Contending for our all

I am reading a book at the moment called “Contending for our all” by John Piper. It’s about three Christians, one from the fourth century, one from the seventeenth and one from the early twentieth century. Each had to contend (fight) for standing firm on God’s truths. Connected to this is, at our AGM this year, we passed a motion to ascent to the Jerusalem Declaration, which has a number of Creeds in it. One of which is the Creed of Athanasius who lived from A.D. 298 – 373. He was a bishop in Alexandria. During his ministry some people were teaching that Jesus, the son of God, was not fully God, but simply made by God. That, as a created being he was not fully divine. Athanasius was one man who fought against this teaching. He was very committed to holding to the scriptures that Jesus and the Father are one (John 10:30). That Jesus is the exact representation of his Father’s being (Hebrews 1:3). That Jesus and the Father are of the one essence, the one substance. There was even a council about this in Nicaea, known as the council of Nicaea. This is where the Nicaean Creed comes from. There were 318 bishops at the council to debate whether Jesus was made by God or one member of the Trinity, God the Son. All but 2 bishops signed the creed agreeing that Jesus is God. It seemed the debate had been won … it seemed. Not long after the council, people were still preaching that Jesus was merely a created being, under the guidance of these bishops. Athanasius openly called people who preached this, heretics. The other bishops didn’t like calling anyone a heretic even though they disagreed with basic gospel truths. And here is where it gets bad for Athanasius. Because of Athanasius’ passion, they wanted to get rid of him. They were not willing to refute false teaching as leaders are called to do in Titus 1:9. Ironically they refuted the one man who was teaching sound doctrine. So, they looked for a reason to have him removed, but couldn’t find one. They even falsely accused him (does this sound familiar? Daniel, Jesus, to name a few). But, even these lies didn’t stand up in trial. So, in the end they paid a man to go into hiding and accused Athanasius of killing him, cutting off his hand and using it for magic. Athanasius would now stand trial for murder. But, one of his deacons, found the man hiding in a monastery and secretly brought him to the trial. There Athanasius asked his accusers if they knew the man personally. They answered yes. Then he revealed the man (and his hands) and vindicated himself. Shockingly, despite this he was still exiled. In fact, over his time as bishop he was exiled 5 times for defending the truth. But, Athanasius never stopped fighting (contending) for truth. He fought against false teaching, even when he was fighting ‘alone’. For if Jesus wasn’t God, then our sins are not really forgiven. This is huge. If Jesus is not God, the Gospel is robbed of its power to save. Athanasius was right to refute false teaching and call those who teach it, “heretics”. Friends, just as there was false teaching in Paul’s day and in Athanasius’ day, there is false teaching in our day, in our country and in our local western churches. We too have to contend for the truth. So, let us stand firm together, teaching sound doctrine and refuting those who oppose it.

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