The author reminds his readers that what he is now telling them is in fact what the church has heard from the beginning. He warns them against those who are trying to lead them astray from that well-founded teaching which remains in you. Their steadfastness depends on remembering the Spirit-inspired teaching about Jesus that they have heard and accepted all along. For it is the Spirit who remains with the faithful and who reminds them of what they have heard from the beginning. But clearly John expects that the Spirit works and speaks through individuals who proclaim and teach. This is exactly why the false teachers are such a threat, why he will later warn his readers to "test the Spirits" (4:1-6), and why he continually points to the role of the eyewitnesses and their successors in passing on the truth they have received. While ultimately the Spirit "will teach you all things" (Jn 14:26), the Spirit does so through human beings. Thus, when the Elder writes you do not need anyone to teach you, he does not mean that they have never needed any teachers—for he himself was and continues to be their teacher! But they do not now suddenly need new teaching about Jesus, such as the secessionists are offering.
What constitutes a different gospel from the one that they heard from the beginning was exactly the source of debate. It is unlikely that the dissidents would say or even agree that they had changed the proclama tion. The Elder therefore appeals to his readers' ability to discern, with the aid of the community and by the guidance of the Spirit, whether or not the message they are now hearing conforms to the "Word of life" that they heard initially. The importance of an informed Christian com munity and the thoughtful understanding of the word of the gospel are foundational to the epistle's appeals and crucial for the health of the church today. John further appeals to his readers to remain in him, presumably to remain in God as revealed in the Son. To remain implies the maintenance of a stable and vital—but not static!—fellowship with God. In the words of one author, abiding suggests "utter and dependable permanence" (Houlden 1973:82). In this way, we will receive "what he promised us" (v. 25), eternal life.
Here now the first long section of 1 John, which I have called "Walking in the Light: The Fundamental Pattern," comes to a close. In it the author has laid out his view of the life of discipleship as a pilgrimage in which we strive to live within and by the light of God's love, truth and right eousness. Now the imagery shifts somewhat as the Elder introduces and develops the idea that we are the "children of God." The fundamental pattern of what is expected of Christian disciples does not change. But by emphasizing that we are actually bound to God by an intimate rela tionship—not just as master and disciple, but as parent and child—we gain another angle on understanding the meaning of the life of faith.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.