I led a pretty sheltered life growing up. I grew up in a home that loved and honored Christ and the Word of God. No matter where we lived participation in a local church was assumed and I was raised in several outstanding churches. I attended a Christian school in my elementary years. The dominant influences on my life overwhelmingly were theocentric.
And then entering the middle school years, I moved to a public school. Prior to the change my father had a conversation with me about the new and different influences I would be facing in that setting — temptations that I hadn’t faced previously and companions who really would not be good friends but would be those who would attempt to move me away from honorable and godly actions.
In a sense, what Dad was doing in that conversation was warning me about deceivers — people who had their own (ungodly) agendas and who were uninterested about the care of my soul. Dad’s warning was similar to that of John’s to the churches in Asia Minor — “Little children, make sure no one deceives you…” (1 John 3:7; NASB).
John was talking to his spiritual children. He had deep affection and love for these people and was concerned for their spiritual welfare and those who might lead them away from obedience to Christ into a life of licentious living. And my father’s concern was the same as John’s — both wanted their children to clearly understand what was righteous and what was sin. So John clearly said, “the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil” (1 John 3:7b–8a; NASB). In other words, if you see someone doing righteous things it is from the overflow of God’s justifying work in his life. And if you see someone engaging in ungodly, sinful activity, it is the result of his unregenerate condition. He is still connected to Satan and not Christ; he is in the darkness and not the light; he is not saved.
There have always been those who have attempted to distort the truth. From the moment of Satan’s deception of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, there have always been Scripture twisters who have attempted to have both sin and Christ. The New Testament in particular is clear about these deluding influences.
John in these verses is writing about those who long to have others walk around in confusion, misdirection, and aimlessness — to be deluded. But there are other kinds of deceivers as well. There are many who attempt to deceive and mislead believers with many beguiling teachings (1 Jn. 2:26; Matt 24:4–5, 11, 24; 2 Tim 3:13; Titus 3:3; Rev. 2:20). And ultimately, Satan is the one behind these deceptive teachers (Rev 12:9; 13:14). Yet the provision for the believer is Christ who will not deceive but will always lead us in the truth (1 Pt. 2:25) and even when deceived there is always hope for repentance (Js. 5:16ff; cf. also 1 Cor 15:33; Gal 6:7; Js. 1:16).
From the time of Satan’s rebellion, there have always been false teachers and deceivers. The follower of Christ is to ever be on the alert against those heretics. We are to be ever watchful, perpetually alert, always evaluating what is taught against the truth of God’s Word (Acts 17:11). And as in John’s letter, many of these attacks will come against what it means to be a follower of Christ, excusing or minimizing sin and scoffing at the need to walk in purity with Christ.
But we do not need to be deceived. John’s readers evidently had not yet given in to the false teachers and neither do we need to be confused. We can stand against them by being watchful. So John’s words to the young churches in Asia Minor stand as an encouraging exhortation to us as well: do all you can to make sure no one deceives you.