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 ESV
There was a group of former church members who had recently left the fellowship there in Ephesus. Evidently, they had stirred up a bit of controversy with their beliefs regarding Jesus. For whatever reason, they had either had a change of heart regarding the deity of Jesus, or had never fully believed it from the beginning. These people were denying that Jesus was the Son of God and rejecting His claim to have been the Messiah. In essence, they were refusing to accept Him as Savior. They even denied their own sinfulness. As you can imagine, these beliefs caused quite a bit of trouble for the church there in Ephesus. John even referred to the recently departed ones as antichrists. That’s a pretty serious accusation. But his basis for that charge was sound. They were anti-Christ. They were denying the centrality of Christ as God in human form and as the Savior of the world. They were refusing to admit their own sinfulness and, therefore, their need for salvation. All the while, they were claiming to have a right relationship with God. So John called them out and called them what they were: anti-Christ.
But this incident got me thinking. While those who had left the Ephesian church were probably not believers in Jesus Christ to begin with, I began to wonder if it is possible for Christians to be anti-Christ. Can we stand opposed to Christ even if we still fully accept His deity and rest in His role as our Savior and Lord? And the somewhat surprising and disturbing answer is yes. And it is easier to do than you might think. I am reminded of an exchange between Peter and Jesus recorded in the gospel of Matthew. What is amazing about this story is that Jesus had just recently commended Peter for his answer to Jesus’ question: “What do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15 NLT). Peter’s response had been, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 NLT). And Jesus had been extremely pleased with what Peter had said. And yet, not long after this exchange, Jesus began to break the news to His disciples that He was going to be going to Jerusalem where He “would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead” (Matthew 16:21 NLT). But when Peter heard this news, he “took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. ‘Heaven forbid, Lord,’ he said. ‘This will never happen to you!’” (Matthew 16:22 NLT). And amazingly, Jesus lit Peter up, saying, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s” (Matthew 16:23 NLT). At that moment, Peter had become anti-Christ. He had chosen to stand opposed to what Jesus had clearly communicated as God’s will and His own intention to follow it. Peter had not liked what he had heard and so he rejected it. He even called on God Himself to forbid it from happening. What struck me in this story is how easy it is for even a believer to become anti-Christ in his or her outlook. Peter’s problem was that he was seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s. He had lacked a divine, eternal perspective. He didn’t like what he was hearing. He didn’t agree with what Jesus was saying. It was disagreeable to his way of thinking, so he disagreed with Jesus. How often to we do the very same thing? We don’t like our circumstances. We don’t agree with God regarding our lot in life. We begin to see everything from our own view point, rather than God’s and, at that moment, we become anti-Christ. We refuse to accept His will for our lives. We refuse to accept His sufficiency for any and all situations. We refuse to accept that “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28 NLT). Whether we want to admit it or not, we can become anti-Christ, and even anti-Gospel. We can refuse to believe that the gospel, the good news regarding Jesus Christ, also includes our sanctification, our ongoing transformation into His likeness. And sanctification is a process that takes time and is based on faith just as much as our salvation was. When we begin to think that our spiritual maturity is up to us, we become anti-Christ and anti-Gospel. We make it about works and not grace. That does not mean we don’t play a role in the process, but at the end of the day, it is a work of the Spirit, not the flesh. As soon as I think I can make myself more holy, I stand opposed to Jesus’ all-sufficient sacrifice and the Spirit’s indwelling, empowering role in my life. Paul put it this way, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 NLT). He lived by trusting in the Son of God. As soon as I stop doing that, I become anti-Christ. I become self-sufficient rather than Christ-dependent. I begin seeing things from my own perspective rather than God’s. And at that moment, I become an ally of the enemy and opposed to the very one in whom I trusted for my salvation. Any time we become pro-self, we become anti-Christ. Which is why Jesus told His disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24 NLT).