John writes: “I write these things to you concerning those who would deceive you. As for you, the anointing that you received from him abides in you, so you do not need 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, abide in him” (1 John 2:26-27). What is the nature of this “anointing” to which John refers?
The communities to which John had written this letter were evidently reeling from a recent series of apostasies: “They went out from us, but they did not belong to us, for if they had belonged to us they would have remained with us” (2:19). My inclination is to say that these persons who had left the community of Christians were also Jewish. They must have thought themselves to be abandoning Jesus for the sake of being faithful to God. That is why John takes the time to mention: “Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? … No one who denies the Son has the Father; everyone who confesses the Son has the Father also” (2:22-23). These apostates must have thought that they still had the Father even apart from Jesus. This is a thought that makes more sense coming from Jews rejecting Christianity than from a Gentile rejecting it. This is why I think John is talking about Jews who had rejected Christianity.
These persons must not only have abandoned the community of Christians but also have engaged in efforts to convince other Christians to jump ship as well. That is why John writes this letter: “concerning those who would deceive you” (v. 26). In response to their efforts at deconverting the Christians, John tells his audience that they don’t need anyone to teach them because the “anointing” abides in them. What is this anointing?
The anointing is clearly something that teaches about Jesus. This anointing is what points a person in the direction of Jesus and inclines on to submit to Him in faithfulness. In more explicit theological terms, we would call it the enlightening operation of the Holy Spirit. And I think this is something to which every Christian can bear witness. Any Christian can bear witness to something experientially distinct and unique about Jesus. There is a certain kind of “resonance” that His person and teachings have with one’s own heart. One sees in Him something attractive, special, unique, something that motivates a person to commit to Him and to trust in Him. Consider how certain persons have an ability to appreciate good food, or good music, or have an artistic eye, or perhaps notice things in their environment that others don’t. There is something in them that makes them open and receptive to things in the world. This is what the “anointing” does. It teaches a person to run towards Jesus and to trust in Him.
John is therefore telling his audience that they do not have need of any teachers because they have the anointing. Why is this anointing sufficient? Because it points a person in the direction of Jesus and causes His teachings to resonate in one’s heart. That is enough, as far as John is concerned. Perhaps the apostates who were trying to convince others to leave Christianity were appealing to certain special or eminent teachers in their groups. If they were Jewish, as I am surmising, they might have appealed to certain prominent Pharisees or rabbis of impressive lineage. But John says that Christians have something better than any teacher of any significance: namely, the anointing, the testimony of the Holy Spirit in the heart, this transformation of one’s inner being that causes the person and teachings of Jesus to stand out and to “resonate” differently than all other persons.
Someone might wonder about the value of such an “anointing.” So what if someone finds Jesus an intriguing and attractive figure? So what if His teachings “resonate” somehow? Does that mean they are true? These are reasonable questions. What can be said in response?
I think the proper response is to note that all our interactions with the truth involve a certain “resonance” between ourselves and certain ideas. We do not simply see reality as it is. We see it as we are. Things may look blurry to me, not because they are themselves blurry, but because such is my eyesight. A joke may cause me to laugh, not because it has laugh-causing power in general, but but because it fits with my sense of humor. We are always experiencing things together with ourselves and never merely on their own.
From this it follows that even person who reject Jesus do so, not merely because of the evidence, but also and perhaps even more so because of the way they are. They are of such a sort that they see nothing in Him; they see things differently. They are of such a sort that they think of the world in such a way that He has no place in their world. Christians, on the other hand, are of such a sort that they see the world in such a way as to have room it in for Jesus. Indeed, one could say that Christians are of such a sort that they see Jesus as the most important thing in their world.
The mistake that many people make is that they think that in experience they are simply presented with an intelligible world with a meaning of its own that obviously operates according to certain principles. The truth is that we give meaning to the world that is presented to us in experience through an act of interpretation. And the way we interpret the world is at least as much a result of the sort of persons we are as it is of the world itself. The world we take for granted in our everyday life is a world of our own making, a world reflective of who we are. The “anointing” that John speaks about is what makes us into the sorts of persons who can recognize Jesus for who He is. It is a configuration of our heart that allows us to relate to the world in a certain way, specifically in such a way as to move us toward Jesus.