Modern spirituality claims that it is possible to know God through a variety of ways: whether it be a spiritual encounter, private conviction or an angelic spirit-guide.
God is like buying groceries – it doesn’t really matter which supermarket you shop at, as long as you get bare essentials. Some people might prefer Spar, or Woolworth’s, or Pick n Pay – different strokes for different folks.
This approach to spirituality is by no means new. It’s as misguided today as when the Apostle John first wrote his letter of 1 John.
The trouble was that many of these false teachers or antichrists were promoting their opinions under the guise of Christianity. The false teachers spoke about Jesus, the Spirit and God; but what they were saying was not true. They sounded Christian, but they were antichrist.
Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. (1 John 2:18)
Antichrists and false teachers
“Anti” means before, against or opposite: these people are against the Jesus of the Bible. They say things like, “Jesus is not relevant”, or that we must understand Jesus in a new way, or they simply downplay his importance.
They are antichrists, and many claimed to be Christian teachers.
How do you know if you a false teacher or an antichrist?
1. You love the world
Do not love the world or the things in the world…And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15, 17)
This is a caution to all Christians not to be allured by the world’s promises of prestige and power because the world is passing away. However, this was a particular temptation for the readers because they were being tempted to follow a worldly form of Christianity that the false teachers were promoting.
They (false teachers) are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. (1 John 4:5)
The world loves antichrists because their teaching aligns to the world’s priorities: they focus on getting rich, healing and material blessings.
There is little difference between their sermons and self-help seminars.
Sitting in their churches, you would forget that the hope of the gospel is not this world, but eternal life in the world to come.
2. You have moved on from the Apostolic Gospel
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. (1 John 2:19)
The false teachers started off part of the church believing the gospel that the apostles taught. They looked like orthodox Christian people. But then they left the fold and started preaching another gospel.
They said things like, “we are now led by the Spirit not the word”, “we have to re-interpret the Scriptures for a new age” and, “the gospel is good but to really know God you must…”.
The simple gospel about Jesus who died to propitiate the anger of God at sin (1 John 2:2) was not enough – they needed something more.
By leaving the apostolic teaching, they showed that they were actually not part of the community in the first place – they had not truly believed the gospel.
3. You make bold promises
But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. (1 John 2:20)
John used this language of “anointing” because this was the language that the false teachers used. They said, “Come to us to get the anointing and you will have true insight and knowledge.”
John said: You have the anointing! You have knowledge!
The New Testament teaches that the moment you turn to Christ you receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (“the anointing”). John said that his readers knew Jesus and the gospel, and didn’t need the false teachers to teach them. Cf. v27
False teachers always make bold claims about anointing or breakthrough or victory or whatever.
4. You teach a false Jesus
Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? (1 John 2:22)
What’s important to realise here is that the false teachers weren’t denying Jesus per say. They spoke about Jesus a lot – if they didn’t speak about Jesus, the readers would never have been tempted to follow them.
But the Jesus they spoke about was not the Jesus that the apostles’ proclaimed, nor the Jesus that died to propitiate the anger of God at sin (1 John 2:2).
If you never talk about sin (1 John 1:8) or God’s judgment, you will never talk about the cross that placated God’s anger. The antichrists were promoting a “Jesus” Christianity, but it was not a “cross” Christianity – but if you remove the cross, it’s no longer Christianity.
Antichrists talk about Jesus, the Spirit, breakthroughs, anointing, maximizing potential, planting a seed, healing, prosperity and a host of other things. But they never talk about the cross of Christ that placated the anger of God at sin.
What is the antidote to false teachers?
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. (1 John 2:24-25)
The antidote is to let what you heard from the beginning (the apostolic gospel) abide in you.
Keep believing the simple truth about Jesus that you find in your Bible.
Don’t be deceived by anyone claiming a new spirituality or a better version of Christianity.
If you are in a church lead by a false teacher, be sure you move to one where the Bible is clearly taught and you are constantly reminded of the unchanging, Apostolic Gospel.