(Read 1 John 2:18-27.)
Given the propensity for deception and especially self-deception that is part of our human nature, it is an especially important discipline to be self-aware and searching for the truth. The most appropriate place to start is the Bible, the self-disclosure of God.
The truth was one of the chief concerns of the Elder, the writer of the New Testament book of First John. That letter gives warnings about falsehood and promises blessings to those who abide in the truth. Prepare to get motivated.
The folly of the flock-foolers.
The flock-foolers are the “antichrists.” The writer (we will call him either “John” or the “Elder”) identified the antichrists in three ways.
First, notice in verse 18 John uses both singular and plural forms of “antichrist.” This shows the “antichrist” is a movement, not an individual. It is a cultural force of godlessness that opposes the truth and believers who hold to it. We should also observe that the word is not “antichurch;” the flock-foolers positioned themselves within the Church in order to deceive the faithful.
They started within, intent on beginning a divisive movement, then lead people out. The fact that they were once in the Church did not prove a thing, but the fact that they left the church laid their real motives open for all to see. They definitively revealed their true identity: “they were not of us.” What we see here is hypocrisy at its worst, for these people didn’t aim at vanity, they aimed at deception. They were frauds in order to steal from the Church.
Verse 22 identifies the chief error, the most damning falsehood of the flock-foolers; they deny the truth about Jesus Christ. In denying that Jesus is the Christ, they are saying that He is not the Messiah, not God the Son. This is not the kind of faith that will save anyone because it is untrue. The most basic facts about Jesus are:
He is fully God and fully man (except without sin).
He is the final sacrifice for sin; the only means by which we can be saved.
He is coming to earth again. When He appears in the clouds, a series of events are set in motion that will bring about the end of this age, this creation, and replace it with a new creation, both heaven and earth.
The Greek word that gets translated as “anti” can mean “in place of,” “against,” or “opposed to.” These flock-foolers were attempting to substitute a false Jesus for the real one.
Their presence is a sign that the Second Coming will soon occur. As the Elder wrote in verse eighteen, “Children it is the last hour…we know that it is the last hour.” What Jesus taught all along is that one of the signs of the end of the age would be an increase in anti-godliness. Those who hold to the truth should expect to meet increasing rejection and persecution as the end of this age draws near.
The forces of spiritual evil will surely know this too and they will not just give up without a fight. Therefore, opposition to God and His people will increase as the clock winds down.
No matter what they claim, their real purpose is deceit (see verse 26). Their motive is that someone who has rejected the truth is more easily manipulated. It’s easier to sell someone a counterfeit if they don’t know what the real thing looks like. If our focus is on Jesus, our confidence will be based on the truth, not our circumstances or our feelings.
The members of the flock who aren’t fooled.
The folk in the flock who aren’t fooled are the “anointed.” What is “anointing?” The application of oil to the body. Anointing was practiced commonly as an act of hospitality or for healing. A dab of scented olive oil was applied to the scalp of guests to ease the weariness of travel and to honor them. Oil was applied to wounds. According to James 5:14, the sick were to be anointed with oil and receive prayer to be healed. It served medicinal and spiritual purposes.
Anointing was less commonly used to sanctify an object for use in the temple or a priest or king for their special duties & status. The application of oil showed that the person or object was being set apart from everyday uses to be used for God’s special purpose. They had a specific function in His plan.
The faithful have been anointed by God, not on behalf of God; this is new. The new anointing is spiritual in nature, not physical.
This anointing is accomplished through the Holy Spirit. The presence of the Spirit in the believer gives us discernment – the ability to tell the difference between good and evil, truth and falsehood. There’s no foolin’ a true believer (hence the title of this message). One measure of spiritual maturity is the sense to know the difference.
The Elder has written to reassure the church that they are the ones who are in the truth, not those who have left. V. 21 explains that he wrote not because they were ignorant of these facts, but to encourage them with a reminder. We all know how tempting it can be to give up on the truth when the pressure’s on. The false teachers had caused a lot of havoc in the church, hurt feelings and confusion because the sounded so persuasive. John is trying to strike a chord of reason to break the persuasive, coercive power of falsehood.
He wrote, “no lie is of the truth.” On the face of it, that seems perfectly obvious, doesn’t it? But he’s writing to draw a definite line between the legitimate flock and the false ones. There is no middle ground here, the contrast is as stark as light and darkness. No matter how persuasive they may be, the essential nature of the false teachers, their followers, and their beliefs is false.
The anointing changes us; “his anointing teaches you about everything” (v. 27).
It results in them knowing the truth.
It requires them to speak the truth.
It enables them to “abide” in God.
It motivates them to remain loyal to God.
What the Elder is communicating in this passage is that it is the “anointing” that marks the difference between the faithful folk and those who have fled. Those who have the anointing recognize the false teaching for what it is and have stayed in the Church; they have remained faithful. Those who do not have the anointing were duped by the falsehood and have left the Church; they were unfaithful all along.
Most importantly, this anointing is the real thing; it “is true, and is no lie” (v. 27).
The folk who aren’t fooled abide in Christ. “Abide” occurs five times in this passage.
Those who are truly saved are loyal to Christ, but their loyalty is defined by the Word. So, verse 24 says “Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you…” This is contrary to our culture that favors individualism to such a degree that faith effectively becomes “believe what you will,” “make it up for yourself,” or “create it as you go.” Biblically, the ideal is that you receive the faith that was first handed to the Apostles by our Lord Jesus Christ. You received that faith from your parents and will, in turn, pass it on to your children. This isn’t a blind faith – investigate it, study it, test it – make it your own as well. But don’t start with nothing and end up with something less. Start with the faith that has been handed down, “what you have heard from the beginning.”
There are two promises made to those who abide in Jesus Christ. The first: those who abide with Jesus by faith, He will abide with them; “If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son & in the Father.” (v. 24) It’s true that we are saved by our relationship with God. But it’s also true that relationship is not a “user-defined.” We have received the Word of God and the traditions of the Church and these are to form the basis of our faith. We don’t make up our relationship with God. He’s already informed us who He is and how we relate to Him. Our abiding is meant to withstand the temptations and adversity of life as well as the cultural pressure to conform to the world’s standards.
The focus of the second promise is on life after death. In v. 25 we’re told that God has promised eternal life to those who abide in the truth.
It’s important to critically examine the notion that truth is merely in the eye of the beholder because it is that assumption that isolates us. When we make ourselves god, we’ve created a false “bubble universe” where we’re completely alone. When we find out we’re a prisoner there and not god after all, then perhaps we’ll be motivated to join a community of faith, accept the word of truth, and begin on the foundation of traditional faith.