In the Apostle John’s letter entitled, 1 John, he writes it seemingly to address false teaching and specifically a heresy theologians have named “Gnosticism.”
Gnosticism is is a modern name for a variety of ancient religious ideas and systems that had their roots in the first century but became a more serious problem in the second century.
This religious philosophy held that matter is evil and spirit is good. The solution to the tension between matter and spirit was knowledge, or gnosis, through which humans advanced from a natural state to spiritual state. Gnosticism led to two false theories concerning the person of Christ: representing Jesus as a spirit and making Jesus a dual personality at times human and at times divine.
I don’t want to enter into a theological discussion about Gnosticism or Christology as John offers a simple and straightforward argument for a correct understanding of the humanity and divinity of Jesus. Besides, that discussion is well above my pay grade in these meditations!
But, I want to highlight an important matter embedded in John’s symphonic discussion in this letter that has just as much relevance for the Church today as it did when John wrote the letter in the first century.
First, whatever label we stick on the heresy of Gnosticism doesn’t mean it falls into a neat little taxonomy of heretical beliefs. Gnosticism, or some form of it, isn’t just an ancient heresy that was eradicated in the second or third century.
I commonly see or hear people who claim some flavor of Christianity knocking on doors in the neighborhoods of America to promulgate their unorthodox views and doctrines of Jesus. They even fill the pulpits of some churches.
And, second, and what’s most significant to me in John’s letter is that the false teachers–the antichrists–weren’t attacking from outside the church but from inside the church.
Apostasy isn’t an external threat to the Church but an internal one.
It’s the enemy within!
John writes, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us” (vs. 2:19). Later, John issues a warning about false teachers: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. (vs. 4:1). Then, John identifies the apostates: “We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (vs. 4:6).
There are several takeaways about false teaching and apostasy in John’s letter that we should consider:
First, deception and false teaching is a reality in the Church. It’s because we have an enemy–Satan, the devil–who attempts to be disruptive and destructive to our faith. Deception is a primary weapon of the devil to pull Christians under his power: “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (vs. 5:19).
Sometimes false teaching occurs when Christians remain ignorant or don’t grow spiritually in their relationship with Christ through Bible study, prayer and obedience to God’s will, which increases their risk of succumbing to demonic deception: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (vs. 1:7).
And, sometimes false teaching occurs with malice of forethought by individuals in the Church with evil intentions or personal agendas who have been deceived by the devil and fallen into false belief or unbelief: “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God” (vs. 4:2)
Next, those who teach and tell others about Jesus should be clear and knowledgeable about their doctrine. They are morally obligated and eternally accountable to teach sound doctrine. “Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony God has borne concerning his Son” (vs. 5:10).
Finally, all Christians are equipped and, therefore, have a personal responsibility to discern doctrinal error and affirm sound doctrine for themselves: “But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie–just as it has taught you, abide in him” (vs. 2:27).
He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4, ESV)