We live in an age where the truth of the Gospel is constantly challenged. The exclusive nature of the Gospel and the righteous commands of God make our message unpalatable to most. As a result, a more agreeable alternative to biblical Christianity is often sought. This is nothing new. Paul constantly countered the arguments of false teachers during his ministry. Timothy was a young pastor who Paul had placed at Ephesus to lead the church and to deal with problems emerging there (vs. 3). In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he charges him to teach the truth and prevent false teachings from invading the church.
Paul says many at Ephesus had turned from the truth to empty debates brought on by false teaching (vs. 5-7). These individuals wanted to become teachers of the law like Jewish rabbis, but didn’t even understand what they claim to believe. Their teaching consisted of myths and genealogies loosely based on elements of Judaism (vs. 3, 4). The end result was a legalistic heresy that offered salvation by works. While the law serves a legitimate purpose in the New Testament, it is not a means of salvation. We are saved by God’s grace, not our works (Ephesians 2:8, 9). Paul tells Timothy to guard against this teaching because it is powerless to transform lives or produce genuine faith (vs. 4, 6).
Unlike the empty message of the false teachers, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has life-changing power. Paul is an example of radical Christian conversion. He had been a “blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man.” His life prior to Christ was committed to defending Judaism and destroying Christianity (Philippians 3:4-6), but God had chosen him to be a minister of the Gospel (Acts 9:15). Paul’s conversion perfectly demonstrates the authentic change that takes place through salvation, “he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17) Jesus extends mercy to the worst of sinners and transforms them into trophies of God’s grace. In verse fifteen, Paul encapsulates the mission of Christ in a short statement, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” The integrity of the Gospel is eternally important because it is only through Jesus that we can be saved and transformed (Acts 4:12).
Paul illustrates and explains the “shipwreck” of apostasy with the story of two Christian teachers who fell into heresy: Hymenaeus and Alexander. Paul says the cause of their error was their abandonment of “faith and a good conscience” (vs. 19). They began as superficially convincing Christians, but ended up with a doubting heart and a dirty conscience. They failed to believe the Gospel and they failed to obey the Gospel. Rather than change their lives to align with the truth, they modified the message to fit their lives. The result was poisonous and they were excommunicated in order to preserve the unity and integrity of the church (vs. 20). Paul uses this tragic example to demonstrate that faith and a good conscience are indispensable traits for the Christian.
There are opponents to the Gospel who would do away with it entirely. Then, there are those who would like to take the more agreeable points of Christianity, but leave out the more controversial elements. The problem with that approach is that a partial Gospel is a powerless Gospel. From the garden of Eden to the garden tomb; from creation ex nihilo to the consummation of the age, there is not one element of the Gospel that is dispensable. This is why we must “earnestly contend for the faith” (Jude 3) and “fight the good fight” in the face of opposition and false teachers (vs. 18). We must disregard the sinister suggestions of the slithering serpent, and echo the words Jesus prayed only hours before his crucifixion, “Thy word is truth” (John 17:17).
This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, January 29, 2013.