“It makes no difference what you believe, just as long as you are sincere!” That statement expresses the personal philosophy of many people today, but it is doubtful whether most of those who make it have really thought it through. Is “sincerity” really the magic ingredient that makes something true?
A nurse in a hospital gives some medicine to a patient and the patient becomes violently ill. The nurse is “sincere,” but the medicine is wrong, and the patient almost dies.
A man hears noises in the house one night and decides a burglar is at work. He gets his gun and shoots the “burglar,” who turns out to be his daughter! Unable to sleep, she has gotten up for a bite to eat. She ends up the victim of her father’s “sincerity.”
It takes more than “sincerity” to make something true. Faith in a lie will always cause serious consequences, but faith in the truth is never misplaced. It does make a difference what a man believes! If a man wants to drive from Chicago to New York, no amount of sincerity will get him there if the highway is taking him to Los Angeles. A person who is real builds his life on truth, not superstition or lies. It is impossible to live a real life by believing lies.
The Apostle John has warned the church family (“little children”) about the conflict between light and darkness (1 Jn. 1:1–2:6) and between love and hatred (1 Jn. 2:7–17). Now (1 Jn. 2:18–29), he warns us about a third conflict: the conflict between truth and error. It is not enough for a believer to walk in the light and to walk in love; he must also walk in truth. The issue is truth—or consequences!
Before John explains the tragic consequences of turning from the truth, he emphasizes the seriousness of the matter. He does so by using two special terms: “the last time” and “antichrist.” Both terms make it clear that Christians are living in an hour of crisis and must guard against the errors of the enemy.
“The last time” (or “the last hour”) is a term that tells us a new age has dawned on the world. “The darkness is passing and the true light is already shining” (1 Jn. 2:8). Since the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God is doing a “new thing” in this world. All of Old Testament history prepared the way for the work of Christ on the cross. All history since that time is merely preparation for “the end,” when Jesus will come and establish His kingdom. There is nothing more that God must do for the salvation of sinners.
“But if it was ‘the last hour’ in John’s day, why has Jesus not yet returned?” you may ask.
This is an excellent question and Scripture gives us the answer. God is not limited by time the way His creatures are. God works in human time, but He is above time (2 Pet. 3:8). “The last hour” began back in John’s day and has been growing in intensity ever since. There were ungodly false teachers in John’s day and during the intervening centuries they have increased both in number and in influence. “The last hour” or “the last times” are phrases that describe a kind of time, not a duration of time. “The latter times” are described in 1 Timothy 4. Paul, like John, observed characteristics of his time and we see the same characteristics today in even greater intensity. In other words, Christians have always been living in “the last time”—in crisis days. Therefore, it is important you know what you believe and why you believe it.
The second term, “antichrist,” is used in the Bible only by John (1 Jn. 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 Jn. 1:7). It describes three things: (1) a spirit in the world that opposes or denies Christ; (2) the false teachers who embody this spirit; and (3) a person who will head up the final world rebellion against Christ.
The “spirit of antichrist” (1 Jn. 4:3) has been in the world since Satan declared war on God (Gen. 3). The “spirit of antichrist” is behind every false doctrine and every “religious” substitute for the realities Christians have in Christ. That prefix anti actually has a dual meaning. It can mean both “against” Christ and “instead of” Christ. Satan in his frenzy is fighting Christ and His eternal truth, and he is substituting his counterfeits for the realities found only in our Lord Jesus.
The “spirit of antichrist” is in the world today. It will eventually lead to the appearance of a “satanic superman” whom the Bible calls “Antichrist” (capital A). He is called (2 Thes. 2:1–12) “the man of sin” (or “lawlessness”).
Our passage (1 Jn. 2:18–29) explains there are two forces at work in today’s world: truth is working through the church by the Holy Spirit and evil is working by the energy of Satan. The Holy Spirit, in Christians, is holding back lawlessness, but when the church is removed at the Rapture (1 Thes. 4:13–18), Satan will be able to complete his temporary victory and take over the world. The Apostle John has more to say about this world ruler and his evil system in the Book of Revelation, particularly 13:1–18, 16:13, and 19:20.
Does it make any difference what you believe? It makes all the difference in the world! You are living in crisis days—in the last hour—and the spirit of antichrist is working in the world! It is vitally important you know and believe the truth, and be able to detect lies when they come your way. John’s epistle (1 Jn. 2:18–29) gives three outstanding marks of the false teacher who is controlled by the “spirit of antichrist.”
1. HE DEPARTS FROM THE FELLOWSHIP (2:18–19)
“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 none of them belonged to us” (1 Jn. 2:19). The word “us” refers, of course, to the fellowship of believers, the church. Not everyone who is part of an assembly of believers is necessarily a member of the family of God!
The New Testament presents the church in a twofold way: as one worldwide family, and as local units or assemblies of believers. There is a “universal” as well as “local” aspect of the church. The whole worldwide company of believers is compared with a body (1 Cor. 12) and with a building (Eph. 2:19–22). When a sinner trusts Christ as Savior, he receives eternal life and immediately becomes a member of God’s family and a part of Christ’s spiritual body. He should then identify himself with a local group of Christians (a church) and start serving Christ (Acts 2:41–42). But the point here is a person can belong to a local church and not be part of the true spiritual body of Christ.
One of the evidences of true Christian life is a desire to be with the people of God. “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death” (1 Jn. 3:14). When people share the same divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4) and are indwelt by the same Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:14–16), they want to enjoy fellowship and to share with one another. Fellowship means “to have in common.” When people have spiritual realities in common, they want to be together.
But the “counterfeit Christians” mentioned in 1 John 2did not remain in the fellowship. They went out. This doesn’t imply “staying in the church” keeps a person saved; rather, it indicates remaining in the fellowship is one evidence a person is truly a Christian. In His Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:1–9, 18–23), Jesus makes it clear that only those who produce fruit are truly born again. It is possible to be close to an experience of salvation, and even to have some characteristics that would pass for “Christian,” and yet not be a child of God. The people in 1 John 2left the fellowship because they did not possess true life and the love of Christ was not in their hearts.
There are many unfortunate divisions among the people of God today, but all true Christians have things in common, regardless of church affiliation. They believe the Bible is the Word of God and Jesus is the Son of God. They confess men are sinners and the only way one can be saved is through faith in Christ. They believe Christ died as man’s substitute on the cross and He arose again from the dead. They believe the Holy Spirit indwells true believers. Finally, they believe Jesus will come again. Christians may differ on other matters, but they agree on the basic doctrines of the faith.
If you will investigate the history of false cults and antichristian religious systems in today’s world, you will find in most cases their founders started out in a local church! They were “with us” but not “of us,” so they went out “from us” and started their own groups.
Any group, no matter how “religious” that for doctrinal reasons separates itself from a local church which holds to the Word of God must immediately be suspect. Often, these groups follow human leaders and the books men have written, rather than Jesus Christ and God’s Word. The New Testament (2 Tim. 3–4; 2 Pet. 2) makes it clear it is dangerous to depart from the fellowship.
The key question is: Who is Jesus Christ? Is Christ merely “an Example,” “a good Man,” “a wonderful Teacher”; or is He God come in the flesh? John’s readers knew the truth about Christ or else they would not have been saved. “You have an anointing from the Holy One and all of you know the truth” (1 Jn. 2:20, 27). “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ” (Rom. 8:9).
False Christians in John’s day used two special words to describe their experience: “knowledge” and “unction.” They claimed to have a special unction (anointing) from God which gave them a unique knowledge. They were “illuminated” and therefore living on a much higher level than anybody else. But John points out all true Christians know God and have received the Spirit of God! And because they have believed the truth, they recognize a lie when they meet it.
The great assertion of the faith that sets a Christian apart from others is this: Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh (1 Jn. 4:2).
Not all preachers and teachers who claim to be Christian are really Christian in their belief (1 Jn. 4:1–6). If they confess Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh, then they belong to the true faith. If they deny Christ, then they belong to Antichrist. They are in and of the world, and are not, like true believers, called out of the world. When they speak, the world (unsaved persons) hears them and believes them. But the unsaved world can never understand a true Christian. A Christian speaks under the direction of the Spirit of Truth; a false teacher speaks under the influence of the spirit of error—the spirit of antichrist.
To confess “Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh” involves much more than simply to identify Christ. The demons did this (Mk. 1:24), but it did not save them. True confession involves personal faith in Christ—in who He is and what He has done. A confession is not a mere intellectual “theological statement” you recite; it is a personal witness from your heart of what Christ has done for you. If you have trusted Christ and confessed your faith, you have eternal life (1 Jn. 2:25). Those who cannot honestly make this confession do not have eternal life, which is an ultimately serious matter.
George Whitefield, the great British evangelist, was speaking to a man about his soul. He asked the man, “Sir, what do you believe?”
“I believe what my church believes,” the man replied respectfully.
“And what does your church believe?”
“The same thing I believe.”
“And what do both of you believe?” the preacher inquired again.
“We both believe the same thing!” was the only reply he could get.
A man is not saved by assenting to a church creed. He is saved by trusting Jesus Christ and bearing witness to his faith (Rom. 10:9–10).
False teachers will often say, “We worship the Father. We believe in God the Father, even though we disagree with you about Jesus Christ.”
But to deny the Son means to deny the Father also. You cannot separate the Father and the Son, since both are one God. Jesus says, “I and My Father are One” (Jn. 10:30). He also makes it clear true believers honor both the Father and the Son: “All may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him” (Jn. 5:23). If you say you “worship one God,” but leave Jesus Christ out of your worship, you are not worshiping as a true Christian.
It is important you stay with the truth of God’s Word. The Word (or message) Christians have “heard from the beginning” is all you need to keep you true to the faith. The Christian life continues just as it began: through faith in the Bible’s message. A religious leader who comes along with “something new,” something that contradicts what Christians have “heard from the beginning,” is not to be trusted. “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 4:1).
Let the Word abide in you (1 Jn. 2:24) and abide in Christ (1 Jn. 2:28); otherwise you will be led astray by the spirit of antichrist. No matter what false teachers may promise, you have the sure promise of eternal life (1 Jn. 2:25). You need nothing more!
3. HE TRIES TO DECEIVE THE FAITHFUL (2:26–29)
It is interesting to observe antichristian groups rarely try to lead lost sinners to their false faith. Instead, they spend much of their time trying to convert professing Christians (and church members!) to their own doctrines. They are out to “seduce” the faithful.
The word “seduce” carries the idea of “being led astray.” We have been warned this would happen: “The Spirit clearly says in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1 Tim. 4:1).
Jesus calls Satan the “father of lies” (Jn. 8:44). The devil’s purpose is to lead Christians astray by teaching them false doctrines (2 Cor. 11:1–4, 13–15). We should not accept everything a person tells us simply because he claims to believe the Bible for it is possible to “twist” the Bible to make it mean almost anything (2 Cor. 4:1–2).
Satan is not an originator; he is a counterfeiter. He imitates the work of God. Satan has counterfeit “ministers” (2 Cor. 11:13–15) who preach a counterfeit gospel (Gal. 1:6–12) that produces counterfeit Christians (Jn. 8:43–44) who depend on a counterfeit righteousness (Rom. 10:1–10). In the Parable of the Tares (Matt. 13:24–30, 36–43), Jesus and Satan are pictured as sowers. Jesus sows the true seed, the children of God; but Satan sows “the children of the wicked one.” The two kinds of plants, while growing, look so much alike that the servants could not tell the difference until the fruit appeared! Satan’s chief deception during this age is to plant the counterfeit wherever Christ plants the true. It is important you be able to detect the counterfeit and separate the teachings of Christ from the false teachings of antichrist.
How does a believer do this? By depending on the teaching of the Holy Spirit. Each believer has experienced the anointing (unction, 1 Jn. 2:20) of the Spirit and it is the Spirit who teaches him truth (Jn. 14:17; 15:26). False teachers are not led by the Spirit of Truth; they are led by the spirit of error (1 Jn. 4:3, 6).
The word anoint reminds us of the Old Testament practice of pouring oil on the head of a person being set apart for special service. A priest was anointed (Ex. 28:41), and so was a king (1 Sam. 15:1) or a prophet (1 Kin. 19:16). A New Testament Christian is anointed, not with literal oil, but by the Spirit of God—an anointing that sets him apart for his ministry as one of God’s priests (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). It is not necessary for you to pray for “an anointing of the Spirit.” If you are a Christian, you have already received this special anointing. This anointing “abides in us” and therefore does not need to be imparted to us.
We have seen that false teachers deny the Father and the Son; they also deny the Spirit. The Spirit is the Teacher God has given us (Jn. 14:26), but these false Christians want to be teachers themselves and lead others astray. They try to take the place of the Holy Spirit!
We are warned against letting any man be our teacher, for God has given us the Spirit to teach us His truth. This does not deny the office of human teachers in the church (Eph. 4:11–12), but it means that under the guidance of the Spirit you must test the teaching of men as you search the Bible for yourself (Acts 17:11).
A missionary was in Los Angeles with an Indian friend who was a new Christian. As they walked down the street, they passed a man on the corner who was preaching with a Bible in his hand. The missionary knew the man represented a cult, but the Indian saw only the Bible. He stopped to listen to the sermon.
“I hope my friend doesn’t get confused,” the missionary thought to himself and he began to pray. In a few minutes the Indian turned away from the meeting and joined his missionary friend.
“What did you think of the preacher?” the missionary asked.
“All the time he was talking,” exclaimed the Indian, “something in my heart kept saying, ‘Liar! Liar!’ ”
That “something” in his heart was “Someone”—the Holy Spirit of God! The Spirit guides us into the truth and helps us to recognize error. This anointing of God is “no lie,” because “the Spirit is truth” (1 Jn. 5:6).
Why are some Christians led astray to believe false teachings? Because they are not abiding in the Spirit. The word “abide” occurs several times in this section of 1 John and it would be helpful to review:
- False teachers do not abide (remain, continue) in the fellowship (1 Jn. 2:19).
- The word (message) we have heard should abide in us (1 Jn. 2:24).
- The anointing (Holy Spirit) abides in us and we should abide in the Spirit (1 Jn. 2:27).
- As we abide in the Word and in the Spirit, we also abide in Christ (1 Jn. 2:28).
We noticed this word abide earlier in John’s letter too:
- If we say we abide in Christ, we should walk as He walked (1 Jn. 2:6).
- If we love our brother, we abide in the light (1 Jn. 2:10).
- If the Word abides in us, we will be spiritually strong (1 Jn. 2:14).
- If we do the will of God, we shall abide forever (1 Jn. 2:17).
It is possible to be a child in a family, and yet be out of fellowship with one’s father and with other members of the family. When our Heavenly Father discovers we are out of fellowship with Him, He deals with us to bring us back into the place of abiding. This process is called “chastening”—child-training (Heb. 12:5–11).
A believer must allow the Spirit of God to teach him from the Bible. One of the major functions of a local church is the teaching of God’s Word (2 Tim. 2:2; 4:1–5). The Spirit gives the gift of teaching to certain individuals in the fellowship (Rom. 12:6–7) and they teach others, but what they teach must be tested (1 Jn. 4:1–3).
There is a difference between deliberate deception and spiritual ignorance. When Apollos preached in the synagogue at Ephesus, his message was correct as far as it went, but it was not complete. Priscilla and Aquila, two mature believers in the congregation, took him aside privately and instructed him in the full message of Christ (Acts 18:24–28). A Christian who spends time daily in the Bible and in prayer will walk in the Spirit and have the discernment he needs.
The Spirit teaches us “about all things” (1 Jn. 2:27). False teachers have a way of “riding a hobby”—prophecy or sanctification or even diet—and neglecting the whole message of the Bible. Jesus said we are to live by “every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Paul was careful to preach “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable” (2 Tim. 3:16).
If you ignore or neglect any part of the Bible, you invite trouble. You must read and study the whole Book, and be able to “rightly divide” it (2 Tim. 2:15); that is, you must “handle it accurately.” You should discern in the Bible what God says to different people at different times; there are passages that apply specifically to the Jews, or to the Gentiles, or to the church (1 Cor. 10:32). You must be careful to distinguish between them. While the entire Bible was written for you, not all of it was written to you. False teachers, however, pick (out of context) only what they want and often apply to believers today passages that were given only for ancient Israel.
John has now concluded his message on fellowship and is about to begin his message on sonship. He has pointed out the contrasts between light and darkness (1 Jn. 1:1–2:6), love and hatred (1 Jn. 2:7–17), and truth and error (1 Jn. 2:18–27). He has explained a real Christian lives a life of obedience (walking in light, not darkness), love, and truth. It is impossible to live in right fellowship with God if you are disobedient, hateful, or untruthful. Any of these sins will lead you out of reality and into pretense. You will have an “artificial” life instead of an “authentic” life.
1 John 2:28-29 are a “bridge” from the fellowship section into the sonship section (“born of God”). In these verses, John uses three words that ought to encourage us to live in fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
- Abide. This is a word we have seen before. You must recognize the importance of abiding in Christ. In fact, this has been the theme of the first two chapters of this epistle. You abide in Christ by believing the truth, obeying the truth, and loving other Christians—“the brethren.” Obedience—love—truth. If you are a believer and find yourself out of fellowship with God, it is because you have disobeyed His Word, lacked love for a brother, or believed a lie. The solution is to confess your sin instantly and to claim God’s forgiveness (1 Jn. 1:9).
- Appear. This is the first mention in this epistle of the promised return of Christ. The epistle (1 Jn. 2:28–3:3; 4:17) merely mentions the return of Christ and a coming day of judgment. The Book of Revelation deals in detail with future events.
Not all Bible students are agreed as to the details of future events, but evangelical Christians agree Christ is returning for His church (1 Thes. 4:13–18). While Christians will not then be judged for their sins, they will be judged on the basis of their faithfulness in serving Christ (1 Cor. 3:10–15). Those who have been faithful will receive rewards (1 Cor. 4:5) and those who have not been faithful will lose rewards. This event is called “the Judgment Seat of Christ” (Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10) and is not to be confused with the “Great White Throne Judgment” of unsaved people at the end of time (Rev. 20:11–15).
The fact Jesus Christ may return at any moment ought to be an incentive for us to live in fellowship with Him and be obedient to His Word. For this reason, John uses a third word:
- Ashamed. Some Christians will be “ashamed before Him at His presence” (1 Jn. 2:28). All believers are “accepted,” but there is a difference between being “accepted” and being “acceptable.” A disobedient child who goes out and gets dirty will be accepted when he comes home, but he will not be treated as though he were acceptable. “So we make it our goal to please Him” (2 Cor. 5:9). A Christian who has not walked in fellowship with Christ in obedience, love, and truth will lose his rewards; and this will make him ashamed.
No matter in which direction a Christian looks, he finds reason to obey God. If he looks back, he sees Calvary, where Christ died for him. If he looks within, he sees the Holy Spirit who lives within and teaches him the truth. If he looks around, he sees his Christian brethren whom he loves; he also sees a world lost in sin, desperately needing his godly witness. If he looks ahead, he sees the return of Christ! “All who have this hope in Him purify themselves, just as He is pure” (1 Jn. 3:3). The return of Christ is a great inspiration for godly living!
John has written about light and darkness, love and hatred, and truth and error. In 1 John 2:29, he sums up the whole matter of Christian living in one phrase—“doing righteousness.”
The life that is real is a life of doing, not simply talking (1 Jn. 1:8–2:9) or giving mental assent that a doctrine is correct. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). Christians do not simply believe the truth; they do it (1 Jn. 1:6).
A person who professes to be a Christian, but who does not live in obedience, love, and truth is either deceived or a deceiver. A child bears the nature of his father and a person who has been “born of God” will reveal the characteristics of his Heavenly Father. “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children” (Eph. 5:1). “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do” (1 Pet. 1:14–15).
A Sunday School class seemed to be having constant problems. Then, one Sunday morning the teacher of the class came down the aisle during the closing song of the service. “I suppose she wants to dedicate her life to the Lord,” the pastor thought.
“Pastor,” she said, “I want to confess Christ as my Savior. All these years I thought I was saved, but I wasn’t. There was always something lacking in my life. The class problems were my problems, but now they’ve been solved. Now, I know I’m saved.”
“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves! Do you not realize Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5). Does your life bear the marks of obedience, love, and truth? Is your Christian life something real—genuine—authentic? Or is it counterfeit?
It is a question of truth—or consequences! If you do not face the truth, you must pay the consequences!