“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!
To be continued…