By Tim Lopez
1 John 4:1-6
Key Verse 4:4
“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”
The Apostle John starts this chapter by saying, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit…, Here John decides to caution his beloved children against a very real and destructive danger. While this warning may seem a bit obvious to today’s Christian, it is quite easy for a devout believer to undermine such a warning. He say’s do not believe every spirit. The devout Christian of today, who may have close walk with the Lord, a powerful testimony of deliverance, he may have sacrificed much loss for the Lord, who actively was engaged in mission, might have been tempted to say, “Well, I know that. Those guys are the ones you should be talking to. I know I should not believe every spirit.” But to them I would warn them to not think of themselves too highly as to say they are completely immune to the deceptive influences of all kinds of spirits. We should not think that our knowledge is so sharp and our ears so sensitive that we can evade the poisonous darts of the evil one with ease. John would not have commanded such a thing if in fact these believers were not already believing the inspirations of evil spirits. Acceptance and obedience to evil spiritual influences will eventually lead one to teach and influence these things on others in there circles as well. We must be watchful over our meditations and doctrine, our desires and pleasures, and disciplines and routines, to make sure that they are not under the influence of a deceptive spirit.
But Why? Why should we take such a degree of caution? What is it that makes these spirits so bad? In the second part of verse 1, we can see that worst thing about them is that they are not from God. John commands us to test “every” and “all” spirits to see that where they are from. Not a single one shall be accepted without being tried according to its origin. This admittance of spirits into our acceptance circle has enticed many to slowly evolve into false prophets. According to chapter 2 verse 19, they leave the church and go out into the world. In Paul’s farewell speech to the Ephesian church he warns them with these words. “28Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God which he bought with his own blood. 29I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31So be on your Guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” (Acts 20:28-31). John also says that caution should be taken because many false prophets have gone into the world. They have gone into the world sold on the idea that their inspiration is the will of God, or good, productive, edifying, and necessary, the solution to their problems, the thing that will satisfy their emptiness, or the missing piece to their puzzle. When in fact they have believed a spirit that is not really from God, but a pretender of God’s Spirit, or a pretender good and wisdom.
A pretender or an imposter of good and light, is really the darkest form of evil. It is one thing to be outwardly evil. But it is something else to be deceptively evil, sewing destructive seeds that will eventually wreak havoc in someone’s life or your own. Many one day wake up filled with guilt and shame and depression under the deception that it was all someone else’s doing, and that they are innocent, not knowing that their own hardship was their own doing. They were deceived by an evil spirit. There are many imposters, sold on their way thinking have gone into world claiming that they have a message from God, and that they have God’s word on their tongue. The church in John’s time was so open minded that they began to accept the lie that Jesus did not come in the world with a human body but only in spirit. This would apparently cause him not embrace the full extent of his necessary humanity. They believed that the flesh was so evil that Jesus could not possibly take up the evil flesh of our bodies. Thus, for us who are in flesh have no hope of repentance from their evil ways. Our spirits are already good. Therefore no real repentance is necessary. Indulgence in sin is our only option. And most of all, our beloved Lord and Savior’s work on the cross never happened. He would have never bore our sins and afflictions, and they would have never died with him on the cross. Something that sounded so spiritual and true and liberating led many down a path of regret and slavery to sin. But thank God that he commands us to be watchful and has given us His Spirit so that we can fight with divine strength and wisdom all of the devil’s doctrines.
The beloved Apostle therefore gives us the first test. Let us read verse 2 and 3a together. “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.” The first test is always the doctrinal test. This should be no surprise as we know that Satan himself first tests us to see how well we individually know the word of God before he proceeds. And we should therefore first test him in the same manner. The test of Jesus coming in the flesh is not alone the first test of orthodoxy. But the first test is all encompassing of who Christ is, how Christ came, what Christ did, how He left, what is He now doing, and when and how He is returning. Each of these pillars the spirit or teacher should acknowledge, stand on, and not deviate from them. According to verse 3, the spirit that does not acknowledge these things is the spirit of the antichrist. An even more fundamental and broader test of these spirits, is to test them plainly to see if they agree with and follow the word of God. The typical devout Christian may again look at this test and say, “Hmm, well that is kind of obvious John.” But when we look at how many other ideas and motivations we have that do not glorify God, one probable cause for such reasons is that they may have reached deep into our hearts is because we have not tested them to see whether they agree or disagree with Scripture. Many of us are being tormented with fear and anxiety when we don’t have to be.
Let’s read 3b, “This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” There is much debate about the antichrist’s arrival. Some think he has come or are quick to accuse many of being him. Some think that he won’t come as an actual person but will come instead as an idea or a belief. But whether so or not we are told that his spirit is already here and is actively at work. In fact, those who reject Christ his words are knowingly or unknowingly siding with the antichrist. There is nothing good about the antichrist. Contrary to Christ being rejected by an evil world, the antichrist will be readily received and worshipped and for a time will have complete dominion over the world. Until his full arrival, his spirit will continue coming with more and more fullness and influence. The times ahead of us are hard. The call for patient endurance is huge. We must be serious and ready for his continued arrival following our Lord Jesus.
Let’s read verse 4, “You dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” Maybe there is reason to doubt this reality. With all of our mistakes and weaknesses it’s easy to worry about what lies ahead of us. But the child of God does not have to worry about being defeated by all the evil that lurks in the world. For whom the Son sets free, will be free indeed. Though we may struggle and have good days and bad days, John gives us assurance of our victory over these influences. John doesn’t say that we have overcome them because we have more good days than bad days. Or because our prayer life is thriving. He says that the one who is in you is greater. We are safe because of him living in us. Our Lord Jesus has given us his very own Spirit. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lives within us. And though we must be alert, we never have to worry about being defeated. There is not a single being in existence or circumstance overcome Him. We can maybe grieve Him when we don’t follow His leading. But whether it is with a rod of discipline or with graceful renewal, He will always pull us back to where we ought to be, which is in victory.
Verse 5 reads, “They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and world listens to them.” In this life, you can come from only two places. You can come from the world, which is on its way to destruction and judgement, or you can come from God and be on your way back to Him. This is different from the cliché saying, that we are all God’s children, or all things are good because they are from God. John makes a point to tell us soberly that some of us are from God, and some of us are from world. The measuring stick to decide such a thing is this; their speech and their audience. People are tested a bit differently than spirits are. But nevertheless we should be constantly tested to see where in the Lord we stand or don’t stand. Whose viewpoint do we speak from usually? Is it from God’s or from your friends and family? Who are the ones that are most likely to approve what you say and do? Is it your classmates and employees or is it the Lord. This doesn’t mean that world won’t agree with God on the surface. On the surface it may seem like both are saying that we should do good things, and be good people. But as we delve into deeper spiritual realities and morals, you will see that the world will differ greatly from God and his children.
Let’s read verse 6, “We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and spirit of falsehood.” John is saying that all of God’s children listen to our Lord Jesus and His word. Jesus said that “I am the good shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me-, I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” When God’s children tell one another the words of God, they listen. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have disagreements or different ways of doing things. We are not saying that all have the same personality and the same style. The diversity of the church is one of the most beautiful things about it. But we listen to the Bible and follow it. We can hear the Holy Spirit speaking through its words. We can feel our conscience agree with us when we follow it, and condemn us when we don’t. We feed on it in obedience and in celebration of its truth and wisdom. Why is it that we do and the world doesn’t? It is because they are deceived. They have not experienced the love of our gentle Savior. They do not know what it is like to bear the Lord’s easy burden, take upon His light yoke and gentle heart. They think other things will satisfy the anguish and emptiness of their soul. But money and good schools and good spouses have no such ability if they do not lead you to follow the good shepherd. King David said it most accurately in Psalm 23 when he said, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
The world has no such declaration or experience. They cannot claim this psalm for themselves. It is our job to share with them the words of our good shepherd. They will not hear it anywhere else. We must reach out to them with the gentle heart of our Lord, and lay down our lives for them.