When was the last time that a spiritual leader said to you that you didn’t need someone to teach you? Can you remember a time where you showed up at church and the pastor said he wasn’t going to preach because the congregation had what they needed already? How about getting a letter from one of the Apostles saying that you had the ability to know what you needed to know as a follower of Jesus?
It sounds strange, unorthodox, and perhaps even heretical in light of our Christian system that is built on the assumption that additional knowledge means additional growth. The problem is, Jesus generally goes out of his way to knock systems aside and reveal to people something they’ve been blinded to.
Something along those lines happens in 1 John when the Apostle, inspired by the Spirit, writes,
“But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.”
1 John 2:26-28
“You have no need that anyone should teach you….his anointing teaches you about everything” is quite the statement, one that we need to wrestle with. Have we bought into a system that’s blinded us to the massive power of the Holy Spirit to lead and teach God’s people? Could it be that there actually is an anointing from the Father that “teaches you about everything”?
Defining the Anointing
John isn’t espousing some new idea in his letter to the early Christian churches. He’s simply reiterating what Jesus had said to him and the other Apostles years earlier before his crucifixion;
“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” – John 14:25-26
The Holy Spirit is the anointing that John is referring to, and apparently he – and Jesus – have an expectation that the Holy Spirit will impart to those who he abides in a knowledge of the truth about “everything,” “all things,” and “all that I have said to you.”
My solidly evangelical, reformed-leaning background balks at the idea that any and every Christian would have some sort of internal teacher. Isn’t that risky? Doesn’t it lead to people going off the deep end into strange theologies and wild conjectures. Perhaps. But that doesn’t mean that we can simply ignore the words of John and Jesus.
Too many people live a “second-handed” Christianity – a Christianity that is defined by what they receive from their pastor, the book they read most recently, or what they’ve heard on the radio. The vast majority of Christians are running on the fumes of their spiritual leader’s encounters with God rather than their own. How much more powerful to be people who have indeed heard from God, been taught of him, and are obeying him. Which has more power, the word of man or the word of God?
The Apostle Paul is a man who exemplifies this kind of personal encounter and the drive that results from it. The Gospel he believed wasn’t one that he heard from other people – he explicitly states, “I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:11-17) This encounter, this being taught by Christ through the Holy Spirit, drove Paul throughout the known world with the Gospel. Oh how we would be blessed by more men and women like him!
You have no need that anyone should teach
Clearly John and Jesus don’t mean for us to do away with all teaching and instruction. John’s letter is in itself teaching, and Jesus devoted countless hours to teaching his disciples. However, we ought to be very wary of setting up systems that teach God’s people to depend on pastors and preachers and “professional” Jesus followers instead of pointing them directly to Christ, and through him, the Father.
We need to teach people to go to God and his word on their own, to tune into the Holy Spirit, and be taught by the Spirit of truth. We need to equip disciples to encounter God in the Scriptures, to discern and apply the truth to their lives without a middleman. Rather than defaulting to our own, safe, easily manageable teaching, let’s release God’s people to be truly “taught of God” (John 6:45).
Jesus is the leader of his people, not us. The Holy Spirit is the Teacher, pastors and preachers are simply instruments in his hands. As Neil Cole writes:
We are not to strive to get our teaching into the saints, but to equip them to use the deposit already in them to teach others. This is a radical change in approach for those who lead.
Church leadership must shift from trying to put good stuff into Christians and start releasing the God-stuff already within. That is a complete 180º turn for most in church ministry. The deposit is already made and the treasure is within, sealed with a pledge that cannot be broken (2 Tim 1:14; Eph 1:13-14). Christ in you is the hope of glory…and nothing else is (Col 1:27). Our role as leaders is not to try and add anything to it in some egotistic way as if we have anything that deserves to be in the same conversation. Imagine telling people that they have the powerful, continual, presence of the Spirit of Christ within them, and if they just add my teaching or read my book they can be used by God. Sounds awful doesn’t it. Because it is. Our role is to help people realize what they already have and walk in that power rather than try and put anything within them. All leadership, speaking, books and methods should be about that.
Maturity in Christ is about discovering who you are in Christ, rather than trying to become something that you are not. Equippers have a single role, help people discover what it means to be connected to the Head and to serve Jesus.
– Neil Cole