Beware of Faith's Rivals
American Journal of Biblical Theology,
People of faith face a struggle every day, a struggle that non-Christians neither experience nor likely understand. The early church also faced that same struggle every day as they sincerely desired to live a godly life while immersed in an ungodly world with few resources to help them in their efforts. The early church found itself facing denigration, and opposition from every authority around them. The Jewish community from which many of them came despised them for their claim that Jesus was the Messiah, with most families disowning any member who professed faith in Jesus Christ. The Greeks despised the Christians, considering them ignorant and base because of their rejection of the Greek pantheon of Gods and their lack of submission to their philosophical schools. The Romans despised them for their refusal to participate in the worship of their emperors. As a result of this cultural bias against the faith, many Christians found it difficult to participate freely in commerce. They often experienced direct persecution.
Two thousand years of history does not seem to have improved the setting for many who are part of the family of faith today. Of course, the number of Christians in this world has vastly increased, but faithful Christians still remain a small remnant of the total population. Every geographic region in this world presents its unique set of challenges for those who profess faith in Jesus Christ as their LORD, their Messiah, their Christ. We are aware of intense persecution in areas under Muslim control. Christians are widely marginalized in western culture and face increasing resistance from an ever-increasing social bias towards godlessness. As society falls deeper and deeper into a culture of godlessness, the struggle only amplifies.
Yet another source of the struggle for people of faith comes from a much closer rival: the world in which we are all locally immersed. All people are characterized by a bent to sin, as it seems to draw to itself our most natural desires. Though true faith diminishes one’s desire to be disobedient to the Word of God as revealed in one’s heart through the Holy Spirit, the attraction of sin seems relentless. Though satan is powerless to affect the salvation of a person of faith, he is the source of all that would work to draw one away from obedience to the LORD.
As John observed the dynamics of the early church, he provided some advice that would help the new Christian communities deal with this issue by recognizing those rivals for the faith when they appear.
1 John 2:15. Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
John’s first imperative is simple: do not love the world or the things that are of it. It is important that we understand some simple definitions. The word that John uses for love is the Greek word agape. The gospel teaches that faithful Christians are to love one another and love others with this type of love, so John is not referring to a love of the people of the world. This unconditional love for others is not to be compromised.
John is concerned with the things of this natural world and natural culture that serve to turn people of faith away from their commitment to the LORD. The love that John speaks of is a deep, abiding love that engages a sincere desire for relationship with another. If one’s desire is for the LORD and that which is godly, their desire is not for the world and those things in the world that are ungodly. One cannot have a deep desire for that which is ungodly and truly love the LORD.
Another way of understanding this is to ask the question, “where does your heart truly abide: in the LORD, or in the things of this world”?
1 John 2:16. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
John describes two characteristics of a love for the world as lust and pride. Lust is an overmastering desire for something. Though usually attributed to sexual desire, the term is actually much broader and can include an inordinate desire for power, possessions, or any other object or situation that serves to turn one’s attention away from obedience to the LORD. Many, if not all, of the sins of man that serve to turn them away from the LORD can be traced back to the submission to some form of lust.
John refers to two applications of lust: lust of the flesh and lust of the eyes. Lusts of the flesh refer to the submission of our actions to the satiation of our base, or natural, desires. Lusts of the eyes refer to the submission of our thoughts and attitudes to the same.
The pride of life brings the application of lust to the personal level when one thinks of themselves in terms that are opposed to the way the LORD thinks of us. There is probably no sin that is more effective in placing a barrier between man and God then pride. There are well over one hundred references in the biblical narrative that describe pride as a sin. The writer of proverbs states, “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.” The writer of the gospel of Mark notes that pride is an evil that serves to defile a man.
By reminding his readers of the evil nature of pride, they are drawn to consider the power of pride in their own lives, and that which they observe in others. As John is responding to those who are presenting a false gospel among the people, his readers can observe the lust for power and control that those heretics demonstrate. They can be encouraged to know that those who seek to devour the body are not representatives of the gospel and are demonstrating their own apostasy in their words and actions.
1 John 2:17. the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.
John reminds us that those things in this world that we may be tempted to lust after are of the world, and will pass from us when we leave this world. Things of this world are temporal: their existence can be measured by units of time. However, the LORD abides in an eternal heaven that is not bound by the constraints of the time of this creation, and when we die, we leave the world behind as we enter that same eternal home. Furthermore, John understands that this world will not last forever, as God has a plan to bring the age of man on earth to a sure and violent end.
John teaches simply that those who love the LORD are no longer tied to a dependency upon the things of this world. Any influence of this world that would distract us or turn us from obedience to the LORD is not of the LORD and serves no purpose other than to replace the eternal blessings of God with the temporal and damaging stressors of this world.
1 John 2:18-19. Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. 19They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
Having known the LORD, Jesus, hearing His promise to return prior to witnessing His ascension, the disciples and Apostles tended to believe that Jesus’ return would come soon. One could probably speculate correctly that they would have been astonished to know that we would still be watching for His return two thousand years later. His statement that “it is the last time” is as relevant today as it was when he wrote the epistle. The future looked long to the ancients, but today with human population approaching the limits of the earth to support them, and its population doubling every forty years, John’s imperative becomes more acute. We are approaching the end of days, and Jesus’ return may be soon.
Until Jesus returns there will be, as there has been, those who John refers to as “antichrists,” those whose message is contrary to the gospel of Jesus, Christ. John describes the antichrists as those who “went out from us.” He is referring to people who proclaim a false Christian gospel, those who purposely desire to influence God’s elect for their own personal agenda. John states that there will be many who will work to draw Christians away from the truth as they seek to serve their own purposes. They will present logical and believable arguments to persuade people to accept their teachings and reject the basic truths of the gospel. This can range from those who administer Christian cults that deny true salvation to their adherents to those who simply want to establish some form of control over a body of believers.
One can identify a counterfeit when one knows the truth. John has confidence in the fellowship of believers concerning their knowledge of that truth.
1 John 2:20. But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. 21I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.
When one comes to a sincere faith in God, the Holy Spirit of God is empowered in the life of the believer. John refers to the unction of a believer, which is a reference to an act of anointing, a deliberate act that serves to identify an individual and set them apart for a purpose. The person of faith has received an unction, or an anointing, from the LORD, setting them apart from the world, bringing the believer to Himself. As one grows in their knowledge and understanding of the gospel, one is able to discern the truth as the Holy Spirit gives a peace in the heart as one approaches the truth.
There is a play on words working here where the text literally states, “you have an anointing from the anointed one.” Reminded of Jesus’ baptism, some would attempt to argue that this anointing is referring to the believer’s baptism. Some attempt to connect the statement with the traditional act of anointing with oil. If we consider this passage in the context of believer’s baptism, we may be reminded that Jesus’ command was to baptize, or immerse, believers in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The command embraces Jesus’ plan for making disciples: by immersing them in the knowledge of God. The “Name” of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, refers to the whole of their nature and identity. Disciples are to be immersed in the knowledge of God.
This is the unction from the Holy One that John refers to. With this unction, the believer knows all of the truth necessary to recognize the heretic. Because of this, nothing that John has written is new knowledge to the believer, but simply serves to reinforce what they already know. Likewise, as today’s believers read John’s words, they serve to support what they already know. Those who love the LORD know that it is inappropriate for them to love the things of this world. Those who love the LORD know the damaging power of lust and pride. Those who love the LORD can recognize heresy. Those who love the LORD know that His Word is truth and anything that disagrees with it is a lie.
1 John 2:22-23. Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. 23Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.
One of the fundamental truths of God’s purpose for mankind lies in the identity of Jesus Christ. Without faith, it is difficult for anyone to comprehend the nature of Jesus. How can a man be considered to be God? The very idea has been disproved by many who claim to be a god. However, the nature of Jesus is vastly more powerful than simply a man who claims deity. The Old Testament describes the nature of the Messiah in great detail. He is known as YAHWEH, or Jehovah, the covenant name of God. John refers to Him as the “Word” through whom the universe was created, and through whom all people will be judged. John then states, that “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” John taught, as did the other New Testament writers that Jesus and Jehovah are one. God came to earth through the person of Jesus to proclaim His purpose to mankind, to demonstrate His love for us, and to provide for the salvation of all who would place their faith and trust in Him.
To reject the biblical narrative that Jesus is the Christ, is to deny the biblical narrative. Anyone who claims the name of Christianity but denies that Jesus is the Christ is engaged in a dramatic error. John refers to one who proclaims that Jesus is not the Christ as an antichrist.
This passage clearly indicates the voracity of one’s profession of faith in Jesus, Christ. The Messiah came to earth through the person of Jesus Christ, who submitted Himself to evil men, was crucified, died, buried, and rose again for a singular purpose: to serve as an atonement of the sin of those who place their faith and trust in Him. Those who reject the person of Jesus Christ reject the forgiveness that is provided through the Cross of Calvary. Consequently, he who denies the Son, denies the Father who sent Him.
However, the opposite is true: he who places his faith and trust in the Son is embraced by the Father, and anointed by Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit. That anointing cannot be taken away by any work of man. John states that, since the believers know the truth, they can stand firm against any teaching that would discourage the voracity of their faith.
1 John 2:24. Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father.
John is facing the work of heretics who would try to persuade the faithful to accept a new and different gospel. Today’s church is continually bombarded by the same antichrist and in recent years many have been turned away from obedience towards ideas and philosophies that are contrary to God’s Word. Behaviors that are clearly identified as ungodly and sinful are acceptable to an unregenerate society. However, when those ideas and philosophies become embraced by the community of faith in the name of “tolerance,” “compromise,” or any other name is still heresy. Two glaring examples of this form of apostasy are the celebration of abortion and gay marriage by major denominations of the Christian church. However, these are only two of many ways that people have turned away from the Word of God and replaced it with the base philosophies of this evil world. John sees the danger that lurks in the works and words of the heretics and reminds the church to abide, or live, in that which they heard in the beginning, not in the new ideas that are being presented.
John notes that to continue in the Son and in the Father it is necessary to return to what they learned at the beginning. This implies that Christians can, indeed, be drawn away from the truth, and we have witnessed the consequences of that draw all throughout Christian history.
1 John 2:25. And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life.
When one’s profession of faith is sincere, their promise of salvation is also sincere, and their salvation is assured. However, when they are drawn away from the truth, much is still lost. The first thing that is lost is a real day-to-day relationship with the Son and with the Father. Instead, they are experiencing more and more of a relationship with the world, and the imposter, the evil one, the prince of this world who led their turning away from God.
1 John 2:26. These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you.
If anyone is teaching that a faithful believer can lose their salvation they are assuming an authority greater than the promise that God has made. This was a common teaching among the heretics, and is common still today. There are many in the faith community today who spend little or no time seeking knowledge of spiritual things. Calling themselves Christians, they have never actually submitted to the lordship of Jesus Christ, preferring to adhere to some of the teachings of the church but never actually giving themselves to the LORD whom the church is to serve. It is these who are most easily seduced away from saving faith. It is these who claim to be the church but live a profession and a life that accepts that which is unbiblical as their truth. These communities can serve as a powerful force of seduction as they argue boldly for the acceptance of their ungodly practices.
John is writing this letter with the very specific purpose that the true believers recognize these rivals of the faith and reject them, based upon their knowledge of the true gospel.
1 John 2:27. But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.
If one were to read this verse out of context, one could come away with an erroneous interpretation that John is saying that there is no need for teachers or learning. The language is vague in the English, but not quite so in the Greek. John has already been teaching in this epistle. He has also stated that those who truly love the LORD know the truth and have an unction from God. This latter point dynamically changes the way that people of faith learn the truths of the faith. The lost need a teacher to explain every nuance of their subject. To the lost, the teacher is the authority behind the message. However, the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the faithful is the authority behind the teaching of spiritual matters.
The faithful have no need for an authoritative teacher. Any teacher of the gospel who demands any authority over the message is to be considered with wise and discerning suspicion. However, the teaching of the gospel by one who loves the LORD, prepares his teaching under the submission to the Holy Spirit, and makes no claim of spiritual authority can serve to bring faithful students to a deeper understanding of the LORD. John’s teaching in this epistle, as well as the teaching of other apostolic authors are prime examples. However, because of the work of the Holy Spirit, and His ultimate authority over the teaching of spiritual matters, every Christian student should always measure the doctrine of any teacher by the gospel that they know, and honestly seek out answers to questions that arise from that comparison. John encourages the faithful to have confidence in the gospel that they know, and continue to stand their ground against heresy.
1 John 2:28. And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.
Immersion in an evil world can take a toll on the life of a believer. Messages come from many sources, both within the church and without, that would turn one away from their commitment to the LORD and away from obedience to Him. The temptations of this world work to turn one away from their love of the LORD and replace it with the powerless desire for the things of this world. These are the stressors that affected the church to whom John wrote, and are still the stressors in the church today.
Given this environment, John encourages the church to continue to abide in Him, or to live lives that are wholly submitted to Him. That way, when they come before the LORD, either in death or in His returning, they may approach the LORD whom they love with confidence. We will all come before the judgment of God. Will we come to Him in confidence, or will we come to Him ashamed for the many compromises we made in this life. Will we stand before Him, secure in our salvation, but bereft of many of the blessings that God had in store for us because we exchanged them for our desire for worldly things?
1 John 2:29. If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.
We have the choice in this life to abide in Him, abide in the world, or attempt to abide in both places at once. Unfortunately for many Christians, their preference is to have one foot planted in this world and the other in heaven. John reminds the faithful to remain in Him alone. It is He who is righteous, not the world or anything in it. A foot planted in this world is a foot planted in unrighteousness. John states several ways that one can know that their faith is real, and one of these is here: because the LORD is righteous and He has promised salvation to all who place their faith and trust in Him, all of the righteousness of a believer is found in Christ.
When one lives a life that is dedicated to Christ, that form of righteousness is evident. One can easily see if the good work that one does is motivated by a love for the LORD or for a love for the world. People of faith can be encourage and excited to know that their works that are motivated by their love for the LORD are a clear and impeachable indication of their salvation. It is through these form of works that true righteousness is found.
As John teaches the faithful to recognize the heretic, he also gives us an opportunity for every believer to examine their own heart to determine if they have been seduced by the heresies of this world. His message of secure and eternal salvation is an encouragement to every believer, and his description of the seduction of this world serves as a challenge. Let us look into our own heart and examine if we have wandered from the truth that we knew from the beginning and have come to embrace ideas of this world that are contrary to God’s Word. Finding these, let us repent and return to the LORD so that, when we come before Him in glory we will not be ashamed.