Wolves Among the Sheep
2008-09-07(am) 1 John 2:18-27 Held True
So, how did it go last week? Did you get up? Did you read your Bible more? Did you spend more time in prayer?
Did it help to ask the question, “What do I desire more, God or, sleep, or email, or TV, or you name it? Did you ask yourself the question only to discover that yes, at that moment; you really did love or desire those other things more than you desired God.
Friday was such a day for me. A late night, and loads of excuses to not get up.
You see, that touches on what John’s warning us in this passage. The deceiver will try to give us excuses as to why it is too hard, too tough, life is too unfair, to follow Christ. If we were to look back on our weeks, if we were to examine all the instances when we were given a choice to follow God, to seek God, to desire God, or more accurately perhaps, to demonstrate our desire for God, we’d see that there were always opportunities for us to persevere.
In every temptation, God will give us an opportunity to choose to follow the truth. But we are so easily deceived.
We are in the hour of deception. We are in a specific time in history. It is the time between Christ’s ascension and His return, and that means the ruler of the darkness, is on the run. He is looking for new ways to deceive people. And many people are deceived already.
But the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ has been poured out into the church. The church, Christians have been anointed with the truth. We know that God is truth! We’ve seen the light! Our deeds have been exposed to the light, we’ve seen what evil really is, and we do not desire it any longer! We desire to do the right things, the pure things.
John has told us that as older men, we have wisdom and knowledge. As young men we have strength, and the knowledge has been passed down to us.
But John wants us to know that the deceivers aren’t out there. John doesn’t draw our attention to the world.
This is fascinating. This is completely contrary from what you’d expect. Wouldn’t you expect John to say, “Watch out for those false religions out there, the Muslims, the Buddhists, the Sikhs.” Or, “You’ll be in danger of losing your faith if you hang out at bars, with undesirables etc.”
But John doesn’t say that. He warns us about antichrists that are within the church.
He says it clearly, they used to be part of us, but now they have gone from us. Probably John has in mind the Gnostics, those who taught things that are in direct opposition to Christ, hence, why he calls them antichrists.
Indeed, what’s the greatest threat? Is it the bold full-front attack? Or is it the traitor , the double crosser who lets the enemy in? According to John, the greatest foe for Christians is those who came into the church, but who never truly gave their lives to Christ. These people are most likely to try subverting Christ’s message of faith and hope and love.
They will come in and try to enforce rules and regulations, to which Paul says, “Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (Col. 2:23). Conversely, they are the kind of people who say there are no rules or regulations at all, that you can just do whatever you want, and live however you want, because God’s grace covers everything. Both are false teachers, the one overemphasises our responsibility, the other underemphasises it.
So, we have to be aware of false teachers. False teachers are sneaky. They speak well, they are convincing. They are flashy and successful, they claim to have the truth, and indeed, their teachings are laced with truth, but when you really study it, you find out that the truth is twisted, or parts are missing. They do not uphold the integrity of Christ and the Gospel of Christ.
We find ourselves in a very similar situation as John’s church faced. We live in a world of relativism. And some of that false teaching has come into the church in North America. We have debates about all kinds of things, but no one is able to state anything with authority anymore. No one is willing to take a stand. We have churches who stress physical unity over doctrinal truth. We have Christians saying “you might interpret scripture differently than I interpret it.”
That sounds good, doesn’t it? Doesn’t that sound tolerant? That we accommodate our different interpretations and still get along?
But it isn’t tolerant at all! It is an injustice to God’s Word! Do we really think that God’s Word is open to several different interpretations? In our most recent Banner, there was an article about the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. That church is one step closer to ordaining homosexual clergy. (Banner Sept. 2008, p.16). Here we have a denomination that is not simply changing the interpretation of their own church rules, but changing the interpretation of the Bible. And I’m not sure why this was reported in the Banner. Is it to inform us and warn us of what is happening in other churches, so that it doesn’t happen in ours, or is to warm us up to similar ideas. I know, I know, I’m far too cynical.
But we’ve seen this before, with the Church of Latter Day Saints, the Jehovah’s witnesses and others. The strange thing is to be witnessing it, seeing traditional churches changing, sacrificing the truth for relativism.
So John warns us about the antichrists. But John’s warning isn’t fear mongering that seems so prevalent in society today. For example, the media put out a survey asking if people were afraid to buy deli meats because 12 people have tragically lost their lives from contaminated meat. Why not ask people if they are afraid to drive their vehicles on the road, because on average, “just less than 8 people die in motor vehicle deaths every day in Canada” (http://www.statcan.ca/Daily/English/080716/d080716b.htm). Or is that somehow a more acceptable loss of life than from the meat industry? This is fear mongering, plain and simple. But John doesn’t do that at all!
No, John simply wants the church to be aware of the reality that some people will try to deceive others. Jesus also warned his disciples saying, “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible” (Matt. 24:24). Thankfully, it is not possible.
It is not we who hold and maintain God’s truth. God’s truth holds us! God holds his truth true. No matter what, the false teachers will be found out as false.
Perhaps some of you have read Frank Peretti’s book, Visitation. It tackles this very issue, a false prophet coming along, performing miracles, preparing the way for the Christ, a Christ figure shows up, but he is not the Christ.
John tells us that God’s Word and God’s Spirit holds us true. God’s Word holds us. God’s Spirit holds us. We don’t hold the word; we don’t grab the Spirit so much as the Spirit grabs us. The knowledge of the truth is totally dependent upon the Spirit’s anointing. That’s what John tells us in our passage: Ours is an anointing from the Holy One (verse 20 and 27). We have been given this knowledge, it is a gift.
The Spirit teaches us the truth of Christ.
But what do we say to those who also claim to have truth from the spirit? How do we test the spirits? In 1 John 4:1, we’re taught to test the Spirits to see if they are from God. How do we know if they are from God? We know they are from God if they confess Jesus is Lord. We know if they are from God if they stay true to what was taught at the beginning.
Does the teaching reflect what the apostles taught? If it does not, then we know that the teachings are false. We have God’s Word. It is canonical, that is it is a rule by which we can tell not only if something is straight, but also if something is crooked.
Everything has to come back to the word.
But how do we deal with the situation when someone is clearly interpreting the scriptures incorrectly? Well, how would you handle it if someone were doing a math problem incorrectly? You would teach them how to do it correctly.
And so, rather than saying, “well, that’s their interpretation”, if their interpretation is wrong, we need to correct them! We need to say, “You’re wrong, you may not interpret scripture to say that.”
We do not need new teaching today, says John, we need teaching that is faithful to what has been handed down from the Apostles. There is such thing as truth. Postmodernism says there is no truth.
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father apart from me. So, we cannot agree with anyone who says that, “Well, I think all people will go to heaven. I think all religions are essentially the same!” That is false, according to scripture, no matter how harsh it sounds.
The Holy Spirit doesn’t expand or improve on the gospel. He protects it, he keeps things true to the gospel.
Therefore, we must work hard at remaining in God’s Word and in God’s Spirit. We do this through prayer and Bible Study. You can’t remain in the Word if you never read it. You can’t remain in the Spirit unless you pray.
So, read God’s Word. If you come across a book like Echart Tolle’s or some radical new spirituality, before you get all excited, compare and contrast it to other books, books that have been around for a long time, books that have stood the test of time. But you just can’t do better than simply reading God’s Word.
If you come across something difficult, if you get stuck, don’t hesitate to call me. Fire off an email. Write something on my Facebook wall. Post a comment on my blog. Send me a letter in the mail. If I don’t know, I’ll ask someone who does. But dig into God’s Word! Be like the Bereans, some of you are, you listen to the sermons and then reflect on them, and later will ask me what I meant by what I said, correcting me where I’m wrong. That’s good, that’s what the church in Berea did when they received the apostle Paul’s teaching, they made sure Paul was telling the truth!
I leave you with these passages:
- Colossians 3:16 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”
- Ephesians 5:18-20a “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”
Remain in the Word! Dwell in the Word. Read God’s Word. Study it. Pray over it. Open yourself to the Word and the Spirit, the true Spirit to invite him to lead you in truth, to use you for his glory and honour! Amen.