What you heard from the beginning
(1Jo 2:22-26 ESV) 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. 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.
“The Christ” means “the Messiah” or, most literally, “the Anointed One” or “the King promised by the prophets.” The false teachers denied that Jesus is the Christ. Perhaps they taught, like many Gnostics, that he is the Son of God — deity — but not a descendant of David. After all, only a descendant of David — born of the flesh — could sit on David’s throne.
John then makes the critical claim: “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.” Jesus is the only path to God — not in some abstract sense but in that faith in Jesus is essential to have faith in God.
You see, Jesus is the true representation of God. If you can’t accept Jesus, then you can’t accept God — not the real God. You could only accept a deeply misunderstood God.
(John 14:8-11 ESV) 8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.
(2Co 4:4 ESV) 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
(Col 1:15 ESV) 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
Jesus came to the Jews for many reasons, one of which was to reveal God in a way that would show them how to be faithful to God. And most of them didn’t recognize God in their midst, in the flesh.
In v. 24, John urges us to let “what you heard in the beginning” abide in us. This is surely the gospel. More particularly, it’s the fact that Jesus came in the flesh and is the Messiah. Now, there is, of course, more to it than that, but that’s an essential starting point. “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God” and “Jesus is Lord” are essential confessions.
And so, John is keeping it simple: stick with what you confessed when you were baptized, and you’ll have no trouble fighting off the false teachers. You don’t need more of their kind of knowledge; you need to know Jesus, and through that knowledge, know God.
The anointing, redux
(1Jo 2:27-29 ESV) 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.
John reminds his readers that they received the Spirit when they were saved. This is implicit in his assumption that all readers have the anointing, and he obviously has new converts in mind as well as the mature, as he stated earlier in the chapter.
The Spirit teaches you about everything
The Spirit “teaches you about everything.” This is hard for us to accept, but we need to reflect carefully on the promise. Consider —
(Phi 2:12-13 ESV) 12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
(Heb 8:8-12 ESV) 8 For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”
In Philippians, we are told the God (through the Spirit) will work within us “to will (desire) and to work” for God. He changes our hearts to be more in conformity with his will. He transforms our hearts to be like his heart.
In Hebrews, the writer quotes Jeremiah’s description of the new covenant. (This is where we get the phrase “new testament,” as “testament” is an old word for “covenant.”) In this new covenant, God “will put my laws into their mind, and write them on their hearts.” Now, the first time I read this — I was about 22 — well, we’d never covered it at church, and it made no sense to me at all. I mean, I’d been well trained in God’s laws: no instrumental music, elders have multiple children, must hang a Biblical name on the building … And yet it was clear that Jeremiah had promised to write these on my heart in contrast to the old method — which was to read the book and conform your own heart to what you read.
The Jews read the Old Testament. Some even managed to memorize the whole thing! And Jeremiah said the methods would change. No longer would we merely read, study, debate, and infer. Rather, the laws would come straight from God to our hearts. And this sounded like utter nonsense. And yet … that is plainly what the text says, and Paul seems to agree in Philippians.
And then a light turned on somewhere in my brain. I had been assuming that “laws” means the kinds of command I just rattled off. What if “laws” refers the sort of laws the Bible says are the most important: “Love your neighbor as yourself”? “Visit the widows and orphans in their distress”? “Do unto others …”? I could see how God might re-shape our hearts to feel and care and love as he does.
(Eze 36:26-27 ESV) 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
What God promised was a changed heart, because God’s laws cannot be obeyed without a new heart given by God. And that changed heart would come from God himself.
And so, realizing that “the Lord’s Supper must be taken on Sunday and only on Sunday and only once on Sunday” was not written on my heart by God, but that he was trying to teach me love and compassion, caused me to realize that I’d misunderstood the very concept of “laws.” The laws that matter are found in the heart AND the mind. I must know that I’m commanded to love, but I must love. And love is a feeling — despite what the preachers say. It often starts with a decision, but it brings no joy unless the heart is conformed to that decision. And that transformation comes from God.
You see, the Spirit “teaches you about everything” — not differential equations and not legalisms, but the things John talks about: faith in Jesus, love for one another so intense that it’s like Jesus’ love for us, humility in evaluating our own sinfulness, a passion for the things of God.
“You have no need that anyone should teach you”
Yes, I do. But not in order to resist the false teachers John was writing about. His readers already knew everything they needed to know to resist their foolishness. They believed in Jesus. They had come to know God, through Jesus. They accepted Jesus as Messiah and Lord, and they’d received the Spirit. And Spirit assured them that these things are true — and so they’d grown in their faith and obedience.
Recall these few, simple facts, and there’s no reason to be enticed by the “knowledge” of these false teachers.
Now, the Spirit does many things for us, and yet we are afraid to admit it to ourselves or to teach it. After all, we might be thought to be Pentecostal! Or we might make a mistake. Indeed, we’ve all heard people credit all sorts of ridiculous opinions and plans to the leading of the Spirit. We know it’s very easy to fool yourself about these sorts of things.
And yet, the promise is clear. And if you’ve been a Christian a long time, like me, you’ve seen people powerfully transformed by the Spirit. You’ve seen people led to do crazy, courageous things that only God would dare ask of someone. You’ve seen churches planted on little more than prayer grow into a great centers of Christianity. You’ve seen the gospel tranform nations. You’ve seen denominations transformed from legalism into grace. You’ve seen people soar on eagles wings. And if you’re paying attention, you’ll realize that this is the work of the Spirit, as such things don’t come from man.
(1Jo 2:28-29) And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.
I was given a concordance as a wedding gift. Really. This is long before the age of Internet-aided research — and I loved that concordance. I wore it out. And one of the first searches I did was for “confidence” and for “assurance.” I was astonished that any such doctrine could be found in the Bible! It sure wasn’t in our pulpits and Bible classes! And there began my serious Bible studies — how could I get this confidence?
And John tells us to love others, walk in the light, confess our sinfulness, know the Father through Jesus, possess the Spirit — and practice righteousness. “Righteousness”? Does that take me back to “the Lord’s Supper must be taken on Sunday and only on Sunday and only once on Sunday”? Is righteousness where all the rules get back into the equation? And if so, where on earth would I find my confidence — since no one can agree on the rules?
Well, “righteousness” is something else altogether. Now, I’ll not belabor the point– because we could spend the quarter of “righteousness” — a very deep and challenging word. In 1 John, fortunately, we can keep it simple. It means to be covenant observant (the post at the link explains all this). When God honors his covenant obligations to us, he is righteous. When we honor our obligations to him, we are righteous.
What are those obligations? Well, they’re what Jeremiah said the new covenant would be all about: the laws that God would write on our hearts and minds. Whatever those are, that’s what’s necessary to be righteous in the sight of God.
And John doesn’t really mean to add “be righteous” to the list of things we must do to walk in the light. Rather, “righteousness” sums all the rest up.