Standing in Truth: “The Problem of Defection” – 1 John 2:15-29

miserable-manHe is a middle-aged man, and he is miserable. Several years ago, he attended church. His life was in a crisis, and his marriage was falling apart. After a church service one Sunday, he came forward in an altar call, and said he wanted to surrender his heart to Jesus Christ. Over the next several months, he became deeply involved in his church, said he was daily reading his Bible, and spoke of growing in his walk. The problems began showing up a few months later. Slowly, the old habits crept back in. A certain coolness toward spiritual things seemed to settle into his speech, and he didn’t appear to be as interested in growing in his walk with God. I am sure I know only a small part of what truly happened, because he didn’t share it. I noticed that he missed one service after another. His involvement diminished in the next few months to virtually zero. Six months after that, the whole Jesus thing seemed like nothing more than a phase. Was that salvation? Did he really know Jesus? If he did, why didn’t he stay with his new life?

Though the details may vary, several of us know people who fit this general description. They seem to start off with Christ, but they do not stay with Him. Some even overtly defect from a public profession of faith in Jesus and are willing to tell you they are not followers of Jesus anymore. Though for a time they claimed Jesus as their Savior, they fully disavow that commitment today. Something pulled their heart away. It may be a new relationship. It may be a change in their job. It may be a deep disappointment that coming to Jesus didn’t simply take their problems away in some area of life. In the end, they move into the arms of one of the four gods of our age – fortune, fame, power or pleasure – and serve another god that claims to offer greater fulfillment to them. In time, they find that other path empty. This is the problem for which John took time to remind believers in his epistle…

Key Principle: Many promise true satisfaction. In the end, the voice we follow will be either Jesus or a false promise.

That is the essence of the second half of the second chapter of 1 John. The aged Apostle, a local church pastor, noticed some began with Christ, but didn’t appear to continue in the faith. He remarked:

1 John 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that [d]it would be shown that they all are not of us.

The purpose of the narrative was to help the early followers of Jesus through the pain and uncertainty of dealing with defection and to help them grasp what happened. If you have watched it in one you love, your heart will resonate with his words. He made clear that it is possible to understand defection, but only when we recognize some basic facts about walking with Jesus. He began…

1. First, we must grasp the fact that there is an unavoidable choice (2:15):

Coming to Jesus requires us to make a choice to change the direction from which we choose to draw our fulfillment. Look closely at verse fifteen.

I John 2:15 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

One who has encountered God and the message of the Gospel must choose a direction in order to fill up our hearts and be satisfied with life. If we place the fulfillment of our needs impatiently in the “now,” we will surely be tempted to drift from the direction of God’s will at any time we don’t feel like God is meeting that need to our satisfaction. It is a choice to follow Jesus – but it is not the only choice we can make! Essentially John argued: “Do not love the world’s way nor the temporary things the world offers, that love runs contrary to love for God’s way” (2:15).

The issue isn’t whether we live in the world or even enjoy the world – that was intended even for the believer. God gave you taste buds and intends you to find delight in what he provides for your mouth. Godliness isn’t glum. You don’t have to move to a bare-roomed monastery, eat bread and drink water, and think only of the veil of tears in this life while you await heaven’s bliss. Honestly, some of us are likely so imbalanced gaining our delight in this world that a week at a monastery wouldn’t hurt – but that is not the way God called you to live out your days. The point of “not loving the world” is whether we find our hope, our significance and our peace in the world. It is about our primary LOVE, our primary place of desire and hope.

We will love God and His promises or we will reject those promises for more immediate satisfactions – but we will not do both. One will pull us from the other.

I want to warn you openly: Don’t overlook the incredibly strong pull of the now. It creates a strong mirage of coming satisfaction that remains just over the horizon as we continue to approach it. Here are some familiar tell-tale signs it is at work. You will hear the beckoning:

• Your next job will make you happy – put all that you are and have into your work.
• Your next child will heal your ailing love relationship – give everything you can to your family.
• Your new home will make you truly happy – shop for each decoration with the knowledge that this purchase was the answer to life’s problems.

None of these things, as good as they are, will truly answer your deepest needs. Seek them first, and you will end the race in disappointment. If you learn anything from life, you should learn: Few things have lasting significance.

It is sad but true that one day your house will look to your grandchildren as outdated as grandma’s house looked to you as you visited when you grew up. Your DVR will look like grandma’s plastic furniture covers of yesteryear! What you remember as NEW isn’t new for very long. That new car will age, get dents and be traded. Your house will wear out. Be warned: a new roof “cometh” in your future.

I am simply making one argument: Don’t trust temporary things to bring permanent satisfaction.

Skinny ties will get replaced by wide ties, only to be replaced by the next NEW big thing… the old skinny tie. Beards come; beards go. Shoes become flat, but next season they become big. Pants get tighter, then they get looser. We are now experiencing the rise of the “comb over” and bigger-haired men… Life is filled with cycles and unfathomable products of our creative culture: the earth shoe, the pet rock, the chia pet. Each has its “Andy Warhol fifteen minutes of fame,” and then gets traded to the discount rack, the “As seen on TV” rack, the yard sale, or at long last the “flea market.” What delights a child today will cause an adult tomorrow to stand there puzzling over its function.

Every believer should mature. As they grow, they should ask this question: “What does “loving the world” look like?”

• Loving the world is placing my hope in politicians to save a nation of lost souls. That is love of the world’s system to answer man’s need instead of loving Jesus enough to present him to your neighbor.

• Loving the world is placing our trust in people, experiences and products to get lasting satisfaction with life.

The fact is: We simply must choose the Father first. Jesus told us to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” – that is to seek first God’s purposes and live according to God’s standards – and everything else we need would be added to us.

Like Abraham, we must be willing to leave the city of our birth, purchase camping equipment and move out on the journey to find the city of God.

Accommodation of sin and deliberate dabbling in evil is simply not an option for the mature man or woman of God who is serious about finding fulfillment. We cannot straddle the fence and expect to grow toward God’s best for us. There is a choice required – that is the point of verse fifteen. Keep reading…

2. Second, we must fully understand there are consequences that follow our choice (2:16-18):

The point of choices is where they lead us. John wrote”

1 John 2:16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. 18 Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour.

There are a number of problems with building our life around the things of now for lasting fulfillment. The first problem should be obvious, but is often obscured: The options on the menu of this life won’t last! Hungers set on the flesh, greed waves crashing in the fallen heart and the enduring arrogance of the rebel will one day be put aside. Life here isn’t permanent, so fulfillment cannot be lasting.

The satisfaction the things of this world will promise is nothing more than a temporary quenching of a momentary thirst.

We often attain the immediate quenching of thirst by destroying an opportunity to have a permanent solution. The world offers a temporary satiation of physical desires, temporary satisfaction of our wants, and things that make us feel more important. These are not God’s way for us, but a lost world’s way of coping (2:16). These things won’t last, but the one who follows God’s way will find everlasting fulfillment (2:17).

Beyond the temporary nature, there is a second problem we must remember. There is less time to choose than we may believe. Our choice is urgent! The battle for our heart must end so we can join the team of those who will reach others.

We cannot win in the raging battle if you will not choose your side!

John wrote (my paraphrase): “Young ones, we are late in the opportunity to reach men and women, for the rising tide of opposition is swelling toward the coming of the Antichrist that will bring in the end battle (2:18).”

There is simply no way to avoid the fact that our choice for what fulfills us shows up in our daily choices – and that places us on one side of a conflict. We must ever remember the fact that the hour is late. We can neither delay, nor can we trust that choosing this world will somehow work out in the end.

The world’s system is increasingly showing itself to be anti-God, anti-Bible. One look at the trends and you will see rabid anti-creation words across the press – as if it is easier to explain the complexity of the cosmos by a purposeless accident. Our world is against the most basic definitions of morality – but desperate for the fruits that come with it. They cannot define a family, but cannot discern why children are angrily marching the streets, unable to define their own identity, sexuality or purpose. These youth are a sculpted product of modern social engineering. They are confused, conflicted and constantly tossed about by one outrageous cause after another. Listen to their words: you will struggle to even make sense of their understanding of things…

John continued…

3. Third, we must recognize that some will appear to fall away, because they were here for something other than walking with Him (2:19)!

Leaning back into the subject of defectors he wrote what we mentioned a few moments ago:

1 John 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.

When John reminded that some were a “part” for a season, but aren’t really “of us”, he made clear that people come to the fellowship for many reasons that are not about Jesus. Over the years I have encountered many people who used the church to grow their business. All across the Bible belt, people co-opted the church as a healthy social gathering environment – a well-mannered corral for people of finer breeding in the noticeable and polite social circle. Some joined the church to find a small pond in which they can show themselves a big fish. Others were simply trying to find friends and didn’t know where else to look.

Honestly, hang out in church circles and you will discover scores who entered without a true regard for the cost of following Christ, or true longing to know Him intimately at all.

Another aspect of people abandoning Christ is this: seasons of life change. We don’t remain the same. Some found friends for a time when they needed them – but they never truly found Jesus. Some may have found Jesus as Savior, but never thought that choice bound them to follow Him.

They were saved from sin – but unwilling to become a “Christian” in the sense of following Jesus.

I want to humbly offer a third observation concerning people who fall away. I don’t mean to sound uncharitable, but I have noticed more recently that many people are not good listeners and even fewer are clear thinkers. What they think they heard from the Bible or from God bears little or no resemblance to what God actually said in His Word. They heard only parts of the message. They didn’t connect the dots between what they heard and how they lived. They didn’t evaluate whether what the preacher said this week can be connected to what he said last week. Let’s face it: Poor teaching abounds.

The longer I live, the more I recognize the Bible is a deck reshuffled by many an ambitious dealer, who has little interest if reflecting all of its counsel.

I recall years ago a discussion with a man in a church fellowship hall that argued vehemently against tattoos on the basis of his best study of Leviticus. These insights he shared while eating a ham sandwich. In his mind, it all made perfect sense, since he hated tattoos but loved ham. His theology perfectly accommodated his biases.

The truth is that fickle followers aren’t real followers. Fair weather friends aren’t true friends. Sunshine soldiers evaporate when the cold and wet night comes – and the rising tide of an anti-Christ spirit is giving way soon to the person who will openly mock God himself. John continued…

4. Fourth, we needn’t allow another’s defection to rock our confidence and commitment (2:20-21).

The truth cannot be found by popular vote, but it can be known. He wrote:

1 John 2:20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. 21 I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth.

The truth is that if you know God, His Spirit has marked your life (2:20). John didn’t write because they were unaware of that, but to affirm their relationship to God (20:21)!”

People DO begin with Jesus and His people and then walk away. I know some.

Interestingly, I often run into people who ask me if their friend who expressed faith in Jesus but later left the faith in total rejection was perhaps truly saved in spite of their current declaration of total disdain for the Gospel. I know many have nuanced versions of this question, and one answer doesn’t cover all the possibilities – but I want to say something that I don’t believe gets emphasized strongly enough: People don’t truly seek Christ to fulfill their deepest longing, find Him and then later find something better. That isn’t possible, because there isn’t anything better – that is a fact made plain by the most cursory study of the Word.

If they came and left, the Bible concludes they came for a different reason than Christ.

They may not truly understand: Jesus isn’t one of the options for eternal life. He isn’t one of the paths to true happiness. He is not a buffet menu placed beside other equal options. If the Bible is true, He created life at the behest of His Heavenly Father. He IS life. In Him is fulfillment.

Everything else you heard won’t get you what you want 100,000,000 years from now. Nothing else will work. The hole in your soul won’t be permanently filled by others who are falsely offering life, love, hope and lasting fulfillment.

Imagine you entered a hospital room and saw your loved one hooked in every direction to wires and tubes. The doctor smiled at you and said: “This is great! We can keep him alive virtually forever on all these machines. His heart is beating. His liver is functioning. His lungs are being mechanically filled with air. Perhaps you would look puzzled and ask: “Can he speak?” The doctor shakes his head and says: “Oh no. He will never be conscious. He will never eat, laugh or communicate. He will lie there, in need of tremendous attention by nurses. At least he is alive!” Like me, you may conclude that isn’t living.

Jesus offers life as the Author of life. Others will elegantly dress their offer for temporary satisfaction, but cannot offer eternal life. They will draw us to moments of happiness, but cannot deliver in the end. If someone falls off a cliff, you don’t have to worry about it happening to you if you don’t stand on the edge. You have no need to shake. Truth isn’t evaluated by its popularity. Remember: in this history of mankind, most people were on the wrong side of most issues.

Since truth isn’t determined by consensus, we must grasp truth apart from the crowd. Honestly, a fact is a fact even when no one believes it.

Truth is something that must be discovered – not elected.

John made clear…

5. Fifth, we will need to choose carefully the voice we will follow. We must make sure it echoes the Word of God as it was taught from the beginning (2:22-24).

1 John 2:22 Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. 23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 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.

Anyone who is trying to deny that Jesus is Messiah is empowered by God’s enemy, and not by God, regardless of what he looks like or how educated he sounds (2:22)! One who denies that Jesus is the Messiah is wrong, and has no walk with God – no matter what he promises or claims. This truth shows whether they have a walk (2:23) – are they pointing people to the Person and work of Jesus for eternal life?

It is time, John wrote, for the people of God to stand by the truth of the relationship they received in Jesus (2:24). Then John finished his words with direction…

6. Sixth, mature believers grow to understand there are responsibilities we have in relating to the struggles of the younger follower of Jesus.

We need to offer some insight to them:

1 John 2:25 This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life.

Young believers need to be ever reminded to stick to the essence of our message. It is easy to get caught up in agendas of churches and more mature believers who have been swept into the current of political and social change agendas. The essential promise that Jesus made was eternal life (2:25).

We need to warn them (2:26):

1 John 2:26 These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you.

Young believers will not have the discernment that mature followers should have regarding what to avoid. Children need to be warned about strangers, and young on the faith need to be so warned about deceivers. I needed to write because some are trying to deceive you and pull you away (2:26).

The fact is the world has many false prophets who WANT to deceive you. It also contains many who just don’t know what is true, but that doesn’t stop them from becoming famous.

If recent events have taught us anything, it is that our prognosticators and pundits are often famous, but “undressed prophets.” They looked at the data, but got the answers wrong. Economists seem to be guessing about the economy. Weather men promise disaster from a storm that turns a different way. Pollsters can’t add up which direction things are headed. We live in a day when the professionals aren’t inspiring much confidence in their fool-proof methodologies.

Some lie to suit their audience. Others simply make conclusions without embracing the whole of the evidence. Believers have the truth and need to walk in it.

We need to offer encouragement (2:27):

1 John 2:27 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.

Young believers do not have to be convinced of the truth of Jesus’ changes in their lives if they are real, but they do have to be carefully trained to stay with the growing body that God has placed them within. We must encourage them, watch them, and train them – for the enemy has plans to discourage them!

John wrote: “I call upon you to remain in the truth you have learned – stay in the truth (2:27)!”

We should encourage younger followers of Jesus that with their salvation came the Spirit, and with the Spirit came Divine empowering to walk consistently with Him. It is not beyond our reach when you invite the Spirit to lead us daily. It is not too demanding and other-worldly. God has already poured onto your life the oil of His empowering; and doused you with His powerful inner change-agent.

When we present compromise and sinfulness as the normal behavior, we mimic the world. When we remind them of the power the world neither has nor understands – we speak reminders that echo the Apostle John’s encouragement. Let us offer younger believers this charge: You CAN walk with God. All things pertaining to life and godliness have been amply supplied. There is nothing more you need get to be able to change. The entire venture now rests on your honest willingness to let God work in you.

• You must become wise to block access of the world’s siren calls to your fallen nature – the old man within.

• You must brutally starve that leftover of your past life.

• You dare not dabble in the enemy’s lies, nor the world’s temptations.

These are all choices – but they have been accomplished by believers in the past. This contest isn’t new.

Don’t get sucked into the lie that those who remained married for life were somehow extraordinary or found someone who was nearly sinless to live with. They chose to honor God and keep their vows to one another and to Him. They chose to fight to stay together despite their fallen natures and sinful selves. In the same way that ordinary men stormed the beaches of Normandy in our nation’s past to free the world from the grip of evil, so ordinary men and women gave themselves to the cause of Jesus, and followed Him relentlessly in our Christian past. The Spirit boosts our endurance, sensitizes our understanding and challenges us to do our best when no one but God truly knows.

We must offer constant reminders to them (2:28-29):

…Of eternal rewards in the face of all the temporal promises (2:28):

1 John 2:28 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.

It is clear that Jesus saves us from sin, but there is also the issue of regret and reward when our performance is judged (1 Cor. 3; 2 Cor. 5). Young followers, keep walking with Jesus so that when we stand before Him we will not be embarrassed at our behaviors, but excited to be with Him (2:28).

…Of the “marks” (2:29):

1 John 2:29 If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.

When Jesus is changing someone, there are marks that make those changes evident to people who observe closely. It is not that we become sinless, but a definite change marks us! If Jesus’ way is right, then those who practice that way are part of Him and us (2:29).

Many promise us true satisfaction. In the end, the voice we follow will be either Jesus or a false promise.

Years ago, A. T. Stewart challenged his congregation (my paraphrase):

Imagine you are on vacation in the mountains. You decided to walk a mountain trail at the beautiful state park. It’s a hot August afternoon and you finish the hike and are both very tired and incredibly thirsty. At the end of the trail you notice a huge refrigerator with a glass door (like in the convenience stores) filled with bottles of Crystal Springs water. The sign declares: “Free water—help yourself!” Thirsty, you dash over to the cooler and help yourself to some cool refreshing water.

As you are satisfying your thirst, your eyes catch a glimpse of another hiker. You notice the man coming to the end of the trail and he looks even more tired and thirsty than you were. To your surprise, he stopped at the end of the trail. He and knelt down and drank from a small fish pond at the end of the trail. You passed this fish pond and noticed the gold fish swimming in it—the Lilly pads, a few frogs and a turtle. Like most unattended fish ponds it was filled with algae, the water was green, stagnant, murky. You couldn’t help but ask him: “Why are you drinking out of the fish pond? Don’t you see that cooler full of free Crystal Springs water? You will get sick drinking that polluted water. There is no telling what’s in that water.” He replied: “I saw the cooler, but this fish pond was closer and much more convenient. It was easier to get and I was very thirsty.

That is where you live. That is what is happening all around you. May I simply ask you: “Are you drinking out of the fish pond today?” If you are, that water is about to bring you a deep dissatisfaction. Get ready.