There are vast numbers of people leaving the church today. Some retain their faith as they are disenchanted with the church, while others repudiate it. In fact, the vast majority of those leaving the church are rejecting the faith. See the graph above that is from the data of the Pew Research Center.
Now, we acknowledge that a Christian can do leave the church. It is neither right nor healthy for a Christian to leave the church, every and all church. But what about those who leave the faith? Were those who repudiated the faith truly Christians? This is an important question in the light of the statistics.
Some say true Christians can apostatize and be lost forever. The Free Will Baptists teach this, saying, “Since man, however, continues to have free choice, it is possible because of temptations and the weakness of human flesh for him to fall into the practice of sin and to make shipwreck of his faith and be lost.” But others say that true Christians can apostatize, though they will still be saved. This is the teaching of those who adhere to the non-Lordship salvation scheme, which is nothing short of a neo-Sandemanianism. Dr. Constable, who is known for his expository notes on the Bible, is an example of this:
Genuine Christians can be and are being deceived by false teachers and are abandoning their faith today. This sometimes happens when young people go off to college and conclude that what they learned in church is unscientific. It also happens when Christian’s accept the teachings of cultists who come knocking on their doors.
If Dr. Constable would have said that Christians can be and are being deceived, most would agree with him. Sadly, it is true that we can and even do come under the influence of false teaching. Notable Christians have done so. But it is quite another thing to say that they may abandon their faith. Can a true Christian abandon his faith and still be a ‘genuine’ Christian?
It is the clear teaching of Scripture that he cannot. In 1 John 2, John has to deal with those who have left the church and gone after false teaching, the teaching of antichrist (I am using a small ‘a’ here). In contrast to those who are seduced, John states, “But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him” (1 Jn 2:27). There are a few thing to note here.
First, the pronoun is placed in a position for emphasis. While these have been effectively seduced, YOU have not be seduced because they have received the anointing. There is a deep chasm placed between the two by the Apostle.
Second, the reason is given. One has received the ‘anointing,’ and the other has not. This took place at a definite time, if we are to retain the normal force of the verb’s tense (aorist). There are various opinions on the meaning of this anointing. This is mentioned in verse 20, being translated at the unction. Most commentators agree that this is the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the Holy One. Alford gives the following reason:
For “Christ received the Holy Ghost without measure (Joh_3:34): on Him the Holy Ghost abode (ib. John 1:33): God ἔχρισεν αὐτὸν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ (Acts 10:38). Christ baptizeth with the Holy Ghost (John 1:33): He sends the Holy Ghost, who takes of His and shews it to believers (John 15:26; John 16:14, Acts 2:33). And seeing that the Son hath all which the Father hath, the Father is said to send forth the Spirit of His Son into the hearts of His children (Gal_4:6; cf. Eph. 3:16, Phil. 1:19, 2 Cor. 3:17 ff.), and this, at the prayer, in the name, through the mediation, of the Son (John 14:16; John 16:7 f.): the Father anoints believers by giving them His Spirit (2 Cor. 1:21 f.), as He has anointed the Son with the Holy Ghost. And hence the Spirit, which we have received, is the token that we are in the Father (ch. 1 Jn. 3:24), and in the Son (1 Jn 2:27), that we are children of God (Rom. 8:14 ff., Gal. 4:6).
The primitive church understood this as the Spirit, even though they associated it too closely to the time of baptism. For example, Cyril said about the Christian, “being made partakers of Christ, ye are properly called christs, and of you God said, Touch not My christs, or anointed. Now ye were made christs by receiving the emblem of the Holy Spirit; and all things were in a figure wrought in you, because ye are figures of Christ. He also bathed Himself in the river Jordan, and … came up from them; and the Holy Spirit in substance lighted on Him, like resting upon like. In the same manner to you also, after you had come up from the pool of the sacred streams, was given the unction, the emblem of that wherewith Christ was anointed; and this is the Holy Spirit”. Similarly Augustine; “In the unction we have a sacramental sign (sacramentum); the virtue itself is invisible. The invisible unction is the Holy Spirit (Hom. III. 12).
Now, the importance of this is found in the fact that the contrast between those who have apostatized and those who have retained the faith is found in the fact that one has received the Spirit and the other has not. Paul says, “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Rom. 8:9). According to Jude, one of the characteristics of those who are false professors is that they do not have the Spirit; in fact, Jude’s words are even more powerful, seeing that he describes them as “they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit” (verse 9).
Third, the specific result of this anointing, unction, or possession of the Spirit must be underscored: “the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie.” John does not mean that we will have an exhaustive knowledge of everything that there is to know about every subject under the sun. Rather, this speaks of a specific area.
This knowledge has four characteristics. First, it is something that is permanent –it abides in them. The tense suggest that this is something that continues. “It is not a fitful emotion or wayward impulse, a rapture of excitement, alternating perhaps with deep depression. It partakes more of the nature of a calm, constant, settled conviction. . . . This unction then is not to be confounded with our own varying moods of mind, or the varying impressions made on us by things without. It is something far more stable. It gives a certain firm and fixed apprehension of divine things and persons, which these vicissitudes can scarcely interrupt or weaken, and cannot destroy. There may be more or less of the vivid sense of this anointing, at different seasons and in different circumstances; the signs of it may be more or less clearly discernible and the hold we have of it in our consciousness may be more or less strong. But it ‘abideth in us'; keeping God and eternity still before us as realities, in our sorest trials and darkest hours” (Candlish).
Second, it is from God and independent or transcendent of human teaching. This does not mean that human instrumentality is not involved, but it does mean that there is a witness of God’s Spirit to the veracity of the teaching of the Scripture so that the person knows with certainty. “The gospel is its own witness; it carries in itself, as apprehended by this anointing, its own credentials. Like its author, it speaks as having authority, and approves itself experimentally to all who make trial of it. All this is through the anointing Spirit. It is by the Spirit that we are moved to make trial of the gospel; it is by the Spirit that the gospel is so applied and brought home to us,—in its sovereignty, as God speaking, and in its special and pointed adaptation to our case, as God speaking to us” (Candlish).
Third, it is complete. The emphasis here is an answer to anyone who might say, “Well, you got part of the Gospel, but let me give you the rest.” John answers and says, “You did not get part of it, when the Spirit taught you. You got it all.” We may not always see the implications of it, but we will not receive new information. And this complete knowledge is not even mixed. It is not an alloy of truth and error; it is only truth. John’s intent is well summarized by Ellicott: “They needed not the pretended discoveries of false teachers; all they wanted was the unction of God to bring home what they had heard from the beginning.”
Fourth, it is inward. It is not something that we deduce, or even receive from human resources. While they have a secondary use, this truth is something that is retained in the person. “It is not an application or appeal from without; it is a gracious influence, a gracious movement or experience, in the inner man. It is beyond the world’s cognisance; “the world cannot receive the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him;” and it is only what it sees and knows by the palpable evidence of sense that the world can take in. But the inward work and witness of the Holy Spirit is apprehended by faith as real; as being really the indwelling in us of the Spirit that dwelt in Christ” (Candlish).
Fourth, we should also observe that this anointing is the permanent position. There is debate over whether we should take the words “shall abide” as an indicative fact (you are abiding), or an imperative as in the next verse (abide in Him), or as a future, as the AV takes it. As Expositor’s Greek NT states, “The reading μενεῖτε (“ye shall abide”) would express the Apostle’s confidence in the steadfastness of his readers, like ‘England expects every man to do his duty’). Herman Meyer is right when he notes, “It expresses the firm conviction of the apostle that they, according to the constant instruction of the ΧΡῖΣΜΑ, abide . . . in the teaching which the ΧΡῖΣΜΑ communicates to them.”
Fifth, we should also remember that this points us back to the promised NT. These statements have direct reference to the OT promise of New Covenant, wherein everyone person in the NT will know God. In fact, they will not have to have someone teach them. “And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:34). As D. A. Carson notes, “In other words, for John’s readers to rely on these (false) teachers is to admit that their own knowledge of God is somehow faulty or inadequate, which is to undercut all the power and reality of the new covenant.”
But we may even go further, keeping in both the context of the prophecy of Jeremiah and the context of John. This work of the NT within the heart keeps people from going from God. “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me” (Jer. 32:40). Speaking on this, Calvin remarks,
Thus he again shews that perseverance, no less than the commencement of acting rightly, is the gift of God and the work of the Holy Spirit: and as I have already said, were God only to form our hearts once, that we might be disposed to act rightly, the devil might, at any moment, entice us, by his wiles, from the right way, or, as he employs sudden and violent attacks, he might drive us up and down as he pleases. To rule us then for one hour would avail us nothing, except God preserved us through the whole course of our life, and led us on to the end. It hence then follows, that the whole course of our life is directed by the Spirit of God, so that the end no less than the beginning of good works ought to be ascribed to his grace.
Now, the perseverance that John and Calvin envision is not a eternal security against belief, but it is a perseverance in the faith. God keeps His children through faith. And this faith is maintained through the abiding work of the Spirit.
When we see people leaving the churches and abandoning the faith, we should take heed. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us” (1 John 2:19). And the reason for this is that they do not have the unction/anointing of God. The anointing of God instructs the person in such a way that they do not leave. Robert Candlish summarizes the point well:
But yesterday they were among us; one with ourselves in privilege, profession, and outward character. The keenest eye could not discriminate between us and them. True, their having gone out from us is a presumption, and indeed a proof, that they were not really of us. That very fact, however, making it plain that they who are still among us are not all of us, may not unnaturally cause uneasiness as to our own standing. But it need not. For there is a difference; “Ye have an unction from the Holy One,” which they have not,” and ye know all things.”