Verse 20a: An Anointing
But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.
John writes a series of encouragements to reassure his spiritual children of God’s redemptive work in Christ from “their sins have been forgiven” (v.12), to “they will remain forever if they do the will of God” (v.17), and then concludes these encouragements by reminding his beloved children that they have an anointing from the Holy One so that they can know the truth by which they are set free.
“You have an anointing”: the anointing being spoken of here is the gift of the Holy Spirit:
2nd Corinthians 1:21-22 (NIV) Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
Ephesians 1:13 (CSB) In him you also were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed.
Acts 2:38-39 (CSB) Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”
The promised anointing of the Holy Spirit is received by faith as God’s gift to the Church – “to as many as the Lord our God will call”.
Believers are instructed in truth and godliness by the Holy Spirit:
Ephesians 4:20-24 (CSB) But that is not how you came to know Christ, 21 assuming you heard about him and were taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to take off your former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires, 23 to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on, the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth.
1st Thessalonians 4:9 (CSB) About brotherly love: You don’t need me to write you because you yourselves are taught by God to love one another.
The great expectation of the Christian faith is that each believer is taught by Christ to take off their former way of life and be clothed in the new man with every expression of Christian love. We are to be taught by the Holy Spirit in real terms to follow Christ in all holiness and truth.
The active, decisive, and clear voice of the Spirit is the word of God:
John 6:63 (CSB) The Spirit is the one who gives life. The flesh doesn’t help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.
Since the anointing of the Holy Spirit is given to “as many as the Lord shall call”, the object of John’s epistle was not to communicate fresh knowledge, but to provide an active, decisive, and clear mouthpiece for the knowledge which was already possessed by all Christians through the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, there are no “enlightened elite” in the Christian faith; the humblest of all Christians is taught by Christ to take off their former way of life and be clothed in holiness with every expression of Christian love by the grace of God.
The role of instruction in the Christian faith is to provide an active, decisive, and clear voice to what the Holy Spirit has already said:
Jeremiah 6:16 (CEB) The Lord proclaims: Stop at the crossroads and look around; ask for the ancient paths.
2nd Timothy 4:1-2 (CSB) I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and because of his appearing and his kingdom: 2 Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching.
The apostle John was not trying to teach something new (2:7), he was trying to activate or call out what was already true in them because of the Holy Spirit (2:8).
This serves as a warning to modern teachers: our job is not to bring “something new”, but to preach the word of God directly, decisively, and clearly because every believer has received an anointing from the Holy One.
And this serves as a warning to Christians who are not content with hearing simple preaching of God’s word, but who always want something “new” and “fresh”; the Holy One’s anointing teaches us Christ from the simplicity of the living word of God. To hear the word of God explained clearly, directly, and decisively, is to hear God speak. From this the Holy Spirit teaches the inner man to walk in the ancient paths.