Grounded in Truth

Lesson Focus: Believers can be certain they remain in the truth by testing religious teachings against God’s revealed Word and by seeking the Holy Spirit’s help in understanding the truth of the Scripture.

The Truth: 1 John 2:18-23.

[18]  Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. [19]  They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. [20]  But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. [21]  I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. [22]  Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. [23]  No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. [ESV]

[18-19]  Since the new age had dawned with the coming of Christ, Christians knew themselves to be living in the last days. The age to come had already come; the world and the darkness were already passing away [8,17]. The evidence for this was that many antichrists have come. The word antichrist occurs in the Bible only in the Johannine Epistles [1 John 2:18,22; 4:3; 2 John 7] but the conception is found elsewhere. The appearing of the antichrist was regarded as a sign of the approaching end. What John means in this verse is that the many antichrists are forerunners of the one still to come. The ‘anti’ can mean ‘instead of’ or ‘in the place of’ indicating someone who would claim to be Christ in the sense of a false Christ. But it can also mean someone who was ‘against’ Christ. Certainly the antichrist’s teaching is here recognized as being fundamentally against Christ and a denial of Christ [22]. But perhaps both ideas are present in the word, counterfeiting and opposing, as in the case of Paul’s man of lawlessness [2 Thess. 2:3-4]. The many antichrists who have already come (in contrast to the one antichrist who shall come) are now identified as human teachers. They are no doubt the same as the many false prophets of 4:1. They have left the church to which John is writing, perhaps because they have failed to win over the church leaders to their viewpoint. John distinguishes sharply between the they who have left and the us who remain. By their defection they have given clear evidence of their true character. They all are not of us. So certain is John of this fact that he adds the hypothesis: if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. John not only relates the fact of their departure from the fellowship, but discerns a purpose in it. The heretics went out of their own volition, but behind the secession was the divine purpose that the spurious should be made plain lest the elect should be led astray [Matt. 24:24]. Light is shed by this verse upon two important doctrines: the perseverance of the saints and the nature of the Church. The one who endures to the end will be saved [Mark 13:13], not because salvation is the reward of endurance, but because endurance is the hallmark of the saved. Future and final perseverance is the ultimate test of a past participation in Christ. This verse also gives biblical warrant for some distinction between the visible and the invisible Church. Granted that God intends His Church to be visibly manifest in local worshipping, witnessing fellowships, this does not mean that all the professing baptized, communicant members of the Church are necessarily members of Christ. Only the Lord knows those who are his [2 Tim. 2:19]. Perhaps most visible church members are also members of the invisible Church, the mystical body of Christ, but some are not. They are with us yet not of us. They share our earthly company but not our heavenly birth. Only on the final day of separation will the wheat and the tares be completely revealed. Meanwhile, some are made plain in their true colors by their defection.

[20-23]  The readers’ loyalty to the truth is contrasted with the heretical teaching of those who have departed from the Church and is traced to the fact that they have been anointed by the Holy One. It is through the illumination of the Spirit of truth that we know, as is elaborated in verse 27. It is in direct contradiction to the heretics’ exclusive claim to special knowledge that John says all his readers have the same knowledge because they have all received the same anointing, the Spirit of truth. His purpose in writing, he says, is not to inform them of new truth, but to confirm them in the truth they already know. Not only do they know the truth, but they know the character of truth, that it is wholly true and self-consistent, and that no lie comes from the truth. The false teaching of those who have left the Church is now revealed. It is a denial that Jesus is the Christ. The fundamental doctrinal test of the professing Christian concerns his view of the Person of Jesus. If he is a Unitarian or a member of a sect denying the deity of Jesus, he is not a Christian. Many strange cults which have a popular appeal today can be easily judged and quickly repudiated by this test. Having disclosed the nature of the heresy, John now elaborates its dread effect, which he has already mentioned at the end of the previous verse. He states the truth in absolute and unequivocal terms, first negatively, then positively. Whenever someone denies the Son, they also forfeit even the Father. We cannot have fellowship with the Father if we do not confess the Son. Only the Son can reveal the Father to men [Matt. 11:27; John 1:18, 12:44-45, 14:9]; only the Son can represent and reconcile men to the Father [John 14:6].

The Whole Truth: 1 John 2:24-27.

[24]  Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. [25]  And this is the promise that he made to us–eternal life. [26]  I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. [27]  But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything–and is true and is no lie, just as it has taught you–abide in him. [ESV]

[24-25]  Having distinguished between the false teachers and the true believers, and having exposed the nature and consequences of the heresy, John now draws attention to the two safeguards which will protect his readers from being led astray. The first safeguard is the word which you heard from the beginning. This word is the gospel, the apostolic teaching, the original message which had been preached. It had not changed and would not change. This apostolic testimony is directed essentially to the Son. That is why it will keep them true to Him if they remain true to it. Moreover, they will abide in the Son and in the Father, in the sense of experiencing an intimate spiritual communion with Both. To abide in the Father and to have the Father [23] are virtually identical in meaning.  As a result of such loyalty to and communion with the Son and the Father, we shall enjoy the promised eternal life. The awful consequence of the heretical denial of the Son was a loss of life as well as a loss of fellowship with the Father.

[26-27]  But the apostolic teaching was not in itself enough to keep them in the truth. John does not underestimate the strength or the subtlety of the deceivers. They have not succeeded, but they are in the process of making the attempt. Against such would-be deceivers they had a second safeguard, namely, the anointing that you received from him abides in you. Jesus Himself had promised that the Spirit once given would abide with us forever [John 14:16]. Possessing knowledge by the Holy Spirit’s direct illumination, you have no need that anyone should teach you. We must keep this statement in the proper context. True, in the last resort, the Holy Spirit is our absolutely adequate Teacher, and we maintain our right of private judgment by His illumination of the Word of God. But we must see this verse in the context of an Epistle in which John is, in fact, teaching those who, he says, have no need of human teachers! And other passages of the New Testament refer not only to the general ministry of teaching in the Church [e.g. Acts 4:18, 5:28,42; 2 Tim. 2:24] but also to specially gifted teachers [1 Cor. 12:29; Eph 4:11]. What John is warning against is his readers being taught a new truth. Since they have the Word and the Spirit they do not need to be taught a new truth from any source outside of the Word and the Spirit. But they do need teachers to explain and exhort them to follow the true Gospel message which they have already received. Here, then, are the two safeguards against error: the apostolic Word and the anointing Spirit. Both are received at conversion. The Word is an objective safeguard, while the anointing of the Spirit is a subjective experience, but both are necessary for continuance in the truth. And both are to be personally and inwardly grasped. This is the biblical balance too seldom preserved by men. Some honor the Word and neglect the Spirit who alone can interpret it; others honor the Spirit but neglect the Word out of which He teaches. The only safeguard against lies is to have abiding within us both the Word that we heard from the beginning and the anointing that you received from him. It is by these old possessions, not by new teachings or teachers, that we shall abide in the truth.

Nothing But the Truth: 1 John 4:1-6.

[1]  Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. [2]  By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, [3]  and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. [4]  Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. [5]  They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. [6]  We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. [ESV]

[1-3]  God has given us His Spirit, but there are other spirits active in the world. True faith examines its object before putting confidence in it. So John tells his readers to test the spirits to see whether they are from God. He is urging them to apply a test to all human teachers who claim to speak under spiritual inspiration. The reason we are to test the spirits is because many false prophets have gone out into the world. From the command to test and the need to test, John passes to the way to test. The test that John sets forth is: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. By this confession is meant not merely a recognition of His identity, but a profession of faith in Him openly and boldly as the incarnate Lord. Even evil or unclean spirits recognized the deity of Jesus during His ministry. But though they knew Him, they did not acknowledge or confess Him. The Spirit of God, on the other hand, always honors the Son of God. Jesus taught that it is the Holy Spirit’s particular ministry both to testify to, and to glorify, Him [John 15:26, 16:13-15]. Here His testimony is to the incarnation. The fundamental Christian doctrine which can never be compromised is the eternal divine-human Person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The contrary is also true: if a spirit does not make this confession about Jesus then that spirit cannot be from God. To deny that Jesus has come in the flesh, whatever claim to inspiration may accompany the denial, is to reveal not only the absence of a divine origin but the working of that spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.

[4-6]  This overcoming is not so much moral (as in 2:13-14, where the same word occurs) as intellectual. The false teachers have not succeeded in deceiving you. Not only have you tested them and found them wanting but you have conquered them. You have not succumbed to their blandishments or believed their lies. And the cause of your victory is not hard to find. He who is in you is likely to be the Spirit of truth, while he who is in the world is the devil, the spirit of error. We may thank God that, although the evil spirit is indeed great, the Holy Spirit is greater, and that by His illumination we too may be sure to overcome all false teaching. Here, as in 2:18-27, protection against error or victory over it is ascribed both to an objective standard of doctrine and to the indwelling Spirit who illumines our minds to grasp and apply it, for unless the Spirit of wisdom is present, there is little or no profit in having God’s Word in our hands. John contrasts in striking fashion not only the false prophets and the true apostles, but the different audiences who listen to them, namely, the world and whoever knows God. The world recognizes its own people and listens to a message which originates in its own circle. The we of verse 6 is in direct antithesis to the they of verse 5, and if the they means the false teachers, the we must be the true teachers, namely the apostles. The Spirit who is in you [4] enables you to discern His own voice speaking through His faithful teachers. So you can recognize God’s Word because God’s people listen to it, just as you can recognize God’s people because they listen to God’s Word. Those who do not listen to apostolic teaching, but prefer to absorb the teaching of the world, not only pass judgment on themselves but thereby also on the message to which they do give attention. All this is consistent with John’s repeated emphasis that safety from error is to be found in loyalty to that which readers had heard from the beginning.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         What is the meaning of antichrist as John uses it in this passage? How does John say in verse 2:22 that we are to discern who is an antichrist and who is not? What role does truth play in this process?

2.         What are the two safeguards that John sets forth that will protect believers from being led astray? What can we do in order to consistently use these safeguards in our Christian walk?

3.         We are surrounded by false teaching in the world in which we live. How does John in 4:1-6 tell us to test all teaching in order to determine if it is true or false? What does John mean by confess Jesus?


The Epistles of John, John Stott, Eerdmans.

The Letters of John, Colin Kruse, Eerdmans.

The Message of John’s Letters, David Jackman, Inter-Varsity Press.

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