• Falling from the truth of the gospel: When Paul wrote to Timothy, he reminded Timothy that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tm 2:4). When he used the phrase “the truth” in the context of 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, Paul was using it as an abbreviated form of the complete phrase, “the truth of the gospel” that he used in the letter to the Galatians.
The “gospel” is not an outline of true points of a church catechism. The “truth of the gospel” is not some systematic theology that is assembled together through the organization of favorite proof texts. The “truth” is not a reference to doctrine, though doctrine of the New Testament is true. But in reference to “the truth” as the phrase is connected with the word “gospel,” it is truth in reference to a Divine being. Jesus explained, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). Jesus said that He was “the truth.” This is person, not doctrine.
Though the religionists to whom Jesus spoke on the occasion of the preceding statement in John 14 were seeking some systematic theology of traditions or doctrinal statements from Jesus, at the time, they, as well as the disciples who stood with Jesus on the occasion, still could not understand that He was the incarnate “Word of God.” He was the truth that was revealed from God as God sent through Him the message of the gospel to mankind.
Now consider this point in reference to Jesus, the incarnate Word of God, who stood before Pilate. Jesus said to Pilate, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this reason I was born, and for this cause I came into he world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (Jn 18:37). This statement befuddled Pilate, so he responded to Jesus, “What is truth?” (Jn 18:38). What Pilate did not understand is that the “what” was the “who” who was standing before him. Jesus was the message of the Word to mankind, but this truth was far outside the understanding of Pilate at the time. The King who was before him was “the truth” who had come into the world.
Nevertheless, regardless of Pilate’s limited understanding of these spiritual matters, he was certainly not asking from Jesus some doctrinal outline that would explain some systematic theology that Jesus was preaching. At the time, Pilate was frustrated, seeing Jesus only as a man whom the Jews sought to have eliminated. But he could find no fault in His behavior that was worthy of death (Jn 18:38).
This definition that Jesus is “the truth” is brought out in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. In the same context of those who would not walk according to the gospel in Jerusalem, Paul wrote, “To whom [the legalistic Jewish religionists] we did not yield in subjection even for an hour, so that the truth of the gospel might continue with you” (Gl 2:5). These were those who “were not straighforward about the truth of the gospel” (Gl 2:14). Jesus was the good news that was revealed in this world. He is the truth to which all people must gravitate. It is as Jesus said during His earthly ministry, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Me” (Jn 12:32).
When the apostles first went forth to preach the gospel, people heard “the word of the truth of the gospel” (Cl 1:5). There is a difference between the medium of the preached word by which the gospel of Jesus is communicated to the world, and the gospel itself (See 1 Co 15:1-4). The gospel is good news about the truth of Jesus’ incarnation, sacrificial offering, resurrection, ascension and reign at the right hand of God. We use words to communicate this salvational journey into and out of this world. It is the significance of these truthful events that must be preached to the world in order that all those who desire to hear might “come to the knowledge of the truth [of the gospel]” (1 Tm 2:4).
When one ceases to believe the word by which the gospel is communicated, then he begins to turn from the truth of who Jesus is. His doubt assumes that he no longer believes any of the events of the gospel. There are those who enter into the body of Christ who were initially convicted by the truth of the gospel. But later they begin to doubt the historical events of the gospel, and thus they erode the foundation of Jesus Christ (1 Co 3:11).
When belief in Jesus as the Christ and Son of God is preached, church happens (See Mt 16:18,19). The church in turn becomes the medium through which the truth of the gospel is preached to the world (1 Tm 3:15). Nevertheless, there are those in the church who become “destitute of the truth [of the gospel]” (1 Tm 6:5). They are as Hymanaeus and Philetus, “who concerning the truth [of the gospel] have strayed” (2 Tm 2:18). In their case, these two brothers denied the gospel even of the resurrection. And by making such a denial, “they overthrow the faith of some” (2 Tm 2:18).
God desires that we continue to grow in our knowledge of the gospel. The textbook of the New Testament must be devoured lest we ourselves be devoured by Satan. For this reason, the early evangelists returned to Christians who had responded to the gospel in order that they might come to “a full knowledge of the truth [of the gospel]” (2 Tm 2:26). On one occasion, this was the reason why Paul wanted to make a trip to Rome in order that he might bear fruit among the Christians there through his continued teaching of the gospel to them (See Rm 1:13-16). He knew that some are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth [of the gospel]” (2 Tm 3:7). Therefore, Christians must take every opportunity to study and discuss matters concerning the truth of the gospel.
In view of the fact that there are always present among the disciples “men of corrupt minds” (2 Tm 3:8), it is the work of every evangelist to continue to teach the gospel to the disciples in order that they might come to a full knowledge of the gospel. This is necessary because there are always those in the fellowship of the church who “will turn away their ears from the truth [of the gospel] and will be turned to fables” (2 Tm 4:4). In the first century, these were those who gave “heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth [of the gospel]” (Ti 1:14). Such people need to remember the final warning of the Hebrew writer in reference to some Jewish Christians who were returning to the religion of the Jews: “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth [of the gospel], there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (Hb 10:26).
• Turning from the gospel is ungodliness: As we continue to journey through the revealing text of Jude, we must not forget that it was the Holy Spirit who was inspiring these very words to be written. Therefore, we must not take lightly Jude’s use of the word “ungodly.” Those who would behave in a manner that portrays an anarchist spirit against government, are ungodly. And all ungodly people are destined for condemnation. They are so destined because the grace of God that they presumed to have accepted, did not lead to any change in their lives. They subsequently “turn the grace of our God into licentiousness” (Jd 4). Their behavior reveals that “they deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jd 4). Jesus is no longer the Master of their lives. They refuse to have Him as their Lord. And because He is neither Master or Lord in their lives, they presume that they can speak and behave as anarchist against government, and above all, King Jesus in heaven. They live without fear of both King Jesus in heaven and God-ordained government on earth.
[Next in series: Dec. 8]