As we journey through this book of 1 John I am growing more aware of my own need to make myself more accessible to those whom I claim to love: my family, my church, my friends, and those who are in need of counseling from the Word of God. It is so easy to sheild yourself from every day life and isolate yourself, even when your motivation is to be set apart to God. But how can we be effective witnesses if we are not in the world. In my study today I see that John would not have us exclude ourselves, but rather to take caution as we enter in and engage the world with the love of Jesus. I am confidently convicted by the Word today and even encouraged that there is hope for even me! My prayer now is that the LORD would allow me to redeem the time that I have wasted in isolation and that He would give me the opportunity to make myself more vulnerable to those around me by making myself more available to them.
[1Jo 4:1 NKJV]
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
John gives a stark warning to the believers that he is writing to. He tells them there are many false prophets that have gone out into the world. You only have to turn on the television and you see these kinds of false prophets in their various guises. Now, you won’t see any of them wearing a name tag that says, “So and So…Resident False Prophet.” This is because false prophets either wish to disguise their heresy, or they in fact believe what they are teaching to the point that they themselves are deceived. Either way, John warns his audience and us that many of these false prophets have gone out into the world. So how do you distinguish a false prophet from an authentic prophet? Glad you asked. To understand this better let’s take a look at the qualifications of a true prophet. A true prophet of God is one who is 100% accurate 100% of the time. A true prophet of God has the oracles of God and shares what God wants to make known. A true prophet of God is not concerned with popularity either. Take the prophet Jeremiah for example. Do you know how many people were influenced by his prophesies. Hold up the universal sign for zero! Jeremiah was hated by the people for the prophesies that he brought from God. Don’t shoot the messenger right? I bet this is what he was thinking. And so a prophet may come with news that people don’t want to hear. A false prophet, on the other hand, is looking for his best interest, for popularity, and to get his message across. Add to this, a false prophet cannot be 100% accurate in his prophesy 100% of the time.
And so we are to test the spirits, or those who are presenting prophetic words. And so how do we test these spirits? Well, I am reminded of the U.S. Treasury or even bank tellers for that matter. They are both trained to spot counterfeits quite well. You see, they do this by studying the real money and not the counterfeits, as there are too many variations of counterfeit money to possible know them all. But by studying the real deal, they can tell simply by the feel of the paper whether a bill is real or fake. As believers, we are to do the same thing. We are to understand the real deal, the Word of God, so well that when we encounter false teaching we are able to readily identify it for what it is.
And so John here lovingly warns us that we must be on the look out for such false prophets. Listen, it is so very easy for heresy to infiltrate the church and sow corruption amongst the body. One only needs to look at the letter addressed to the church in Thyatira from the book of Revelation 2:18-29 and you can see how it only takes one person to corrupt an entire fellowship if allowed to. It is not enough to simply recognize a false prophet either. If we only recognize a false prophet but fail to call them to the carpet, we are, in essence, condoning their teaching. Now I know there are many in the church who will not name people by name that they know to be false prophets, and I understand that they are doing so out of grace and as not to offend anyone who may hold to some of their teachings, but they do so to the neglect of their calling as undershepherds in my opinion. Not that they need to go about studying all of the false prophets in the world and then spending time from the pulpit calling them out by name. If that were the case we, as teachers, would be spending all of our time pointing out heretical teachers with no time to teach the Word of God. But when a body is influenced or is being influenced by a particular false prophet, it is the duty of the elders and the pastor of the church to call those teachings and the false teacher out so that the body will be free of the cancer of heresy. There are Christian watchdog organizations whose ministry is dedicated solely to this purpose. One that comes to mind is James Walker from Watchman.orgÂ who has been faithful to build briefs on a great number of false religions and heretical teachers.
[1Jo 4:2 NKJV]
By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God,
The best test at the disposal of the believer. John says that every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God. Now to be clear this does not mean that a simple confession or utterance through your vocal chords is sufficient proof that you are of God. There are many secular historians that believe Jesus was a historical figure, that He came in the flesh. The difference between those who simply profess the existence of Christ and those who believe that He is God is the emphasis they place on the deity of Christ. The breakdown in all true religions is on the issue of Jesus Christ. There are many religions that claim to know God and the way to heaven, but they fall short, denying the existance and/or the deity of Jesus. John tells the believer that by this litmus test we can know whether a spirit is from God or not.
The fact is glaring, the only way to God is through Jesus (John 14:6), and while it may seem a very narrow-minded statement in the eyes of the world, this does not make it any less truthful. Jesus is the only way, the only truth and the only life. If someone teaches you anything other than this you can immediately write them off as false teachers and steer clear of them.
[1Jo 4:3 NKJV]
and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the [spirit] of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.
John continues here that not only are those whoe reject the deity of Christ false prophets but they have the spirit of the Antichrist. And so those who come in and teach these heresies are influenced by the spirit of the Antichrist of whom John writes in this verse is already in the world. Now you may be asking yourself, as I did: how is that possible, since John wrote this nearly 2 thousand years ago? Wouldn’t we have already seen the rapture of the church, the Great Tribulation, and the millennial reign of Christ on earth? Indeed, that would be true. But the fact is that John is speaking of the spirit of the Antichrist and not the indwelling of the Antichrist in bodily form as is prohesied in the book of Revelation. There is coming a day when the Antichrist will set up his campaign of destruction on the world stage in bodily form. But this spirit that John is talking about here is very much active even today as he was then in sowing discord, murders and all manner of wickedness on the earth. And so John is telling his audience that these same people who denounce Christ have this spirit of the Antichrist.
[1Jo 4:4 NKJV]
You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
Here, John encourages the believer that we are of God and because we have the Holy Spirit and with it discernment by the Holy Spirit, we are able to overcome these false teachers. You see, every born again believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. We are sealed by Him unto the final redemption of God’s children when Christ comes for His bride. The verse says that He who is in you…think about that with me for a second…. He that is in you! If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, God lives in your mortal bodies! That is fundamentally one of the most amazing statements in all of the Bible. The Holy Spirit has set up His dwelling place in each of us. He teaches us (John 14:26) , convicts us (John 16:8), conforms us (Romans 8:26) and intercedes for us (Romans 8:27). Also notice here that the Holy Spirit is greater than the spirit of Antichrist. We know that Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33) and in the final analysis, the Antichrist will cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10).
This should be an encouragement to us. We are indwelt by the God of the universe and we have certain victory. Listen, we serve a mighty God and there is nothing that can snatch us from His hands (John 10:29). So when we encounter a false prophet, or heretical teaching we can be bold and outspoken against such without fear of reprisal. Granted, we may face certain persecution when we speak out against false teaching, but we have the confidence that we are numbered amongst the saints of all ages when we stand up for the God of glory and His kingdom.
[1Jo 4:5 NKJV]
They are of the world. Therefore they speak [as] of the world, and the world hears them.
So how do these false prophets gain any notoriety to begin with? John states it quite clearly here. They speak the language of the world and the world readily recieves them. We know that in the end times and even now that heretical teachers abound. They tell people what they want to hear. The Bible tells us in 2 Timothy 4:3-4 that people will not endure sound doctrine but will turn their ears to false teaching. This is because the conviction of the Word of God is unsettling in the lives of those who are content with living to satiate their own lusts. To the world, the message of the cross is foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18) and to suscribe to anything regarding Jesus puts us at odds with the world and its system. As a follower of Christ who teaches and lives out the Word of God, you can’t expect to win any poplularity contests. If you teach the Word of God completely you are going to step on some toes.
[1Jo 4:6 NKJV]
We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Again, we can take comfort knowing that we are of God. When we speak of the things of God those who know God will hear us, but those who don’t won’t. This makes it easier for us to discern who we can fellowship with. If we have a good theology and our doctrine is sound, then we can expect those who love the LORD to gather themselves amongst us. A person entrenched in heretical teaching will only tolerate the truth for so long before they reveal themselves for who they really are. As we study the Word of God, the Spirit of God convicts us. As we read in 2 Timothy 3:16, the Word of God is useful for reproof and correction. If a person is so proud that they refuse to change in light of conviction, then it is a good sign that they are consumed by this spirit of error. This is why church discipline is spelled out for us succinctly in Matthew 18:15-17 so that restoration may take place.
God is so good to us and so longsuffering that He gives us opportunity after opportunity to repent of the things that we do that are sinful against Him. As I alluded to earlier, even the Jezebel in the book of Revelation there in the church of Thyatira was afforded the opportunity to repent of her ways and stop leading the people into spiritual adultery and sexual immorality. But this woman would not hear because she was incapable of hearing. She had become spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14) and refused the grace of forgiveness that had been afforded her.
[1Jo 4:7 NKJV]
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
John exhorts us to love one another here in this verse. Love is the sole identifier of the believer, for everything the believer does is out of genuine love, agape love for the Father. We know from this verse that true love is from God. The world may have an appearance of love, but they can never know true love without knowing the Father. When we are born of God and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit we are free to love with an uninhibited love, not bound to the patterns of this world. The believer in Christ is not only capable now of loving but John says that we know God. The word here for “knowing God” is from the Greek word “ginosko” which means to have a deep understanding of a matter. In this case we can grow to know our Savior through the exhibition of our love for one another. This love is the common cord between all believers.
[1Jo 4:8 NKJV]
He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
As I just alluded to, people who do not know God are incapable of love in the truest sense of the word. They may have a form of love, even murderers and drug dealers are capable of loving their Mammas! Some would even dare to die for those they claim to love. But perfect love, the kind that casts out all fear (1 John 4:18), as we will see later in this passage, comes only by a right realtionship with Jesus Christ.
You may say, “Well what about Mormons and Jehova Witnesses, I work with some of them and they seem pretty loving?” Again, this a form of love but not the agape love that comes from the Father. And so while there may be people who show expressions of love they cannot know true love without first knowing the Father who is love. John says rightly that God is love. And so we can plainly see that if a person does not have a true relationship with God then it is impossible for them to know love.
[1Jo 4:9 NKJV]
In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.
So what is the truest expression of love? John tells us in this verse that love is manifested in the atoning work of Christ on the cross. John 3:16 tells us that God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son. By accepting the free gift of grace and the One who died for you, we are granted eternal life in Christ Jesus. John tells us that Christ is the way to this life. When we entrust our lives to Jesus, He begins a work in us and continues that work of sanctification until we are perfected (Philippians 1:6).
[1Jo 4:10 NKJV]
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son [to be] the propitiation for our sins.
Again John points to Jesus as the author of love. We understand from this passage that apart from the work of Christ on the cross we could not know love. John points out that it is not our love towards God that is of any effect, it is the fact that He loved us and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins that is of any consequence. The word here, “propitiation” is the Greek word “hilasmos” and it indicates that God turns away His wrath from us and instead pours out His love. Anything that we do in and of ourselves is worthy only of judgement. The Bible tells us that even our righteousness is like a filthy rag (Isaiah 64:6) and so anything apart from the work of Christ in our lives is worthless. We know this because the Word teaches us that anything done without love is worthless (1 Corinthians 13:1-3) and does not please God. Ultimately the stored wrath of God will be poured out and anything not covered by the blood of Jesus will feel the intense displeasure of our mighty, holy, and just God! But this should be encouragement to us because God’s pleasure is not dependent on anything we do, but what Jesus has done and continues to do in and through us.
[1Jo 4:11 NKJV]
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
John tells us like it is. If we have God’s love for us, then we owe to Him to love others with the same love. How can a person enjoy such love from God and not allow it to pour from themselves on everyone they meet? The fact is that there are believers, I am one of them, that have failed to love others. To my shame, I have not shown the kind of love that God shows me to those whom I claim to love. And so I can now publically repent before God and man and say that I will, by the Spirit of God that dwells in me, seek to show the love of God to everyone that I encounter. As difficult as it may be for people who actually enjoy solitude, me being one of them, to enjoy getting alone it is inevitable that we will face others from time to time. Not that it matters, but I am not a social recluse, I just prefer the peace that solitude affords. None-the-less, when we encounter people we should share the love of Christ.
And so I will close my study today with this: Believers are in a unique position of loving God and others. By virtue of what Jesus has done on our behalf, we are capable of showing true love, the love that only comes by a relationship with Jesus. Our duty, as commanded by our Father, is to love Him first and then love others as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40).
Would it be to God that the closer that we get to God and His Word the more natural it would come (in the spiritual sense of the word natural) for us to shine forth with the light of love to a world that is in darkness and incapable of knowing love or loving with agape love. We are so thankful that we have the Holy Spirit in us, and because of Him we have discernment. Our ability to recognize false teachers and heresies becomes more refined as He works in us to conform to His Word and His image. I pray for boldness for all who are in Him. When we encounter false teaching we should be the ones to point it out for what it is and in love seek to restore those who are teaching the heresies and those who are influenced by them. God is love and when we say we have love we are representing the Father. Let us, therefore, let our lives be a true reflection of the love that is from God.