The Apostle John gives his first century readers three hallmarks to be sure they are true Christians:
They will hold firmly to the truth.
John challenges 21st century Christians with these tests too. Of course none of these traits can make us right with God. Only Christ’s death as our substitute can do that. Nor will we ever manifest these hallmarks perfectly this side of eternity. But these three marks are external proof that we have been born of God. They are visible signs that we are growing up spiritually as the Holy Spirit does his work of sanctification in our lives. We will be looking at John’s third hallmark today and next week—Holding onto the truth.
Spot the fake
When Banks train their staff to spot counterfeit notes, tellers are made to handle authentic money over and over again. They are taught to study the colours, texture, weight and images of the bills carefully. By being familiar with the real thing, they are equipped to spot the counterfeit. So too with God’s people. We need to be so steeped in the truth laid out plainly in God’s Word, that we instantly spot strange teaching when we hear it. New Testament writers and Jesus himself made it clear that false teaching will come from within the church (2 Peter 3:17; Mark 13:22). Only Christians who are tethered to Biblical truth will stand firm against the many “winds of teaching” which can toss us back and forth (Eph 4:14). John calls all Christians living in “the last hour” not to be naïve or gullible, but to hold onto the one true gospel and know the real Jesus for themselves. That is how God equips us to spot the counterfeit.
Our text for the next two weeks is 1 John 2:18-27:
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. 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.
Remain in Him
John is reiterating what Jesus already said (John 15:4;5;6;7; 1 John 2:27b). It is the open secret of the Christian life: If we are to grow up and bear fruit as Christians, we must remain in Christ, like a branch in the mother plant. “Remain” is from the Greek meno, meaning to abide, dwell, continue, be present, to wait, to stand. It implies a consistent, constant, close attachment to both the person of Christ (the Word), as well as the written Word of God, which contains the full story of redemption history from cover to cover.
What you have heard from the beginning
John says we must see that what we have heard from the beginning remains in us (1 John 2:24). We are to guard this truth as if it were a treasure that God’s enemy is doing his best to destroy…which he is. After all, eternal life hangs in the balance (1 John 2:25).
That is why John warns Christians about false teachers who lead God’s people astray (1 John 2:26). False teaching is a lie directly from the lips of the enemy and is only combatted when ordinary Christians know the truth for ourselves.
That is why those who teach or influence Christians carry a great responsibility. They answer to the Lord Jesus himself. Their overarching role is to equip God’s people to serve Christ and to build up the body of believers to be unified in their faith and to live in a personal relationship with Jesus, the Son of God. Why? “So that we will longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” (Eph 4:11-14). We need leaders to fearlessly speak God’s truth into our lives to anchor us in the turbulent times in which we live.
A warning to the gullible
The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that nothing has changed. “Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings” (Hebrews 13:8-9). We must not be sidetracked. Our culture of tolerance invites us to feast on a buffet of ideas, but there is only one true gospel and one name by which we can be saved (Gal 1:6-7; Acts 4:12). We cannot obey God or love our neighbour if we do not know and love the truth. Like the first century Gnostics who spoke under the banner of Christ, there will always be teachers who add extras to the gospel of grace (Heb 13:9). False teachers will always feed their own appetites before serving our Lord Jesus. They will sow division and confusion rather than unifying and building up. “By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people” (Rom 16:17-18). False teachers will continue to speculate about the future and obsess about myths, genealogies and meaningless talk that do not advance God’s work (1 Tim 1:4-6).
Paul paints a startling picture that resembles our own generation:
“For there will come a time when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Tim 4:3).
It is true that half hearted worshippers will love inoffensive teachers who dilute the truth. Looking around at the visible church today, nothing has changed since the first century. John tells ordinary Christians that we must be so familiar with the truth passed down by Jesus and the Apostles, the message we first heard, that we are not dazzled by diversions (1 John 2:25-26). Teaching is not a matter of innovation but of constant reminding of the truth.
Every Christian’s birthright
Truth is not a novel insight. Nor do only a select few with ‘special anointing’ have access to it “All of you” and “all things” are comprehensive terms (I John 2:20; 27b)). Jesus said that the Spirit will lead into truth all those who belong to Him, not just an elite few (John 16:13). The Spirit’s anointing is every Christian’s birthright (2 Cor 1:21; Eph 4:7-8). It is subjective proof that we are God’s children. That is why John can say with confidence; “All of you know the truth” (1 John 2:20). The Spirit inside us will warn us when we hear something that jars with the truth and we must pay attention to those uneasy promptings. It is a heart knowledge.
But our knowledge of truth is also based on the objective reality of the real Jesus of history, the Son of God who existed from the beginning, who came to earth as a baby in Bethlehem, fully man yet co-equal with God. We learn the truth about his life, death, resurrection and ascension in the eye witness accounts of the New Testament. We see shadows of Him throughout the Old Testament. We are told the truth of the war that is raging now between the armies of heaven and hell in this era called ‘the last days’. And we are assured of the final consummation when Jesus returns as Judge and King of the new heaven and new earth. The Bible is a true account of history and God’s extraordinary plan to save the world through his Son. It is this precious truth that gives us the hope of eternal life (1 John 2:25). We are stewards of this truth to pass on to future generations.
Stewards of truth
There are no short cuts to being good stewards of truth. We must engage with our Bible and steep ourselves in its truth from beginning to end. We must tremble at God’s word as we seek to handle it properly (Isa 66:2), especially if we have influence over others. We must not twist the plain truth of the Bible to support our own agenda. We must have a plan to read Scripture for ourselves and not just listen to what other people say about it. We must choose a local church which faithfully teaches the whole counsel of God’s Word, not just the bits the preacher fancies.
All Christians are God’s holy people and priests to proclaim gospel truth to a confused world (1 Peter 2:9). We desperately need clarity on what this truth entails. We have the Holy Spirit’s anointing (1 John 2:27) to understand the Bible and apply it. God’s Spirit and God’s Word act in tandem in our lives. We will easily become unbalanced or deceived if we pit the Spirit and the Word against each other, or if we focus on one without the other. Someone wrote this true statement:
“All word and no spirit, we dry up. All Spirit and no Word, we blow up. Both Word and Spirit, we grow up.” (Unknown author)
Lord Jesus, help me to see you as you really are, to savour your greatness, your beauty and your worth. Help me to treasure the gospel and to truly love people enough to share the truth with them. Help me to hold onto the truth, not because I want to be right or to win arguments, but because I want other people to know Jesus as their own Lord and Saviour. Father, help me to love you with all my heart, soul and might. Then I will be able to love my neighbour as myself and will obey your commands and serve you with a glad heart. Thank you for the true gospel of grace by which I am saved through faith in what Jesus has done for me on the cross. My precious Saviour, keep me mindful of your undeserved grace every second of day, so that my life will show the perfect tension between grace and truth– as yours did when you walked on this earth. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Join us next week for part 2 of “Holding onto the truth”.
Here are three Bible-centred resources that are anchoring our family members in the turbulent waves of our times (click on the links to find out more):
1.The Bible Explore Bible Devotional App (The Good Book company on App store or Google play). https://www.thegoodbook.com/explore-app
(The Explore app contains daily Bible readings with questions to help you engage with the Bible text, comment to get you thinking, and ideas for further reading, prayer and application. It includes the Bible text so that you can open up the Bible wherever you are, whenever you can. Explore is written by trusted Bible teachers with a passion for getting God’s word to work in people’s lives. Contributors include Timothy Keller, Mark Dever, Mike McKinley, Christopher Ash, Graham Beynon, Tim Chester and Stephen Witmer.)
2.Truth For Life app. Alistair Begg’s daily Bible-teaching ministry. https://itunes.apple.com/za/app/truth-for-life/id387699558?mt=8
(Begg’s daily 20 minute messages are easy to download and listen to later when stuck in traffic during load shedding and to make the gym more tolerable!)
(These have many trustworthy contemporary articles, blogs, discussions and sermons to help Christians apply truth to life.)