1 John 4:1-6

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Understanding And Applying the Text

John’s purpose in this letter is to combat false teachers. Gnostics and docetists taught Jesus did not come in the flesh. He only appeared to be flesh and bone. He was not a real man. He only appeared to be a man. John does not tell us which false teachers and Prophets he is addressing. If he did not have gnostic and docetism in mind, he at least had in mind those with similar teachings. John is using the same language he used in chapter 2. The “false prophets” John refers to appear to have been part of the Christian community. But they have left and were trying to drag believers with them. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.”

These false prophets claimed inspiration from God. But John makes it clear that not all spirits are from God. So, we are to test the spirits to determine whether they are from God. John is not introducing something new. The same principle applied in the Old Testament. John said, test the spirits. The Old Testament Law commanded testing the prophets. Old Testament prophets were tested in two ways. 1) Did the prophets’ predictive prophecies come true? (Deut 18:22, 2) 2) Did he advocate idolatry? (Deut 13:1-3.) God warned the people of Israel even false prophets may perform signs and wonders. They were to judge the prophet’s authenticity basis of his teachings. That is, did he advocate idolatry?

The test John is not given a magic formula to test the spirits or teacher. It is as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:3, “…no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.” These are not magic words. Rather we are to understand them as a confession of faith and a complete Christology. There are many false spirits today that will claim Jesus came in the flesh but deny he was divine. You can find a good summary of a complete Christology in the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed declares Jesus is, “… the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.”

Like Paul, John shows how to distinguish the Spirit of Truth from the spirit of error. Those who confess Jesus as the Messiah are from God. Those who will not confess Jesus are from the world. This confession is the great divide between those “from God” and those who are “from the world.”

We live in a time that is no different than the one John was addressing. There are many false teachers in the church. We too are to test the teacher and their teachings. We are to see if their teaching is from God or from the world. Signs and wonders were not in themselves, sufficient tests in the Old Testament. And they are not sufficient today. But unfortunately, our bar is must lower today. We do not need signs and wonders. Instead, we test the truthfulness of a teacher but the size of his congregation or following. How popular is he? It is not even how many they are, “bringing to Christ.” The false teachers in John’s day were popular and had many converts. The question is to which Christ are they bringing their followers? Is it a Christ of prosperity? Or is it one who calls us to be a suffering servant? Is it a chirst who promises health, wealth, success, and a life of ease? Or is it a Christ who promises you suffering? Do they preach a Christ who wants you to reach your full potential? Or do they preach a Christ who wants you to become less and less so that His glory shines brighter and brighter? There are many false teachers in pulpits today. False teachers today are teaching how to be successful. They teach how to raise a family, and how to save your marriage. These are all good things. But they are not the reason Christ died on the cross.

How can you determine if your pastor and your church are part of the true church? John provides a simple test. Do they believe teach and confess that Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God? Jesus existed before the world. Jesus has a dual nature being both fully God and fully man. Does your church believe teach and confess that all things were made by Christ? That he came down from heaven, was born, lived, and was crucified for our sins. He suffered and was buried, and He rose on the third day. Jesus ascended into heaven and sits on the right hand of the Father. And finally, He will come again in judgment.

Many churches today will claim they believe all that. They may even have a statement declaring so. But what are they teaching? Listen to the sermon carefully this Sunday. What is it teaching? Listen to the Sunday school lesson. What is discussed? Is the theme something you could have heard on Dr. Phil, or Oprah with Jesus sprinkled in for seasoning? Or was the message declaring why Jesus came, for the forgiveness of sins, and a call to repentance?

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