This post by christinecoltman was originally published at GRACE PLACE
Staying the Course – 1 John 2
We’re going to dive right in to this study by reminding ourselves why John wrote this letter:
- Firstly, to give believers an assurance of salvation and eternal life, and
- Also, to warn believers about false teachers
Our theme this evening is ‘Staying the course’ – we’ll be looking at how we can recognise those who would deceive us and knock us off course with false teaching, and what positive things we can be doing in order to stay on course.
18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. 21 I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. 22 Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist – denying the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.
We really get a sense of urgency from John by his reference to the last hour in v.18. What did he mean by that?
Early Christians regarded the period between Jesus’ first coming, which we celebrated at Christmas, and His return as the ‘last days’. You’ll find several references to the ‘last days’ in the New Testament. And there are things that mark the last days that Jesus and the some of the New Testament writers talk about that we see happening today – the persecution of the Church, Christians being killed for their faith, people denying God and making themselves their own god – seeking wealth, power, living how they please, a general increase in wickedness. These are all marks of the last days.
And here is John referring to the last hour. Of course, he isn’t referring to a literal hour, he’s being metaphorical. Essentially, no-one knows when Jesus will return – not even Jesus Himself – but we are to live as if it could be at any moment, as if it’s the very last hour of life as we know it on earth, before Jesus returns as Judge and King. We sometimes use the expression, ‘at the eleventh hour,’ and it has the same sense of urgency and finality – time is almost up.
I saw a news report last week about the so-called Doomsday Clock. The Doomsday Clock is set every year by a Board of Atomic Scientists in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes nine Nobel laureates. The Clock has become universally recognized as an indicator of how close the world is to global catastrophe caused by man-made technologies. Midnight signifies that time is up, and the clock is now set at 90 seconds to midnight.
That is a frightening thought isn’t it? But what I find more frightening is that Jesus could return at any moment, and many many people are still not ready.
Rhetorical question: If you knew you had literally one hour of life left, what would you do with it?
One feature of these last days and last hour is that antichrists will be prevalent. V18 “…many antichrists have come.” As John Piper says, “The last hour is an hour in which the spirit of antichrist will be increasingly active.”
The Apostle John assumes that the believers he’s writing to are aware that a great enemy of Jesus and His people will arise before Jesus returns – the person that is called the antichrist, or the man of lawlessness referred to in 2 Thess. We don’t know who that person will be and we haven’t got time to look into it now. But prior to the Antichrist arising, there will be many antichrists.
So, who are these people? How can we know who they are, how can we recognise those who are trying to deceive us? Look at vv. 19 & 22 again:
19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
22 Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist – denying the Father and the Son.
Essentially, anyone who denies that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Saviour of the world, is an antichrist – and there are billions of those people all over the world. We meet them every day in our schools, offices, shops, streets and homes. But in this passage John is actually talking about people who were once professing believers.
Let’s remind ourselves that John is writing his letter in response to some false teaching which had arisen at that time and which had already drawn some people away from the church. These false teachers, called Gnostics, were denying that Jesus had come in the flesh, in human form. Some said he only seemed to have human form, others said that throughout His early life Jesus was a phantom! In other words they were denying the humanity of Christ, that he was fully man and had a physical body. And if you deny that Jesus had a physical body, then you’re denying that His body was raised from the dead, which has huge implications for our salvation. They also claimed to have superior insights into the character and person of God which, they taught, were necessary to achieve a right relationship with God. They had set themselves up as super-apostles.
John appears to be saying that these antichrists were once members of the church, and had now left the church. BUT that’s not to say that, in once being part of the church they had truly belonged to it in the first place. Whatever confession of faith in Christ they had made at one time, it had turned out to be an empty one.
The apostle Paul warns against such people in Acts 20: 29-30: “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.”
Do you remember what Jesus called John and his brother James when he first called them to be disciples? He gave them a nickname…does anyone know? Sons of thunder. Perhaps they had quick tempers or they didn’t hold back with their opinions. Perhaps the now elderly John has softened over the years, but there is still some of that thunder in him and doesn’t hesitate to call a spade, a spade.
These false teachers and those who follow them are denounced as antichrists and liars. V22. “Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ.”
John is giving us a solemn warning to be watchful of such people. They are people, whether individuals, couples or groups, who begin to express points of view that oppose the fundamental truths of the Word of God and the truth of who Jesus is – that He is fully God and fully man. Again, John Piper says, “The spirit of antichrist does whatever it can to diminish Christ and substitute other views or other persons for the true incarnate Son of God.” End quote.
Now, within every church, including Corsham Baptist, there will be people who hold different views and interpretations of God’s Word. No doubt within this room we could find different understandings and opinions about baptism for example, or the role of women within the church, spiritual gifts, or how we ought to keep the Sabbath day holy. Usually we find a way to rub along with each other and our different opinions, without making us question whether a person’s faith is real or whether we should alert the elders.
What is crucial though, and key in recognizing the people that John warns us against, is what a person believes about Jesus Christ.
Now, we know that some churches and religions hold different views on Jesus. The following is taken directly from the website of the Jehovah’s Witnesses:
“Do Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in Jesus? Yes. We believe in Jesus, who said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) We have faith that Jesus came to earth from heaven and gave his perfect human life as a ransom sacrifice. (Matthew 20:28) His death and resurrection make it possible for those exercising faith in him to gain everlasting life. (John 3:16) We also believe that Jesus is now ruling as King of God’s heavenly Kingdom. (Revelation 11:15) However, we take Jesus at his word when he said: “The Father is greater than I am.” (John 14:28) So we do not worship Jesus, as we do not believe that he is Almighty God.”
At least they are upfront and transparent about what they believe and don’t believe about Jesus.
Not so the Mormons – the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. This is taken from their website:
“Are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Christian? Yes! We believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of the World. We consider ourselves devoted followers of Jesus. While some of our beliefs are distinct, we believe that through His life, ministry, sacrifice, and resurrection, Jesus Christ saves us from sin, suffering, and death.”
It all sounds fine, doesn’t it, until you dig deeper and discover that Mormons believe that Jesus was the product of a physical relationship between God and Mary, and that it was through his resurrection and glorification that he became a god. Mormons believe that his greatest act of atonement was in Gethsemane when he sweated blood, rather than on the cross. They also believe that the Book of Mormon is as divinely inspired as the Bible.
We must be on guard against those who deny either the full deity or the full humanity of Jesus. Let’s not be deceived. John knew that he was involved in a battle for truth, and so are we.
We must be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves, as Jesus said in Matt. 10:16. In other words, let’s be wise, not easily taken in. Let’s test the spirits, as John himself says in ch.4: 1. “Test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
God has given us brains to use and He’s promised to give wisdom to those who ask for it. Praise God that we belong to a church where the pastors love the Lord Jesus Christ and want to increase the adoration of our Saviour. We are so blessed to be able to receive sound Bible teaching at this church from men and women who are Christ-centred. Sadly, not every church can say that.
Now, before we look at a couple of discussion questions, just a disclaimer here: of course John isn’t saying that everyone who leaves our church is an antichrist. People move on for many legitimate reasons. But be on your guard for those whose view of Jesus differs from what we read in the Bible and what we hear from the pulpit. Of course, they may just be new Christians who simply need more understanding, so we give them grace and gently help them to understand.
Questions for discussion:
- Someone in your congregation / life group / circle of church friends begins to express some ideas about Jesus that surprise / alarm you. How will you react and respond?
- What Bible verses can you point to that testify to the full humanity and full deity of Jesus?
Remain in the Son and in the Father v.24-27 – staying on course
Of course, John doesn’t just leave us with warnings about antichrists and deceivers. He goes on to remind us of what we have in Christ and encourages us to stay on course.
In this next section, notice how the Word and the Spirit work together to guard us from deception.
24 As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is what he promised us—eternal life. 26 I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. 27 As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit – just as it has taught you, remain in him.
Notice in vv. 20 & 27, John refers to an anointing – ‘you have an anointing from the Holy One…the anointing you received.’
What is this anointing?
It’s the gift of the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised to send to his disciples in John ch. 14 & 16: “I will ask the Father and He will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.” “When He, the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth.”
The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians to say that, “The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God….We have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.” 1 Cor. 2: 10, 12
We, as New Testament Christians, have been anointed with the Holy Spirit and He is the one who has been given to us to help us and teach us the truth of God’s Word.
Let’s not get bogged down by the word anointing. Remember that all born again Christians have received the Holy Spirit as Jesus promised, and that’s what John means by the word ‘anointing’. In fact, let’s read verse 27 again but this time inserting ‘Holy Spirit’ in place of ‘anointing’.
27 As for you, the Holy Spirit you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his Holy Spirit teaches you about all things and as that Holy Spirit is real, not counterfeit – just as it has taught you, remain in him.
Praise God for the Holy Spirit who has been given to us, to teach us and help us.
Now, just a quick look at what John means when he writes in v.27, “You do not need anyone to teach you.”
John isn’t saying that Christians don’t need anyone to teach us. That certainly isn’t true and contradicts what the Bible says about God calling some to be pastors, evangelists, teachers. Each of us knows that we need to be taught – I’m sure that even our pastors would say they still need to be taught and grow in deeper knowledge and understanding of God and His Word. I know that many of us can look back over our lives and praise God for the wise teachers that he placed in our lives to help us understand His Word.
John is referring to these false teachers, this gnostic sect that taught that special additional knowledge and insight about God was required, that only they had access to and could teach others. John’s saying, “you don’t need those teachers.”
John Piper again: “What strikes me is the ease with which many people are deceived. Two things account for this: a lack of grounding in the Word of God and a lack of life in the Holy Spirit… The Word of God and the Spirit of God are our only hope for stability in a world filled with antichrists.” End quote.
So how do we stay the course and remain in Him?
The key verse here is v.24 – “See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father.”
John isn’t saying that what these believers need is some extra revelation, some special additional knowledge, some new thing. He was pointing them back to the truths of the Gospel they already knew, that they had heard at the beginning of their Christian walk. If these truths remain in us, we will remain in Christ and in the Father. In God’s word we have everything we need to know God, to grow in faith and to persevere to the end, to that very last hour.
So John spurs us on to remain or abide in Christ. He loves this verb, which essentially means to ‘take up a permanent address’ or to ‘make a settled home.’
If we are to keep on keeping on as Christians, we must allow what we have heard from the beginning to take up a permanent address in our hearts and minds.
The onus is on us to ensure that the Word remains in us – we must do our part to enable God in the Holy Spirit to do His part. There is no shortcut, no automatic pilot, we don’t drift into knowing God better and growing in faith.
How many of us have had a meal or two or even three today? All of us? Yes, we feed our bodies because we want to live, function well and be healthy – we need physical food to survive and thrive. How many of us have fed our souls today? The principle is the same – if our souls are to live and be healthy, we must nourish them with spiritual food, God’s Word. Because whatever you feed will grow, and whatever you starve will wither.
So let’s give the Spirit fresh material to work with each day, by which I mean, let’s read or listen to a portion of the Bible every day and allow the Spirit to help us understand what it means. Colossians 3: 16 says, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly…” Let it take up a permanent address in your heart.
Do whatever you can to get the Word of God into your head and heart. Memorise Scripture – it doesn’t have to be long portions, just a verse or two at a time.
Read good Christian books – we can recommend some if you don’t know where to start.
Put Scripture up around your home where you can see it every day as you potter around – it could be a calendar with Bible verses on, or postcards that you prop up by the kitchen sink, printed on your tea towels, or your water bottle – there are so many ways!
Perhaps you can make it your aim to read through the Bible in one year. There are many reading plans available.
There is no shortcut to knowing God’s Word better. But as you persevere in it, you will truly be anchored in Christ, abiding in Him and not led astray by those outside or even inside the church who try to deceive you.