John begins this section of Scripture by teaching that false teachers were already in their churches. He called these false teachers “antichrists” because they were “against Christ” (2:22).
John reminded the church to do two things when faced with false teaching… “Abide in what they heard from the beginning.” In other words, abide in the Word of God (2:24). And secondly, abide in the Holy Spirit (2:27). The Spirit should affirm what the Word says. It never gives “special revelation” that contradicts the Word of God.
False teachers were claiming this “special revelation” when they tried to lure the church away from gospel teachings. The primary false teaching John was refuting in these chapters was an early form of Gnosticism, specifically that Jesus did not come in the flesh.* They argued that if Jesus were separated from the flesh, then the born-again aspect of Christians was also separated from the flesh. This false premise led to the wrong conclusion that Christians could sin in the flesh and it didn’t affect their “born-again” spiritual state. In effect, they were permitting lawlessness by proclaiming that all Christians were sinless – because the deeds done in the flesh were separated from the real “spiritually born-again self.” John refuted this teaching by stating over and over again that your “doing” reflected your “being.”
Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as [Jesus] is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning (1 John 3:7-8).
John exhorts us to examine our lives…carefully, in the light of the truth. If we are truly God’s children, our lives should reflect his righteousness. But we are not perfect, so if we are becoming complacent and falling into patterns of sin, we must run to our Advocate to find forgiveness (1:9)!
John is writing to the church tenderly. He says, “My little children. I write these things to you so that you may not sin” (2:1). And he reminds us of the incredible truth that we have been adopted into the family of God – and given a new nature so that we might be called His children.
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are (1 John 3:1).
Friends, this is truth. We are God’s children. Our Father is the King. And our inheritance is vast beyond all measure!
*More information on the false teaching John is refuting can be found in this sermon by John Piper.