument (a dead organization which may bear the name of the founder but has little or no connection to him or his vision).” Lutheranism bears the name of its founder, but few Lutherans adhere to Martin Luther’s doctrine. Presbyterianism is associated with John Calvin; but few Presbyterians rejoice in Calvin’s doctrine. Preachers in most Protestant and Baptist churches use the names of C. H. Spurgeon and John Bunyan; but few preach the gospel those faithful men proclaimed.
The only thing that preserves the church from such a fate is that "the man," (in this case, the Man, Christ Jesus) is continually revealing Himself from generation to generation. This revelation is accomplished through the preaching of Christ. When Christ is preached, the Spirit of God takes those things of Christ, shows them to his elect and a new generation is joined to Christ. When Christ is preached, we are never dependant upon the momentum of one generation to carry the work of the gospel into the next generation. When Christ is preached, every generation is a brand new work, full of the vitality and energy of the Man who founds it, the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. Preaching Christ will deliver preachers and those who hear them from dry and lifeless sermons.
No doubt the goats will not be satisfied with what they hear, but we are not concerned with them. The sheep find the preaching of Christ to be "green pastures" and "still waters." Christ is their bread, and the preaching of Christ is the bread coming down from heaven to nourish their souls. When Christ is the preacher’s Subject and Message he never needs to figure out a way to make his messages more exciting, clever, or appealing to those who hear them. The message of Christ is as clever and exciting as any sheep could desire. And we simply should not concern ourselves with what goats think about our preaching.
Preaching Christ is the best, indeed, the only way to purify the church. Gospel preaching reveals who the sheep are and purifies the church. Everywhere I go, I find that among religious people the two major concerns are the morality of the sheep and the purity of the church. This is revealed in the attention they give to the work of church discipline. The Scriptures, however, teach that the preaching of Christ will accomplish this work very well. The preaching of Christ provides the content and motivation of godliness (Eph. 4:17-24). Ungodliness is contrary to the truth of Christ. Where Christ is preached, growth in grace is the result!
Preaching Christ will purify the church by removing from its ranks those professed believers who do not truly love the Lord Jesus (Cor. 1:18). Our Lord was referring to this matter in his parables, when he told us plainly that we do not have the ability to distinguish between sheep and goats, between wheat and tares, or good fish and bad. Therefore, we are to leave them alone and leave the separation of the one from the other to him. Those who do not know Christ will, in time, grow weary of hearing him preached and leave. People will not long endure the preaching of what is foolishness to them. The surest way to maintain a herd of goats in a congregation is to preach Christless doctrine to them. "Knowledge puffeth up," and Christless doctrine, no matter how true it may be, puffs men up with a sense of knowledge. Even the goats can tolerate true doctrine if their knowing it gives them an occasion for pride. But, knowing the truth through the revelation of Christ leaves no room for pride, only a sense of gratitude that the truth has been revealed. In this way, the preaching of Christ purifies the church. More correctly, by the preaching of Christ, Christ purifies his church.
4. Preaching of Christ has the promise of Divine accomplishment (Isa. 55:11).
The word that goes forth out of God's mouth is Jesus Christ, called by John, "the Word." (John 1:1). Isaiah 55:11 refers primarily to the coming of Christ in the flesh, teaching us that whatever purpose God intended in the sending of Christ was accomplished; and when Christ returned to God, he did so, not as a failure, but as a champion who had fully accomplished all the work given him to do. It may properly be expanded to also include the preaching of Christ which is, indeed, a sending of Jesus Christ. Every time Christ is preached, God has a purpose in it, and that purpose shall be accomplished.
5. Preaching Christ helps to protect the preacher from pride and the hearers from idolatry.
Those who hear the preaching of Christ will love and respect the man that preaches to them; but they will worship Christ. Those who preach Christ will rejoice in the results that are obtained by it, but will glorify Christ for those results. Far too often preachers and religious leaders talk and act as though the works wrought through them were wrought by them, as though it were Calvin and Luther who brought about the reformation, as if Spurgeon filled the tabernacle. If there could be any sadness in glory, it must be found among those faithful men of the past whose names are now revered as though they accomplished anything. If these men were to return to earth, they would be appalled at the churches and colleges raised in their names. Any work done by any man ought to die with the man and will. Let us preach the work of him who never dies and pray that he will be pleased to work through us.
6. Preaching Christ is the only message that will do sinners any good (1 Cor. 1:21).
“It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” The word translated "preaching" puts the emphasis on the content of what is preached. The "foolishness" that is preached is Christ or "the cross," the doctrine of Christ crucified. Christ is what sinners need. If they will not have him, there is nothing else good to give them. Consequently, there is no value in giving them something else. I say to all who preach the gospel, “Pour on the coal! Preach the sovereign, unchangeable Christ to sinners. Flood them with the ‘truth as it is in Jesus’ until they either shout ‘crucify him’ or ‘my Lord and my God.’”
7. Preaching Christ glorifies him who alone deserves all praise, honor, and glory.
Dare a preacher aim for less? I pray for the salvation of sinners through my preaching, but, whatever may come of sinners, may Christ be honored and glorified by what comes from my lips. Does not every God-called preacher feel the same? Does not every believer feel the same with regard to his testimony of the truth. God grant it be so. Therefore, we preach and teach Christ. I pray that God will give me the grace to deny every fleshly temptation to preach anything else. I know this - The man who follows this pattern until it seems utterly absurd and absolute foolishness to proud flesh, and only that man, has entered into that which is the power and wisdom of God.
God helping me, this is the determination of my heart and my solemn promise to all who hear me preach or read what I may be enabled of God to write, I am “determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified…God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world…So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel…For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”