1 JOHN – SERIES: NR 12
Scripture : 1 John 4: 1 – 6
Theme: Test the spirits!
These 6 verses introducing chapter 4 do not stand by themselves. They are connected to the last verse of chapter 3.
At the end of chapter 3, the Apostle John said that the true Christ-believing person did receive the HOLY SPIRIT and that the Christian can KNOW that he/she received the Holy Spirit because one can see Him working in you. In last week’s study, we saw what that working is.
But now there is a problem! The Gnostics (the false preachers who were pestering the churches of that time) professed that they too have received the Holy Spirit! They even said that all the new precepts they support were given to them by a revelation from the Holy Spirit. That is precisely why everyone was expected to stand at attention when they preached. Everyone had better listen to what they preached because it came from the Holy Spirit. So they said.
The Holy Spirit is speaking in their hearts, say the Gnostics. They can hear Him, word by word. But alas, the Apostle John and the Christians in the churches maintain that they have received the Holy Spirit, but they can not even hear His voice speaking to them. The apostles are telling the Christians that they must listen to the teaching of the apostles and read the OT to hear the Holy Spirit speaking. Indeed, it is now very clear that WE are a lot more spiritually advanced than the poor apostles and the churches that they are misleading.“
So, now what is the Apostle John’s answer to this?
Read verse 1 again >
He is saying: “Dear friends, 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.” (verse 1).
Today we hear voices who say: “You should not judge. Who are you to judge? Who appointed you to judge me?”
And that while the Word of God commands us and say: “Make a right judgment“. (John 7:24). Jesus says: You must judge. The post-modern world says: You must not judge. Whom should we believe? Jesus or post-modernism?
Those first churches experienced the same difficulty that we have today. How should they know what kind of spirit is speaking? Do the Gnostics speak by the Holy Spirit? They speak so well and are so spiritual. It SOUNDS as if they are speaking the truth. Have they perhaps really received new revelations from God?
Well, John the Apostle commands (this is an apostolic order): “Do not believe anyone who says that he has the Holy Spirit, but test him! Test and examine. Because the spirit can be a false spirit. A spirit planted by satan. Surely you do not want to believe the devil? Surely you do not want to confuse a wrong spirit with the Person of God the Holy Spirit?”
In other words: Not everything that a spirit speaks is necessarily from God. It is very dangerous to accept everything that is spoken “in the Name of the Lord” as a matter of course. Everyone who claims a private, inner revelation, does not necessarily hear the voice of the Lord. The Gnostics at that time did not!
The Apostle says we must TEST THE SPIRITS to discern whether they are from God. It is very important to know if something is FROM GOD – a phrase that is used in five of the six verses in this paragraph. Certain spirits are not from God.
With the notion, PROPHET is meant someone who speaks on God’s behalf. Today it would mean to accurately speak the Scriptures within certain contexts. But at the time of the Apostles, the NT was not yet complete and prophets spoke the doctrine of the OT and the teaching of the Apostles. Besides that, they also received teaching directly from the Lord – because the NT was not yet complete.
It is precisely at the last-mentioned point where distortion and adulteration could so easily enter. Because just imagine if it is NOT the Holy Spirit speaking through such a person? That is why Jesus himself also warned so emphatically against false prophets (Matt 7:15).
What complicates the matter though, is the fact that false prophesy sounds exactly like the truth. It is difficult to make a judgment by the content (that which you hear) alone. The question is what the SOURCE of the words are. Is it the Holy Spirit or is it demonic? Is it the Lord or is it satan speaking? Satan’s words sound so holy and pure and perfect and loving and compassionate and embracing. Is he not the angel of light? (2 Cor 11:14).
Therefore: How will one know?
Let us listen to verse 2 (read it again)
It is simply impossible for a false spirit to speak correctly about the Lord Jesus Christ. ONLY the Holy Spirit correctly witnesses about Christ Jesus. As simple as that.
In the letter there are THREE places where he talks about how the Gnostics spoke wrongly about Jesus Christ – it is a serious matter:
1. In 2: 22-23 > Deny that Jesus is the Christ/Messiah
2. In 4: 2-3 > Do not acknowledge that Jesus truly became man
3. In 5:6 > Deny that Jesus died as the Messiah
One should therefore read it together to form the complete picture. If we look carefully, we shall see how the complete truth about Christ is denied, and therefore by implication EVERYTHING that the NT teaches about Christ Jesus.
THAT JESUS IS THE CHRIST, TRUE GOD AND TRUE MAN implies everything about Him – which would mean that – if you deviate from anything, you would cast Him into an idol. He then becomes the Christ of human fantasy. While the complete truth is embodied in Him. No wonder that the false prophets always direct their arrows at HIM. And always they give the impression that they are standing firm in the truth. They have only a few minor differences about Jesus – so they say.
But that is not the way the Apostle John passes judgment about it…
LOOK AT VERSE 3 > read it again…
Whether it is the Holy Spirit speaking or whether it is a false spirit, is determined by what exactly is said about Jesus Christ. That is what has to be listened to very carefully.
Here is a very simple example…
If a person is speaking in the Name of the Lord, and in a subtle way excuse some or other sin which is condemned in the Scriptures, that person does not speak by the Holy Spirit. And so too ANYTHING that is in contradiction with the teaching of the Word.
But, what has that got to do with the identity of Jesus Christ, one might ask.
Well, everything that the Scriptures teach has to do with the identity of the Lord Jesus. It is impossible to set anything apart from Him. Everything connects in some or another way to the Lord Jesus’s true Deity. His true humanness, His atonement-death as the Anointed Son of God, the Christ.
If someone should for example say that it is okay to live together before marriage, such a person does not speak by the Holy Spirit. It is an unclean spirit speaking through that person. It is the spirit of the antichrist. How do we know that? Because he/she is speaking wrongly about Jesus. How so? Because Christ Jesus – true God and true man – His relationship with His true church is reflected through the earthly relationship between man and woman in marriage (Eph 5). Discard the marriage bond – as God instituted it – and you discard Christ’s relationship with His church. And only the antichrist (who is ANTI/AGAINST Christ) does that.
Yes, it is true that there eventually shall come AN antichrist – at the second coming of Jesus – but the spirit of the antichrist has been at work in the world from the beginning. And he imitates the Holy Spirit (false prophet = Rev 13) and talks through people. He even speaks the Scriptures through people but speaks wrongly about Jesus. He ALWAYS speaks wrongly about Jesus.
How do we then know if the Holy Spirit dwells in someone and works and speaks through him/her? We listen to how that person talks about the identity of Jesus Christ (and therefore about all Scripture).
The specific aspect of Christ’s identity that is spoken of here in verses 2-3 is that He truly CAME IN THE FLESH. Someone who confesses heart and soul that Jesus CAME IN THE FLESH, has the Holy Spirit and lives in fellowship with the true God.
Some people SPEAK it with their mouth, but their minds attach different meanings to what they say. They say what is right, but in their heart, they believe something else. They do not truly believe that the Lord Jesus IS ONE PERSON who is both true God and true man. In their hearts, they think that Jesus is only an ordinary man with extraordinary gifts. God called and used Him only for a special purpose. It would be impossible for God to become a true MAN – they say.
Well, John says: That is the spirit of the antichrist.
We must understand what the Apostle John means with the word ACKNOWLEDGE. It is not about a mere knowledge of who Jesus is. Not “Very well, this and that is what the NT teaches about Jesus, yes it is good and right, I accept it”. No, remember the demons also recognised Him and they even confessed that He is the Son of God (Mark 1:24). James 2:19 even goes so far as to say that the devil believes the truth about God, for example, that there is only one God. And yet the devil does not speak through the Holy Spirit. He does not ACKNOWLEDGE the truth. He only knows the truth.
ACKNOWLEDGE is therefore something that is said with the person’s life and lifestyle. It is not merely words. It comes out of connectedness with Christ. A Life-connectedness. And that which is uttered tallies with what the heart believes. It does not clash. It is the same.
And then in verse 4, there follows a very significant statement concerning those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells – that is all the followers of Christ. Look how John switches over to YOU… that is THEY compared with YOU…. THEY speak through the antichrist-spirit, but YOU belong to the Lord and speak through the Holy Spirit in close correlation with the Scriptures… in the next three verses, he contrasts the THEY and YOU so a person can see the differences to differentiate between the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood/heresy. There is nothing in-between. It is the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.
READ VERSES 4-6 AGAIN as a unit…
Can you hear the YOU-THEY contrast?
And take note of the end of verse 6 >> THIS IS HOW we (it is possible and a MUST) recognize the SPIRIT OF TRUTH and THE SPIRIT OF FALSEHOOD.
Do you see – when we speak about truth and falsehood in the church, it comes forth out of the Scriptures? It is not something we have thought out by ourselves. It is here in our text.
And it is the will of the Lord that we should have the ability to discern the difference.
Let us look at verses 4-6 as a unit.
Look carefully and you will notice that the Apostle is talking about THREE groups: THEY, YOU, US.
THEY > Those who speak through the wrong spirit and speak wrongly about Christ
YOU > The churches to whom John is writing – who is speaking through the Holy Spirit
WE > John as Apostle and also the other apostles – those who established the true Gospel-message
NO 1 > WHAT IS TRUE ABOUT THE “THEY”?
A > They have already been overcome by the children of God
B > They belong to the antichrist world system
C > Whatever they speak (preach/teach) is from the world
D > The world listens to them
E > They do not listen to the apostles
NO 2 > WHAT IS TRUE ABOUT THE “YOU”?
A > They belong to God
B > They have already overcome the THEY
C > Christ, who dwells IN them, is greater than Satan who is in the world
NO 3 > WHAT IS TRUE ABOUT THE “US”?
A > They belong to God
B > Those who belong to the Lord listens to them
By all these attributes the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood is differentiated.
The entire matter hinges on the doctrine of the Apostles. The THEY are allergic and critical of it, and the “YOU” embrace it wholeheartedly.
Because the THEY are critical about the doctrine of the Apostles, they do not belong to God, they belong to the world, they have already lost, and are the nice preachers for whom the world always shows respect and compliment.
Because the YOU embrace and wholeheartedly trust the teaching of the Apostles, they have already overcome the THEY and Christ lives in them. And He is greater than anyone who is of the world.
When one sees the HINGE, it helps greatly to discern.
Any, any sign of:
a Disrespect towards the NT-writers
b distrust ANYTHING in the Scriptures
c critical attitude towards ANY Biblical teaching
d efforts to think DIFFERENTLY than the apostolic doctrine
that one notice in any preacher or church must set the red warning lights flashing in your head.
I close by emphasising the great positive truth: Jesus Christ is truly IN the true believer. And He is great. Greater than anyone and anything. Greater than the worldly spirit.
That He is IN the Christ-believer, does not mean that He physically dwells in one. He dwells in one by the ministry and work of God the Holy Spirit, and the believer experiences Him by believing Him for it. Because the Apostles have taught it like that. And true Christians embrace the apostolic teaching. And they do not hide their faith-confidence under a bowl. They reach out to other people. And that draws other Christians closer. They push people away who are worldly, but they pull magnetically closer to those who love the truth. They find kindred souls-in-the-truth.
Our passage of Scripture encourages us to openly and unashamedly stand up and stand out for Christ and the truth. Do it and you will see how peace and joy fill you. And watch how it will attract the right people.
Translated by Marthie Wilson