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SOME YEARS AGO I RECEIVED a letter from someone who told me that he had read one of my books and was upset that I had often referred to the Lord Jesus Christ as “Jesus.” He quoted several passages about confessing Jesus as Lord (e.g., Rom. 10:9), and how such confession is the mark of having the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3). I wrote back, explaining that when I refer to the Lord Jesus Christ as Jesus, I am not thereby denying his lordship. Rather, I am not at that point affirming it. Further, the book he had read dealt with one of the synoptic Gospels. In the Gospels, the Lord Jesus is most commonly referred to simply as “Jesus.” So since I was commenting on one of the Gospels, I tended to refer to Jesus in the same way that Scripture does. When expounding some passage from, say, Paul, I tend to use, predominantly, the forms for addressing or referring to Jesus that the apostle uses.

I received back from him a multi-page document giving most of the passages that refer to Jesus as Lord, offering many reasons for the importance of such a confession, and much more of the same. He did not respond to a single point in my letter: I was merely fodder for his tirade.

It was not worth answering. From his vantage point, he was upholding the Gospel. To me, he was more than a little like people to whom Paul refers: “They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm” (1 Tim. 1:7).

Of course, Paul has particular opponents in mind, and their profile does not exactly match that of my letter writer. Nevertheless, in every generation there are people circulating in and around the church who teach “false doctrines” (1 Tim. 1:3) and devote themselves to peripheral matters. One chap I taught in an evening school became convinced he had the key to the Scriptures by some elaborate typology of circumcision. Another has written me from Australia, offering a massive synthesis that is remarkably silly, and condemning all the publishers because they are so narrow-minded and heterodox they won’t give his views the airing he thinks they deserve. Yet another has written voluminous and repeated letters insisting I should publish his manuscript because the entire world needs to read it.

What these people have in common is false doctrine, a focus on peripheral matters (even if not genealogies, 1 Tim. 1:4) that distort what is central, and an arrogance that discloses itself in endless “meaningless talk” (1 Tim. 1:6). What they lack is the goal of the gospel command, which is love, and sincere faith promoting God’s work (1 Tim. 1:4–5).

D. A. Carson, For the Love of God: A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God’s Word, vol. 1 (Crossway, 1998). Reading for October 23. (For the last two years, I have encouraged many in our congregation to use volume 2 daily. We have found these readings to be food for fueling more love for Christ and greater obedience to him. They also help you think your way through many indidividual passages of the Bible. Carson’s The God Who is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story [Baker, 2010] – which I am using as a required text in one course this semester  – helps you think your way through the One Story behind each of the individual passages of Scripture. All three texts make great Christmas gifts. Pastors, why not challenge your leaders to read with you through one of the devotional texts through 2011? Laypeople, why not pick up The God Who is There and gain a greater sense of how the parts and whole of Scripture inform your walk with God, fear of him, and zeal for him? Learning the Word of God and increasing in our knowledge of Him is part of the work of  how we gain discernment to identify false teachers–people who can shipwreck our lives.)