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Last time we saw love in action. It’s not enough to talk about love, we must demonstrate it in our lives. As in other verses, John tells us that Jesus is our example. He loved so much that he laid down His life for us and we should be willing to do the same for our brothers. Recognizing that this opportunity might not present itself, John tells us to be willing to help someone that is in need. This morning John issues us a very clear warning.
1 John 4:1-6 says, “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. 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, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. 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. They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. 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.”
We have a conflict of epic proportions. John has dealt with conflicts in previous verses. In 2:18-28, he talked about the conflict between truth and falsehood. In 2:29-3:12, he talked about the conflict between the children of God and the children of the devil. In 3:13-24, he talked about the conflict between love and hatred. We saw love in action last week and John begins Chapter 4 with a term of endearment. He really does love the people he’s writing to and that’s one of the things that motivates John to write. He wants them to get it. Look at what he says in v. 1. There are dangers in the world and they don’t always come in a form that is recognizable. It’s not the same form of danger where we tell our kids to look both ways before crossing the street. It’s not like saying don’t take candy from strangers. It’s not the same as saying don’t drink and drive or don’t text and drive. This is a different kind of danger. Matt. 10:28 says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” This is a danger that has eternal consequences.
Don’t believe everything you hear. Put what you hear to a test. Test means examine or prove, just as in the old days to make sure coins were real. It means a continual examination to make sure what you hear is correct. Now this really applies to everything. If it sounds too good to be true it probably is. But John is talking about the things of God here. The Gnostics had created significant problems in the church because they were teaching things that were contrary to fundamental Bible doctrine. “Don’t believe every spirit. but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” There has to be a standard to go by. There must be something used as a comparison. The obvious answer for us today is to use the Bible. People say all kinds of crazy things and attribute it to the “leading of the Lord.” Unfortunately, sometimes that leading of the Lord changes frequently.
There are true prophets of God and there are false prophets of God. In Bible days, they were fairly easy to spot. The things biblical prophets said always came true. If what a prophet says in the name of the Lord did not come true, then the Lord has not spoken. Remember Elijah? You can read the account of his test in 1 Kings 18. The short story is there were 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah. Elijah challenged them to see who the true prophet was. Elijah comes out on top because he was a prophet of the one and only true God. We are to test the spirits because, “Many false prophets have gone out into the world.” The people John wrote to have likely dealt with these false prophets.
So what’s the test? How can we know? We’re not left to figure out what to do. Here’s the test: look at v. 2. The actual test surrounds the person of Christ. Confess here is more than just acknowledging that Jesus was a real person. It involves who the person of Christ actually is. It means born of a virgin through the work of the Holy Spirit. It means a life undefiled by sin although He was tempted in all ways like we are. It means shedding His blood and dying on a cross. It means being buried in a tomb for three days. It means being raised again where He was seen by the multitudes. It means He ascended to heaven where He now sits at the Father’s right hand interceding on our behalf. That’s the confession of faith that John is talking about. Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. This is not a secondary doctrine. It is essential and fundamental for correct doctrine.
The conclusion of the test is in v. 3. If there is a spirit that does not recognize Jesus, that’s the spirit of anti-Christ. John tells them that this spirit is already in the world and there are lots of them. The natural tendency might be to just let things go. If someone wants to believe something different, that’s okay even if it may not be true. 2 Tim. 4:2-4 says, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”
We must be willing to confront false teaching, anti-Christs and bad doctrine. There is false teaching in the world today and the source is the devil. He is a liar and the father of lies. The enemy of Christ, our enemy has been around a long time. We didn’t get to this place of easy believism overnight. We didn’t get to the church’s current state of biblical ignorance overnight. We didn’t get to this place of busyness overnight. It’s been a process that has taken place over the years. That’s part of Satan’s plan. 2 Pet. 2:1 says, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them.” If you think the state of the Christianity is bad now, imagine what it would be like if teachers of God’s Word were never held accountable. Paul told Titus to, “Hold fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.” (Tit. 1:9)
John does provide some great encouragement. No matter the situation, no matter the dire circumstances or consequences, we are children of God. Look at v. 4. There are only two spirits that influence prophets and teachers: the Spirit of God and the spirit of anti-Christ. You, child of God, have overcome them referring to the anti-Christs who are in the world. Overcome is in the perfect tense – that means something that happened in the past, but produces a result in the present. It means conquer, defeat, to be victorious right now. Why? Because what you have residing in you is greater than he who resides in the world. Who controls the world? V. 5 tells us. Paul calls him the, “Prince of the power of the air” in Eph. 2:2. The difference between false prophets and true prophets is the source of the message. Satan and his demons are in the world and that’s why the world listens to them.
The contrast in v. 6 is that unlike the world, we are from God. Anyone who knows God will listen to us. The logical conclusion is that if you are a child of God, you’re going to listen and pay attention to the words of God. It doesn’t matter if they’re in printed or spoken form. That’s why I have such a hard time with people who profess to be a Christian, but don’t care what the Bible says. That’s why I have such a hard time with people that don’t listen to godly, wise counsel. That’s why I have such a hard time with people who believe something and cannot defend their beliefs. All true believers are from God and all believers have the One that is greater living inside them. The person that affirms the world’s message is from the world. Jo. 8:47 says, “He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.” God has chosen human vessels to lead us and teach us. Check out what they say about Jesus. “By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” The spirits must be tested.
Don’t believe everything you hear. False teachers are all around us trying to deceive us. As a child of God, you have a responsibility to lovingly confront wrong or misleading doctrine. You have a right to question what you hear, whether it’s from a CG leader, SS teacher, an elder, or me. You can know what is true and what is false. You can know the Spirit of God from the spirit of anti-Christ.