Contrary to what some would have us believe, the Christian life is not a series of mountaintop experiences. Many disappointments may be avoided if we would grasp this one truth; much of our Christian experience is daily routine and in that pattern of life we are called upon to remain faithful. How are we to stay on course and grow as a Christian without the constant experience of the spectacular to affirm us?
“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. And this is the promise that he made to us-eternal life.
I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you.
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.
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.”
Six times John instructs us about abiding. The truth abiding in us, us abiding in God, the anointing abiding in us. It carries the meaning to ‘take up a permanent address.’ We should abide deeply in the fundamental truths we knew from the beginning:
The character of God
the person of Christ
his atoning death
his resurrection life
the person and work of the Spirit
the sin of humanity
the grace of God in salvation
Becoming like Jesus – sanctification
The hope of glory
Samuel Leith said, “The Spirit of God takes the Word of God to make children of God” Eternal life begins here as we read God’s Word and allow God’s Spirit to live in us, let God’s anointing teach us.
The word ‘astray’ – ‘I am writing…about those who are trying to lead you astray’ – in verse 26 comes from the verb planaō, meaning ‘to cause to wander’ and gives us our English word ‘planet.’ The Greeks saw planets as wandering compared to the fixed stars in the sky. What causes Christians to wander is neglecting God’s anointing and, instead, being taught by people with secret knowledge, clever ideas, and extravagant claims; ‘those who are trying to lead you astray’
Christians are anointed (v27) which means we have a portion of grace given us to equip us to understand, and for works of ministry. God has equipped us to live in the truth. Howard Marshall observed, “The antidote to falling into false ideas of the Christian faith is to be found in holding fast to the initial statement of Christian truth, given in the apostolic witness, as this is confirmed in our hearts by the anointing given by the Spirit.”
When John writes, “you do not need anyone to teach you” (v 27) he doesn’t mean we don’t need teachers, but we don’t need access to any secret knowledge brought by false teachers because we have the apostles, God’s Word, the church and the Spirit. We don’t seek novelty but depth of understanding in the things we already know. This is what leads to a life rooted in Christ.
The call to perseverance is like the call of Jesus to abide in him as branches on a vine:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
It is important to understand that ‘the world and its desires pass away’ – verse 17. John even goes so far as to write ‘this is the last hour’ – verse 18. He regards the whole time between Christ’s first and second coming as the last days. However long that period, it is all one, and no other era, or dispensation, will stand between those two fixed points in God’s plan. If the world is passing away why cling to it? If Christ is returning why wouldn’t we do everything to prepare for that day?
Jesus is coming and has promised us eternal life (v25) John uses a play on words to explain why he is writing these things, “So that you will have parrēsia (confidence) at his parousia (coming)” (v29) How do we gain this confidence?
“Everyone who does what is right has been born of him.”
We can know we are his because, if we remain in him and he in us, our lives will be fruitful (Gal.5:22-23)
How would you define “a real Christian?” John draws a series of pictures showing two contrasting groups of people:
Those who do right (2:29) and those who keep sinning (3:4-5)
Those who live in Christ and those who have neither seen nor know him (3:6)
Those who do what is right (3:7) and those who do what is sinful (3:8)
Those who do not continue in sin (3:9) those who do not do what is right and do not love the brothers ((3:10)
The children of God and the children of the devil
John’s concern is that we should distinguish these two so we are not led astray (3:7)
Jesus warned us about false prophets (Mt.7:15-16) and John knows we can use the wrong standards to judge these things. Jesus said, “They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Mt.7:15) Susanna Wesley, mother to John and Charles, said, “The tree is known by its fruit, but not always by its blossoms. What blossoms beautifully sometimes bears bitter fruit.”
We are not invited to be one of the illuminate, endowed with secret knowledge, but one of the redeemed, anointed with Christ’s Spirit. John insists the test has to be, does this lead to godliness? Are we becoming more like Jesus who “went around doing good…because God was in him?” Our works do not save us (Isaiah 64:6) but our fruits identify us. To those self-righteous who claimed to be Abraham’s children Jesus said:
“If you were Abraham’s children then you would do the things Abraham did. As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God…If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own but he sent me.” (Jn.8:38, 42)
What these people did proved whose they were! If we belong to Christ it will show in our character.
The purpose of Christ’s incarnation is destructive. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” (8b) The word translated “destroy” carries the meaning to “demolish,” bring to an end. Note that:
“The devil has been sinning from the beginning” (v8)
“[Christ] was chosen from before the creation of the world” (1 Pet.1:20)
“He chose us in him [in Christ] before the creation of the world…” (Eph.1:4)
God was not taken by surprise by sin and always had a plan to deal with sin. In this plan Christ not only sets captives free but destroys the captor. He shared our humanity “so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Heb.2:14-15)
That is why Paul writes, “Now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor.6:2) He also reminds us that, “Then the end will come…” (1 Cor.15:24-28) We are in the in-between time and in our lives we show the light of Christ so all can see and be saved. How do we know we are the children of God? Our lives show it.
‘No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are; Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.’ (1 John 3:9-10)
“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal.5:6, c.f. Eph.1:15; Col.1:4; 1 Thes.1:3; 1 Tim.1:3-5) People often ask what is real faith. Faith expresses itself in attitude. In Christians there is a family likeness, a likeness to Christ that expresses itself in love.
The test is, how do we react to other people? A relationship with a loving God is evidenced by a loving relationship with others. Which family did Cain belong to?
Gen.4:1-4 Cain’s offering was carelessly made, his brother’s was sacrificial
Gen.4:7 God explained where the problem lay but Cain refused to listen
Gen.4:7b Cain was warned about his sin
John reminds us that Cain killed Abel because Cain’s actions were evil and Abel’s righteous, not because Abel was his enemy. (1 John 3:12b) The family likeness in each man finally worked out in life.
CS Lewis said, “There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘All right, have it your own way.’” Which kind are you? You see, mankind’s greatest problem is not ignorance but rebellion! We are the way we are because we have rebelled against the one that made us.
1 John 3:12 The murder of Abel is traced to Cain’s hatred
1 John 3:15 This action is the outcome of the attitude and, finally, God judges our very motives. Jesus went so far as saying, “anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement” (Mt.5:22)
1 John 3:16 A child of God has a different attitude, a sacrificial attitude. Love says, “He died for me, I am prepared to lay down my life for others.” This is not atoning sacrifice, that happened once for all at Calvary, but it is sacrifice that demonstrates the family likeness; the likeness of love.
‘Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends’. (1 Cor.13:4-8a)
How does this love work out practically?
‘By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.’ (1 John 3:17)
The Christian has passed from death to life. This is evidenced by the working out of that love in the Christian community: ‘We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.’ (1 John 3:14a)
Jesus had already promised, as John witnessed in his gospel, that, ‘whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.’ (John 5:24)
Now John tells us, ‘Anyone who does not love remains in death.’ (1 John 3:14b)
Love is the difference between life and death. Its absence marks the rebellious sinner, just as its expression in life identifies the true believer.
Joy is Love exulting and Peace is Love at rest;
Patience, Love enduring in every trial and test.
Gentleness, Love yielding to all that is not sin.
Goodness, Love in actions that flow from Christ within.
Faith is Love’s eyes opened the living Christ to see;
Meekness, Love not fighting, but bowed at Calvary.
Temperance, Love in harness and under Christ’s control,
For Christ is Love, in person – and Love, Christ in the soul. (Dr. Kenneth Moynagh)