“That preacher’s got unction!” I should hope so, and I hope that you have it too. What does the Bible say about “unction.” It’s in the King James Bible one time in 1 John 2:20. The Greek word translated unction is found three times in the same chapter. The other two times, it is translated as “anointing,” which is what it means in any language.
In 1 John 2:18, John warns the church about the wickedness of false prophets and antichrists. John endearingly calls these Christians “little children” and says they had heard that the antichrist should come, but now, antichrists are running all around, spreading their false gospel. They went out from among the Christian community because they never were part of Christ to start with, and their leaving made it manifest they never knew Christ at all. But, he says in verse 20, you have an unction from the Holy One and know all things.
To understand unction, we need to recognize the function of the conjunction “but.” He contrasts those who depart from Christ with the “little children” who don’t. The believers who abide in Christ have something the antichrists and their followers don’t. They have the truth, and they have Christ. They have this unction. As John goes on, it’s evident that this unction or anointing is not only for preachers but for all those who abide in Christ. It is related to knowing Christ, knowing the truth, abiding in the truth, and not being deceived or seduced by false teaching. Nothing about working up a sweat behind the pulpit.
Unction, as used in the Bible, is God’s gift to all believers. Any Christian, born of God and united to Christ, has this unction, the blessing of the New Covenant, indwelt, sealed, kept, and taught of the Spirit of God. All Christians abide in Christ and are safe in him. Unction isn’t an emotional feeling, ecstatic fever, a second blessing, or subjective standard of a good sermon. It’s abiding in the Spirit of Christ, and it is the gift of God to all believers. Nowhere are we told to seek an unction, cultivate it, maintain it, pursue it, or that we are in danger of losing it.
We can talk about boldness, zeal, or passion in preaching, but to conflate that with unction doesn’t make preaching better, but makes true unction worse. In 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5, the word came, not in word only, but “power and the Holy Ghost.” Ironically, there was nothing in Paul’s language that one would have particularly found powerful (1 Corinthians 2:3-4; 2 Corinthians 10:10) except when the Holy Spirit came in power to the hearers. And this is by His sovereign grace and pleasure. Not all sermons are the same or are received because God does what He pleases with His Word and people. Rather than subjectively judging or trying to bottle the wind to use on Sunday morning (John 3:8), let’s be faithful and pray for God’s blessings on the work.