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.

Observation

  • The recipients of John’s letter were not to believe every spirit
  • The recipients of John’s letter were to test the spirits to see with they were from God.
  • Many false prophets have come in the past.
  • Many false prophets are here today.
  • If a spirit does not confesses Jesus has come in the flesh if is not from God.
  • Every spirit that confesses that Jesus has come in the flesh is from God.
  • If a spirit does not confess Jesus has come in the flesh it is the spirit of the antichrist
  • The antichrist is already in the world.
  • John referred to the recipients of his letter as little children.
  • The recipients of John’s letter were from God.
  • John’s readers had overcome spirits of the antichrist.
  • God is greater than those from the world.
  • The antichrists are from the world.
  • The world listens to the spirit of the antichrists.
  • The reason the world listens to the antichrists is that antichrists are from the world.
  • John and the recipients of his letter were from God.
  • Whoever knows God listens to those who are from God.
  • Those who are not from God will not listen to those who are from God.

Interpretation

John’s purpose in this letter is to combat the false teachers. At this time Gnostic and docetists taught Jesus did not really come in the flesh. He only appeared to be flesh and bone. He was not really a man. He only appeared to be a man. While we do not know exactly which false teachers and Prophets John is addressing here it appears that he, if he did not have gnostic and docestists in mind, at least had in these in mind those with similar teachings. John is using the same language here he used in chapter 2. The “false prophets” John refers to appear to have been part of the Christian community but have left and were trying to drag believers with them, 2:19 “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 to be inspired by the Spirit of God. But John makes it clear that not all spirits are from God. Therefore, we are to test the spirits to determine rather or not they are from God. This idea of “testing the spirits” is similar to the Old Testament commandment to “testing the prophets.” Old Testament prophets were to be tested two ways 1) Did his predictive prophecies come true Deut 18:22, 2) Whether or not he advocated idolatry Deut 13:1-3. The people of Israel were warned that even if the prophet performed great signs and wonders, the prophet’s authenticity is still to be judged on the basis of his teachings, i.e., whether or not he advocated idolatry.

The test John gives is not to be understood as magic words that cannot be spoken by false teachers or spirits. Just as Paul words in 1 Corinthians 12:3, “…no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.” were not to be understood as magic words. Rather they are to be understood 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. A good summary of a complete Christology can be found 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 in 1 Cor. 12:3, John shows how to distinguish the Spirit of Truth from spirits of error: those who confess Jesus as the Messiah are from God, while 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.”

Application

Just as when John wrote this epistle, there are many false teachers in the church. We too are to test the teacher and their teachings to see if their teaching is from God or from the world. Just as signs and wonders were not, in themselves, sufficient tests in the Old Testament. So today they should not be considered sufficient. In our supposed scientific culture today, we do not even require a miracle as a sign the teacher is from God. Rather we accept far less. We accept as a sign someone is from God if they have a large congregation or following. The test of truthfulness is not the size to the congregation or following. It is not popularity. It is not even how many they are, “bringing to Christ.” The false teachers in John’s day were popular and had many converts. But the question is to which Christ are they bringing their followers; The Christ who wants you to be successful, or the suffering servant who promises you suffering as well.  The they preach a Christ who wants you to reach your full potential or a Christ who wants you to become less and less so that His glory shines brighter and brighter. There are many false teachers are in the pulpits today. False teachers today are teaching how to be successful, how to raise a family, how to save your marriage, 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 the Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God. Jesus existed before the worlds were made. 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 the third day He rose again. That 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 of that. They may even have a statement of 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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