At the end of one year and at the beginning of another we have this strange custom of waiting until midnight to bid one year farewell and another hello (which results in spending much of the first day of the New Year asleep!). I suppose the celebration is anchored to the hope of a new beginning. People see the New Year as a fresh start, a new promise, and new opportunities. We make big plans, establish aggressive resolutions and set lofty goals at the start of a New Year.
However we need to keep our eyes open and see the whole picture. A New Year will present new challenges, new hardships and some new disappointments. The threat of terrorism seems to be on the rise. Each year brings with it a unique set of surprises. We have no idea what is ahead of us. We need to be prepared.
As a country, the government is working hard to get us to be more vigilant in regard to terrorist threats. They have created a color coded warning system for terrorist threats. The color Green means there is low risk of terrorist activity. Red means there is severe risk and we should be extremely cautious. In between are blue (guarded risk); yellow (elevated risk) and orange (high risk). The warning system is there to remind us that even though we feel secure, we must be on guard. We should enjoy our freedom but we must keep our eyes open.
We return to 1 John 2:18-27. In this text John gives us a warning. If John had used the color system, perhaps he would have used yellow (elevated risk) or orange (High Risk) to warn us about, if you will, spiritual terrorists. John reminds us that we are in a spiritual battle. The Devil is launching all kinds of terrorist attacks and we must be ready.
We came to 1 John looking to discover what it means to be a real deal follower of Jesus Christ. So far we have seen several things,
- The true believer holds to concrete truth rather than philosophical theories. The real believer understands that our faith is based on real events.
- The genuine follower builds their life on Christ rather than simply fitting God into their schedule.
- The true believer is honest about sin rather excusing it.
- The true believer seeks to honor God by diligently seeking to obey God’s Word instead of presuming upon God’s grace.
- The true believer is confident of eternal life and resists the pull of the world to serve God more fully.
Now John tells us that the real deal Christian is a person who is on guard. In verse 18 John says,
Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. (1 John 2:18)
Anytime one of the Biblical writers talks about the last hour, or last days, or the soon return of Christ, people smirk. After all, there have been close to 2000 years pass since those words were written. In fact, even at the time the Scriptures were written, people were smirking at the delay in Christ’s second coming. Peter responded to critics in 2 Peter 3 by reminding people that God made the world with a word. He set a mighty flood with a word and all it will take is one Word from the Lord to bring judgment.
Peter reminded Christians that since God is eternal, time is different to God than us. 2000 years are nothing. It is like a grain of sand in the midst of the ocean. God is not late . . . He is simply waiting. He is giving time for people to turn and be saved. In the Bible we are in the last days and hours because God has created the world, He has instructed the world, He has sent a Savior, He has given us His Spirit, and created his church. The next item on God’s plan for His creation is the Second Coming and Judgment. Any delay in God’s plan is an act of mercy.
Be Alert to Those Who Would Lead us Astray
John warns us,
you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come
If you hang around the church and church people at all, you probably have heard the term Antichrist. The Antichrist is a central figure in the popular Left Behind books. It is interesting that the term “Antichrist” is actually used only five times in the Bible, all by the Apostle John. Three of those uses are in this text! The others are in chapter 4 and the last one is in 2 John. There is no reference to the Antichrist in the book of Revelation!
So where does the idea come from? Paul talks about the man of lawlessness (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4) John talks about the beast in the Revelation (Rev. 13). Jesus talks about false Christ’s who will come and perform counterfeit miracles. The book of Daniel seems to point to an individual who will be like a lightening rod of antagonism to the cause of Christ. There seems to be an individual on the horizon who will occupy a prominent position in the world and be fiercely opposed to Christ and His people.
The number 666 is generally associated with the Antichrist because in Revelation 13 John identifies The Beast with this number. Over the years the Antichrist has been identified as Nero, Hitler, Mussolini, the Pope, and even former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger.
John is not talking about this individual. He mentions many “antichrists”. These are people who have the spirit antichrist in them. Basically, an antichrist is anyone who is “against the gospel of Christ” (thus the name). These are real forces, they are dangerous, and we must be on guard against them.
Perhaps it would help to go back to an analogy with terrorists. We know there are heads of various terrorist organizations but these groups have many cells and soldiers who carry out their work. In like manner there are many spiritual terrorists who are out in the world. They are seeking to destroy true Christian faith. They may not be the head of the operation but they are certainly dangerous. John tells us more.
They come from within the ranks of the faithful (18-19)
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 that none of them belonged to us. (2:19)
These antichrists John describes actually originate in the church. They were active in the church, they gave the appearance of being genuine followers, but then they turned militantly away. These people know Christian terminology. They may hang with Christian people. They may look good. However, John says these people are not genuine believers. The fact that they left the community of faith and walked away from the truth proves that their faith was not genuine, it was superficial.
So what does this mean? Two things. First, it means we should examine ourselves. There are surely some people who are here in this sanctuary today who are only superficial followers. Our job is to look in the mirror and determine whether we are followers of Jesus Christ or only part of the crowd. Are we truly trusting Him or only playing the game?
Second, we need to be on guard even at home. It is easy for those of us in West Central Illinois and Southeast Iowa to feel immune to the terrorist threats. We reason that these kinds of things would happen only in a big city. It is easy for us to let our guard down. The same thing can happen in the church. We can assume that simply because someone is part of the church everything they say should be believed. It’s a very dangerous practice. You need to check out what comes from the pulpit, what is spoken in classes, and what is shared in the hallways and homes in the times of fellowship. The Devil is crafty and will sneak in to our lives in any way possible.
Their Falsehood centers in the person of Christ (20-23)
Let me read you verses 20-23 from the New Living Translation,
20 But you are not like that, for the Holy One has given you his Spirit, and all of you know the truth. 21 So I am writing to you not because you don’t know the truth but because you know the difference between truth and lies. 22 And who is a liar? Anyone who says that Jesus is not the Christ. Anyone who denies the Father and the Son is an antichrist. 23 Anyone who denies the Son doesn’t have the Father, either. But anyone who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.
Christians disagree on lots of things: Church government, The Role of Women, the Proper form of baptism, the significance of Communion, the events of the Second Coming, the gifts of the Spirit, how we worship and more. However, these things are mostly intramural debates. These things are unfortunate but they are debates among Christian people.
True believers have a common thread: they see Christ clearly as one who was fully God and fully man. They understand that Jesus lived a perfect life and died a sacrificial death in our stead. They affirm that He rose from the dead verifying all His claims. They believe He has given us His Spirit and He will return again.
These antichrists all attack these beliefs. They attack the person and nature of Christ. They understand that Jesus is the cornerstone of our faith. If they diminish Him they weaken us. If you take Jesus out of the equation, then Christianity is not much different from a Scout troop. Every false religion attacks Jesus.
- The Mormons make Jesus to be like every other man. They see Jesus as the kind of person we all strive to be.
- Muslims say nice things about Jesus the prophet but they see him as lower in authority than Mohammed.
- Jews reject Jesus as the Messiah.
- Hindus see Jesus as just one of many incarnations of God. He was no more divine than any other man.
- Buddhists see Jesus as merely a good man
- Unitarians see Jesus as merely an influential man of history
- Jehovah’s Witnesses see Christ as the first one created by God (He was not God)
These non-Christian and quasi Christian religions are not the only ones who attack Christ. There are those who call themselves Christians who diminish the person and work of Christ! These people are the most dangerous of all.
The famed Jesus Seminar is an example. They are the ones the media is always interviewing. These are teachers, scholars, and some church leaders. Almost all of these people are involved in churches. This group speaks as the church but they deny the nature of Jesus. They say He was not God, did not say most of the things the Bible says He said, and they flat out deny the resurrection! There are others who claim a special anointing from God and then deny Christian belief. These people are just as dangerous (if not more dangerous) as the false religions.
Think about it this way. Which is more dangerous: getting the wrong medicine from the Pharmacy (getting someone else’s medicine by mistake) or getting the right drug that has been poisoned by someone? Obviously, they are both dangerous and deadly. In the first case you might at least question the medicine when you look at the label. In the second case you think you are taking what will make you well, but it may kill you! We must be diligent!
The Best Defense is to Know the Truth (24-27)
24See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. (1 John 2:24)
In today’s world it is very hard to tell the true professors from the false. False teachers are slick, polished and at times compelling. We live in an age that has refined the art of the scam to an art form. This is why we read of groups of people falling under the influence of various charismatic leaders.
But how do we guard against error? Most of us are overwhelmed with the debate and arguments regarding Christian theology. We feel like PE majors (or seminary students) in an Organic Chemistry or Calculus Class! We feel we are “out of our league”. Let me give a simple checklist to help you evaluate what you hear.
First, we must understand how NOT to evaluate truth. We cannot evaluate truth by experience. We can’t simply say, “I know it must be true because it stirred my heart or led me to such-and-such an experience”. The Bible tells us that false prophets will be able to do counterfeit miracles! Warm feelings and good experiences are unreliable. We are moved by television and film all the time. That doesn’t mean what we saw was true.
Second, we must not evaluate truth by “success”. You hear people say, “It must be from God, look at how this person is being blessed.” Satan can also bless. In fact, blessing a false teacher (sadly) would be a very effective way of winning followers.
But let’s look at some positive principles. During the time of the Reformation there were five simple phrases that described the true gospel. If we remember these and weigh all other teaching against them we will be off to a good start.
- Scripture Alone. The Bible is our authority. It is “inspired by God and profitable for teaching, correction, and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Our authority is the flawless Word of God. Every teaching must submit to a simple question: “What does the Bible say in it’s context?” It is not “Do you have a verse to support this?” but “What does the Bible teach?” You can find single verses to support anything.
- Christ Alone. Jesus said, “I am the way the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Jesus is the ONLY way of salvation. Only His sacrifice is sufficient for our sin. Only He rose victoriously from the dead. The Christ of Scripture (not our imaginations) is the only Savior.
- Grace Alone. In Ephesians 2:8-9 Paul says “it is by grace that we are saved through faith”. Salvation is a gift. It is not given to us because we are American, Caucasian, Republican or Democrat. We don’t even merit salvation because we go to church or serve on committees. It is an undeserved gift from God.
- Faith Alone. In Romans 1:17 Paul tells us “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” We are not saved by what we do, but by trusting what Christ has done for us. There will continually be those who tell us we cannot be right with God unless we adopt their viewpoint, join their church, perform certain deeds, or have certain experiences. We are not saved by doing certain works but by trusting Jesus Christ (which will naturally result in a changed life)
- To God Alone Be the Glory. If the gospel is presented properly God is the one who is praised, not some individual or system. True salvation puts the spotlight on Him.
Perhaps you have heard a checklist of things to think before you speak about another: is it true? Is it honorable? Does it build another up? Does it represent Christ’s love? We can and should do the same thing when it comes to evaluating the gospel teaching of others: Is it truly Biblical? Does it point to Christ? It anchored in grace rather than merit, faith rather than human effort? Does it honor God?
We live in a time when Homeland security warns us to be on constant alert. We must watch for things that “don’t fit”. We must be attentive to those “red flags” that go up inside of us that say, “something is wrong”. We must be diligent as a way of preventing horrible disasters.
Likewise, as followers of Jesus Christ we must also be on “High Alert”. We must hold fast to the truth and be keenly alert to error. We do this not because we are smug and self-righteous. We do this because the gospel is the most precious commodity in our world. It is the way of salvation. If the gospel becomes defiled, millions and millions of people will face eternity without a Savior. We should enjoy the adventure of new life in Christ . . . but we also need to keep our eyes open.