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
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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