Born of God: Foundation for Abiding in God

Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you…If you know that He is righteous, you may be sure, that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him” (1 John 2:24, 29).

One of the major themes in 1 John consists of “abiding.”  John’s qualifies his use of the word “abiding” by its fruit, and that fruit rests in the new birth.   John wrote to the Church and individuals in it.  He addressed false teachers who disturbed the fellowship of community.  Along with their false teachings, they saw no use for remaining in fellowship. John set the stage for his discussion on abiding in God by showing the unrighteousness and unfaithfulness of these false teachers,

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).

They left because they were false confessors.  Those who fail to confess Jesus do not remain in the fellowship of believers.  They stay as long as they get something out of it.  They have nothing to keep them committed, because their focus is on themselves and not on Jesus and His Father.  Therefore, once people rejected their false teachings, they had no use for the fellowship.

The following chart shows John’s teaching of abiding as opposed to what the  false teachers taught.

Contrast of Abiding and Leaving

ABIDING (2:24) LEAVING (2:19)
Believing truth (2:21) Believing a lie (2:22)
Objective witness of the Holy Spirit (2:20) Reliance on subjectivism, inner enlightenment
Believing Jesus’ incarnation (2:22-23) Rejecting Jesus – Jesus and the Christ
Confession (2:23) Denial
Abiding (2:24) Leaving
Eternal life (2:25) Eternal death
Christ’s appearance (2:28) No bodily appearance, an illusion, spiritual
Righteousness (2:29) Unrighteous
Following the new birth (2:29) Following the flesh

The expressions of faith in community could not exist if those in it did not abide together.  Abiding constituted both a community and an individual application given his focus on those who left (2:19).  Abiding together strengthened the bonds of fellowship in community.  They all held  to common faith and teaching.

For these reasons, John highlighted that these false brethren and teaches left because, as he declared,

“…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” (2:19).

They were unrighteous, not only denying Christ but also rejecting that they were sinners.  John gave an earlier counter argument to their dim view of sin (1:8-10).  The word “righteousness” carries a sense of both living right and being faithful (1 John 2:29).  Righteousness assumes its opposite of living unrighteously or in the presence of sin.  These false brethren were neither righteous or faithful.

Abiding in God was crucial for corporate fellowship.  Those who adopted a false view of God by denying the Son and the Father placed a dagger in the heart of fellowship.  They stirred up controversial teachings and presented a false God and spurious Jesus.  Abiding fellowship was not possible with such false teachings.

The Anchor of the New Birth

While John stresses personal abiding, that abiding hinged on God’s work in the person for producing a new birth from which life (2:25; 3:14; 5:11-13), righteousness (2:29; 3:7), and love (3:1, 10) emanate.  These three words thread their way through this letter.  They express the life of abiding in God.  That is, the weight of the abiding life begins with and rests with God.  He gives birth, and from birth arises the knowledge of the Father and the Son (2:23-24) with the assurance of eternal life (2:25).  Abiding, then, is a fruit of the new birth.

John introduces the theme of abiding prior to his phrase “born of God.”  This later introduction of the new birth is a conclusive statement that summarizes the nature and source of abiding in God.  Righteousness signifies abiding,

 Believers who act righteously in word and deed proclaim their righteous Lord and show the error of the false teachers” (Peter Toon, “Righteousness” in Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Baker Books, 1996), p. 689).

He intersperses the word “born of God” throughout this letter and associates it with righteousness and love.  In doing so, he wants to conclude that the new birth is their source.

His first use of “abide” is in 1 John 2:24,

“Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you” (2:24).

He associates it with his introduction of this letter, “That which was from the beginning” (1:1).  What did they hear from the beginning?  The message about the real presence of Jesus, the Word of life or the eternal life.  Notice how John uses “eternal life” in his introduction of Jesus (1:2) and in this passage (2:25).  Because Jesus is the eternal life, we have assurance of eternal life through Him.

In this introduction, John counters the counterfeit doctrine of an illusion of Jesus or at best a simple man and not God.  At the beginning of this section (2:18-19), John again raises the folly of the false teachers.  They left the community of faith to show that their temporary presence did not reflect abiding in God.  Since they did not believe that Jesus actually came in the flesh, they undercut the foundation for the life of faith.  Abiding needed something of more substance – the new birth.  He concludes this section with the necessity of the new birth,

“If you know that He is righteous, you may be sure, that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him” (2:29).

The new birth is the staying power of faith.  Upon first glance, it seems that the practice of righteous gives way to the new birth.  Nothing could be further from John’s thoughts.  The verb John uses means just the opposite.  John uses the perfect tense to express “born of Him.”  The perfect tense indicates the continuation and present state of a completed past action.  What this means is that this past action was the new birth.  This new birth results in continuing to practice righteousness.  Practice suggests progress and not perfection.  John countered the false teaching of being without sin in the beginning of his letter (1:8-10).  In the same way, abiding has its strength in the new birth God gives to us.

Those who deny Jesus is the Christ and came in the flesh lie and do not know or practice the truth (2:21-23).  Because they rejected Jesus, they left the fellowship of believers (2:19).  They did not know His righteousness, because they did not know Him.  They were antichrist (2:18-22), because they held a different view of Him, one contrary to what the Apostles taught, especially John.  They did not know birth from God but speculated about the divine spark within.  These false teachers focused inward for self- knowledge rather than upward for the knowledge of God found in Christ.  Getting in touch with their spiritual origins and destiny through self-knowledge and escape from intellectual error and ignorance was their spiritual birth in a new spiritual body.

Such a philosophy led to the rejection of the true meaning of righteousness, Christ as its source, and the need for abiding in God.  John refuted these teachers and claimed they sought to deceive (2:26).  He affirmed that those who believed the Son had the anointing, the Holy Spirit, the source of true knowledge.  The Spirit will be with them until the final appearance of Jesus (2:28).  Abiding in Christ gives assurance and confidence when believers see Him.  By stressing Jesus’ physical return (appearance), John jabs at the false spirituality of one’s ultimate destiny in a spiritual divine body.  Abiding in God is a vastly different process than these false teachers taught.  Theirs focused inward in search of enlightenment through self-knowledge.  John taught a focus upward toward the knowledge of God and the practice of God’s righteousness.

The New Birth, Abiding, and Their Expressions

As we see from John, his conclusion really gives the anchor for abiding in God,

“…everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him” (2:29).

That is, righteousness comes to fruition through the new birth.  In discussing this first instance of the new birth, the first thought that comes to his mind is the knowledge of Jesus.  His righteousness stands as the source of the new birth.  We understand God’s righteousness through the revelation of Christ.  The new birth God brings about in us bears witness to Christ’s righteousness, the faithful Son over the house of God, whose house we are as the author of Hebrews claims (Hebrews 3:2).  We would not know righteousness apart from Christ.  We would not know Christ apart from the new birth.  We could not practice righteousness without being born again.  The new birth brings us to its fruit: faith, knowing and practicing righteousness, and love.

These outcomes are impossible within knowing God through the new birth.  We express them in community as we show goodness, faithfulness, and love to one another.  When we do, we express our commitment to build one another up in faith.  The false teachers left, showing their lack of commitment to sound teaching that promoted commitment to loving those in fellowship.  Those whom God gives spiritual birth engage in this practice of righteousness, a practice that strengthens fellowship and those in it.

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