1 John 4:1-6 – 2023 Aug 10

This is the beginning of a New section of thought for John.  After telling us that we need to believe God and live like that matters, and love God and all of the brethren in Christ (in fact everyone, but especially believers), and obey the Lord and what He tells us in His Word, He begins to talk about how we can tell just how to know what that meant. 

John is dealing with a group of people that we have given the label of proto-Gnostics, introducing the “secret knowledge” for the “extra-special” people who were their acolytes.  Paul dealt with the same stuff in Corinth, people identifying themselves as “Super-Apostles” when in reality, they were not apostles at all.  These false teachers took their inspiration from traditional pagan dualism, the belief that spiritual and intellectual concepts were good, but that all physical matter was evil.  The logical extension of this is that Jesus, being spiritual in nature, would not have become flesh, it was some strange spiritual manifestation.  John will comment on that as we go, and we will look at why this is a lie in this study’s text, so as they say, on with the show.

I broke the text down as follows: 

KV1:  The why and how of discernment

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

1:  The need for discernment (a gift of the Holy Spirit)

2-3:  This is the test!  Did Jesus come in the flesh or not?

4-5:  The difference between the godly and worldly

6:  The spirit of truth and the spirit of error

KV1:  The why and how of discernment

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

First, with this topic, I find it necessary to define all the terms I use clearly.  Let’s look for a moment at 1 Cor.12.  We will start in verse 7 and read through verse 11.  Take your time to get there, but I want you to read along with me in your own translations.  I’m reading from the New American Standard.  “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.

Discernment for the Christian is telling the difference between truth and error.  Sometimes, that is telling the difference between right and wrong, but I’m a follower of Charles Spurgeon, who opined that most often, it is telling the difference, not between right and wrong, but between right and almost right.  The Apostle John here is telling us why we need to do this, and HOW, more importantly.  With that, let’s get into the text.

1:  The need for discernment (a gift of the Holy Spirit)

We have already looked at the text that many Charismaniacs like to abuse by taking snippets out of context.  What do I mean by that is that they take a snippet of this and then claim that this is their gift, and then need to “activate” it, which no bible verse ever says.  For example, most of them consider “speaking in tongues” as an evidence of salvation.  They rightly say such gift is directly from the Holy Spirit, but claim that all true believers speak in tongues.  However, no bible verse supports that either, and you can even see this in 1 Cor. 14.  It is that Chapter 14 that got me tossed out of the Charismatic movement for reading my Bible in context, and we’re going to do the same thing with chapter 12 here:  “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.”  If you read the passage in ANY language, it reads “to SOME he gave…” for EVERY gift besides that.  Even if you believe that tongues are a gift still in use today, not all believers have the gift of tongues.  And if they employ it publicly, there is supposed to be an interpreter to tell us what was said so that we as the corporate body of Christ can be built up in faith!  My reading says there is reason to doubt this and other gifts have largely ceased, by the way, just like their understanding of what the gift actually is.  It is not an ecstatic utterance in a heavenly language, but rather is a human language given to communicate the GOSPEL in a language you do not speak.  From the way it presents in Acts 2, Peter and the other saints never knew that the people who heard them heard them in their own language.  I know, longer example, but with that, let’s look at the verse.

1:  Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

  • I find it interesting that many progressives and atheists tell Christians that we have a “blind” faith.  I actually don’t, and neither do most of you. As many of you know, I have a degree from Carleton University in Evolutionary Biology.  I know WHY I don’t believe the theory, and it is a four word answer (Second Law of Thermodynamics).  I won’t get into detail, but that is a VERY well-reasoned and supported “religious” doctrine that is also accepted on faith, meaning the firm opinion or conviction that something is true.  The problem with their supports for it is that there are other ways of looking at the information, and how do you know which one is true?
  • That’s what discerning between the pneumata, that is the spirits, is what is all about.  Jesus called Himself the truth in John 14:6 (I am THE way, THE truth, and THE life, no one comes to the Father except through me).  Not everything that is said is said by God.  The Apostle john warns us that polloi pseudoprophetai have gone out into the world, literally “many false prophets.”  These false teachers repeat cleverly devised lies that are most of the time even supportable with logic.  All of the “best” false prophets are so close to the truth that they can be difficult for young or untaught Christians to spot.  That’s why John gives some tests to determine, or “discern,” between the spirits behind all of these things that are said and done in the name of God and of Jesus Christ.

2-3:  This is the test!  Did Jesus come in the flesh or not?

We’ll just get straight into the text in this paragraph or thought unit.

2:  By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God;

  • Again, it is interesting that John goes straight for the best counterfeit-detector test.  The RCMP teaches their federal investigators that chase counterfeiters here in Canada to know real currency SO well that any fake will instantly stand out against the real thing.  It should be this way with all of us Berean believers–we should know the Scriptures well enough that false teaching should raise red flags almost immediately.  To that end, John gives us the test in his first phrase:  By THIS you know the Spirit of God.  In modern vernacular, John is telling us the test to use.
  • Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.  What is John saying?  Well, he is referring to the dualism I was speaking of earlier.  These pseudoprophets subscribed to the common pagan belief that all matter is evil but that all spirituality is good.  We know from the Scriptures this isn’t correct, by the way.  It says in Genesis 1:31 that “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”  Earlier in the text he says that He saw that it was good.  When He finished and saw the whole thing, even with the addition of man, who had not yet fallen into sin, He didn’t just say it was good, He said it was VERY good!  Now who are we as men to disagree with God? 
  • These false teachers also believed that all things of spirit were good, being of a better, more permanent, divine realm.  Here is where we get into the difference between right and almost right.  Things of a spiritual creation are more permanent and of divine creation.  It does not now necessarily have a “better” or “good” nature.  Look for a moment at what Paul has to say in Ephesians 6:12.  “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”  It says these evil rulers, powers, world forces of darkness, and spiritual forces of wickedness are what we as real believers are to war against.  If God is good, and everything he made in a physical reality was good, and there are spiritual forces of darkness and wickedness, frankly it reveals these pseudoprophets to be what they are–at best deceived and at worst deceivers themselves.
  • John is telling us that the defining litmus test for discernment is to ask what they think of Jesus Christ.  Did He come as a man, or was it just some spiritual manifestation?  That list has grown over the last 1900+ years, too.  Who do you say that the Christ is?  Is he just a good man?  A good moral teacher among many?  A lunatic?  A liar?  A prophet?  Or is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God?  How a person answers that question will determine the pneumatos that is behind their actions and their motivation. 

3:  and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.

  • The other side of the coin here is when they answer something that is not biblical.  When they are revealed by their answer, we know who they are and where they are coming from; and whether they like it or not, whose worldview they hold and therefore who they represent.  If they do not give a biblical answer, they are not from God, they are not speaking for God, and they are not real believers, that is they are not Christians, because words have meaning.  Words MUST have meaning, or there is, as the dove saw after the flood, no safe place to land without killing oneself in a metaphorical and deconstructionist kind of sense.
  • Beloved, when an individual gives a non-Biblical answer to the question of who Christ is to them, they are of the spirit of antichrist, and must be treated accordingly, by telling them the truth in love.  You should also know that the sense of that word is not just to be “against” or in opposition to Christ.  It includes as part of the meaning to stand in for or usurp Christ from His rightful place,  grand false substitute if you will.  And if had already entered the world during the time of John, how much more firmly established must it be almost 2000 years later?  I doubt John would be surprised, but rather be horrified at what we had to face today.  He already had to deal with the likes of Cerinthus (the main reason he wrote the Gospel of John, to refute his arguments and tell the brethren how to spot and combat him and his ilk).  It isn’t like that ancient heresy went away, it has been in fact retained and expanded on and multiplied exponentially into the royal mess of confusion we have today.  An early Christian Epiphanius said that both Paul and John were familiar with him, though it isn’t clear that he was active when Paul was around.  If you’ve read Heresies by Irenaeus of Lyon, you know about the very public incident in which John, learning that Cerinthus was in a bath house that John was intending to visit, warned all the brethren away because he was concerned that the Lord would destroy the bath house with Cerinthus in it, and all that were inside with him.  He named Cerinthus, loudly and publicly as a false teacher, and warned people away from him, and not just in this incident.  He reflected a syncretism of proto-Gnostic ideas, Judaism and Christian teachings.  Given that Syncretism is the main reason God sent Judah into Babylonian captivity, John was right to be concerned.

The test is not your degree in theology, Beloved, even though it is a worthy topic of study.  It is not your M.Div. or your Ph.D. if you are a Pastor.  I ask you what Theological Seminary the Apostle John graduated from.  He didn’t, He and his brother James were commercial fishermen in partnership with two other friends named Andrew and Simon, who we know as Peter.  No, the test is the answer to the same question that Jesus asked His disciples in Matt. 16:15–“He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (v.16)  Jesus told Peter that was the right answer in v.17.  Get that one right, and the Lord will take care of the rest as you go along.  I used to have some pretty whacked-out ideas myself, being a former charismatic, though I didn’t even know what the word meant at the time.  And this is a good time to move to the next paragraph.

4-5:  The difference between the godly and worldly

I stated earlier that there is a conflict between worldviews, and I wasn’t joking.  There is a worldview that looks at the world and tries to make sense of it within itself by observing what works, what doesn’t and why not, and then proceeds on that basis.  Beloved, that was me for many, many years.  I thought I knew the grace of God, because of this gift.  Although I was a real believer, I did not understand how worldly and fatal that worldview really was.  Then in November of 2014 I had a BIG wakeup call.  It was a heart attack, and one of the things it forced me to do was to look at myself.  All the little stories, fantasies really, I was telling myself may have been harmless in and of themselves were just wasting my time, ticking down a clock until I was out of time, and I very nearly was at that time.  I remember laying in the observation room of the Civic Hospital, all covered in wires, tubes running in and out of me, my chest still throbbing a little after the medication had killed the palpitations, thinking, “Is this how it ends?”  That is the natural end of a worldly worldview, Beloved.  Apparently, God was persuaded of better things concerning me, and for that I am truly grateful.  Over the next few days, and weeks, and months, He began to reveal through His word as I read it a different point of view and inviting me to partake in it.  Let’s see what John tells us about that.

4:  You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.

  • Do you understand what John is saying here?  John is saying that you aren’t like them, you were never supposed to be, and you have overcome them because Christ rescued you from this present evil world.  So many times, I have heard other people say, and have believed it myself in the past, that I chose Christ over the world and then I had to my dead-level best to meet the standards that He expected of me.  And beloved?  It simply is not true.  The Lord tells us differently in Romans 8:28-30.  “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”
  • Did you catch that?  ALL things.  Even things we might consider to be BAD!  I think a heart attack qualifies, though that is only my experience.  Those ones that love God, those ones that are called by Him according to His purposes, those ones that God came to rescue from this evil world have been known by Him for a VERY long time, and the reason that these things work out for their benefit is because He has ordained it to be so because of the work that His Son, God the Son did on OUR behalf.  Verse 29 says that he knew us all ahead of time.  Some have said that He looked down the long corridors of time to see how we would respond to His son, but I find that unsatisfying as a too-low view of God.  There has never been a day in the universe where God has had to learn anything.  He simply knew the ones that He personally chose out of the rest to be His, for reasons all His own, that He did not explain to us (yet, I hope).  Those whom he foreknew, He foreordained (predestined, same Greek word, proorizo, to see from over the horizon) to be conformed to the image of His Son.  Those who He foreordained, He called.  All of them.  And those who answered, all of them, He justified.  All of them.  And those whom He justified He also glorified.  All of them.  And all because He who is in us is greater that he who is in the world.  We did not, cannot, should not try to do any of this ourselves!  God has already done it for us.  We need to rest from our own works and do His.
  • Who is this one that it in us?  Paul can tell us.  Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”  Christ truly IS all in all, and it is He who has done all of this, not we ourselves.  Now what is the other side of this equation?

5:  They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them.

  • It is that worldly wisdom that sounds pithy and wise, but really isn’t.  Gentlemen like the late Tim Keller specialized in it.  This is a quote as an example:  “The Church will Grow by Immigration Because White People are Too Secular.”  Beloved, the church comes from every tribe and language and nation on the planet, and the only way to become a citizen is to be born again as one.  Saying “white people are too secular” here isn’t Christian at all.  But “good” “churchians” all over the world loved him for statements like this.  His statements sound more like Buddhist conundrums than theological nuggets.  It was so predictable, a guy I know put up a Tim Keller Tweet Generator for a while, and you couldn’t tell which he came up with or the ones the generator did.  But this should not surprise us.

Those with a worldly worldview cannot help it when they try to sound spiritual and fall flat.  This is the huge and separating difference between the two camps.  One camp is the chosen sons of God, and the other are referred to in Scripture as the sons of destruction.  They are of the world, and the world listens to them, no matter at times how stupid and moronic their logic seems to be to those of us with redeemed minds.  Those who are not filled with the Holy Spirit because they have entered into a saving relationship with the Living God through our Lord Jesus Christ won’t understand it or us.  It’s sad to watch them try, and at times dangerous to be around and disagree.  And it will get worse.  This brings us to our last thought unit of this study.

6:  The spirit of truth and the spirit of error

In the final verse of our text, John gives us another test we can apply and the reasoning for it as we try to discern between the “spirit” or rather the pneumata that we are presented with to determine what is behind it.  Let’s read the verse here.

6:  We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

  • The best thing I can come up with here that helps our understanding is a commentary on this section of Scripture by the Welsh reformer and nonconformist pastor Matthew Henry:  “Christians who are well acquainted with the Scriptures, may, in humble dependence on Divine teaching, discern those who set forth doctrines according to the apostles, and those who contradict them. The sum of revealed religion is in the doctrine concerning Christ, his person and office. The false teachers spake of the world according to its maxims and tastes, so as not to offend carnal men. The world approved them, they made rapid progress, and had many followers such as themselves; the world will love its own, and its own will love it. The true doctrine as to the Savior’s person, as leading men from the world to God, is a mark of the spirit of truth in opposition to the spirit of error. The more pure and holy any doctrine is, the more likely to be of God; nor can we by any other rules try the spirits whether they are of God or not. And what wonder is it, that people of a worldly spirit should cleave to those who are like themselves, and suit their schemes and discourses to their corrupt taste?
  • I know this summarizes the whole of the text that we are examining this evening, but it does make the point effectively:  “The true doctrine as to the Savior’s person, as leading men from the world to God, is a mark of the spirit of truth in opposition to the spirit of error.”  The way we can tell the difference between the two is whether the people we talk to listens to what we have to say.  If they do, they are of God.  If they do not, they are not.  It’s very simple, and it came straight from the Apostle John.

These opposing worldviews will never agree, so compromise is an idea dreamed up by either morons or what Leninist Marxists in Russia would call “useful idiots,” a person who is persuadable and can be used to spread the false doctrinal belief of Marxism in that case.  You can really only have these two mutually exclusive groups, and anything in between is a form of syncretism and is of the worldly spirit of error to begin with.  I don’t think I can put that any plainer than I have.

This is a big deal today when so much of the so-called church is trying to compromise with the world in the name of “winning more people to ‘Christ,'” which can be also stated as “putting more butts in seats so we can make more money.”  We are inundated with calls to support all kinds of false teaching, from the name-and-claim Word of Faith charismania to the “affirming and accepting” of every type of sin and depravity known to man, and largely described in Romans 1:18-32, which you can read on your own time.  Beloved, all such action is useless.  Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain.”  God’s work must be done God’s way, in God’s prescribed methods, or it will simply lack God’s supply.  That would leave the theologically minded to ask as Jesus did in Luke 18:8b, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?

Let us then test the spirits, the pneumata, as John says.  There is only one Life, there is only one Truth, and there is only one Way, and it is the Christ.  May we all be found in faithfulness and obedience to Him when He returns.

That’s what I saw in the text.

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