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).
Have you ever considered the significance of the different titles for Jesus? There are many names by which Jesus is identified. He is called King and Priest, Lion and Lamb, Lord and Servant to name a few. Many of these titles even seem to conflict with each other. How can a powerful, majestic lion also be a meek and vulnerable lamb? How can a sovereign king also be a suffering servant? These titles do not contradict each other, but rather give us a complete picture of who Jesus was and is. In the Gospel of John, Jesus identifies himself with seven different “I am” statements, with each one providing a different truth about who Jesus is to us and what he does for us (6:35; 8:12; 10:9; 11; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1). In this passage we find two of these “I am” statements. Jesus tells us that he is the door and he is the good shepherd. These two titles give us a complete view of our Shepherd’s care for us.
Jesus says that he is “the door of the sheep.” Contrasted with the “thieves and robbers” who desire to kill the sheep (vs. 10), Jesus offers abundant life to them. This abundant life is identified by three specific blessings in verse nine. The first blessing provided by the door is entrance into the fold. The only way to be in the fold, is to enter by Jesus, “…I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). The second blessing of the door is security. The sheep that enters by the door “will be saved.” Our salvation is not dependent on our performance, but on His protection. The third blessing provided by the door is provision. The sheep “will go in and out and find pasture.” Not only are the sheep safe and secure, but the sheep are satisfied. Jesus is our provider as well as our protector.
Jesus also says that he is “the good shepherd.” Notice Jesus is not an ordinary shepherd; he is the “good” shepherd. As the good shepherd, Jesus shows his personal care for us. We see this first in the sacrifice of the shepherd. Jesus is the only shepherd who gives his life for the sheep (Heb. 13:20). Unlike the hireling who abandons the sheep at the first sign of danger (vs. 12), Jesus died for us that we might have the abundant life mentioned in verse eleven. Also we see the personal care of Jesus in the fellowship of the shepherd. Jesus said “I know my sheep, and am known by My own.” We have a personal relationship with our Shepherd that is unique and intimate (1 John 1:3). Finally, we see the personal care of Jesus in the leadership of the shepherd. Jesus said he would bring other sheep into this fold and all would be under the leadership of one shepherd (vs. 16). This refers to the salvation of the Gentiles and their inclusion in the Kingdom (Ephesians 2:11-22). The good shepherd leads his sheep with his voice and his example (vs. 3-5).
The “thieves and robbers” Jesus mentioned did not care for the well-being of the sheep, but rather had selfish motives and desired to steal and slaughter the sheep. The “hireling” cared for the sheep as long as it was in his best interests to do so, but when the wolves appeared he disappeared because he had no personal connection with the sheep. Jesus used these titles to describe the false teachers and religious leaders of his day. Jesus stands in bright contrast to them. He gave his very life for our salvation. He is our Sovereign, our Savior, and our Shepherd.
In the midst of his trials, Job asked a question that ought to resonate within the heart of every individual, “…how can a man be righteous before God?” (Job 9:2). Job was a godly man and had defended himself against the false accusations of his friends, but he knew that his righteousness was nothing compared to the righteousness of God. All of our works and morality may be impressive when compared to other fallen men and women, but cannot begin to meet the standards of Yahweh our God. The good news, however, is that God doesn’t simply leave us in our fallen, guilty state. The same God who demands righteousness also provides righteousness through Jesus Christ.
Romans 3:21-22 teaches us that God revealed His righteousness in Jesus Christ. Jesus displayed this perfect righteousness by fulfilling the Law and the Prophets. Jesus fulfilled the moral demands of the Law with His sinless life, He fulfilled the judicial demands of the Law by his sacrificial death, and He fulfilled the ceremonial demands of the Law by his supreme nature; Jesus is the high priest, the perfect sacrifice, and the true temple. Where men had failed to keep God’s Law, Jesus prevailed and now provides His righteousness for us. No wonder the Messiah is called “Yahweh our Righteousness” (Jer. 23:5-6); He is our God and our Savior!
In Romans 3:22-23 we discover that anyone can receive this gift of righteousness and everyone needs it, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” No matter how clean our lives may appear to other people, each and every one of us has “missed the mark” of God’s righteousness. Like the Babylonian ruler, Belshazzar, we “have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting” (Dan. 6:27). Paul had a shining record according to the law prior to his conversion, but he recognized that he was spiritually and eternally bankrupt without the righteousness that Christ gives (Philippians 3:4-9). No person is so good that he doesn’t need Christ, and none is so wicked that he can’t receive Him.
Perhaps the most wonderful thing about the gift of righteousness to sinners is the way it is provided. Jesus is the possessor of righteousness and He is the provider of righteousness, but He is also the propitiation for our sins. The fact that Jesus is our propitiation means that He is the means through which we are forgiven. Salvation and righteousness did not come without a cost; in order for us to receive His righteousness, Christ had to receive the punishment for our sins. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). There could be no justification for us without the sinless sacrifice of Jesus in our place.
In our busy, task-oriented society we are often evaluated by other people for our works and productivity, but we need to remember that while God rewards us for our performance, He accepts us based on the righteousness of Jesus Christ alone. Many of the Israelites rejected Christ because they were depending on a works-based righteousness which is totally incapable of justifying us before God (Rom. 10:1-4). In contrast, Abraham, the father of the Israelites was justified by his faith and not by works (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3). Although we are called to live in obedience to God’s commands, we find righteousness and salvation through faith in Christ, not by the incomplete, fallen works that we have to offer.