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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Abide in the True Doctrine of Christ
Text:2 John 9-11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Revelation of the Gospel

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 19:3,5                                                                                            

Ps 12:1,4,5

Reading – 1 John 2:18-29; 2 John

Ps 78:1,2,3

Sermon – 2 John 9-11

Hy 48:1,2

Hy 52:1,3,5


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved, how important to you is doctrine? Be honest. Maybe your first reaction would be to say that doctrine isn’t that essential in your Monday-to-Saturday existence. What does it really have to do with my everyday life? Not that we’d throw doctrine out, but we prefer to be practical, not theoretical.

And doctrine, for its part, seems intimidating. There’s a Systematic Theology that is three thick volumes. There’s also a Reformed Dogmatics (dogmatics being another name for doctrine) that’s four, even thicker, volumes. So people were glad when a book came out called Concise Reformed Dogmatics. How concise is it? Just 900 pages! Doctrine can seem like that. It’s not really accessible—nor even desirable, maybe. We say it’s the domain of theologians, experts who love to split hairs and fill pages.

Yet reluctant as we are to dive into doctrine, we find it emphasized often in Scripture. Much attention is given to the teaching—or the doctrine—of our faith. What we believe is essential, and not just how we live. In the Bible, we often hear this. Think of the warnings against false prophets in Israel. Think of Paul’s struggles against false teachers: amongst the Corinthians, the Galatians, and the Colossians. Peter had the same battle, and John, in his first letter, and also his second letter (open before us today). There’s an urgent call to abide in the true doctrine.

To be sure, 2 John doesn’t look like much. It’s the shortest book in the New Testament by verse count—just thirteen verses. You might like to know that 2 John is actually the length of a typical letter in the Roman world, which was usually written on a single sheet of papyrus. A sheet was about ten inches by eight inches, so when you ran out of space on the page, you just stopped writing. That looks like what John did.

The author is introduced in verse 1 as “the Elder,” which according to tradition is the apostle John. That description means he was probably an elderly man by now, or that he was an elder in the church. He writes this letter to “the elect lady and her children.” Some say an actual woman is meant here, together with her family. More likely it’s a figurative address, that “the elect” lady is the church, the bride of Christ, and “the children” are the believers in that place. And the apostle exhorts them to be faithful in doctrine, because false teachers are lurking.

Abide in the true doctrine of Christ!

  1. the work of abiding
  2. the warning against those who do not abide
  3. the result of abiding


1) the work of abiding: If we look back one book in Scripture, we see that the first letter of John was written to defend against a group that had separated from the church because of heresy. “They went out from us,” John wrote (2:19). This was because they taught that Jesus was not truly human. They also taught that ongoing sin in the Christian’s life doesn’t matter so much. Both were dangerous teachings, and had to be opposed.

This second letter follows closely behind the first. But now the situation’s different. The false teachers had gone out, but hadn’t gone away. So John is seeking to warn another church that these deceivers are on the prowl, looking to lead astray.            

To better picture what’s happening behind the scenes of 1, 2 and 3 John, we should imagine a community of churches, close to one another geographically. Probably somewhere in Asia Minor: one church over here, another there, a few others up that valley. It’s possible that John helped to establish each one. So they were also connected to each other, united in the truth.

Their connection comes out in the greeting of verse 13, “The children of your elect sister greet you.” There were people around John who wanted to pass along a greeting to the neighbouring church. It’d be kind of like the connection we have with our neighbouring churches, the ones in this region. We know each other, we share much in Christ, so we would try help each other if there was an attack on the faith.

And the issue causing concern for John quickly bubbles to the surface. Look again at verse 1-2, “To the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all those who have known the truth, because of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever…” You can hear that the apostle is intensely focused on one thing: the truth.

It’s actually a good exercise to go through 2 John and take note the words that get repeated. Given the letter’s shortness, that’s not a hard exercise. In verses 1-6, “truth” is repeated five times. Then in the next verses, 7-11, “truth” becomes “teaching,” mentioned three times. Joined with doctrine is always lifestyle—the fruits of faith—so we also hear John mentioning that we must walk in love. And of course, John refers several times to those who reject right doctrine, mentioning “deceivers” and even the “antichrist.”

In spite of the attacks that are threatening true doctrine, John still finds reason to rejoice. For he says in verse 4 that this church whom he writes to is indeed “walking in the truth.” They haven’t given up the fight, but they’re holding to God’s Word in confession and life.

This thanksgiving of John can teach us, can’t it? For us too, when things look bleak for the church, when we’re concerned about the direction of God’s people, there are always things to remind us of the LORD’s continued grace. We just need eyes to see it. Day by day, we can see the evidence of God’s mercy toward his people.

John’s congregation was walking in the truth, yet they also need guidance. So he first exhorts them to show love: “And now I plead with you, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment to you, but that which we have had from the beginning: that we love one another” (v 5). Remember to love! Perhaps the uncertainty of the church situation made people irritable, and they were less loving. Maybe there was suspicion among the members, a lack of trust. So John commands them love.

And indeed, as John says, this love commandment is nothing new. It was a word from Jesus himself, as He said in John 13:34-35, “Love one another, as I have loved you… By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for another.” John urging his readers to love is a familiar commandment. But it’s so necessary. What’s that saying about unity? “United we stand, divided we fall.” Genuine love will keep a church together, whatever threatens us, whoever attacks us.

There will always be differences of opinion on things. There will always be a whole variety of backgrounds and characters. But if we share the true doctrine—if we have a common Saviour in Christ, and if we love the teaching of his Word—that’s all the bond we need. Let love chase away any irritation. Let love defeat suspicion. Let love unite us in Christ.

Yes, essential to “abiding in the truth” is putting that truth into practice. Yet this still isn’t the main point of John’s letter—we need to dig underneath, to get to the foundation. As we said, it’s not just how we live that is so essential, but it’s what we believe. A Christian who doesn’t know his doctrine, who is pretty fuzzy on the teaching of Scripture, is on uncertain ground. For what then is the reason for your love? What’s the motivation for your holiness, or your purpose in working hard? If you can’t say who it’s for, then who is it for?

Let me illustrate that. Say you love someone. It’s a girlfriend, a boyfriend, a spouse. You love them, and you also show them your love. They’ve no reason to doubt you. But what if they happen to ask you one day, “So, why do you love me?” (a fair question). What’s the reason? And what if you stammer and stutter, and you can’t say anything? What if you end up saying that you just feel like loving them? Or that you’ve loved them so long, that now you just do it, without much thought? Not a great answer. Wouldn’t that make your friend or your spouse less certain of your love? Wouldn’t that even put things on shaky ground? Isn’t it far better to be able to say, “I love you, because this is who you are. I love you, because of these specific qualities. Because you’ve done this, and you value that. This is my reason to love.”

So for the Lord God. If we’ll worship him, and love his people, we need a reason. You can talk about putting your faith into practice, but what is that faith? What’s the content of it? We worship God, for who He is: God as this one being, God in these three persons, God having these holy qualities. We love God, for all that He has said in his Word, and for these great things God has done. And that’s what doctrine is. The Christian life begins and continues with abiding in the truth, with what has been revealed to us by God.

In all three of his letters, John speaks of “knowing the truth.” And “knowing the truth” is much more than being acquainted with some facts. We would say “knowing the truth” means you’re ready to write a test. But knowing the truth is more important than that. It’s the essential foundation of faith. It’s close to the essence of believing. John even says that if a person is disloyal to doctrine, that marks a person as having not been converted! They never really believed. As verse 9 puts it, “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ, does not have God.”

Then more positively, “He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son” (v 9). So abide in the doctrine! Know what you believe. Grow in the teaching of Scripture. It doesn’t mean you have to buy a four-volume set of theology (you could, though). But confess with gladness that the one God is Triune, that He is Creator, Redeemer, Renewer. Meditate on his attributes of justice and mercy, eternity and wisdom. Consider the richness in the doctrine about the church, that holy, catholic, apostolic people of Christ. Know why you were baptized as an infant. Abide in the doctrine of Christ’s atonement. Know about the final judgment, and let it bring you joy. Read the confessions of the church, and love them—because they are your confession. Because they speak of your God.


2) the warning against those who do not abide: If anyone among John’s readers was tempted to say that he was overreacting, they just need to read on. False teachers have the potential to destroy a person’s faith. Verse 7 begins that stark picture, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.” The false teachers aren’t simply unwise or merely misguided. They are actively working against Christ himself!

We hear in that verse the heart of the false doctrine: “They do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh” (v 7). This was the same heresy floating in the background of John’s first letter. For one lesson of church history is that heresies and false doctrines are a lot like zombies: they just keep coming back. No matter how often they’ve been put down, they get up again to cause harm. These false teachers were still denying Jesus’ physical life on earth. They said He was a spirit only—a phantom—who had just appeared to suffer and die on the cross. Because the spirit is the main thing. God wouldn’t stoop so low to take on human flesh.

If we’re feeling generous, we might say, “Well, is that such a big deal? Is this really a ‘salvation issue’?” But think of it. If a person denies the reality of the incarnation—God taking on flesh—they deny that God can enter the life of mankind to save it. Without Christ coming in the flesh, any restored fellowship between heaven and earth is impossible.

This is why John’s urgent in verse 8, “Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for.” Not holding to this truth can be fatal—it can even cause a person to lose eternal life. And if that’s not clear enough, then consider verse 9: “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God.” If your confession of Christ is wrong, then you don’t even know God. If your confession of Christ is wrong, you’re still in the dark and shut out from the Lord’s presence.

That’s a sobering truth. For we all believe in Jesus. We sing his praises every Sunday, and we end our prayers in his name. But believing in Jesus means that we have to make the right confession of Him. We’ll say it again: believing in Jesus as Saviour means knowing what you believe about him, not just that you believe in him. Think of the question Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?”

And we answer with Martin Luther, who said of Jesus in the flesh, “He ate, drank, slept, walked; He was weary, sorrowful, rejoicing; He wept and he laughed; he knew hunger and thirst and sweat; He talked, He toiled, He prayed… so that there was no difference between him and other men, save only this, that He was God, and had no sin.”

This, the false teachers could not affirm. And in denying the humanity of Christ, they thought they were being progressive. That’s how John describes them in verse 9, “Whoever transgresses…” or literally he says, “Whoever goes far ahead.” These teachers were claiming to be advanced thinkers. They said they had superior knowledge, so they could go beyond the basics of Catechism class. But John refers to their progress with sarcasm: they had indeed gone “ahead” in their thinking—they’d gone so far ahead that they’d left God behind! They went right up to the boundaries of the faith, and then they crossed them.

So right along with John’s description of the false teachers is his warning against them: “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine…” (v 10). The false teachers were on the hunt for disciples. John is concerned, so he urges us: If there’s a false teacher who arrives, “Do not receive him into your house nor greet him” (v 10). This is how seriously John takes it, to the point of barring one’s door.

That’s a striking thing, if you think about how Christians are normally to be devoted to hospitality. Is John breaking his own commandment of love? But he’s not talking about shunning just anyone, but about those false teachers. They weren’t coming as casual visitors to a church, but with something to say. If we open our doors to them, it gives them an opportunity to speak and to mislead. And we must not aid them at all. Supreme loyalty to God and his Word must be the life of every believer, and of every congregation. If we don’t we have that, then what do we have? Close the door on them!

The next verse says these teachers should not even be greeted: “He who greets him shares in his evil deeds” (v 11). To say hello could indicate sympathy for them; it could lower the defenses and invite more contact. John is being very clear: we must not tolerate those who attack the fundamental truths of the faith.

Remember that John writes in the fragile first decades of the church’s life. She was often in peril. From a human perspective it was touch-and-go whether the Christian faith would survive or be destroyed by the heretics. It was a critical time, yet heresy can still be so corrosive. Today there are still those who claim to be advanced thinkers, who say they stand on the forefront of theology and that they are making use of the best insights of science or philosophy or culture. But they might be straying from the truth. They too might go so far ahead, that they leave the true God behind.

Just a few examples will do. One theologian might equate all the religions of the world, and he might say that Christians and Muslims and everyone else call on one God who just goes by different names. Another writer might say that a loving God wouldn’t send anyone to eternal punishment, that there’s no place called hell.

Then there can be other ideas that at first don’t seem to threaten the heart of the gospel. Some people try to reconcile Genesis with the theory of evolution, for example. Or some theologians will say that the sisters in the congregation are allowed to serve in church office, that it’d be wrong not to let them.

And you might wonder: these teachings don’t touch what we have in Christ, do they? Yet to reach these conclusions, a person has to ignore a whole lot of what the Bible says. And where does that lead you? If we are willing to subtract from Scripture, then what happens to our faith? It loses its firm foundation—because Scripture is the only foundation it has.

So how do we listen to John’s warning? We’ve probably never had greater access to a wider range of Christian teachers and preachers, whether they’re good or bad or somewhere in between. John had to worry about the wandering ministers who would show up in town from time to time. If you didn’t like what they had to say, you just had to lock the door of the church, or ignore them when you saw them on the street. But there’s far more teaching accessible to us—almost constantly—through the blogs we read, or the online sermons we listen to, or the books that are available.

We shouldn’t rush to judgment about these things, locking the door and tuning them out. But realize that they all require discerning: a careful sifting of what is said, a study of what texts of Scripture back it up, and also a comparison to the confessions. Whatever sermon we hear, and whatever author we read, we have to guard the teaching of Scripture.

The danger comes when we’re careless about our doctrine. It’s when we forget what we believe that we’re in danger of being led astray. After years of Catechism instruction, our young people have a solid knowledge of the truth. They’ve gone through the Catechism a couple times, the Canons of Dort, the Belgic Confession. But all this good knowledge can quickly fade. And why does it fade? Because after our profession of faith, we might simply stop studying those key doctrines of the Bible. It shouldn’t be this way. Instead, we must stay busy with what Scripture says.


3) the result of abiding: If there’s any doubt about the importance of this, listen again to what John says in verse 9, “He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.” John’s point earlier was, if you diminish Christ, and say He didn’t come in the flesh, you forfeit God. Now more positively: if you know Christ and if you hold to his teaching, you “have the Father and the Son.”

Notice how very bold that statement is! Believing in Christ rightly means “having” God. Not owning him, but being in close and loving fellowship with Almighty God. Right faith in Christ means you have access to the Father through him.

And John means more here than just the doctrine about Christ and the significance of his human nature. He means abiding in all of Christ’s teaching, his whole Word given through the apostles. This is what John wrote in his first letter, “See that what you heard from the beginning abides in you” (2:24). And if it does, “You will abide in the Son and in the Father” (2:25).

Because what we are allowed to know is God’s truth. He spoke it. He revealed himself in many ways. He didn’t leave us with a shortage of detail. He didn’t say that most of the files are classified, and we just have to know the broad strokes. No, He gave a rich deposit of doctrine. He gave a lifetime worth of teaching. He told us the truth about himself, about this world, about us, and about our Saviour.

Because there’s an unbreakable connection between knowing God’s truth, and loving God truly. No, a thorough knowledge of God and his Word can never replace a sincere love for God. But it’s not an either-or. The one who loves God, will know about God. The one who loves God, will seek to know God better. The one who worships God will be able to say what delights him about God, what amazes him about God, what gives him confidence in God.

That’s not an academic exercise. That’s the very heart of our faith, to say, “I believe in this God, according to his Word. I will abide in what He’s taught me. I will know what He has taught me. For it is the most precious thing.”  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2017, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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