" />

The Test of Perseverance

Series: 1 John

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Jan 4, 2004

1 John 2:24-28

Jesus’ words to the church in the early chapters and verses of the book of Revelation prepare us well for the word that we hear from 1 John, and I'd invite you to take your Bibles, if you have them, and turn with me to 1 John chapter 2. We’ll be looking at the 24th to the 28th verses today, and so perhaps it would be helpful to review some of the highpoints of what we have learned so far in our study of 1 John 1 and 2.

In 1 John 1, John is responding to a group of teachers which are having influence in this local congregation, or collection of congregations, to whom John is writing. These teachers have a false view of the role of sin in the Christian life. To be specific, these particular false teachers teach that once one becomes a Christian, one no longer has a sin nature; that is, that one no longer has any propensity to sin. In fact, they go so far as arguing that it is impossible for a Christian to sin because the Christian is perfect.

Now there are many ways they may attempt to work out that philosophy. They may have a very strong dichotomy between the body and the soul, and they may argue that the soul of the Christian is perfected upon becoming a Christian and that the body doesn't matter because the body is of this world. They may well, in fact, believe that the body is evil and that the spirit, or the soul, is the redeemed part of humanity, and that God redeems us in our souls and that whatever we do in our bodies doesn't matter. But whatever the case is they have seriously convoluted the Bible's teaching about sanctification, about the ongoing struggle with sin in the Christian life, and about the nature of a Christian so much to the point that John is concerned about the affect of their teaching on the souls of the congregations which they are assailing.

They have unique and novel views about Jesus Christ: views of Jesus Christ which, in fact, contradict central and core gospel, Bible, apostolic teaching about who Jesus is. For instance, some of these false teachers are saying that Jesus was not the Son of God in the flesh, that He only appeared to be in the flesh, but that the confession that “Jesus is Lord” pertains only to His spirit and not to His humanity. And errors like that led John to have a great concern for what was happening in this local congregation and to aid them in their discernment of what was true and what was false, to aid them in their embrace of scriptural truth so that they would not be misled in a context where many of their fellow members and these false teachers were following after teachings which were contrary to the word of God. And so, he spends 1 John chapter 1, on the one hand, responding to those false understandings about the role of sin in the Christian life and how the Christian struggles against sin.

And then he begins to set forth a three-part test, and that three-part test serves not only to help these congregation members recognize a false prophet and distinguish a false prophet from a true one, but also serves as a diagnostic for their own hearts. The three-part test is moral, relational, and doctrinal.

There is a moral test that John gives, and the moral test is this: Do we love God's word? Do we love His commands? Do we desire to do them? The moral test asks is there an ongoing sanctification in our lives in accordance with God's word? These false teachers, you see, were undercutting the imperatives of the New Testament which call us to obey God's word and to strive for growth in grace because of their teaching. You can imagine that if you teach that Christians are already perfected and that they have no sin in them, there wouldn't be much point, would there, of telling people to do what Jesus says in the gospels or to do what Paul says in the epistles or to do what John says in his letters, since we're already perfect? And so their teaching was undercutting the important part of Christian responding to gospel imperatives. And so John says, ‘Here's a moral test: if a person is teaching something which undercuts the Christian's desire to live in accordance with God's word, which undercuts the Christian's obligation to live in accordance with God's word and the Christian's actually living in accordance with God's word–you know it's false teaching.’ And so John gives that test. You see, he also gives that test so that we can look at our own hearts. Do we love God's word? Do we desire to obey God's word? Do we desire to walk in accordance with God's will? So there's the moral test that he gives whereby they can tell true and false teaching apart.

Then there is a relational test. Sometimes it's called a social test. It's the test of real, Christian love within the fellowship of the saints. John asked this question, ‘Are we really loving one another? Are we really loving the church?’ And by that, of course, he means a self-denying, self-giving commitment to the body of Christ. He doesn't just mean feeling warm and fuzzy about one another; he means our tangibly being committed to the body of Christ. And over and over again in this book, he asks whether the teachers in their teaching are fostering a real love in the Christian church, and if we are, in fact, displaying a real love for and in the Christian church.

John, of course, was called “the Apostle of Love.” We remember Jesus’ command in the upper room, on the night on which he was betrayed, that the disciples were to love one another as He had loved them. And we're told by Christian history that the very final sermon that John ever preached to his congregation was “Beloved, love one another.” And so this was an apostle who knew something about love. But do you know what the false teachers were doing? In purveying their particular, peculiar beliefs, they were splitting this congregation. In 1 John 2:19, you’ll see that a whole group of people had left this congregation…they had dis-fellowshipped themselves from this congregation in order to follow after the false teaching of these false teachers. And John says, ‘That is a public evidence that these false teachers do not love the church because they have fractured her. They have split apart a fellowship so that people can go after their novel and, frankly, weird teachings.’ And so John says, ‘There's another test that you can apply to a false teacher. Does it build up the church? Does it cause the church to come together, to care more about one another, to love one another more in a tangible way, to practice self-denying and self-giving love? Or does it fracture the church?

And then, thirdly, he says there's a doctrinal test as well. And the doctrinal test focuses on Jesus Christ. What does the teacher make of Jesus Christ? Does he have a high-view of Jesus Christ, or does he have a view which departs from the apostolic teaching about Jesus Christ? And again the people in this congregation could look and see what the false teachers were saying and see that they did not have a high-view of the person of Jesus Christ. They were teaching in many cases that they had insights into who Jesus was that even the apostles whom Jesus had trained did not have. And again, through all those tests–the moral, relational, and the doctrinal–he gave this congregation a diagnostic whereby they could tell true teaching from false teaching and where they could examine their own hearts to see if they truly love God and Christ in accordance with His word.

Now that brings us to 1 John 2: 24-28. You might imagine that a question that would be in the hearts and minds of people in this congregation is: With all these learned people coming in and teaching confusing things, how am I to stay on the path of God? How am I to stay on the way of righteousness when I've got friends that have followed after false teaching and I've got these brilliant false teachers coming in who know more than I do telling me things that I don't quite understand? How am I supposed to abide with Christ? How am I to persevere in the faith? And in this passage John gives two basic points in answering that question. If we want to continue walking with God throughout this life in this crazy world filled with false teaching, filled with errors, filled with even those who profess to be Christians who fall away once delivered–how do we do it? Well, John gives us two words of instruction. That's what we're going to read together in 1 John 2 beginning in verse 24. Before we do so, let's look to the Lord in prayer and ask Him to illumine our hearts and minds. Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God, this is Your word. It is Your very word. It comes from Yourself. It's breathed out of Your mouth. It was written by men which You inspired by the Holy Spirit, and it is meant for our profit. It's practical– every word of it is practical. It's practical for instructing us in the truth; it's practical for correcting us when we're wrong; it's practical in showing us how to live the Christian life; it's practical in protecting us from error; and it's practical in a thousand other ways. We thank You for it. Help us as we hear it read and proclaimed to believe it, to understand it, to embrace it, and then by Your Spirit, to live it. We ask these things in Jesus' name. Amen.

Hear God's word.

“As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life. These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you. As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him. Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

George Barna, the pollster who often does research work pertaining to the beliefs of Christians and evangelicals, has recently told us that 60% of those who identify themselves as evangelicals do not believe in absolute truth. Now, if we were told that about the general population it wouldn't surprise us. Those of us who have the privilege of having friendships with non-Christian friends have perhaps often experienced the claim of our non-Christian friends that there is no such thing as absolute truth. In our conversations with them we've perhaps argued with them about that. Perhaps we've said that you really can't live that way. You can claim that there's no absolute truth, but the way we all live is as if certain things are absolutely true. But we would be somewhat dismayed to learn that not simply the general population but those who claim to be Bible-believing, Christ-exalting, gospel-loving Christians don't believe in absolute truth. But if what George Barna tells us in his most recent polls is true, then that is exactly the situation that we are in today.

It seems that the church is being influenced by the thinking of the culture around it. And that reminds us among other things of just how relevant what John is saying in 1 John 2: 24-28 is for us. If this Christian congregation in the 1st century surrounded by teachers that were leading them astray needed some anchor points that would keep them on the path of truth and righteousness, so also we need those anchor points to keep us on the way of God with the Lord Jesus Christ.

And John gives this congregation two points which are just as useful to us today. You’ll see the first point in verses 24 to 26 where John says, ‘If we're going to escape error, we must abide in it.’ Now I’ll tell you what the “it” is in just a minute, but you see the first point in verses 24 to 26. ‘If we're going to escape error, we must abide in it.’ And then the second point you’ll see in verses 27 and 28. ‘If we're going to escape error, we must abide in Him.’ Now that's the two-part prescription that John gives to help this congregation stay on the path of faith in Christ, of fellowship with the living God in the midst of all sorts of crazy beliefs and assertions flowing around them. Let's look at them together for a few moments.

I. To escape error, we must abide in it.
First of all, John says, ‘If we are going to stay on the way of Jesus Christ, if we are going to stay in fellowship with God through Jesus Christ, we must abide in it.’ That is, we must abide in the apostolic teaching. Listen to what he says. Verse 24: “As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning.” What is that which they heard from the beginning? The apostles’ teaching. They heard the apostles’ teaching about Bible truth, truth which the apostles had learned from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. And he says, ‘Look. If you want to be able to make it through when all of the world is telling crazy things into your ears and you want to be able to discern the difference between truth and error, here's what you need to do: go back to the truth which we, the apostles, first taught to you. Go back to Bible truth. Go back to that core teaching of the apostles. Go back to that gospel teaching which you heard from the apostles.’

And, my friends, we can do the same thing today. Yes, we live 2,000 years later, but we have the teaching of the apostles and we can hold it in our hands. The apostle John is saying that in order to escape deadly error Christians must live and grow in sound and original Bible teaching. When he says, “abide in it,” he means the apostles’ teaching. Abide in the apostles’ teaching. We’re to dwell on the gospel; we're to dwell on the original message of the apostles; we're to dwell on the core truths of the faith which have been set forth by the apostles. In their day, you see, you had these false teachers saying to these Christians to whom John originally wrote, ‘We have some secret teachings which will really revolutionize your Christian life.’ And John's response there was, ‘Go back to what the apostles first taught you.’ In our days we have people saying, ‘Oh, there is no such thing as absolute truth.’ And John would say the same thing, ‘‘Go back to the truth taught to you by the apostles and you will see that these new things which are being taught are wrong and they’re deadly.’ John is concerned that we would know the foundational teaching that God has given to us through the Scriptures and through the teachings of the apostles.

And he sees this as an anchor point to keep us from falling in, from being blown around by every wind of doctrine, by every fad that comes through, by every trend that circulates in popular culture or even in the larger Christian community. Our anchor point is to be the truth of God. And he doesn't just mean knowing certain facts about the Old and the New Testaments. He means that we would have so ingrained this truth, not that we would be able to win a Bible-Trivia-Pursuit game, but so that in the crisis points of our lives and in the pressure points of our lives, our response is biblical. That is, that we don't simply assent to it but that we so embrace the truth of God's word that it orders the way that we respond to the crises and pressures of life.

You know, you learn what you really believe when a crisis comes, when the diagnosis comes through–“It's cancer. We can't do anything for you”–when your spouse walks out, when your spouse is unfaithful, when a child dies, when there are pressures of compromise in your vocation, when you are tempted to a pleasure which you would love to indulge but you are faced with either being faithful to God or indulging that pleasure. In all of those circumstances and a thousand, thousand more, we see what we really believe by how we respond in those circumstances. The way we respond is an index to what we really believe is true.

And John is saying, ‘If you want to stay anchored in the midst of a setting where all sorts of false teaching is occurring, you must be anchored in the truth of the apostles. Not simply assenting to it, but having so embraced it that when the crisis comes you respond because you have embraced that truth personally.’ And it radically changes the way you think about life, the way you look at the world, the way you face personal crises, the way you bear witness in your life to those around you that you do believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and Messiah, the one way to salvation to be received by faith according to the grace of God. And so John is telling us here that the first way to resist these strange teachings is to go back to the anchor point of the word of God.

Paul puts it a little bit differently, doesn't he, in Colossians chapter 3 verse 16? He says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” ‘Here's how you walk in accordance with the Spirit,’ Paul says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” ‘Let that original apostolic teaching dwell in you richly.’ And Paul even goes on to say, ‘That's why we ought to speak and sing to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.’ Why? To encourage all of us together to think in accordance with the word of God, with the apostolic teaching. ‘Abide in it,’ John says. ‘Abide in the Bible-truth which the apostles have taught you. That's your anchor point,’ he says.

II. We are to abide in Him.
But he doesn't finish there. He goes on to say–and you’ll see it in verse 27–that we are to abide in Him. Now who is Him? Well, you’ll see it. “As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.” Now what is John saying there? John is saying, first of all, that we are to abide in a person. Now who is the person about whom he is speaking? It is true that the New Testament teaches us that we are to abide in Christ. That is a very important New Testament imperative. But there is also this imperative that we are to abide in the Spirit, and that is who John is speaking of now. We are to abide in the Spirit.

And John uses the phrase “the anointing” in reference to the indwelling of the precious Holy Spirit of God. Now you’ll see that this is a direct consequence of something that Jesus had taught to John and the disciples on the night that He was betrayed. Turn with me to John chapter 14. In John 14, as Jesus speaks to His disciples that last night of His public ministry, He says to them in verses 25 and 26 of John 14, “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you.” All these things that I've been telling you in the upper room, I've spoken to you while I've been with you Myself. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” And so Jesus tells the disciples that the Father is sending another teacher to them.

Now John's picking up on that here in 1 John 2:27, and he's not saying that Christians no longer need teachers. I mean, I would be contradicting that truth if that's what he was trying to get at by standing before you today. If John is trying to get at the idea that Christians don't need teachers, then we would need to get rid of ministers and elders and anybody else who teaches the Bible and just do it on our own. But that's not what John is talking about.

Let me prove that to you: 1 John is a letter in which John gives teaching to Christians, so clearly he doesn't mean that Christians don't need teaching. But what he does mean is this: these false teachers are coming into this church, and what are they saying? They’re saying, ‘We have secret teaching which even the apostles don't know about and with it we can revolutionize your lives.’ And what is John saying? John is saying that there was a time when he sat in the hearing of Jesus and Jesus said, ‘I'm going to send My people a teacher, and that teacher is going to live in them.’

You see, John is turning and he's saying to those false teachers, ‘Oh, you've got some secrets that I don't know about? Well, let me tell you this: I'm indwelt by the Teacher sent by God, the third person of the Trinity. Can you trump His teachings? You have some teachings He doesn't know about? I'd like to hear what teachings the third person of the Trinity doesn't know about.’

You see, John is saying that one of the fulfillments of the promise of Jeremiah 31, that in the new covenant we would all know Him from the greatest to the least, is that we would be taught of God Himself. And John is saying that in the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Teacher Himself indwells us. It's not simply that God gives us the truth and says, ‘Now go learn it the best you can.’ It's that He gives us the truth, the word of God, and then He gives us the author of the word of God, the Holy Spirit of God, to indwell us and to illumine us as to the truth.

And he says, ‘Here's how you resist false teaching. First of all, you go to the truth and you don't listen to crazy new ideas. You go to the truth. You go back to the things which we taught you in the word of God, the things which are set forth in the gospels, the things which are the core of the apostles’ teaching. And, secondly, you rely on the Holy Spirit who indwells you. You abide in it, and you abide in Him. ‘In order to escape deadly error,’ John says, ‘Christians must live and grow in the Holy Spirit. They must abide in Him.’ Listen to it again: “The anointing which you received from Him abides in you”…end of the verse: “you abide in Him.” Abide in the Holy Spirit. Listen to the logic of what John says: the Spirit abides in us in order that we might abide in Him.

What then does it mean for us to abide in Him? What does it mean for us to continue in the Spirit, or to use Paul's language elsewhere “to keep in step with the Spirit,” to follow the guidance of the Spirit? Well, first and foremost here, it means to rely on the Holy Spirit and to yield to His influences. What is our great struggle with sin in the world? Our great struggle is the struggle in which our desires yield themselves to the world and the Devil. That is, our sinful desires, the desire of the flesh, yield themselves to the influences of the world and of the Evil One.

What do we need to do in order to grow in grace? Instead of yielding ourselves to the flesh and to the world and to the devil, we yield ourselves to the influence of the Spirit. The Spirit is not only going to enlighten us to the truth, but He is going to influence us in the ways of grace. The gifts of the Spirit, the graces of the Spirit are designed to do what? Produce the fruit of the Spirit. Worldliness is produced by what? By yielding to the world and the flesh and the devil. So, in contrast, growing more like Christ, abiding in Christ, abiding in the Spirit comes when we purpose ourselves to yield to the influence of the Spirit's grace at work in our lives. What will that mean? It will mean believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, because Jesus says in John 14, 15, and 16 that the Spirit will come and do what? “Testify of Me.”

Any time someone says, ‘I have the Spirit,’ and then says that the Spirit leads you away from Christ and away from the Bible, you can be sure that it's a false prophet, because the Spirit always leads us to Christ and to the Scriptures.

And so abiding in the Spirit and yielding to His influences will mean believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. It will mean embracing Jesus as Savior and Lord. There is no embracing Jesus in the New Testament as Savior without embracing Him as Lord. And when we attempt to divide those things today, we are putting asunder what God has said, ‘Do not divide.’ Jesus is Lord and Savior: It is the Lord who saves us. And so the Spirit influences us to embrace Jesus as Savior and Lord. The Spirit embraces us to delight in doing what God says. He influences us to love to do what Jesus has told us to do, to live in accordance with the word. He influences us to continue to believe the gospel and to be nourished and nurtured in our understanding of it. He influences us to love one another, to relate in deliberate self-commitment to the community of the faith, to the communion of the saints, to the church, to the body of Christ. And that is the only kind of abiding that can prepare us, John says in verse 28, for the Second Coming. John says, ‘You want to be unashamed when Jesus comes again? Then here's what you do: you abide in it–in the truth of the word, in the gospel preached by the apostles–and you abide in Him– that is, the Holy Spirit whose work is to form Christ in you and to work the word of God into all of your heart and life.

Paul says this just a little bit differently, doesn't he, in Ephesians 3? But he's getting at the same thing. Turn to Ephesians 3: 14-19. This is a prayer that Paul prays: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,” Ephesians 3:14, “from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man.” Now there's his petition: he prays that you would be strengthened with power in the inner man, in your inmost being, in that part of your being which the whole force of life derives–the inner man, that motive force, that seat of the desires, that seat of the self. “In the inner man…” that you might “be strengthened with power”… by whom? “By the Spirit.” Why? Well, the why is in verse 17: “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”

Now, Paul has given us the final piece of the puzzle: the Spirit abides in us, why? So that Christ will abide in us and thus that we might abide in the Spirit and in Christ. In other words, the Spirit indwells us all as believers–all, not super Christians, not at a later stage after your conversion, He indwells all believers. Why? So that Christ might be formed in our hearts, so that our hearts might become an apt home for the living God, who is Jesus Christ. And we are to abide in Him; we are to rely on Him; we are to depend on Him; we are to yield ourselves to His influences. Because what is He trying to do? He's trying to exalt Christ in our hearts and lead us back to the word. So there's John's formula: you abide in it–the apostles teaching, the Bible, Bible-truth–and you abide in Him: you rely on the Holy Spirit and you will navigate all those tricky eddies and whirlpools and you will be able to move through every wind of doctrine in the course of your walk with God in Jesus Christ.

That's what John is calling us to. As believers we take comfort in that. If we don't know Jesus Christ today, that very instruction to Christians also helps us. If you would know Jesus savingly, let me tell you how: you go to it, the apostles’ teaching, and you ask for the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to understand who He is. God will hear that cry. Let us look to Him now in prayer.

Lord and God, we need Jesus. We need the real Jesus, the Jesus who is offered in the gospel. We find Him by going to His word and by being taught by His surrogate teacher, the Holy Spirit, who always points to Him. Help us then to abide in it and Him and to come to know Him who to know aright is life eternal. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

© First Presbyterian Church.

This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.