We are in the one who is true, . . . Jesus Christ.
John was addressing a community that was going through a difficult time. Some people were getting sidetracked by philosophies that didn’t line up with the gospel, and as a result, they began separating themselves from the larger fellowship. One of these philosophies was an early form of Docetism, the denial that Jesus is fully human. Another was Gnosticism, which placed more importance on so-called interior, spiritual knowledge and not enough on loving one another and following the commandments.
So John wrote his letter to remind them that Jesus is “the one who is true” (1 John 5:20). John was essentially saying, “The one you have been baptized into is the true Son of God, not the false Christ described by those confused and confusing philosophies.” That helped to reassure the people that the false teachings would never be able to prevail over the truth, who is Jesus.
John isn’t the only one in history who has helped guard the Church from heresies and false beliefs. Take, for example, the fourth-century bishop Athanasius. He defended the doctrine of the Trinity against the Arians, who believed that Jesus was subordinate, not equal to, the Father. In the fifth century, St. Augustine refuted the teachings of Pelagius, who denied the doctrine of original sin and believed that people could become holy and achieve salvation on their own. Through their writings about the love and mercy of God, saints such as St. Francis de Sales and St. Thérèse of Lisieux refuted a heresy known as Jansenism. Prevalent in the seventeenth century and beyond, this heresy often kept people from receiving Communion because they thought they could never be worthy of it.
Other heresies have plagued the Church over the years, and no doubt more will follow. But just as John reassured his community, he wants to reassure us. Jesus is the One who is true, and he will not let the gates of hell prevail against his Church (Matthew 16:18). He will always raise up leaders and saints to preserve the truth of the gospel, just as he has over the past two thousand years.
“Thank you, Lord, for giving us teachers and encouragers in the faith!”
Psalm 149:1-6, 9
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