To disassemble the gospel is to disarm it. To remove the human Jesus from our faith and from our life together in Christ is to sterilize the gospel of the very purpose and power for which the gospel exists.
A new word: docetism – disbelief in the full humanity of Jesus, though people of this mind, or whatever variation of it, likely don't define themselves or their faith in the negative. Docetism is Christology, a belief in Christ, in which Jesus is only divine. Different from us, different from this life of ours. And it is not necessary to label oneself docetic to act out a docetic faith, a faith removed from the flesh-and-blood-and-bone Jesus of the gospel narrative. Long before it had a name, docetism showed up in 1st John, chapter 4, verses 2-3.
By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world.
Three spirits in two verses:
Test the spirits, he says. The right answer: Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. No nuance. Either Jesus was or he wasn't human. And the spirit among you testifies to the truth. You believe it or you don't. Believing it (or not) you are (or are not) from God. You agree with us, or you don't. Agree, you are right. Don't, you are wrong.
It's the most stressful part of the text for me. Smells like fundamentalism: “either”/ “or." And usually I hate that, because things are rarely either/or. Often two opposing thoughts/ feelings/realities can both be true. But if some things are either/or, is this? i.e., how we think/behave/believe regarding the full humanity of Jesus Christ?
John calls this one either/or, and I agree. He, along with Paul the Apostle, convinces me. Because, again, it comes to the purpose and the power of the gospel itself – the gospel for which we, the church, exist. No gospel, no church. It doesn't mean we can't gather, have a budget and a program to tell a story that we all agree is true. It's just that that doesn't make us church. No gospel, No church.
What John here calls the spirit of the anti-Christ – any guesses where else the word anti-Christ appears in the Bible? In other parts of 1st John and 2nd John. But weirdly, not in Revelation, except in our minds, because of the preachers who drilled into us what John “meant to say” when he was writing about all the beasts coming to torment the world. And now, the word anti-Christ has a life all its own. If you truly have nothing else to read, google it sometime. You cannot imagine the internet rabbit holes into which you might fall.
When the kids were young they watched a stupid television show about a dinosaur family, in which the baby dinosaur always referred to the daddy dinosaur as not-the- mommy, not-the-mommy. My kids thought this was positively hilarious, so for weeks they would yell for Carl by saying, “Not-the-mommy! Not-the-mommy!" But being not-the-mommy is not at all the same as being anti-mommy, right? They don't mean the same thing. Not-the-Christ is actually a better translation, meaning-wise, of anti-Christ. But it translates terribly; it is way too awkward. Sometimes, translators choose a fluent passage over an accurate word.
Raymond Brown, the scholar who knows more about the writings of John than anyone, regards the better translation of verse 3 as, “every spirit that annuls Jesus is not from God.” “Does not confess” is significantly more passive than “annuls." Annul is to cancel, abolish, invalidate, obliterate, to reduce to nothing, to make what is as if it never was. John speaks in either/or: either you confess Jesus Christ in the flesh or you don’t, and the spirit among you testifies to it. But the rest of chapter 4 makes clear which spirit he finds in and among them.
We, University Baptist Church, have a spirit among us. Usually newcomers have a better sense of it than people who've been on the inside for a while. You know how other people's houses have a certain smell, but your own house doesn't? Yeah, it does; you just can't smell it anymore. Sometimes this house smells, but it always has its own spirit. And John's test for that spirit, as we will see more clearly next week, isn't theological – what we say we believe about God – but rather, how we behave toward one another and our neighbors.
That behavior, regardless of what I preach or what we say about ourselves on our website or in our literature, testifies to our faith in the fullness – human AND divine – of Jesus Christ and, likewise, our possession – or dispossession – of the gospel, our power and purpose for being.
So, knowing you'd be nearly asleep by now, because I am boring myself so far, I thought we'd have a little Q and A. I'm Q. You're A.
Q: If Jesus wasn't human, what can be taken off our To-Do List of Faith?
Q: If Jesus wasn't human, what stays on the list?
Q: Finally, if Jesus wasn't human, what gets added to the list?
A: Well, we'd need a new mechanism for salvation, because without full humanity, there could be no death; and with no death, no resurrection; no resurrection equals a reason to be afraid. Because without his walking, talking, living, breathing Self, we don't get to hear Jesus say "Don't be afraid" on every page of the scripture. We don't get to see his eating, drinking, sleeping, scratching, party-loving Self turn water into so much wine; and we don't get to watch his grown-man-size Self stand silent before a tyrant, and be sentenced to death without passing out from fear. Because the words don't be afraid don't mean a thing, if we don't get to watch him walk through the terror of this world, in bodies, families, communities and Empires just like now.
Never human means never dying. Death proves his humanity, his flesh and bone humus-ness. If there was no death, there was no resurrection. “No death” plus “no resurrection” annuls the gospel, does it not? I John preaches the necessity, the necessity, of a gospel fully armed with both Jesus the human and Christ the risen, omniscient, divine, living Holy Spirit.
To disassemble the gospel is to disarm it. To remove the human Jesus from our faith and our life together in Christ is to sterilize the gospel of the very purpose and power for which the gospel exists. And the test, John says, isn't doctrine. It isn't theology. Oh, no. The test is kindness. Walking, talking, breathing, sweating, scratching, ever-graceful Kindness. Between us, and towards our neighbors. Where we will begin again next week.
Would you pray with me?