1 John 2:18-27 Knowing that You Know Him: the Doctrine Test (Rev. Erik Veerman)
1 John 2:18-27
Rev. Erik Veerman
1 John 2:18-27
Knowing that You Know Him: the Doctrine Test
Our sermon text this morning is from 1 John 2:18-27. You can find that on page 1211 in the pew Bibles.
Before we read our sermon text, there are two concepts which we haven’t come across in 1 John before. Without some background, they may be a little confusing, so, I thought it would be helpful to explain them before we read.
•The first is the phrase “the last hour.” You’ll see that twice in verse 18. John says to his readers that they are in “the last hour.” By it he means that in all of history, they are living in the time right before the end of the world - the end of history on the earth as we know it. The end will happen when Christ comes again. And when he does he will bring a new heavens and new earth. The reason that the phrase “the last hour” may be confusing is that John wrote this 1900 years ago. To us that is a long time, and we may be tempted to think that John was wrong, that it was not the last hour. However, when we look at the New Testament as a whole, we see that the concept of the last hour is referring to the era after Christ’s first coming. The last days are a time when two things are happening. First, Jesus is exalted and reigning in heaven, and second, false teachers and false Christs are prevalent on earth. Jesus himself referred to the last times this way in Matthew 24. Also, the books of Hebrews, 1 Timothy and 1 Peter, refer to these last days in that way. In other words, we are in the last times still. Jesus has already come in the flesh and has ascended to heaven, while at the same time Satan is seeking to undermine true faith through false teaching. So, that’s the first helpful concept to know in this passage.
•Second is the word “antichrist.” Or the plural “antichrists.” The apostle John is the only one who uses that word in the Bible. It literally means against Christ. The Antichrist (capital A) is someone who will come and be the opposite of Christ. The apostle Paul spoke of the man of lawlessness – same idea. Jesus spoke of false Christs and false prophets. And all throughout history, people have been distracted trying to figure out who is the Antichrist (capital A). And let me say, the Protestant reformers were also distracted by this. In fact, in the original version of the Westminster Confession of Faith, it says that the Pope is the antichrist. One of the minor changes to the confession that our church uses today was the removal of that. The more important concept in these verses is the plural antichrists. John uses it in a general sense to mean false teachers who are teaching false doctrines about Jesus. In that sense, they are anti-Christ, against Christ. We’ll get into that more but I didn’t want you to be distracted thinking about THE Antichrist as I read.
Hopefully that will help you as we now turn our attention to God’s Word.
Stand as you are able. Reading of 1 john 2:18-27
As you know, this is our third Sunday worshiping in the school here. It’s great to have more space to spread out and grow. But one of the drawbacks is setting up every week, and then taking everything down and putting it in the storage closet. The many hands have made that helpful.
One of the little things is not having a place for our plants… our pulpit plants. They obviously need sun, and the storage closet is pretty dark. So, we couldn’t bring them here.
You are probably thinking right now, “wait a second, I see two plants next to the pulpit, what are you talking about?” Well, the thing is, these are not real. They may look real. They appear to be genuine. The leaves are green. They are shaped like a small plant. But they are not a living organism. They don’t grow. They don’t need light or water. They are fake. In fact, the company name that made them is called Faux Real. That’s faux – f-a-u-x. The French word for “fake.” They are not “for real” they are “faux real.” Cute.
If you closely examine these plants, you would realize they are fake. Even close up they look good, but when you feel the leaves and look at the stems, it’s pretty obvious.
Well, in 1 John, chapter 2, the apostle is revealing false teachers. They were faux real – false. They may have looked real and sounded real. Their words may have been smooth, but they were not alive in Christ. They were dead. If I could borrow one of John’s analogies, these false teachers were not in the light of God. They did not reflect the light. They did not walk in the light. They were utterly fake.
We are nearing the end of chapter 2, and here is where we finally learn what was going on in the church – what John’s readers were dealing with. And I want you to notice something. It’s past tense. These false teachers, called “antichrists,” were no longer in the church. They had left. Verse 19, “they went out from us, but they were not of us.” But even though they were no longer part of the church, they were still trying to deceive the church. We see that in verse 26, “I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you.”
That’s why John needed to write about them. These false teachers were still around – out there. Breathing out their lies. Trying to look real… trying to steal sheep from God’s flock.
So, it was very important for John to call them out AND to call out their false teaching.
Now, before we get into their false teaching, let me first remind you what John has been writing about. Because it directly relates to his words here.
John has been giving us life tests. Tests for you and me to examine our faith and our lives – to see if we have an authentic faith.
The first test was the test of obedience. The first few verses of chapter 2. Are you seeking to pursue God’s commands which are in his Word? It’s really important to realize that we do not come to faith through obedience to God’s commands. No, John has been clear about that. Rather, the test was about whether you are seeking to live out God’s commands, which testifies to a genuine faith.
The second test was the love test. A true believer in Christ has a heart that desires to love others and demonstrate that love. We don’t have a perfect love for others. No, we still sin (John has also been clear about that, too) but we should be striving to love others which includes forgiving and asking for forgiveness and listening well, among other things.
The third test from last week – what Coleman preached on, was the world test. Are you in love with the world? Meaning the things of the world – the various idols in our culture; the cultural entrapments; the things that replace God; all which give empty hope. Do you love the world in that sense, more than you love God?
Let me remind you of one very important thing here. John’s desire is to give true believers assurance. Remember, if you truly know God in Christ, he wants you to know that you truly know God in Christ. And he has said that in many different ways. He said in chapter 1, “if we walk in the light, we have fellowship with him [God].” Or earlier in this chapter, “whoever keeps his word, in him truly is the love of God.” And also “whoever loves his brother abides in the light.” The apostle is not trying to get you to question your faith if you are a believer. These are pretty cut-and-dry life tests. Because part of giving assurance to true believers in Christ, is revealing what does not reflect true belief.
Well, that same assurance is part of John’s goal for this fourth test. Look at verse 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.” So, this test is about truth and error. And John’s readers, by in large, know the truth. He wants, therefore, to affirm what is true and what is false.
That’s why I’m calling it the doctrine test. It’s the test of what you believe. And John does not just say that there are false beliefs and false teachers. No, he gets specific about the false teaching. And it boils down to one main question. One central belief. And it’s the most important question in your life… In fact, I would say, it’s the most important question for everyone in the whole world. The question is this, “who is Jesus?” Who do you believe that Jesus is? There is not a single question more important in your life than that.
In other words, the doctrine test is not about secondary matters – like your view on baptism or the end times. To be sure, those are important discussions, but those are secondary matters. They don’t determine whether you are a Christian. The doctrine test here is about the center of Christianity, your faith in Christ. Who is Jesus… which by the way, includes his relationship to God the Father and God the Spirit. We’ll also see that in these verses.
And I don’t think I’m overstating the importance of the matter. John calls these false teachers antichrists. He can’t be any stronger than that. Even though they claim to be Christians, their teaching reveals that they are totally opposed to Christ. Anti-Christs. And because of that, they are not “of us” even though they came out “from us” as John puts it in verse 19. And in verse 26, as we already considered, John plainly says that they are trying to “deceive you.”
Over the last few years, the superhero genre has been dominating the box office. Marvel. X-men, Transformers, DC comics. And of course, there are endless villains. Really evil villains like Thanos, the Green Goblin, Ultron, the Joker, Megatron. My favorite, Doctor Occ. Good versus evil. Light versus darkness. But the thing is, these villains rose to their evil dominance from outside of the superheroes. They don’t claim to be superheros. They didn’t begin good and turn evil. No, they were evil. They started that way. Now, I’m pretty sure one of the middle school boys is going to correct me. I’ll probably hear, “you forgot about so and so. He was good before he was evil.”
Well, the difficult thing in 1 John 2, is that these antichrists didn’t arise outside the church, no they and their false teaching arose from inside the church. Which, as you can imagine, wreaked havoc in the church. And John was writing them to affirm that their departure was good for the church, and also so that they would be on guard against other false antichrists who would seek to destroy the church from within.
But what was it? What was it that these false teachers had been teaching?
Give a look at verses 22 and 23. There’s a word in those verses that is repeated three times. It’s the word “denies.” It says, “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who,” again, it says “denies the Father and the Son.” And John says one more time, “No one who denies the Son has the Father.”
The central false beliefs of these antichrists, these false teachers, was rejecting Jesus as the Christ. They were denying that Jesus was the promised Messiah. Oh, they believed in a man named Jesus, the person, but they denied that he was God in the flesh. They denied the incarnation. They denied that Jesus was God’s Son.
Some may have taught that Jesus was born as an ordinary man, but later in life God bestowed upon him his Spirit, and that’s when he became the Messiah. But beloved, that is not what the Scripture teach about Jesus. It’s not what Jesus taught about himself. No, in Jesus the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily. Colossians 2. He is the Word made flesh, John 1. The baby, the Christ child, is Immanuel, God with us, Matthew 1. God took on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. Philippians 2. [Jesus] is the radiance of the Glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. Hebrews 1.
Any denial of Jesus as God’s son or the denial of the incarnation in any way is a rejection of God’s truth. And that could be flipped around. A denial of Jesus humanity is also antithetical to true belief.
And I want you to notice something. These verses are not just about Jesus, God’s Son. They also include God the Father and the Holy Spirit:
•The reference to God the Father is clear. He’s explicitly mentioned in verses 22, 23, and 24.
•The Holy Spirit is also referenced in these verses. Verse 20, “you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you have all knowledge.” The reference to Holy One is a reference to Jesus Christ. He is referred to in the Scriptures as the Holy One or the Holy and Righteous One. And he anoints his people with the Holy Spirit. This anointing, verse 20, is associated with pouring out of the Holy Spirit. In fact, in his Gospel, John is very clear about the giving of the Holy Spirit to those in whom God abides. All true believers. And one of the roles of the Holy Spirit, as John explains in his Gospel, is the giving of knowledge through God’s Word. That’s also right there in verse 20. And finally, verse 27 continues the theme of this anointing, pointing to the Holy Spirit as our main teacher of God’s Word. So all of those elements together – the Holy One, the anointing, the giving of knowledge all point to the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.
To summarize, these verses center on a true understanding of who Jesus Christ is, but they also include Jesus’ relationship to God the Father and God the Spirit. It teaches about the Trinity. You see, we can’t separate a correct understanding about Jesus from a correct understanding of the Trinity. Father, Son, and Spirit.
If you look in your bulletin, you’ll see that we are going to recite the Nicene Creed in a little bit. Last week we affirmed the Apostle’s Creed. We usually use them once a month or every other month. But given this content in 1 John, I thought it would be helpful to affirm them. These creeds have been very helpful to the church over the years. But they were written 200-300 years after John’s letters. These creeds summarize what we believe the Scriptures teach about the Trinity - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And they came about because of a variety of false teaching that had arisen.
Like the false teaching that John was experiencing. The early church fathers, in fact, identified several heresies – several false teachings about Jesus. I’ve mentioned Gnosticism, but there was also Nesorianism, Docetism, Arianism, Adoptionism, and Donatism, plus a couple of others “isms.” And what the creeds do is help bring clarity and unity and protection to the church around the person and work of Christ, including God the Father and the Holy Spirit. And these verses in 1 John 2, tell us why that is important. Because when the doctrine of God is compromised, it strikes at the heart of Christianity.
A few years ago, I had an ongoing dialog with a pastor friend. He was very much about holiness… pursuing holiness in our lives. Which is great. God calls us to pursue holiness and Godliness. That’s clear in the Scriptures.
But when I would preach a passage like this, my friends would sometimes say to me, “you didn’t get to any application!” By that he meant more of the behavioral response to the text. To which I would reply “What do you mean, the application in this passage is the doctrine!”
You see, the beauty of the Scriptures is that in them we learn who God is, what he has done for us, our hope in him, and our response to his character and love. Our doctrine and our lives both need to reflect the truth. The apostle John is clear about both. You see, the heart of these verses is believing the truth. I’ll come back to what it means to believe the truth in a minute.
But first, I want you to jump over to the beginning of chapter 4. Give a quick look down at it. The first 6 verses of chapter 4 are very similar to our text this morning. Antichrists, denials of Jesus, false teaching. In fact, I almost preached them together. But I changed my mind on Friday.
When we get to those verses, which will be in the middle of February, I plan to apply this doctrinal test to false teaching in the church today. In other words, what teaching has or is arising today, which strikes at the core of Christianity. And they are many, and I plan to be specific. Worldly philosophies that are attempting to hijack the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s the reason that I decided to just focus on chapter 2 this morning, so we would have more time at the beginning of chapter 4 on those ideologies.
Let’s go back to the creeds for a minute …while they have helped the church unify around a true understanding of Jesus as the Scriptures teach, there is still false doctrine about Jesus out there. I think the most obvious example of this are the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They claim to be the true church, yet they deny Jesus’ divinity. They believe that Jesus was a perfect man, but not God in the flesh. They fail the test of doctrine. Their teachers, as John describe them, are antichrists. Opposed to Jesus Christ.
For the last 2-3 weeks, there have been a couple of JW followers on Main Street. Right downtown. They are trying, as verse 26 says, to deceive. I’m not saying they don’t believe what they are teaching, rather that their teaching is a violation of the core beliefs of Biblical Christianity about Jesus, as the Scriptures teach.
So, to summarize so far:
•First, this fourth life test is the test of doctrine
•Second, John is writing to the church because false teachers and false teaching had infiltrated the church. These antichrists had left the church, but their impact was still being felt.
•Third, John was writing to the true believers to assure them of their truth belief.
•And forth, this true belief centers around Jesus as God’s son, who is fully and truly God and man. Jesus Christ is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
So, now you know! These plants are not real. And neither is anyone who denies Jesus’ nature as God or as man. They are rejecting the very foundation of our Christian faith. They are small “a” antichrists, rejecting him and rejecting the truth.
As we come to a close, John includes for us, one more thing. What to do about this all.
He calls you to believe and trust in Jesus.
Look at the language at the end of verse 23. “Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.” Confessing is more than just believing. It’s taking to heart and professing not just who Christ is but believing in the hope and redemption he offers to you. Verse 24 even expands on that. “Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you.” Deep within. Why? Verse 25 answer, because of the promise he made to us, “eternal life.”
Friends, this is the hope of knowing and believing in Jesus. When you believe in him by faith, when you abide in him, he will abide in you, forever. Forever in his presence.
After we sing this next hymn, we will declare together what we believe about God, and then we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper, what we believe Jesus has done for us on the cross…. paving the way for that eternal life in him.
Will you believe?