These studies look at the overwhelming goodness of the Triune God. Depicted by Andrei Rublev's icon of The Holy Trinity.
 

1 John 4:1-6

1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, 3 and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it was coming, and now it is in the world already. 4 Little children, you are of God, and have overcome them; for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are of the world, therefore what they say is of the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are of God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and he who is not of God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

In this letter, John has emphasized the need for his readers to abide in Jesus. To abide in Jesus means to rest in, count on, and act from the reality of Jesus' presence, redeeming and transforming work, and His passionate love. This is what it primarily means to obey Jesus--to evaluate all that we think, say, feel, and do in the light of this reality. It is to obey only by faith, hope and love in and for God because of Christ and to do nothing on the basis of anything else, especially our own guilt, fear and anxiety.

John has been fleshing out what this abiding means so far in his letter. To abide in Jesus is to know ourselves as the children of God and to count on this becoming manifest even though it is not clear now (3:2). It is to hope in God's work in us and by this hope to participate in the work by turning all of our concerns, sins, anxieties, hopes, fears, etc. over to Him. We no longer act on these concerns, etc. but on the truth that our lives and our identities come only from the good, reconciling, transforming triune God. It is our placing ourselves in Him that we are purified, made whole (3:3).

Abiding in Jesus means confessing that we are sinners, that we are still imperfect and in need of His continuing work of restoration in us (1:8 &9) but it also means that we no longer believe that our identity is bound up in our sin. We have a new relationship with sin--it no longer rules us and when we see sin in our lives we recognize a new desire to be healed from it rather than indulging in it. God is at work in us to help us see more and more clearly the fruitlessness, the destruction and the pain that comes from looking elsewhere for our identity and life.

I am in a Bible study with 2 very new Christians. It is a privilege to watch as these women are seeing how empty and destructive certain ideas and patterns of behavior, they held onto in the past, really are. Of course, this process continues for all of us. God is still showing me sinful patterns in my life and increasing my longing and hope for the day when they will truly be destroyed, never to be seen again.

Abiding in Jesus means seeing others as Jesus sees them, growing in our ability to not compare ourselves to others but to rejoice in others' growth as much as in our own. It means that we are learning to love others "in deed and in truth," rather than merely "word or speech"(3:18).

Last week, we saw that to abide in Jesus is to count on God being greater than our hearts even when our hearts condemn us. It is to realize that our feelings of guilt or fear do not tell us the truth about God's love for us and work in our lives. In the verse that immediately precedes this passage John says, "All who keep his commandments abide in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit he has given us."

John knows that his readers are hearing a lot of other voices as well ("for many false prophets have gone out into the world"). He now tells them how to discern these spirits and know which are from God and which are not. He actually already discussed this earlier in the letter (2:15-17 and 2:22-23) but He returns to it here to further enable his readers to have discernment so that they will not be deceived.

John's emphasis here makes me realize two things. First, I see that there are many spirits that I encounter daily that are not of Christ, not just a few. Secondly, it is not hard to be deceived. If I am not paying attention I can take in ideas and attitudes that really are not Christian and begin acting on them. John wants his readers to take these warnings seriously.

But at the same time, the way to avoid being deceived is amazingly simple. John takes us back to Jesus. Any spirit that confesses that "Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God (vv. 2-3).

What does it mean to confess Jesus is of God and has come to us in the flesh? Well, let's look at what John has told us so far in his letter. It is to believe that Jesus is the very Son of the Father, and to know Jesus is to know the Father. You cannot have God the Father without God the Son (2:23). That Jesus came in the flesh from God means that we now have "an advocate with the Father" who is the expiation for the sins of the whole world (2:3) Jesus is the Anointed One, and it is because John was a witness to who Jesus is and what He did that He writes this letter. It is because of Jesus that we are now the children of God. In fact, all that John has said about this new life and this new identity is only true because of Christ. And, this new reality is only known, experienced, enjoyed as we abide in Jesus, not just believe certain facts about Him.

So the best way to grow in our ability to discern all the voices around us telling us what is the good life, or who we really are, etc., is to continue to choose to abide in Jesus and to grow in our knowledge of Him. Listen only to those voices which speak to us and attempt to move us on the basis of who Jesus really is and so on the basis of who we really are in connection with Him.

It is clear in this letter that abiding never becomes automatic--we choose again every day to live in the truth, in Jesus Himself. And I have found for myself that when I am not actively abiding in Jesus and learning about Him, I am much more susceptible to these other voices. The media pours forth tons of information each day about how I should look, dress, think, feel. It plays on our guilt, fear, anxiety, and jealously of one another. Our economy is based on my being discontent so that I will buy products to make me feel whole.

Also, there is plenty of advice out there on relationships and how to make decisions. How seriously do I need to take all these? Well, that depends on how close they are to the truth I know and am coming to know better in Christ. Some of it can be helpful but it can never tell me the whole truth. For example, there has been a lot said recently about our genetic makeup and how much of who we are is determined by them. This can help me gain insight into some of my behavior and struggles. But when I remember that Jesus came in the flesh from God, I see that He is making me truly His child and there is nothing He can't heal, supersede, make right. I am His, right down to my DNA! He alone has my future securely in His hands. Nothing can prevent me from entering into that future, can keep me from becoming who I am in Him.

John goes on to once again remind his readers that as powerful and persuasive as these spirits might seem at times, we are of God, "and have overcome them; for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world." John ministers to his readers by bringing them again to the truth that God is the greater reality and so we depend ultimately not on our own sophistication but on His faithful work. Again, we are to abide not in ourselves and our own efforts but in His person and work, which is not only greater than us but greater than the world and its various false spirits. It is interesting that he says twice here that his readers are "of God"--that we belong to Him are attached to Him, are from Him as His children. We may live here but it will feel foreign at times because we are not of here.

Part of what seems to be difficult for John's readers is that these spirits are listened to by so many. (Can a million Americans be wrong?) This can make them seem more powerful or legitimate. If these spirits do not spread the truth, his readers must be thinking, why are there so many who listen to them? John's answer is that it is because at this time these persons do not yet know the Spirit of Jesus and so are of the world. Because they do not confess Jesus is of God, they cannot see the lies of the voices of this world. It is when we respond to the Spirit of God working to draw us to Himself that we are able to discern the inadequacies and falsehoods of these spirits because we are now finding the wonderful truth of all that it means to have our life and identity come from God. The truth of God in Jesus and of us in Jesus provides our North star to guide us, to stay on course. Those without the true North star can easily be blown off course.

So, the best way for us to grow in our discernment is to surround ourselves with whatever reminds us of the good truth of God in Christ. John does not tire of reminding his readers of the wonderful character and work of God. We can tell each other this good news over and over--I find it never gets old. As we look together at His work, worship and pray together, we are more anchored to that "North star" and by that we can consider the other voices or spirits we encounter every day.

Remember as you choose to abide in Him that He is the one who is drawing us already and always to Himself.

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