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. (1 John 2:28)
When Jesus appears, we want to face Him with confidence. We don’t want to shrink away in shame and fear. And the way to make sure that doesn’t happen is this: abiding in Him.
The Greek verb for “abide” is menō. It means to remain or to stay. So John is basically saying, “Stay in Him. Stay faithful.” This term is a favorite of John’s, and it is perhaps most famously used in John 15:
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.
I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.
If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.
Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. (John 15:4-10)
Abiding is the mark of true salvation.
Through the years, this idea of abiding in Christ has been mystified, interpreted as referring to some upper-level spiritual experience. It’s not that. It just means sustaining your faith in the gospel and the God of the gospel. This is a requirement for avoiding condemnation, as John reiterates:
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. (1 John 2:19)
How do you remain in Christ? How do you remain in relationship with God? You stay there by staying committed to the truth. That’s what he’s saying.
Don’t ever believe for a moment that the matter of sovereign salvation does not involve the will of the one being saved, because that’s not true. It does. We are called to remain. Our hope is secured by abiding.
John knows that there are people who are going to identify with the gospel but will fail to stay faithful to it. And the question comes up, “Were they once saved and later became lost? What happened? How do we know who’s a believer?” And John gives a very simple answer. Eternal life remains in the person who believes the truth and remains faithful to the God of the truth. True Christians are identified by abiding. If someone doesn’t abide, but instead comes to deny the truth, they prove that they were never of us in the first place.
This is one of the great wonders of biblical truth: We are secure in the eternal promise and purpose and plan of God, but not apart from our own faithfulness. And the warnings and the calls for believers to be steadfast, immovable, faithful, loyal, and unwavering prompt the heart to obey those calls and, energized by the Holy Spirit, become the means by which we are secured.
It’s the same thing as what we believe about salvation. On the one hand, we believe in salvation by the sovereignty of God. On the other hand, we know that God only saves those who believe, and that all the invitations and calls in Scripture are calls to believe, not calls to resign yourself to predestination.
All the great doctrines of the Bible have this sort of inscrutable reality in them, from justification to sanctification and glorification. All of it depends upon the power and purpose of God, but not apart from our faith and our abiding and our behaving in a godly fashion. You were saved one day, if you are saved, because you believed. You are being sanctified because you obey. And in glory, the reward God has prepared for you will be a reflection of your level of faithfulness in this life.
So on the one hand, God can say, “I’ve given you eternal life, and you will abide.” On the other hand, He can tell us over and over again, “Be faithful. Remain. Abide. Don’t forsake the truth. Hold fast.”
This is an ongoing battle in the heart of every believer. We sometimes find ourselves resistant to God’s commands or doubting His promises. But true believers will come out the other side of that war victorious. And they do this by living not in light of this present life, but in light of the life to come. This hope sustains our abiding, and it is also sustained by our abiding.
You can’t live in this hope if you’re not abiding in Christ. If you’ve abandoned Christ, you have no right to this hope. You have no reason to look forward to the appearing of Jesus Christ, because it will bring final condemnation to unbelievers.
That’s what 1 John 2:28 says: Your ability to stand with confidence before a returning Christ is dependent on your remaining faithful to the end. You will never stand before the Lord when He returns, having a just hope, unless you sustain an abiding faith in Christ and the gospel.
But for those who are holding fast, we have a magnificent hope. When Christ appears, we won’t have to cringe away and try to hide from Him. We will stand with boldness, and we will enter into the joy of the Lord.
In the next post, I want to lay out exactly what will happen on that day — how exactly the story ends — so that you know what this hope is that you are holding fast to.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 2003, titled “The Purifying Hope, Part 1.”
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