The Dangers to Persevering in the Truth
Published August 7, 2023
Christ expects His followers to persevere in the truth of His Word. Perseverance, however, can be a daunting task, especially with the dangers that Christians face both inside and outside of the church. This difficulty has not subsided since the Lord Jesus Christ ascended to heaven and it will not improve until He returns again.
Contrary to what we might think, the growth of the church can make persevering in the truth more challenging. The spread of the gospel was the umbrella under which 2 John was written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. As countless people believed the gospel and came to faith in Jesus Christ in the first century, many churches were planted, which is a glorious blessing.
We know, though, alongside the wheat grow the tares. The more people who are involved in the church, the higher likelihood some of them will be tares among the wheat – false teachers arising to influence unsuspecting spiritual children.
Such was the problem in the early church. As the apostles died off, the number of possible checks diminished, and false teachers became rampant – as Paul warned the Ephesians in Acts 20 and cautioned Timothy in 2 Timothy 3. These false teachers and their followers created problems for the church – problems John wanted to address before he, the last remaining apostle, went to be with his Lord.
John, therefore, writes 2 John to exhort and encourage the church to persevere in the truth, especially in a world denying the existence and purpose of a singular truth. There are dangers to perseverance, however, in the form of false teachers (or here called deceivers), which are clearly outlined in verses seven through eleven. Deceivers are those who reject that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, that Jesus is the Messiah, and that Jesus is the Savior, the true God and eternal life. Anyone who says Jesus is not the Christ, or who denies that all messianic truths apply to Him and His person, is a deceiver and an antichrist.
Furthermore, the apostle tells us that these deceivers do not abide in the teaching of Christ. When John says they “go too far,” he uses a term we might equate with being progressive – of adding to the Word of God, of adding new teachings that are not found in Scripture, or of updating the Bible to be more culturally comfortable. These are people who would affirm the Bible is God’s Word as far as it goes, but then they say that the Bible is not enough and want to add to what God has said.
John then adds that the deceivers do not abide in the teaching of Christ, which can happen in many different ways. Departing from this truth can happen in flat-out denial of who Jesus is, those who would say that He is not God, or not man, or not the Messiah, or any other deviant christology.
It can occur in terms of lifestyle and actions as well.
In Jude 4, we see there were ungodly people who twisted the teaching about God’s grace in Christ to mean that sin was not a big deal and that grace meant you could live however you wanted. These evildoers were seeking to corrupt the church with their sinful ways – a classic example from Scripture of not abiding in Christ’s teaching, which teaches us that His grace enables us to obey His commands. Another biblical example are the people described by Paul in 2 Timothy 3:5, who have an external veneer of godliness but are not empowered by the Spirit. These individuals appear to be godly externally, but everything within is wickedness and evil. They seek to conform outwardly only through the power of the flesh because they are devoid of the Spirit. Those who believe they can live the Christian life by their own strength and power have denied the teaching of Christ, who told us that apart from Him, we can do nothing.
We should realize that anyone who is living a life characterized by disobedience to the Word of God is not abiding in the teaching of Christ. These men and women have set aside the Word of God and raised up their own standard. They have set aside the law of Christ and established their own law.
Those individuals who are not abiding in the teachings of Christ are a danger to persevering in the truth. Their objective is to draw people away from the truth of God’s Word towards themselves, rather than Christ. These deceivers are like the false teachers in Galatia, whom Paul described in Galatians 4:17. They aren’t interested in people following Christ; they want others to follow them.
What do we do with such people?
First, we observe in verse eight that we must be on guard against them. Deceivers threaten to destroy the work God has accomplished among us. John warns us that if we are not careful, false teachers can deceive people and destroy the ministries God has accomplished through us; rather than finishing strong so that we receive a full reward, we will finish the race in compromise and suffer loss.
Second, we read in verses ten and eleven that we must also avoid such people. These deceivers should not be allowed at the church for any reason, and we see this principle played out in many other passages of Scripture. In Romans 16:17-18, Paul instructs his readers to mark and avoid these deceivers because they pose a great danger to the church due to their deceptive ways and flattering speech.
The same concept applies in 2 Timothy 3:5 with the command, “Avoid such men as these.” We are not to associate with such people because they pose a danger to our souls. Titus 3:10-11 states the same thing, discussing factious men in the church. Someone who brings false doctrine or someone who stirs up division in the church should receive two warnings. After the second warning, if they continue in their rebellious ways, they should be rejected and put out of the church.
In 1 Corinthians 5:6, Paul informs us that we cannot tolerate someone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ because such people contaminate the church and threaten the purity of the bride of Christ.
If those in the church decide to ignore John’s call to avoid such deceivers, treating them as if they were fellow Christians, they fellowship with the false teachers in their evil deeds – which is a sobering reality noted at the end of verse eleven. Here John is showing us the limits of love. Love is always bound by truth. We might think it is loving to receive someone who rejects the teaching of Christ in His Word, but God’s truth instructs us otherwise. If we do not make it clear that deceivers are outside the body of Christ, we are partnering with them in their sin.
It is sad and unsettling to experience such dangers to persevering in the truth, but we must reckon with God’s Word, however difficult it may be. If we would persevere in the truth, we must avoid those who pose a danger to that perseverance. We must ensure that we are not having fellowship with or sanctioning within the church false teaching or those in rebellion against Christ.
The good news is we are not called to persevere and to face these dangers alone. We have the truth within us as the Word, the Spirit, and the Son dwell in our hearts; and we have the truth among us as we encourage one another to walk in the truth every day. May the Lord be pleased to cause each one of us to persevere in the truth for His name’s sake.