Last week we looked at these same verses, but we focused primarily on the antichrist while this week we will focus on the Christian. Within this passage there is a contrast set up between the antichrist and the Christian. So as we look at the things regarding the Christian in this passage we will keep in mind the context in which it was written and the contrast that is set up. We’re going to see three main aspects regarding the Christian in this passage. The first is the Christian’s possessions, the second is the Christian’s exhortation, and the third is the Christian’s explanation.
The Christian’s Possessions
The Anointing of the Holy Spirit
Verse 20 says that “you have been anointed by the Holy One.” John is here referring to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that every Christian possesses. There is no special class of Christians or special level of believers where some are anointed and others are not. But rather all believers have been, and are, anointed by the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13 tells us that, “when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” Every person who is a true christian has been anointed by the Holy Spirit, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is not something we receive after we become a christian if we reach a certain level of holiness or what have you. There are some who would teach that a christian can be a christian and not have the Holy Spirit, or not be anointed by the Holy Spirit, and that only certain Christians are anointed. We reject such a teaching. All Christians have the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
This is important considering the context in which John is writing as well. There were certain Gnostic teachings that would’ve taught that there were different levels of being a christian. They were the elite ones because they had this higher special knowledge whereas other Christians did not. But here John sets the record straight a little bit. On the one hand he rebukes this Gnostic teaching, on the other hand, he comforts and assures these Christians who have had to endure such distress by saying, “no, you have the anointing of the Holy Spirit. You have been anointed by the Holy One.”
Notice that John makes the statement immediately following the description of the Antichrist in verse 19. Verse 19 famously says “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.” It’s as if John is contrasting the departure of the Antichrists from the church with the anointing of the Holy Spirit that these true Christians possess. By this we can see that there is a connection between the anointing of the Holy Spirit and our perseverance as Christians. The Antichrists who went out from the church did not have the anointing. They did not have the Holy Spirit in-dwelling them.
In this lies some comfort for the christian. Someone who has been anointed or indwelt by the Holy Spirit, will not be abandoned or left or deserted by that Holy Spirit; but rather the Holy Spirit will abide in them, remain in them, and complete the good work which has been begun in them.
While many of us may know and believe and understand this doctrine of the indwelling and anointing of the Holy Spirit, there are many times in our experience in the christian life that we don’t always feel the anointing of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Yet we ought to remember that our fluctuating feelings do not determine the reality of what it is to be a Christian. I am sure that many of the believers to whom John is writing were quite distressed, and may have easily begun to doubt, or at the least gone through times of not feeling the Holy Spirit within them due to the apostasy happening all around them. John understands their situation. Therefore he writes about the anointing of the Holy Spirit that they do have. He wants them to remember it. So we ought to remember the same.
I briefly mentioned earlier that there is a connection between the anointing of the Holy Spirit, that Christians have with their perseverance. One of the ways, and indeed, a major way, that the Holy Spirit keeps us persevering is by convicting us of sin. When a Christian sins, he will be, sooner or later, convicted of his sin. When a true Christian is convicted over their sin by the Holy Spirit, they will repent, they will confess, and they will seek to be obedient going forward. This is a key work of the anointing of the Holy Spirit that keeps us from apostatizing.
There is one more aspect of this anointing I want to mention. Much of John’s letter has emphasized the importance of obeying the commands of God and practicing righteousness. It is indeed the very anointing of the Holy Spirit that gives Christians the ability to obey God and to love him and to love others. To help understand this I found a quote from Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones very helpful. He says this, “It is the wording of the Old Testament where we are frequently told that prophets, priests and kings, when they were inducted, as it were, were anointed with oil, that was the mechanism, the ceremonial, that was used to set them apart for their office. Samuel anointed first Saul and then David is king; the same anointing was given to the priests and prophets, and the results of that pouring of the oil upon them was that in that way they were regarded as consecrated; they had become anointed ones who were now enabled to do their duty.”
This language of anointing communicates to us that we are consecrated unto God, set apart to God, and now called and enabled to do our Christian duty of loving God, obeying him, loving others, and abiding in the truth.
Knowledge of God
I mentioned the flow of thought between verse 19 and verse 20. There is also an interesting connection with the beginning of verse 20 and the second half of verse 20. It says “but you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge.” There is a clear connection here with the anointing of the Holy Spirit and our knowledge. John is not referring here to just any kind of knowledge. He is referring specifically to the knowledge of God. He is referring to knowing God in an intellectual way, an experiential way, and in a saving way. We know this is true because so much of his letter, to this point, has emphasized knowing God. So much of his letter has contrasted the Gnostic’s knowledge of God that was false, with a true knowledge of God that these believers had. So John is again writing to affirm and assure the Christians that they do have a true knowledge of God. As John says in 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 in connecting both halves of verse 20 – the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and the knowledge that believers have – we see that it is because Christians have the Holy Spirit that they have this true knowledge of God. The whole reason they know God is because of the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives to illuminate their minds to the truth of God as revealed in Scripture. This is in fact the only way that any person can come to truly know God in this way. This is why the Antichrists went away for false doctrines, they had not the Holy Spirit in their lives to illuminate their minds with the truth.
Then we come to verse 27 which is an interesting verse. First off, it confirms to us, if we needed confirming, that the anointing is that of the Holy Spirit. As it says, “the anointing that you received from him abides in you,” and then on down it says, “as his anointing teaches you about everything and is true, and is no lie just as it has taught you, abide in him.” This is one of the roles of the Holy Spirit – he teaches believers the truth.
We have this interesting phrase in verse 27. It says, “and you have no need that anyone should teach you.” There have been some who either badly misunderstand this verse or who blatantly abused it and teach what it is not actually teaching. As you can imagine there are those who will say this verse indicates to us that we have no need for preachers or teachers, and thus no need for the local church. Such an interpretation is absurd. If that was what John was saying then he would be contradicting Scripture. For God has given preachers and teachers to the church to teach and preach. Rather what John is saying is that it is the Holy Spirit who teaches us. Just as it is with many other subjects in Scripture, God uses means to accomplish his purposes. God uses, many times, the means of preachers and teachers to teach us by the Holy Spirit. In other words, when the Bible is being proclaimed in truth, the Holy Spirit works through that preaching and teaching to illuminate the minds of the hearers and give understanding as he wills. That means no matter how prolific, charismatic, or brilliant any preacher, speaker, or teacher might be, they have no power, no ability, and no strength to give us, or anyone, the eyes to see, or the ears to hear the things of God. Only as the Spirit works through their preaching do people understand. Preachers are simply vessels and instruments.
It also adds weight to consider the context again in which this was written. The Gnostics were teaching people that a higher, special, elite knowledge was required to know God. John is saying, “you normal believer, you have the anointing of the Holy Spirit who is within you, and he is your teacher, and he teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie, and you do not need some elite, special revelation, for the Holy Spirit is sufficient to teach us all things as revealed in Scripture through his means.”
This is exactly how someone like Martin Luther who was surrounded by Roman Catholics who blatantly twisted God’s Word, was able to read the Scripture for himself, and through his reading of the word, the Holy Spirit illuminated his mind to see the truth.
Promise of Eternal Life
We see in verse 25 that we have, as Christians, the promise of eternal life given to us by God in Christ. This is one of the promises that we have to keep us abiding in the truth. This is one of the promises that ought to give us confidence and assurance. For we know that God does not break his promises because no lie is of the truth, and he is the truth.
Here’s what A. W. Pink says about this verse, “Eternal life is both a present possession and a future prospect. It is received by faith’s laying hold of the gospel offer, and it is realize in the soul just so far as fellowship with Christ is practically maintained by subjection to his will. But the full possession and fruition of eternal life awaits the world to come, and it is by hope’s anticipation thereof – through faith’s keeping steadfastly in view the joy set before him – that the believer is strengthened to run the race set before him and kept from straying. Now there is nothing more pleasing to God than our making a good use of his promises. First, by collecting them, storing them in our minds, meditating much upon them, and making them our spiritual food.”
The Christian’s Exhortation
The Christian’s exhortation is this: abide in him. To abide means to remain in, or continue in. Which again is quite the contrast to the Antichrists who did not abide in the truth but rather went out from the church.
There are two aspects to this abiding. Verse 24 does not talk about our abiding in him but rather his abiding in us, as it says, “let what you heard from the beginning abide in you.” That which they had heard from the beginning refers to the word of Christ. As John says at the beginning of this letter, “that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us – that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” So John is saying, “Let that word of Christ that you heard from the beginning remain in you, continue on believing it.”
This is so important because many professing believers can seem to fall in love with the gospel, and in love with Jesus, and then later on down the road at some point in their life they began to get used to the gospel, or become not quite satisfied with the word of Christ. They get to a point where they want something else, or not something else necessarily, but rather something more, something in addition to the word of Christ, something to add to the gospel. There can become this temptation to want go to something else beyond the gospel as if the gospel is an elementary doctrine that we graduate from once we fully grasp it. But therein lies the issue, we sinful human beings will never, and can never fully grasp the gospel. While the gospel message is so simple that a child can believe it and understand it, it is at the same time deep enough, sufficient enough, and glorious enough to keep us in awe of Christ for eternity. As A. W. Pink puts it, “Spiritual progress, or growth in grace, does not mean you will ever outgrow the gospel.”
In the christian life we are saved, we come to know Christ in repentance and faith, then we are to grow in our faith and make progress in the Christian life, in other words we are to be sanctified, and we are to mature in the faith. We do so not by moving on to things other than the gospel, but by doing and growing in all those ways from the gospel. In other words, we don’t move on from the gospel, but rather we go deeper into it. The gospel is not simply a door through which we enter. It indeed has a door that we enter in through, so it is not less than a door, but it is much more than just a door, it is also the home in which we live. In one sense, this is one of the errors of the Gnostics and the Antichrist’s of which John describes – the gospel wasn’t enough for them, the word of Christ wasn’t satisfying for them. They wanted some deeper, special, elite knowledge, something beyond the gospel, something other than the gospel, something in addition to it. It wasn’t because the gospel was actually boring and they actually fully grasped it, but rather they never saw it in the first place, they never had eyes to see it in the first place.
It ought to be concerning to us if we find ourselves bored, or not quite content with the gospel. That could manifest itself in different ways. Do we read our bibles everyday? if so, do we read them because we love the scriptures and we want to grow in our understanding? Or is it routine, mundane, and boring? Do we teach the gospel to our kids? Do we come to church excited, hungry, and ready to receive the gospel? Or do we come with a negative attitude? If we find ourselves in any of these ways, or more, becoming numb to the gospel, then we must cry out to God in repentance and beg him to renew our love and our zeal for the word of Christ. We must cry out and ask God to be merciful to sinners such as us who take for granted the incredible grace that he has shown us in Christ that we do not deserve. Do you understand that each and every one of us deserve to be in hell under the wrath of God at this very moment? The only reason we are not in hell right now is the sheer mercy of God. For those of us who are Christians, we aren’t just hanging on by a thread; but you are safe and secure in Christ from the eternal wrath of God – we have the promise of eternal life! We will not face those flames because Christ took them for us, and he grants to us, to those who are his, an assurance that we have this eternal life. Yet we can somehow get used to that. How frail and weak sinners we truly are. We have such a great need for Christ in every way in all of our lives from start to finish. So my friends, we must, as John writes, let this word of Christ that we have heard abide in us, continue in us, remain in us, for it is the very power of God to save us, to keep us, and to sanctify us – we need him.
As John Calvin says, “But no repetition of it can be too much, since it is well known that it has ever been a cause of ruin to men, that being not content with Christ, they have had a hankering to wander beyond the simple doctrine of the gospel.”
So we may have Confidence
I want you to notice one of the motivations, we could say, for remaining in him that is found in verse 28. As verse 28 tells us, “abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.” John here is writing to and about true Christians, as the context tells us, and as he begins that sentence by saying “little children.” So in some sense he is saying that there may be Christians who shrink away from Christ at is coming because they are ashamed. On the one hand we can totally understand that – if we understand how we are all such sinners. On the other hand it does seem as if a true Christian should have joy when Christ appears. But John also says that we may have confidence when he appears. And we could take both sides in viewing that as well. On the one hand, how could any sinner have confidence before Christ? On the other hand, true Christians should have confidence in Christ, not because of themselves, but because of Christ, and because we can know that we have come to know him, which gives us confidence in our faith.
John is saying, “abide in him, remain in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame.” We know this so well in our own lives, when we sin, as Christians, we are ashamed of that. There are times when we can feel ashamed and have no confidence to go before the throne of grace and ask forgiveness. Sometimes as kids you experience this with your parents. Kids, have you ever disobeyed your parents or done something that you knew was wrong and then you were ashamed or afraid to go and tell your parents or to be around them? I think of Peter after he denied Christ three times, then Jesus appeared to the disciples after the resurrection, and he asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” You can kind of sense that there was a shame in Peter for what he had done in denying Christ. But that did not change how much Jesus loved Peter. Likewise our failing, if we are true Christians, does not change how much Jesus loves us. So we all want to remain in that gospel truth, remain in gospel repentance, so that we don’t put any shame upon ourselves that we ought not to have.
The Christian’s Explanation
Born of Him
Finally we have the Christian’s explanation. Verse 29 tells us that “everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.” In some ways this is an explanatory summation of the entire letter up to this point. John has been talking about the difference between false professors and true Christians. John is basically saying here that those who practice righteousness are true Christians. He gives two reasons as to why Christians practice righteousness. Number one, because they know that he is righteous – that God is righteous. Secondly, because they have been born of him. True Christians practice righteousness because they have been born of God, and the God of whom they have been born is a righteous God, and he does not give birth to unrighteousness, but rather righteousness.
This is the difference between Christians and non-Christians, Christians have been born of God, the Antichrists have not, but are of their father the devil. What makes someone a Christian is not their own righteousness, it is not what they do, or anything they accomplish in themselves, but what makes someone a Christian is that they have been born again. The new birth is entirely a work of God alone. It is the Spirit of God giving us new life, giving us eyes to see, making us a new creature, so that we might love God and obey him, which we would never choose on our own, and could never do apart from him. The new birth is absolutely essential, and apart from God it does not happen.
In John’s gospel in chapter three, he records Jesus saying to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. We have Jesus saying here, that the only way you can see the kingdom of God is if God gives you a new birth. In many ways, and now here in John’s epistle, we see very clearly that he is answering the question: “how do we know that we are born again?” “How can we know that God’s Spirit has given us the new birth?” John has laid down these many tests throughout this epistle, and here he says the one who practices righteousness has been born of him.
You must be born again. One time after hearing several days of George Whitefield preaching, in which he preached each day that you must be born again, and elderly lady came up to him and asked, “Why do you keep saying that we must be born again?” To which George Whitefield replied, “Because ma’am, you must be born again.”
So I ask you today, are you born again? Have you been born of him? Do you practice righteousness? If you cannot say that you have, then I tell you today to believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ. As Jesus said later in John chapter three, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
If you are already a Christian, I ask you, does the word of Christ remain in you? Are you abiding in the gospel? Are you continuing in Christ? Or do you look elsewhere? “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. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.”