Our pluralistic, consumer driven society is all about choices, options, and diversity. If you don’t like what you see, be patient; another version, an updated edition, a new and improved alternative will soon appear.
This is often the case in certain expressions of contemporary “Christianity” (so-called). Don’t like the Jesus of evangelical, orthodox biblical faith? No problem. There are plenty of other Jesus’s to choose from. There’s the liberal Jesus, the liberation Jesus, the Christ of the cults, and the Christ of Islam. There’s the entirely human but not so divine Jesus or, if you prefer, the entirely divine and hardly human Christ. Or perhaps you relish a more home-grown Jesus, one that is fashioned after the desires of your own heart. Messianic pretender? Philosophical sage? How about the Jesus of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code? Or the Jesus of The Gospel of Judas? 2020 is a presidential election year, so cast your vote: the Democratic Jesus or the Republican version? Too political? That’s o.k. He can be as revolutionary, politically incorrect, and non-conformist as you need him to be. After all, when it comes to Jesus, to each his own!
Actually, no. Any other Jesus, different from the one proclaimed by the apostle Paul, is an impostor. To deviate from the apostolic gospel concerning the person and work of Jesus is to expose your soul to eternal peril. There is only one Jesus, only one Spirit, only one gospel that can save; hence, the horror of a different Jesus! Listen to Paul’s warning to the Corinthians:
“I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough” (2 Cor. 11:2-4).
The particular way in which the cunning and deceit of the Corinthian intruders was manifest concerned their portrayal of Jesus and the gospel of eternal life through faith in him. At its most basic level, Paul suggests that these false apostles were proclaiming a “Jesus” different from the one he had preached. This ought to forever disabuse us from the idea that if a person refers to “Jesus” or professes faith in “Jesus” or declares that “Jesus” is the object of his/her devotion that such settles the deal. He or she is, simply by mentioning “Jesus”, a Christian. No!
One must provide content to the name. One must push the limits of theological analysis and ask, “Which Jesus?” Is it the Jesus proclaimed by Paul?
There is a standard against which all claims about “Jesus” must be measured. It’s the standard, the message, the gospel of Jesus that “we proclaimed” (v. 4a), said Paul. It has nothing whatsoever to do with your desires or my preferences or the sort of “Jesus” we think is especially needed in our day or whatever “Jesus” would appeal more readily to the religiously disaffected, sexually permissive, culturally diverse, post-denominational world in which we live (or however else you may want to describe it). There is only one Jesus. It is the Jesus Paul “proclaimed”.
The only “Jesus” that matters is the one “who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:3-4). The “Jesus” Paul preached is “God over all, blessed forever” (Rom. 9:5), “who, though he was in the form of God . . . humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5,8), and thereby became for us who believe “wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30).
The only “Jesus” who counts is the one “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:25). There is hope and life only in the “Jesus” who “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13). The “Jesus” Paul proclaimed is the one by whom “all things were created” and in whom “all things hold together” (Col. 1:16,17), the one in whom “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9).
Paul knows no other “Jesus” than the one who said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matt. 5:29). This is the “Jesus” who boldly proclaimed that “whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37), and insisted that “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24).
When any alleged “Jesus” is received as something less than the all-sufficient and all-satisfying savior from sin and death, he is not the “Jesus” Paul proclaimed. Is the “Jesus” you received the single, solitary basis for the forgiveness of your sins? Is the “Jesus” you received the one whose death satisfied the Father’s wrath by providing a penal, substitutionary sacrifice for your transgressions? Is the “Jesus” you believed the one who rose physically from the dead and will return personally to consummate his eternal kingdom? Any other “Jesus”, says Paul, is a theological fiction, a religious cul-de-sac that will lead you in circles but never open up the pathway to heaven and eternal life.
Receiving “another” Jesus also entails the receiving of a “different spirit” (v. 4b). If it isn’t the same “Jesus” Paul preached then clearly the “spirit” they received when they heard and embraced this “different” Jesus is itself not the Spirit of God. And if the “Jesus” they believed and the “Spirit” they received are not the ones Paul preached then clearly the “gospel” they have embraced is false and damning!
What does “spirit” mean? Is this a demonic being, an attitude, an influence, a principle, or, as Ralph Martin has argued, “the effects of Christian living seen in outward deportment” (336)? And what does “receive” mean? Is Paul suggesting that those who received the wrong Christ also received and are now inhabited or indwelt by a demonic spirit? Or does he simply mean they have become tolerant of another “spirit” in their midst and have given heed to its presence and power? It’s possible that Paul is simply saying that the Corinthians were tolerating the activity and influence of false teachers who were themselves energized by demonic spirits.
Others say the “spirit” is “different” in the sense of it being a worldly spirit (1 Cor. 2:12) or a spirit of bondage (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 2:4; 4:24) or of fear (Rom. 8:15) or of timidity (2 Tim. 1:7) rather than a spirit of freedom and joy and power that is the fruit of the one Holy Spirit operative in our hearts.
It seems to me that the combination of Jesus, Spirit, and gospel here in v. 4 points to the Jesus who is preached and the Holy Spirit who empowers, which together constitute the true gospel of saving grace. We should also note that the word “received” is used elsewhere by Paul for our receiving the Spirit at the moment of conversion (Rom. 8:15; 1 Cor. 2:12; Gal. 3:2). The Spirit whom they initially received, therefore, is the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9; Phil. 1:19).
The idea appears to be that if they embrace the wrong Christ, they also expose themselves to the influence of a “spirit” other than the Holy Spirit whom they received when they were converted. This isn’t to say that they are now demonized, but simply that they have come to tolerate in their midst and have exposed themselves to the power of a spiritual presence that is deceptive and misleading and ultimately destructive.
Thus, not to hold fast to the one and true “Jesus” whom Paul proclaimed and the one and true “Spirit” whom they had received is to embrace a “gospel” that is different from the one Paul preached, and therefore deserving of the divine anathema (see Gal. 1:6-9). Scott Hafemann is on target in saying that “Paul’s opponents promised more of the Spirit (i.e., health, wealth, and ecstatic experiences) to those who would keep more of the law (i.e., adding the stipulations of the old covenant to those of the new). For, in their view, Jesus suffered in order that we might not have to do so ourselves” (428).
One frightening feature of contemporary Christianity is the ease with which professing believers embrace or at least endorse so-called “gospels” that are anything but good news (though they make it sound as such). Whether it be the “gospel” of self-esteem or the “gospel” of personal peace or the “gospel” of perpetual health or the “gospel” of financial prosperity or the “gospel” of the power of positive thinking, otherwise well-meaning Christians abandon spiritual discernment, ignore the biblical text, and fall prey to religious hucksters and purveyors of false hope. As Carson has so ably put it,
“Provided there is fluent talk of Jesus, gospel truth, Christian living, and spiritual experience, combined with effective, self-confident leadership, we seldom ask if it is the same Jesus as the one presented in the Scriptures, of if the gospel being presented squares with the apostolic gospel” (89).
In the final analysis, of course, there isn’t “another” Jesus. There’s only one. What they have done is to believe false things about the true Christ and his Spirit. They no doubt have in mind the first century Jewish prophet who claimed to be the Messiah. But they predicate of him falsehoods and deny those essential truths about his relation to the Father, his mission, his life, death, resurrection, and soon return. The intruders in Corinth, not unlike the false teachers and preachers of our day, probably used all the right terms (“Jesus”, “Spirit”, “gospel”), but gave each of them a different and deadly definition.
There is nothing to celebrate about Christological diversity. There is no good news in a variety of views on the person and work of Christ. There is only one Jesus, God incarnate, sin-bearing savior, whose one Holy Spirit awakens us to his beauty and sufficiency and once-for-all sacrifice for sin. This is the gospel we receive by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. There is no happiness or hope in a different Jesus, but only the horror of an eternity separated from him.