Just a quick review of what we’ve learned and where we’ve been thus far in our study of 1 John. John’s first epistle teaches us about the three main aspects of the Christian life. And, the second chapter of 1 John covers all three emphases of this letter. The first part of this chapter (1 John 2:1-6) emphasizes the important of right morality and learning to walk in the same manner as Jesus walked. The second part of this chapter (1 John 2:7-17) emphasizes right relationship and learning to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. In the third and final part of this chapter (1 John 2:18-27), we find an emphasis on right doctrine and believing the truths of the Christian faith as taught in God’s Word.
So, in order to counteract the false teachers who are seeking to lead people out of the church, out of Christian fellowship, the Apostle John teaches believers how they ought to “abide in the truth.” Last week, learned that in this passage (1 John 2:18-27) the Word of God calls us to “abide” in two ways: first, to remain or persevere in the faith by doing all that we can to maintain fellowship with God’s people, the church; second, to remain or persevere by doing all that we can to continue to adhere to the Bible, the Word of God. And so, we will continue to abide in the Son and in the Father.
This week, we want to see if we can better under understand the content of “this truth” that we’re supposed to abide in. In keeping with the language of John, we might call this “true truth” – ultimate truth that gives meaning to reality.
What I mean is this: there’s a difference between things that are true and things that are true that actually give value and meaning to a person’s life. For example, “2+2=4” is a truth. Also, “Jesus is the Christ and Son of God” – that is a true statement as well. But, there’s a difference. If you base your life and the meaning of your existence on “2+2=4”, your life will be anemic, shallow, and cold; however, if you understand and believe the ultimate truth – the true truth, that “Jesus is the Christ and Son of God” you will have eternal and abundant life.
And, in this passage of Scripture, the Apostle John teaches us at least three basic things about this ultimate truth that gives eternal and abundant life to all those who believe: how this true truth is revealed, where it is founded, and how it grows.
(1) How “True Truth” is Revealed (1 John 2:20-21)
True and ultimate truth that defines our existence as believers and gives us eternal life is revealed by the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:20-21):
20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know.
21 I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth.
The anointing that is mentioned here is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that comes from God the Father, through Jesus Christ, His Son. Before Jesus left this earth, He promised that He would send another Helper (John 14:16) who is “the Spirit of truth, who will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). The anointing that John is talking about here, therefore, is none other than the gift of the Holy Spirit of God Who reveals the truth of God’s Word to individuals when God gives them a new heart.
Perhaps these itinerate preachers who were leading those of the church astray were saying that God’s people had to work hard at obtaining this illumination. Perhaps these false prophets were trying to convince people to try to attain to a higher life in the Christian faith in order to discover the deeper meaning of life.
So, in order to combat these lies, John tells us very clearly, “If you are in Christ, if God has redeemed you, you already have the anointing of the Holy One, and you all already know.” You see, true truth is revealed, it is not made or conjured, or earned. God must reveal it by putting His Spirit in you, cleansing you, and giving you a new heart, opening your eyes and ears to understand His Word.
A preacher can pound it out, and preach God’s Word for hours on end, but unless God anoints the hearer through His Holy Spirit, that Word will not be revealed or understood by the hearer. The revelation of the Holy Spirit is a necessary component of knowing and understanding true truth.
True and ultimate truth that defines our existence as believers and gives us eternal life is founded upon Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God (1 John 2:22-23):
22 Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.
23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.
This is key, so don’t miss it. If a person denies that Jesus is the Christ (that Jesus is the eternal Word of God made flesh, the perfect God-man, King of Creation, and the Master of my life) – if a person denies these things, then that person is, in John’s words, “antichrist.”
There are no two ways about it. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). And, “He who is not with Me, is against Me” (Matthew 12:30). You see, Jesus is the ultimate example of what it means not to be politically correct. He is the ultimate example of intolerance. He will not tolerate any other person or thing to compete with His exclusionary claim that “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
There is no room for more than one savior or other so-called truths (1 John 2:25-26):
25 This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life.
26 These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you.
John wants the first century church to know – and God wants us to know through the preservation of His Word – that this promise of eternal life is exclusive. The promise is inclusive in that it is for all people. But, the promise is exclusive in that eternal life comes only through Jesus Christ.
Now, let’s see if we can draw some conclusions from this point – some obvious, some, perhaps, not so obvious. The exclusive claim that there is salvation in no one else other than in Jesus Christ means that the Muslim who believes in Allah, but considers Jesus Christ to merely be one among many prophets, does not abide in the truth. It means that the Jew who claims to trust in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but denies that Jesus is the Messiah, does not abide in the truth. It means that the atheist who considers Jesus Christ to be a great teacher of love and ethical behavior but not the Son of God and Savior of sinners, does not abide in the truth.
You see, all religions, whether they be mono-theistic (believing in one god) or not, if someone denies that Jesus is the Son of God and that there is salvation in no one else, he or she does not abide in the truth.
What Americans Believe
But, lest we come down unequally hard on other faiths, we have to recognize that there is much confusion about Jesus and the Bible in the twenty-first century Christian Church. In a 2009 George Barna survey, they found some very sobering and sad results. Here are the four summary points of the implications of their research:
First, with regard to the individualistic and consumer-based mentality of Christians in America, “The Christian faith is less of a life perspective that challenges the supremacy of individualism as it is a faith being defined through individualism. Americans are increasingly comfortable picking and choosing what they deem to be helpful and accurate theological views and have become comfortable discarding the rest of the teachings in the Bible.”
Second, concerning the content of believer’s faith, “Growing numbers of people now serve as their own theologian-in-residence. One consequence is that Americans are embracing an unpredictable and contradictory body of beliefs. Barna pointed out, as examples, that millions of people who consider themselves to be Christian now believe that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the lessons it teaches at the same time that they believe Jesus Christ sinned. Millions also contend that they will experience eternal salvation because they confessed their sins and accepted Christ as their savior, but also believe that a person can do enough good works to earn eternal salvation.”
Third, in describing the syncretistic nature of many people’s beliefs, “Today, Americans are more likely to pit a variety of non-Christian options against various Christian-based views. This has resulted in an abundance of unique worldviews based on personal combinations of theology drawn from a smattering of world religions such as Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, and Islam as well as secularism.”
Fourth and finally, considering how believers gain their knowledge of the Christian faith, “Faith, of whatever variety, is increasingly viral rather than pedagogical. With people spending less time reading the Bible, and becoming less engaged in activities that deepen their biblical literacy, faith views are more often adopted on the basis of dialogue, self-reflection, and observation than teaching. Feelings and emotions now play a significant role in the development of people’s faith views – in many cases, much more significant than information-based exercises such as listening to preaching and participating in Bible study.”
These kinds of findings ought to cause us to weep and to pray for the Church in America. People are defecting and leaving the faith – they are antichrist – and they don’t even know it!
But, these findings also ought to cause us to be on guard for ourselves and our own understanding of Jesus. These findings ought to cause us to be even more diligent to grow in the faith – and that leads us to the third and final thing that we learn about “true truth” in this part of John’s epistle.
(3) How “True Truth” Grows (1 John 2:27)
True and ultimate truth that defines our existence as believers and gives us eternal life grows by the same Word (upon which truth is founded) and by the same Spirit (by which truth is revealed) (1 John 2:20-21):
27 As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.
Notice that the first half of this verse is in the past tense – “The anointing which you *received* from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you.” Here is an assurance for those who have truly received Christ and received the Holy Spirit’s anointing of illumination – “You have not lost the anointing – it remains in you.”
But, notice, also, that the second half of this verse is in the present tense – “but as His anointing *teaches* you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.” Here is the admonition to grow in the faith, and the lesson is this: in order for you to grow in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ – to continue to abide in Him – the Holy Spirit continues to teach you true truth as it is revealed in God’s Word.
Application: A Call for Discernment Through Studying Scripture
In light of God’s Word to us from this passage, we need to be discerning and test the spirits of those who would seek to lead us astray – away from “true truth” and the Word that we first received when God saved us. Unfortunately, discernment is sorely lacking in the church today. Just because someone claims to know Christ, does not necessarily mean that they know the true Jesus Christ of Scripture. Many people will teach and prophesy in Jesus’ name, but the Jesus whom they teach is not the Jesus of the Bible. This should be not surprise to us, though. Jesus, Himself warned, “False Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you in advance” (Matthew 24:24-25). What was happening in the first century church is still happening today.
For me, I find that one of the key ways that people become susceptible to false teachers today is by equating “niceness” with right doctrine. We are too easily fooled by good manners and politeness. 1 Peter 3:15 says that God’s people are to sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts, “always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”
That is a good word for us today. But, notice that gentleness and reverence is supposed to be attached to the account of our faith, not replace it! Our love, respect, and gentleness and good behavior is supposed to adorn the gospel, not replace it! If Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light, then certainly men and women who are antichrist can disguise themselves as paragons of politeness!
But how do we cultivate discernment? Well, the answer is actually very simple. Believers in the church build and cultivate discernment through the study of the “true truth” of Jesus Christ, as revealed in the Scriptures.
You see, in teaching, revealing, and guiding us into all truth, the Holy Spirit does not work apart from God’s Word. The Holy Spirit does not lead us into all truth immediately or mystically or by osmosis. Jesus told us as much – “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak” (John 16:13). You cannot grow in your relationship with the risen Christ, and you cannot prepare yourself to discern whether someone is teaching you the true truth about Jesus, unless you are continually abiding in His Word, as the anointing of the Holy Spirit illumines and reveals God’s truth to you in the Word of God.
I have an aunt who worked for many years in a bank until her retirement. I don’t know if they still do this, but she used to tell us about how, in the old days, when bank tellers were trained to spot counterfeit money, they were never shown fake money. In fact, they were kept away from counterfeit money that had been recovered from criminals and counterfeiters.
Instead, bank tellers were trained to spot counterfeit bills by studying real money. Over and over again, they would pour over real money, examining the intricacies of the lines, the pictures, the size, the color, the feel, the weight of the paper. The idea was that bank tellers would become so familiar with real money, that if they were to spot something out of the ordinary, they would immediately recognize it as counterfeit. I remember as a child how my aunt would show us little details on paper bills that one would probably never notice unless they had spent hours studying those bills as she did.
So what’s the point? This point is this. Study Jesus. Study the Bible. Immerse yourself in the Scriptures and right doctrine as it is revealed to you by the Holy Spirit in God’s Word. In this way, you will have discernment to spot the antichrists and false prophets when they arise. What’s more, as you study God’s Word, and the Holy Spirit speaks to you therein, you will grow in salvation, and you “abide in the truth.”