The Epistle of First John
Lesson Number 7
"4:1 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. 2By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, 3and 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. 4You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. 6We 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. Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:1-8, NKJV)
No small number of professed believers appear to glory in what is mysterious, imagining that if the matter cannot be understood, it must be from God. This is a most subtle way of glorying in appearance, something strictly forbidden by the Lord (2 Cor 5:12; John 7:24; 2 Cor 10:7). Often, in Christ, what seems to be mysterious is only veiled to the flesh. It is on the part of wisdom to discern when this is the case. The Spirit is now opening to our hearts things that are, indeed, hidden to the flesh, but discernible to faith.
Faith Makes Associations
When we live in fellowship with the Father and the Son, we associate influences to which we are submitted with the Spirit of God or the devil. It is not enough to merely judge religious matters according to a creed, or a denominational statement of perceived fundamentals. In Christ Jesus we come into a knowledge of the truth itself. That personal acquaintance with the truth protects us from deception.
Faith Has A Logic of Its Own
There is a discerning quality to faith. It has a logic, or rationale, of its own. Thus, when Abraham was promised a son in his old age, he reasoned on a higher basis. As it is written, "Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb: he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform" (Rom 4:18-21). Faith brought Abraham to reason upon the promise of God, bringing him to a conclusion and full persuasion-both aspects of rational knowledge. Again, when Abraham was told to offer up Isaac, faith led him into a higher form of reasoning. "By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son. Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure"(Heb 11:19-20). Thus did our father Abraham set the manner in which we have fellowship with God. It is by embracing what He has said, depending implicitly upon it, and refusing to allow doubt to enter our hearts.
Faith's Marvelous Quality
Faith hears, takes hold of God's word, and thinks upon it. In that very process, the heart becomes convinced of the surety of Divine commitment, moving the individual to trust implicitly in what God has said. Our text will reason with us from this vantage point. If it is not possible for God to lie, it is not possible for those who rely upon Him to be disappointed in their expectation. Thus it is written, "Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed" (Rom 9:33).
Now the Spirit will confirm that we occupy an intensely active spiritual realm. Those who are familiar with the nature of spiritual life realize our foes are not flesh and blood. As it is written, "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places"NKJV (Eph 6:12). We must not allow ourselves to approach the faith-life as though our own ingenuity was sufficient to protect us-particularly in the matter of what is taught in the name of the Lord. We are to be neither overly suspicious, fearful of confrontation, nor naively gullible about messages said to be from God. Those who bring purported words from God are to be tested, examined, and evaluated. The claim to be from God is to be weighed and tested. At no point is it to be taken for granted. Too much is at stake for us to be naive.
BELIEVE NOT EVERY SPIRIT
Eagerness for the Word Is A Requisite
These spiritually astute souls had an appetite for the things of God, "for they received the word with great eagerness."NIV The testing, or trying, of the spirits does not assume doubt concerning the validity of the Word of God itself. Trying the spirits is not a way of determining whether the Word of God is true, but if the purported messenger has been sent from God.
Those who have no real interest in the Word of God are wasting their time examining the spirits or testing their message. This word is not for the disinterested or uncommitted. Those who do not possess a love for the truth are destined to be deceived, and God will see to it that they are. As it is written, "The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness." (2 Thess 2:9-12).
While false prophets, or those falsely purporting to have a word from God, are never excused in Scripture, neither are those who lack a real appetite for the truth of God. It is never innocent to misrepresent God, nor is it innocent to lack an interest in the truth of God. Both attitudes are deliberate, and can be neither inadvertent nor unintentional.
First and foremost, therefore, our text assumes a compelling interest in and love for the truth of God. Where that is lacking, there will be no benefit from the text.
An Exhortation Related to Revealed Objectives
We must ever keep before us the stated objective of this powerful Epistle. If we fail to do this, our view can degenerate into a mere academic pursuit, thus robbing the soul of Divine benefit.
NOT believing every spirit has to do with our fellowship with God (1:3). It is not possible to experience oneness with the Living God, while being lax and indifferent concerning messages purporting to come from God. Too, the admonition to NOT believe every spirit bears directly upon the fulness of joy that belongs to the saints (1:4). An undiscriminating ear robs the heart of spiritual joy, because it allows for the entrance of contamination.
Also, if we are to refrain from sin (2:1), our response to those coming in the name of the Lord is a critical point. We will not be able to refrain from sin if we allow corrupt teaching to enter our minds. Additionally, if we are to know we have eternal life (5:13), we are required to NOT believe every spirit.
We Occupy A Spiritual Realm
The Spirit does not say "Believe not every man," but "Believe not every SPIRIT." There is an animating spirit behind every teacher-particularly those who come in the name of the Lord. Just as we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, so we do not confront mere men when exposed to their teaching.
It is a matter of deep concern that the rise of religious education has diminished the presence and power of this truth. Men are prone to overestimate the power of the human mind, the worth of mortal logic, and the ability of men to decipher the truth. While we must guard ourselves from being drawn into a purely mystical approach to life in Christ, we must also guard against a purely humanistic, or carnal, view of our situation.
The Women With a Spirit of Divination
On one occasion, when Paul and his followers were in Philippi, they confronted a woman possessed of a "spirit of divination." The NIV reads, "a spirit by which she predicted the future" (Acts 16:16). The message delivered by this spirit through the woman was remarkable accurate-from one point of view. "These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation" (16:17).
It is difficult to conceive of a set of words marked with greater intellectual preciseness. Yet, Paul "tried the spirit," finding it coming short. After this possessed woman followed the holy entourage for "many days," "Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, 'I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.' And he came out that very hour" (16:18). Thus, it is possible for a message to pass the test of the intellect, but not of the heart or Spirit. All that comes from the kingdom of darkness is not obviously so identified. "Believe not every spirit!"
Jesus Confronts Demons
God will allow no mimicry in His Kingdom. Foul spirits may not speak pure words. You may recall the confession of Christ's identity by demons. On one occasion, a man with an unclean spirit was in a synagogue where Jesus was. The presence of the Lord so intimated the unclean spirit that he cried out. "Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are; the Holy One of God!" Notice the magnitude of the confession. The demons knew they really had nothing in common with Jesus: "What have we to do with You?" They knew His earthly identity: "Jesus of Nazareth." They knew He would bring an end fo their influence: "Did You come to destroy us?" They also recognized His impeccable holiness: "I know who You are; the Holy One of God."
In spite of this, Jesus did not allow the demons to speak. "But Jesus rebuked him, saying, 'Be quiet, and come out of him!'" (Mk 1:24-25). While what they said was, from the earthly point of view, right, yet the Lord will not allow men to trust what demons say! They are an unlawful source of knowledge, even if what they say comes to pass, or comports with reality. "Believe not every spirit."
Both the Holy Spirit and the devil have compelling messages. By that I mean they are words that call for the trust of men. They never present neutral words, but speak so as to elicit the response and reliance of men. That is the point behind the admonition, "Believe not every spirit."
Satan reasoned extensively with Eve to draw her into sin. "Has God indeed said, 'You shall not eat of every tree of the garden'?' . . . 'You will not surely die. 'For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil'" (Gen 3:2-5). Know that Satan and his hosts will press men to believe a lie-to launch out on their own, and against Divine counsel. He has persuasive powers, deceiving the only innocent adults that have ever lived, apart from Jesus Christ Himself. To Eve, his reasoning seemed flawless. It changed the way she saw the tree God had forbidden. He moved her to ignore what the Lord said, and imagine she could gain an advantage in so doing. "Believe not every spirit."
The Spies of Israel
When Israel came to the border of the promised land, God commanded Moses to send out men from Israel to spy out the land, confirming its greatness and desirability. Solemnly, Moses charged them to report "what the land is like: whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, few or many; whether the land they dwell in is good or bad; whether the cities they inhabit are like camps or strongholds; whether the land is rich or poor; and whether there are forests there or not. Be of good courage. And bring some of the fruit of the land" (Num 13:18-20). The report was intended to confirm the glory of the promise given to them, and whet their appetite for the land.
But, alas, the majority of the spies (10 of 12), brought back an "evil report." They reasoned, "The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature. And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight" (13:32-33). As a result of their word, "they discouraged the heart of the children of Israel, that they should not go into the land which the LORD had given them" (32:9). They chose to believe a false report-one that conflicted sharply with the very promise of God. "Believe not every spirit!" At this very point, God judged the people unworthy of entering the promised land. All but two of those capable of judging correctly were appointed to die in the wilderness. And it all happened because of a message they believed! There is a spirit in every message, and we do well to perceive it.
Faith Can Be Overthrown
Paul warned Timothy about two particular teachers of the day. They brought a message that "spread like gangrene" among those who heard it. It was lethal in its effects. Hear the testimony of the Spirit. "And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some" (2 Tim 2:17-18).
Some are convinced this affect is not possible. They imagine that faith, of itself, is invincible, and that nothing can overthrow it. But faith cannot flourish when an erroneous message is embraced-particularly when it relates to the hope of the believer. Faith thrives on the Word of God-particularly His "exceeding great and precious promises" (2 Pet 1:4). When, however, a person WITH faith chooses to accept a doctrine that is motivated by Satan, he will no longer be supported by God. "Believe not every spirit."
Seducing Spirits and Doctrines of Demons
When the Spirit says, "Believe not every spirit," we are reminded of another word on this matter. Christ moved His Apostles to speak of a great "falling away" that would occur before the end of time (2 Thess 2:3). One aspect of that spiritual decline involved the influence of spirits. "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of demons" (1 Tim 4:1).
Even though the spirits were the means of seduction, and doctrines found their origin with demons, yet it all came through the instrumentality of men. Just as the Holy Spirit moves those who affirm the truth, so seducing, or deceptive, spirits and demons motivate the propagation of lies. Observe that the Spirit speaks "expressly," or pointedly, on this matter. Those who imagine that demons are not longer active must contend with this prophecy, for it related to the "latter times," and not the century in which the Apostles ministered.
In the Revelation, John was given to see this very seductive enterprise. It was a sort of spiritual aggression, designed to marshal men for a battle with God. "For they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty"NKJV (Rev 16:14). Praise the Lord, they gathered in vain, for the whole wicked host are simply overthrown by the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We gain some valuable insights in this Revelation text. Doctrines spawned by hell are not mere novelties, or harmless distractions. They have a design behind them, and fit into Satan's diabolical strategy to overthrow Jesus and His people. It is a futile effort. Notwithstanding, those who embrace what demons propagate are, by that very fact, aligned against the Lord's Christ. These doctrines are spread by men who speak "lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron" (1 Tim 4:2). They are desensitized Godward, no longer considering His will or good pleasure. Because they are insensitive to the Lord, they devote themselves to declaring "lies"-falsehoods and misrepresentations. They do so in hypocrisy or pretension.
An effectual relationship with Christ cannot be maintained by means of a lie. "Believe not every spirit!"
Some Examples of Their Doctrines
The Spirit provides some examples of demonic doctrines, perpetrated by "seducing spirits." While men tend to ascribe such doctrines to human origin, the Spirit traces them back to the realm of spiritual darkness.
There is an unseen realm with which we have to do, and which we occupy. You will also note that, on the surface, the doctrines attributed to "seducing spirits and doctrines of demons" do not appear critical.
Examples of doctrines taught by men who have been seduced by spirits include, "forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth" (1 Tim 4:3). It all may seem innocent, but it is not. Those who are seduced by wicked spirits into propagating doctrines created by demons, have become calloused toward God, and thus have been taken in by the devil. "Believe not every spirit."
A Solemn Obligation
The exhortation of our text is involved in working out our own salvation with fear and trembling. In so doing, we are not to become the vassals of men, swallowing everything they say. Nor, indeed, are we to become indifferent to what men are saying, as though no words that are spoken have any spiritual value. We are to be alert to the spiritual forces about us, viewing doctrines, or teaching, as coming from a spiritual source, and not men alone.
Not believing every spirit also involves personal perspectives of the truth that come into our mind. We are not to assume new and challenging thoughts can only come from God. If we are prone to say, "the Lord told me," or "the Lord showed me," we must make it our business to be sure this is the case. The Holy Spirit is not the only spirit that has access to your thoughts, and it is on the part of wisdom to conduct your life with that in mind. We occupy an intensely active realm. Even though its activity is not visible, it is very real, with very real jeoaprdies as well as advantages. The Spirit is careful to remind of this circumstance. "Believe not every spirit!"
TEST THE SPIRITS
The Lord Tries Us
The obligation to test the spirits is not unique to this day of grace. There is a remarkable text in Deuteronomy that emphasized the necessity of such testing. It unveiled the subtlety with which delusion is presented, as well as the Divine design behind it. "If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, AND THE SIGN OR WONDER COMES TO PASS, of which he spoke to you, saying, 'Let us go after other gods'; which you have not known; 'and let us serve them,' you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for THE LORD YOUR GOD IS TESTING YOU TO KNOW WHETHER YOU LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL"NKJV (Deut 13:1-3). A New Covenant view of this precise Divine manner is found in First Corinthians 11:19. "For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you."NKJV
The presence of false prophets is used of God to test the spiritual discernment of His people. This circumstance by no means excuses the false prophets. It does, however, call for unusual alertness on the part of the believer. Should the child of God choose to live in practical aloofness from God, relying on intellectual alertness to protect him from the delusive doctrines of false prophets, safety will not be realized. Our protection from the ravages of the lie can only be actualized through our involvement. Thus we are exhorted to "try the spirits, whether they are of God."
Believers Are Judges
Believers are called into the arena of judgment and evaluation. In this regard, our role is not to pronounce eternal judgment on individuals. We must ever remember, "There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?" (James 4:12). We are required to determine whether the "spirit" motivating the doctrine is "from God." To put it another way, "Yes, and why, even of yourselves, do you not judge what is right" (Lk 12:57).
In this judgment, we must not be governed by appearance, or things that are obvious to the flesh. As our Lord said, "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment" (John 7:24). This is also what Jesus called judging "according to the flesh" (John 8:15). Ranking high in this type of judgment is evaluating teachings in view of sectarian dogma, or teaching that distinguishes one religious sect from another. Many teachings are rejected simply because "that is not what our church believes." The acid test of a valid message is NOT whether or not it agrees with favored denominational teaching. Truth is to be accepted "for the truth's sake" (Psa 115:1; 2 John 2). Truth has a value of its own, standing apart from all religious creeds and systems of theology. It towers above all approaches to truth, however valid they may appear.
The final test of truth is not a movement or a position. In the last analysis, the truth clarifies God, Christ, and the great salvation wrought by the Son of God. It accentuates heaven and minimizes earth, making the individual more God-conscious. The truth of God leaves the individual acutely aware of a personal need for God, the jeopardy associated with being in the world, and the glory of the ages to come. Regardless who speaks the truth, it is to be accepted. Too, regardless who speaks the lie, it is to be rejected.
The Mysterious Prophet Balaam
An excellent example of these very things is found in the mysterious prophet Balaam. The Spirit makes clear to us that he is not a pattern to be followed. "They (false teachers, 12-14) have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but he was rebuked for his iniquity: a dumb donkey speaking with a man's voice restrained the madness of the prophet" (2 Pet 2:15-16). "Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit" (Jude 11). "But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality" (Rev 2:14).
On the basis of these statements, some might conclude everything said by Balaam is to be rejected. But this is not so. This very prophet made some remarkable declarations. We are specifically told that God "put a word" in the "mouth" of Balaam (Num 23:16). "God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? Behold, I have received a command to bless; He has blessed, and I cannot reverse it. He has not observed iniquity in Jacob, Nor has He seen wickedness in Israel. The LORD his God is with him, And the shout of a King is among them. God brings them out of Egypt; He has strength like a wild ox. For there is no sorcery against Jacob, Nor any divination against Israel. It now must be said of Jacob And of Israel, 'Oh, what God has done!'" (Num 23:19-23). Who is the person bold enough to forbid the embrace of such glorious words, even though they were spoken by Balaam?
Yet, there are those who are unwilling to "try the spirits." For them, it is enough simply to reject what they say because of the group with which they are identified. I have often been chided for quoting something said by Spurgeon, Calvin, or Luther: the sole reason being they were not officially recognized as part of a particular group. Those in Christ Jesus are not so easily relieved of the responsibility of trying the spirits. They must enter heartily into the activity for their own protection.
A Case Presented by Moses
The people of God have always been subjected to spurious prophets. Moses was inspired to give instructions for handling such occurrences. Through the Spirit, he pointed out the subtlety with which they often came. In the text previously introduced (Deut 13), the Lord continued, "You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice, and you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken in order to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of bondage, to entice you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall put away the evil from your midst." (Deut 13:1-5).
It is at once obvious that the presence of false prophets among the people is not to be viewed simplistically. This is actually an appointed means through which God tests His own people. As I pointed out before, this precise point is also made by the Spirit to the Corinthians. "For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you" (1 Cor 11:19).
If it is true that God uses the machinations of the devil to unveil those whom He approves, how necessary it becomes to "try the spirits." The Lord does not simply announce those living within His favor, but reveals them, among other things, through their refusal to swallow everything presented to them by their peers. They know that every teaching is promoted by some spirit. Therefore, they engage their hearts and minds to make sure what they are hearing is the truth of God, motivated by the Spirit of God.
To the Word!
One of the sure ways of testing the spirits is the very Word of God. Well did Isaiah say, "And when they say to you, 'Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,' should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isa 8:19-20). Both the character and content of God's word will confirm a true message. A true message matches up with the righteousness of the Word as well as its focus. Those who come bearing a "new" message, purporting to unveil a new Divine direction, are not telling the truth. The "more noble" Bereans knew that God did not work in unannounced ways. That is why they "searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11). What is more, the Spirit saw to it that a record of their deed was made, and Divine commendation given to them.
Wherever Scriptural illiteracy dominates, it is not possible to successfully "try the spirits." All of this accentuates the perilous times in which we are living. This is particularly true of the Western world.
Here is another sense in which man lives "by every Word of God" (Lk 4:4). There is a certain protection in delighting in the Law of the Lord, and meditating in it night and day (Psa 1:2). As we give heed to the "confirmed" prophetic Word, the day will dawn, and the Day Star rise in our hearts (1 Pet 1:19). When the day dawns, and the "Day Star" rises in our heart, the sense of Scripture opens to our perception. We then discern what God is doing in Christ, and where Jesus is bringing us. False doctrine becomes apparent when it clashes with this overview of Scripture.
Hymenaeus and Philetus
An example of the apparency of error to the illuminated mind is found in the heretical teaching of "Hymenaeus and Philetus," who taught that "the resurrection is past already" (2 Tim 2:17-18). Although they did "overthrow the faith of some," they did not overthrow the faith of stable souls. Spiritual maturity introduces a condition describes as follows: "no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting" (Eph 4:14).
The absurdity of their doctrine is seen against the backdrop of hope, by which we are saved (Rom 8:24). All people in Christ have been called to seek for immortality (Rom 2:7), put off this vile body, and be clothed with a body like unto Christ's "glorious body" (Phil 3:20-21; 2 Cor 5:1-5). Being called to an "eternal inheritance" (Heb 9:15), the discerning soul cannot imbibe a doctrine that affirms that for which the redeemed soul yearns has already come to pass. When "the hope and resurrection of the dead" is taken from people, life becomes futile (Acts 23:6; 1 Cor 15:19). This doctrine proved to have serious consequences.
It might interest you to know that this very doctrine is still being vigorously taught. Those espousing this bit of nonsense are called Preterists. A more familiar designation is "the A.D. 70 doctrine."
The Health and Wealth Gospel
The sounding of the prosperity Gospel is gaining rapid momentum in our country. Those bearing this message appeal to promises of prosperity. A strong emphasis is placed upon Solomon's word, "the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just" (Prov 13:22). As well, John's desire for Gaius is said to be God's plan for all saints. "Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth" (3 John 2). Some even parade the promises of the First Covenant before the saints, telling them God will prosper them everywhere they go, and in everything they do (Deut 28:1-13).
All of this simply does not mesh with being "strangers and pilgrims" in the earth (1 Pet 2:11; Heb 13;14), NOT being of the world (John 8:23; 15:19). It also clashes sharply with warnings about the snares associated with riches. "But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (1 Tim 6:9-10).
Anything that draws our attention to our temporary status in this world cannot be a proper emphasis. God is taking us out of the world in order to inherit all things. It is simply out of order to move the saints to imagine their inheritance is here, and that the ultimate blessing is to be found here. Even the youngest believer knows this.
A DELUGE OF FALSE PROPHETS
Into the World
The false prophets have flooded "the world." They have not invaded the heavenly realms into which we have been raised in Christ (Eph 2:6). Like the one who animates them, they are excluded from the domain now occupied by Jesus, and restricted to the lower realms-the world. It stands to reason, therefore, the closer we are to the world, the greater the danger of being deceived. Even though our faith overcomes the world, enabling us to detect and avoid messages originating with Satan, yet that faith cannot be sustained in friendship with the world.
It is no wonder the cry comes from heaven, "Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time" (Rev 12:12). There are unspeakable disadvantages to being in the realm flooded with false prophets. It requires a greater degree of alertness. Too, much of our time is spent in a defensive and protective posture. There are distractions associated with the presence of false prophets. Many a child of God has grown faint-hearted because of the confusing morass of religious corruption around them.
We are subjected to the influence of contradicting spirits as long as we are in this world. Many, if not all, of them are Satan's ministers, "transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ" (2 Cor 11:13). The deception is so strong that Jesus solemnly warned His disciples in these words. "For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not" (Matt 24:24-26).
The extraordinary amount of division and confusion among professed Christians is the direct result of "many false prophets" that are "gone out into the world." Rather than testing the spirits, immature and uncommitted Christians have responded to them in the energy of human wisdom-if they choose to address the matter at all. The results of that approach are painfully evident.
A REVEALING CONFESSION
"2By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God. Because Christ is the heart of redemption, in Whom the fulness of the Godhead is found, the test of false prophets centers around Him. Who Jesus is and what He has accomplished is the critical issue with God, and thus it must be with men also. At some point, those who are from the devil will reveal their contempt for the centrality of Christ Jesus. They will place duty, experience, or some form of religious activity above Jesus Christ. In this, their wicked natures are made known.
The Central Consideration
While men are tempted to ask teachers what they believe about this or that, the cardinal consideration is what they declare about Jesus. Jesus asked the central question when He interrogated His disciples, "Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?" (Matt 16:13). Again, He asked His critics, "What think ye of Christ? whose son is he?" (Matt 22:42).
It is not possible to overemphasize this point. The destiny of men hinges upon their perception of Jesus Christ. Through Peter, the Holy Spirit states the case with great power. "Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the Head of the corner" (1 Pet 2:6-7). This is not at all satisfactory to the sectarian. With them, the point at issue is not the Lord Jesus Christ. With some it is sacred tradition. With others it is the name by which we are called. Still others choose to make the issue the Holy Spirit, or the day on which we gather, or the state of the dead. Some make the pivotal point the rapture, or tribulation, or mark of the beast. Some even go so far as to make social issues the point at which true spiritual identity and preferences are revealed. But Jesus is the issue with God. If we are not right about Jesus, it makes no difference at all what else is believed.
This does not mean we are to be tolerant of erroneous views on the subjects mentioned, or treat them as though they were inconsequential. It does mean the key to understanding all things is a proper view of Christ. If we do not see and receive Him in the manner in which God presents Him, it makes no difference what we think of other matters-even Scriptural matters. The key and principle doctrine is "the doctrine of Christ" (Heb 6:1; 2 John 9).
Allow me to state it yet another way. If Christ is the proper object of our faith, then He is the primary consideration. The Spirit refers to "faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" and "faith in Christ" (Acts 20:21; 24:24; Rom 3:22; Gal 2:16,20; Col 1:4). We are an heir of God "through Christ" (Gal 4:7). God's "kindness" comes to us "through Christ Jesus" (Eph 2:7). We have "peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 5:1). God gives us victory "through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 15:57). He, and He alone, has "reconciled us to God" (Col 1:21-22).
This manner of thought is a consistent pattern throughout Scripture. Of old time, Isaiah spoke of what we presently experience in Christ Jesus. He affirmed a "MAN" to be the central consideration in the rescue of humanity. "A man will be as a hiding place from the wind, And a cover from the tempest, As rivers of water in a dry place, As the shadow of a great rock in a weary land" (Isa 32:2). He alone can "bring us to God" (1 Pet 3:18). He alone destroyed the devil (Heb 2:14), plundered principalities and powers Col 2:15), and brought grace and truth within our grasp (John 1:14,17).
A person may have a distorted view of our duty, the ordinances, and even morality, and still be saved. The Epistles deal extensively with believers who had a deficient understanding of serious matters. Permit me to name a few of them. Some in Corinth did not know there was one God (1 Cor 8:5-7). Some thought those who died would not be present when the Lord comes again (1 Thess 4:13-14). Others felt they could not eat meat (Rom 14:1-4), while some did not know they should not steal (Eph 4:28). The Spirit was not content to leave such ignorance unchecked-but those areas were not the determining ones. Through Christ, they were brought to a fuller understanding. However, lack of faith in Christ was not tolerated. Being incorrect about Him was never excused. He is the central consideration.
Corruptions Introduced Early
Two primary corruptions have occurred in Christendom, and continue to this day. These were actually Satanic initiatives against the saints-a "flood" spewed out to drown them (Rev 12:15-16).
Judaism Plus the Gospel
The first was the attempt to merge Judaism with Christianity, or law with grace (Acts 15:1; Gal 5:4; Heb 13:9). Throughout His Epistles, Paul dealt with this encroachment (Rom 3:20-28; Gal 2:16; 3:11).
Philosophy Plus the Gospel
The second was to incorporate Gentile philosophy with the Gospel (Col 2:8,18; 1 Cor 3:19; 1 Tim 6:20). The term Gnosticism is given to this corruption. It gives the weight of emphasis to human thought rather than Divine initiative, as revealed in Jesus.
Both approaches reduced, if not removed altogether, the significance of Christ Jesus. Yet, they both sought to fly under the banner of Christ.
This refers to what has already taken place, yet cannot be confirmed by tangible evidence. It is something that can only be grasped by faith. By saying "is come," the pre-incarnate existence of Christ is affirmed. He "came into the world" (1 Tim 1:15) voluntarily, and in obedience to the Father.
The fact that Jesus came "from above" is basic to this consideration. He was not of this world, and thus did not think like it nor hold to its values. Although a man, "the Second Man is the Lord from heaven" (1 Cor 15:47). Among other things, this confirms His Lordship. As He Himself said, "He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all" (John 3:31). Although in the world, He was separate from its order. Therefore He said, "You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world" (John 8:23). All of this is involved in confessing Jesus Christ "is come."
On A Mission
The acknowledgment that Jesus Christ "is come" also admits to the existence of Divine purpose. There was a mission, or objective, that required His coming. Thus it is written, "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief" (1 Tim 1:15). Again it is written, "And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins" (Matt 1:21). Jesus Himself confessed, "for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world" (John 12:47).
At some point, all false doctrine minimizes or denies this point-the REASON for Christ coming into the world, or in the flesh. In a sense, all false prophets are teachers of novelties, never placing the accent on Jesus Christ. If a teaching-any teaching-fails to find its relevancy in the Lord Jesus Christ, it cannot be true, and is to be rejected. If Christ coming into the world sheds no light on the doctrine, thrust it from you as a spiritual poison.
In the Flesh
Jesus was a real man, appearing "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (Rom 8:3). The word "likeness" does not mean Jesus was not a real man. Rather, it underscores that He was not a sinner, even though He was a man.
The redemption of humanity required that Jesus come "in the flesh." A poignant statement of this requirement is made in the tenth chapter of Hebrews. This is an inspired exposition of the 40th Psalm. "Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: "Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure. Then I said, 'Behold, I have come; In the volume of the book it is written of Me; To do Your will, O God.' Previously saying, 'Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them' (which are offered according to the law), then He said, 'Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.' He takes away the first that He may establish the second. By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (10:5-10).
The death of Christ had to be as real as the sin addressed by it. Further, for death to be real, a real body was required. The required death was not a mere formality, and therefore neither was the incarnation, or the Word becoming flesh (John 1:14).
A Real Man Was Really Tempted
A great deal of controversy has surrounded the temptation of Jesus. Some theologians have taught that it was impossible for Jesus to sin, and that is why He did not transgress. They reason that He was Divine, and Deity cannot sin. But their reasoning is not right, and denies the very fact of our text, namely that Jesus Christ is come "in the flesh."
The Spirit informs us that coming into the world involved Jesus emptying Himself, divesting Himself of the prerogatives of Deity. "Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross"NASB (Phil 2:6-8).
In saying He divested Himself of the prerogatives of Deity, I mean that while Jesus remained Divine, He laid aside the right to employ that Divine power. If He did not do this, He could not die. In taking upon Himself the form of a man, He assumed all of the liabilities of humanity. That is why He hungered (Matt 4:2; 21:18), thirsted (John 4:7; 19:28), and become tired and weary(John 4:6; Matt 8:24). These are certainly not traits of Deity! Jesus had laid aside those prerogatives when He came into the world.
The chief evidence of His humanity, however, (apart from His vicarious death) is found in His temptation. That confirmed His humanity! We are told that Jesus "was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Heb 4:15). He endured temptation in all of the fundamental points: "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" (1 John 2:16). The Spirit even affirms Jesus "Himself has suffered, being tempted," and thus "He is able to aid those who are tempted" (Heb 2:18).
The Lord Jesus withstood temptation in precisely the same manner we do. He did not resist the devil because He was God, but because He trusted in God. That is precisely why He is able to sustain us in our temptation. First, He knows the feeling of temptation, and is thus "touched with the feeling" of our infirmities (Heb 4:15). Second, He is able to bring to us the required resources because He Himself employed them while among us, and is therefore able to bring them to us.
Because Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, He is "the Son of God" (Lk 1:35). Because He is a Man, He is "Seed of the woman" (Gen 3:15), and is said to be "made of a woman, made under the Law" (Gal 4:4). This latter point is the consideration of our text: i.e., the humanity of Jesus. It is a central consideration-one that will determine whether a "spirit" is from God or from Satan.
The Good Confession
The truth emphasized in this text is also confirmed in what is called the "good confession." Peter first made this confession to Jesus Himself. "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matt 16:16). Jesus told him the Father had revealed this to him. The word "Thou" pointed to Christ's humanity-the One whom Peter saw "in the flesh." The words "the Christ, the Son of the living God" declared that He had "come" into the world and "in the flesh." The Ethiopian eunuch also made this confession. "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God" (Acts 8:37). Thus He also acknowledge Jesus to be a real man, but not merely a man. He had "come in the flesh," and the eunuch saw and embraced that truth.
Not Mere Mental Assent
This confession is not the mere recitation of a point of doctrine. It is not something to which mere mental assent is given; i.e., "here is something else I believe." A "confession" is the verbal acknowledgment of what the heart has grasped. It is a matter on which agreement with God Himself is realized-an admission of unity with the Father. You will recall God the Father confessed Christ. "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matt 3:17).
Thus the person who confesses Jesus Christ "is come in the flesh" has the same view of Jesus as God does. He sees Him as the exclusive remedy for sin and way to the Father. Further, the one confessing this truth is well pleased with Jesus, just as the Father is. This is the PRIMARY thrust of sound doctrine! That is what makes it a "confession." It will not do to intellectually acknowledge Jesus has come in the flesh, then go about to emphasize other things. Those who give Jesus a secondary place have, by that action, refused to confess He has come in the flesh! Unlike God, they have not placed the EMPHASIS upon Jesus.
Is of God
The "spirit" who confesses Jesus Christ "is come in the flesh" is "of God," or "from God"NIV. Among other things, this means God will not present Jesus apart from His humanity, or identity with us. The objective of all extensive commentary about Jesus is His role in redemption. While He is set forth as the Creator of all things, the point is always brought back to what was accomplished when He came "in the flesh" (Eph 3:9-11; Col 1:16-18; Heb 1:2-3). That is what makes Jesus relevant to our situation.
Once you know the manner in which God speaks concerning Jesus, and where He places the emphasis concerning Him, you will be able to distinguish the spirit that comes from Him. God has, after all, sent ministers to every person-people through whom they believe. As it is written, "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one?" (1 Cor 3:5). Those who place Jesus at the center of things, making the most of His redemptive role, have been sent from God. Such will agree with the Father, concerning Christ's identity with men.
By saying "every spirit that confesses," The Lord is emphasizing the spiritual realm we now occupy. We are not to approach teaching from a purely intellectual point of view. Nor, indeed, are we to imagine we are only dealing with men. We are in an intensely active spiritual realm, and do well to recognize it. The truth of the matter is that we are dealing more with spirits than we are with men.
WHAT NOT CONFESSING REVEALS
"2a . . . and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God." The emphasis placed upon this matter is arresting. To those immersed in the religion of the day, it has a strange sound to it. I suppose that is why some present this passage as dealing exclusively with first century circumstances, thereby reducing it to a state or irrelevancy. However, the Spirit does not occupy our minds with matters disassociated from us. Nor, indeed, do such terms as "of God" and "not of God" encourage that type of thinking. We are dealing with a Satanic strategy that spans all generations subjected to the Gospel.
A doctrine that presents Jesus, then emphasizes social relationships, economics, domestic ideals, or health and wealth, is NOT from God. No such EMPHASIS is ever presented in God's Word. This is particularly true of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is such a marvelous consistency in the Spirit's presentation of Jesus that one marvels it could ever be missed. Apart from redemption, Jesus actually has no relevancy to us. If He is not "the Savior of the world" (John 4:42), we have no need for Him at all. That is how He is invariably declared in Scripture, without a single deviation. His total ministry relates to the recovery of men from sin, and all that is related to that great and Divine enterprise.
Some have taken upon themselves to declare Jesus from a purely worldly point of view. They represent Him as primarily a healer or provider, even though He was not at all consistent in these ministries. All of His healings and miraculous provisions were selective. Too, some have suggested that because He was the perfect man, He had riches and was prosperous. They affirm that because He had a treasurer, He must have had excess funds (John 12:6; 13:29). They seem to forget who the treasurer was, and that throughout His ministry there were faithful women who "ministered unto Him of their substance" (Lk 8:3; Mk 15:41). That was certainly not an appropriate response to a rich man! These corrupted views of Jesus are the interpolations of men, superimposed upon the word of God. They are in sharp conflict with the manner in which God presents Jesus. They also prove the spirit so presenting Jesus is not of God.
"EVERY spirit that does not confess Jesus is come in the flesh" has, by that very failure, made known they are NOT from God. They have nothing from God to give us, for God offers nothing apart from Christ Jesus. Wherever something is exalted above Jesus, the devil is at work. It makes little difference whether it is the Law, temporal needs, man's free will, the church, or even the Spirit of God-God simply has no messengers that do not ascribe the preeminent place to Jesus Christ, who is "come in the flesh."
The word "confess" also accentuates the voluntary nature of the acknowledgment. It is not that the spirit acknowledges that Jesus is come in the flesh when interrogated by men. Teachers sent from God are not noted for their answers to questions, but for their message, or what they proclaim. Their "confession" is the thrust, or substance, of their message or doctrine. They may say some things that are true, wise, and morally good. But if their message does not cast the soul upon Jesus, it has not come from God! To put it another way, a message that makes temporal concerns primary, and eternal ones secondary, has come from the bottomless pit.
The sternness with which the Spirit has spoken in this text is like a trumpet sound to spiritually lethargic or naive souls. We are in the midst of a fierce spiritual conflict in which influential spirits are at work. Some are from God, and some are not. It is our business to be able to distinguish them both.
THE SPIRIT OF ANTICHRIST
The Spirit reveals the following about
You will note there is no reference to political associations, economical strategies, or governmental power. Nor, indeed, is the antichrist clearly presented as a special foe of the Jews, a forger of political alliance, or the developer of social peace. Those are all associations developed by men. Those are simply the facts in the case. The revelation of God concerning "antichrist" is strictly confined to the opposition and denial of Jesus Christ. While there may very well be other associations, they are not revealed ones. Those choosing to approach the subject from another point of view, must take the total responsibility for their views. They are not developed in Scripture, which is the ONLY God-breathed writing.
The Spirit of Antichrist
With care, the Holy Spirit speaks on this matter. He does not draw our attention to a mere mortal, but to "the SPIRIT of antichrist." He has drawn us into the consideration of spirits: i.e., "Believe not every SPIRIT . . . try the SPIRITS . . . Every SPIRIT that confesses . . . every SPIRIT that confesses not . . . " (4:1-3). Thus the Lord emphasizes that we are not to judge according to "appearance," or evaluate men "after the flesh" (John 7:24; 2 Cor 5:16).
In this way, we are drawn away from provincial and historical considerations, which tend to put us to sleep. It is difficult to measure the adverse affects such approaches to Scripture have had upon believers. Concerning truth, we are brought back to the Spirit of truth (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13). Concerning the lie, we are brought back to the "father" of lies (John 8:44), and "the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience" (Eph 2:2). It is quite true that throughout history certain individuals have been identified with the spirit of antichrist. However, such individuals do not fulfill the warnings about "the spirit of antichrist."
That, of course, is the whole point of this text. There is a proliferation of false prophets. All of them are dangerous. All of them are fighting against Christ. All of them have a common origin. Some may appear more influential than others, but it is the animating spirit behind them that makes them so dangerous-not the time in which they are made known or exercise their influence. Many a simple soul has been taken in by "the spirit of antichrist," disarmed by the notion that a spiritual tyrant was to come in the future, when they would not even be here.
You Have Heard
Early believers were told regularly of a move of Satan that would involve religious corruption.
The Lord Jesus
Jesus warned His disciples of a time when "the love of man would wax cold" because of abounding iniquity-a time when "many false prophets will rise up and deceive many" (Matt 24:2). Again He said, "For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall show signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect" (Mark 13:22).
Peter also wrote of a massive departure from the faith, led by false prophets who would arise amidst the people of God. "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep" (2 Pet 2:1-3).
Paul warned the elders from Ephesus that from among the very leaders of the church, corruption would arise defiling many. "Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears" (Acts 20:30-31). Timothy was told of "perilous times" in which a "form of godliness" would be maintained while the power of it was rejected (1 Tim 3:5).
In a most solemn warning, Paul also spoke of a falling away, or rebellion against the Lord that would occur within the church. Without providing many details, he mentioned it would be marshaled under the influence of a person who was the very embodiment of sin. "Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness (man of sin, KJV) is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he may be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. And then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved"NASB (2 Thess 2:3-10).
Although it had not fully occurred in his day, this form of corruption was already at work-religious corruption. Christ's opponent would identify himself with God, sitting in the temple of God, and displaying himself as God. This personage is identified by two salient terms: "the man of sin," and the "son of perdition"KJV, or "the man of lawlessness" and the "son of destruction"NASB). By this, the Spirit means this is a promoter of sin and disobedience, and the offspring of the destroyer, Satan. He is to the devil what Jesus is to God.
The thing that makes this form of sin a "mystery" is that is comes in the name of the Lord, representing itself as coming from Christ. During the time Paul wrote, this mysterious working was already forming and active, though not dominant. It was restrained, but that restraining factor would be taken out of the way. It is my judgment that the restraining factor was not the Holy Spirit, or the church. Rather, it was the oppression of political power as embodied in the Roman empire. This power set itself against all forms of Christian influence, ascribing Deity to political power, and making no claim to any association with Jesus.
Upon the fall of Imperial Rome, corruption broke out in the church. It was particularly embodied in the Roman church, though not confined to it. A good case can be made for the office of Pope fulfilling the "man of sin" and "son of perdition." Terms ascribed to the Pope include "Lord God, the Pope," "Holy Father," and "Your Holiness," "Vicar of Jesus Christ," "Prince of the Apostles," and "Supreme Pontiff."
Without being unduly distracted from our text, this departure from the faith reveals the kind of conditions foretold by the apostles. While world religions such as Moslem, Hindu, and Buddhist are oppositions to Christ, they are nothing to compare with contaminated Christianity. Other opponents of the church include vain philosophy, the quest for pleasure, and the love of money. But they too are relatively insignificant when compared to rebellion that comes in the name of Christ. A form of religion that allows identity with Christ, yet permits its constituents to live in practical alienation from Him, is the most lethal form of spiritual corruption.
Jude reminded his readers of these words of the Apostles, alerting them to the necessity of earnestly contending for the faith. "But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ: how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts. These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit" (Jude 17-19).
Faithful Warning Confirms the Danger
The presence of these consistent warnings confirm the extreme danger they represent. In our time, we have become accustomed to powerless and lifeless Christianity. It is so common that few people think of it as a fulfillment of the prophecies of Jesus and the apostles. Fewer still see it as a Satanic initiative, designed to overthrow the faith of God's people.
It is significant that the Holy Spirit moved inspired men to speak of this falling away, and did so with consistency. Faithfully believers were warned of the introduction of a lifeless religion of mere form. John has now referred to this as the evidence of "the spirit of antichrist." It is a the outworking of a crafty plan, perpetrated by Satan and carried out by his ministers.
Now Already in the World
With care, the Spirit moves us away from merely looking into the future, imagining there is no danger at the present time. If the wicked influences of mention were "already in the world" in John's day, what must be said of our day? No child of God can afford to be asleep or spiritually retarded on this.
Salvation in Christ Alone
Throughout the Apostles' doctrine, Christ is presented as the exclusive Way to God and means to righteousness. Procedures are never exalted to the place of prominence reserved for Jesus, nor are theological patterns of thought or denominational affiliation. In the first century, men were already moving the emphasis from Christ Jesus and the love of the brethren to isolated and worldly interests. That tendency has continued to grow to this very day, and with remarkable rapidity and influence. It now so pervades the Christian world that scarcely a place can be found where it is not dominant. It is a most serious condition.
YOU HAVE OVERCOME THEM
You Are of God
Here is a marvelous affirmation! "You are of God!" How the people of God need to hear this. We have already been told that there are two categories of people: "the children of God" and "the children of the devil" (3:10). Jesus referred to them as "the children of the Kingdom" and "the children of the wicked one" (Matt 13:38). Paul once identified Elymas the sorcerer as the "child of the devil" (Acts 13:10). Of His critics Jesus said, "You are of your father the devil" (John 8:44). But it is not enough to merely identify the devil's children. Those who are "born of God" (3:9; 4:7; 5:14,18) need to be reminded of their royal birth also. Later, the importance of KNOWING we are of God will be affirmed. "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one" (5:19).
Notice, the spirit does not say we CAN be of God, or that we OUGHT to be of God, but that we ARE of God.
Our New Birth
Being "of God" refers to our new birth. We were regenerated, or born again, by God. As it is written, "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:12-13).
We are also said to be "born of the Spirit" (John 3:6,8), Who presided over our spiritual birth as He did over Jesus' birth of Mary (Lk 1:35).
It is God who, "Of His own will begat He us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures" (James 1:18). We are veritably the product of "incorruptible" seed, even the Word of God (1 Pet 1:23).
It is this birth, we will find, that has enabled us to overcome the wicked one.
Those who are in Christ Jesus are not the product of mere human effort. Rather, they are the result of God's own work. As it is written, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Eph 2:10).
Of God in Christ
God Himself has placed us in Christ, thereby ensuring our victory over the wicked one and his ministers. "But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord" (1 Cor 1:30).
If you want to bring encouragement to the people of God, remind them who they are in Christ Jesus! Tell them they "are of God," and are thus adequate to all the challenges of this "present evil world."
Have Overcome Them
Many false prophets have gone out into the world. There are no individuals who, of themselves, are powerful enough to resist their influence. Yet, believers are told they "have overcome them."
By "overcome them," the Spirit does not mean those in Christ have decimated the powers of darkness, or eliminated them from the world. Nor, indeed, have Satan's ministers ceased to function because of the saints. "Overcome" means the efforts of false prophets to deceive those cleaving to the Lord with purpose of heart have been frustrated. Satan, with all of his craftiness, has not been able to lure us away form Christ.
This perspective of overcoming is critical. It is possible to conceive of overcoming as eliminating opposition and ushering in a tranquil and unmolested life. But this is only an imagination-at least as long as we are in the world. Overcoming has to do with standing against the wiles of the devil, and not being deceived by him.
He Who Is In You
We are now reminded of the cause of our triumph over the "devices" of the devil (2 Cor 2:11). It is not because we studied his strategies, or were gifted with human logic. Nor, indeed, is our victory traced back to our own effort-even though we do expend effort. It is the One who is "in" us that "causes us to triumph" ( 2 Cor 2:14). From the standpoint of our birth, this is "the Father" who has taken up His abode in us (John 14:23). From the standpoint of our salvation itself, this is "Christ" who dwells in our hearts by faith (Eph 3:17). Considering it from the aspect of our spiritual life, it is the Holy Spirit who has been sent into our hearts (Gal 4:6).
It is ever true that we are strong "in the Lord, and in the power of His might" (Eph 6:10). Our strength is borrowed strength, and is not traceable to our Adamic nature. No amount of culture, mental disciplines, or moral strength can withstand the aggression of the devil. Satan has not been able to thrust us from the bosom of God because of the One who is "in us!" He is protecting us from within, not from without!
This clarifies the necessity of walking in fellowship with Christ and in the communion of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 1:9; 2 Cor 13:14). Living by faith brings us under the protecting hand of our Lord. Unbelief removes us from that sanctuary.
He Who Is in the World
Even though we have been reminded that "many false prophets are gone out into the world," and that we have overcome "them," yet there is really a single one whom we overcome: "he who is in then world." All false prophets and powers of darkness are working for him as well as against us.
The means of identifying Satan and his hosts are especially significant. "He who is IN THE WORLD." This is the locus, or center, of Satan's operation. He has come down to the earth having great wrath, because he knows "the time is short" (Rev 12:12). There is only safety in the "heavenly places," to which we have been raised in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:6). The world is a place of jeopardy.
The closer our affiliation is with "the world," the more susceptible we are to Satan, and the less Christ will work in us. His kingdom is "not of this world" (John 18:36), and thus we must consciously withdraw our hearts from "this present evil world."
We must ever remember that God has repudiated the entire world order. Everything that is in it, "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, are NOT of the Father" (1 John 2:16). Its wisdom is rejected, and is "foolishness with God"(1 Cor 3:19). Its concerns tend to choke the Word of God (Matt 13:22).
This is the realm in which our adversary works, and the one to which he draws us. The more we are drawn to this world, the more active Satan is within us. The more prominent this world is in our thinking, the more vulnerable we are to Satan.
THEY SPEAK FROM THE WORLD'S POINT OF VIEW
"5They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them." Here is a remarkably concise statement that identifies all false prophets. They are of the world order, blending in with it. They speak of the world, with no regard to heavenly things. Those who are caught up in this world listen to what they say, giving heed to them. Who but the Lord could speak in such a condensed, yet powerful, manner?
They Are of the World
Satan's ministers-all of them-are "of the world." They belong to the worldly order, being confined to the temporal realm. Their BASIC appetites have to do with this world. Their hearts are anchored to the seen. Their vision is limited to what is passing away. They are part of what God has rejected, and are glad to have it so.
Their wisdom is "of the world," and is thus mere prattle. God is not at the center of their thought, but they reason and plan just as though there were no God at all. They are the exact opposite of Jesus, Who said "I am NOT of this world" (John 8:23).
The Speak of the World
People can be identified by the subject of their speech. Those whom we overcome, because of the One within, "speak of the world." The subject of their communication is consistently "earthly things" (John 3:12). They speak this way because they "mind earthly things" (Phil 3:19). With them, the affairs of this life are not occasional considerations, but the dominating theme of their conversation.
Remember, we are speaking of those who come in the name of the Lord-people we must overcome in order to dwell forever in the house of the Lord. You will find these people in nearly every church. Wherever there is some degree of commitment to Christ, these people will surface, speaking "of the world." They will draw our attention to the political situation, to economical concerns, and the popular events of the world. If they deign to speak of religious matters, it is always of human duty, or the preservation and extension of the institution. But it is always a worldly point of view.
None of this is innocent, and none of it is glossed by God. Remember, these are the people we "overcome." There is a very real sense in which we must overcome religion and the contemporary church to walk with the Lord. While it is not popular to say this, honest souls know it to be the truth.
To confirm the absolute seriousness of speaking of the world, the Spirit testifies to the following. "For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame; who set their mind on earthly things" (Phil 3:18-19). These are enemies of the cross of Christ. Rather than crucifying the flesh, they feed upon it. Rather than dying to the world, they nurture their relationship to it. And what shall the end be for such people? Their appointed end is "destruction." They have given the precedence to earthly appetites; i.e., "whose god is their belly." What they glory, or boast, in is actually shameful and a disgrace. They speak of the world because they have "set their mind on earthly things."
Men will seek to dignify such worldly-centered speaking by adding a little religious flavor to it. But that does not change the facts in the case. Such people speak of the world because they are of the world. The sobering truth is that it is not possible for such a person to enter into the Kingdom of God.
The World Hears Them
From one point of view, those who listen to these worldly self-professed experts have been deceived. The flamboyancy of these men has overwhelmed the faint-hearted. As it is written, "For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple" (Rom 16:18). Our text, however, goes even more to the root of the problem. Men are deceived because their hearts are anchored to this world. That is what makes them "simple," or unable to distinguish Satan's messengers from those sent by God. The closer one is to the world, or the more harmonious one is with the "fashion of this world" (1 Cor 7:31), the more susceptible they become to false prophets.
If you have ever pondered the depth to which sin has brought all men, or wondered about the sinfulness of humanity, you must consider this text. The world and those who speak of it can only be overcome when Deity dwells within us. It makes little difference how cultured flesh may become, or how disciplined the mind may become. Unless a person is delivered from the world, his ears are bent toward the lie, and his heart is closed to the truth.
You Can Tell by the Followers
One of the means of identifying false teachers is the people who follow them. Peter said of these teachers, "Many shall follow their pernicious (destructive) ways" (2 Pet 2:2). John tells us why, because they are "of the world."
There are some staggering ramifications to this, but when a professed preacher or teacher heaps about him worldly minded people, it only confirms his falseness. Just as Jesus and His teaching are not attractive to the children of the devil, so Satan and his doctrines are repulsive to the children of God, and are thus rejected.
There are some of us who are deeply concerned about the presence of worldly-minded people in professed Christian environments. They certainly do not appear to be falling on their face, convicted by what they hear, and confessing "God is in you of a truth" (1 Cor 14:25). In fact, it appears they feel rather at home in churches where little consciousness of God exists.
THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH AND THE SPIRIT OF ERROR
"6We 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." Here the Spirit speaks of the Apostles in particular, and of those who have believed on Christ through their word in general. When John says "We are of God," he has particular reference to what he is writing-to the message that he is delivering. God not only sent His messengers, but gave them the words to say. He not only gave them the words to say, but enabled them to say them with power. All of this is involved in "We are of God."
He Who Knows God Hears Us
Herein a most remarkable distinction is made. We have already been told that those who are of the world give heed to those speaking of the world. Not we are told that the individual who does, in fact, know God, hears His messengers. "Hear," in this case, does not mean merely listening, or hearing the sound of their words. To "hear" is to understand, or comprehend. It also involves paying attention to, and being inclined toward, having a preference and love for the message.
When we are born again, we receive a capacity to "hear" with discernment and satisfaction. As Solomon said, "The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the LORD hath made even both of them" (Prov 20:12). That is true in both nature and grace. God gives "ears to hear" (Deut 29:4). He also exhorts us to use them (Matt 11:15; 13:9,43; Rev 2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22; 13:9).
The renewed heart loves the Word of God. It lives "by every word of God" (Lk 4:4), and engages in a fervent guest to obtain and keep it.
He Who Does Not Know God Does Not Hear His Messengers
Those who do not "know God," by virtue of that condition, do not give heed to His messengers. Their refusal to listen is not owing to immaturity, but to NOT being of God. Their ear is not bent toward God because they are unable to recognize Him, and have no appetite for His life-sustaining Word. They have not "received the love of the truth, that they might be saved" (2 Thess 2:10).
The Spirit does not move John to adapt to such people, reducing the truth, as it were, so that it is more appealing to them. Mark it well, the person who is a "friend of the world" is, by virtue of that circumstance, "the enemy of God" (James 4:4). Do not imagine for one moment that God will decrease or lessen His truth to accommodate to such people. I realize that much emphasis is placed on doing precisely this among those with a mega-church mentality. Such people will do nearly anything to appeal to those who are of the world and do not know God. But John offers no such suggestions. He simply acknowledges a condition over which he has no power. "He who is not of God does not hear us."
I am sure that detail did not bring rejoicing to his heart. Nevertheless, he knew the truth declared elsewhere. "For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?" (2 Cor 2:15-16).
This Is How You Know
Here, then, is a twofold test of the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. WHAT IS THE MESSAGE, AND WHO LISTENS TO IT? If the person speaks of the world, they are not of God. Those who listen to such a message do not know God. Those who genuinely are sent by God speak His words, and those who are born of God joyfully receive them. On the surface, that may appear to be quite simplistic. Men often tend to develop more extensive tests to determine who is of the truth and who is not.
But this test is not as simple as it may appear. Behind it is a truth articulated by Jesus Himself. "He who is of God hears God's words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God" (John 8:47). Again, He said to His enemies, "Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word" (John 8:43). And again, "But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me" (John 10:26-27).
God alone knows those who are His, even though they may not be apparent to us. As it is written, "And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some. Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity" (2 Tim 2:17-19).
Those who bear the message of God must speak with this persuasion: those who are of God will hear His words. Those who are born of God so identify themselves by their response to the Word of God. Those who are not of God identify themselves in the very same way. A person's reaction to the truth does not need to be explained by self-appointed philosophers. The Lord has already explained the situation.
These things are not written to make us hypercritical or divisive. A perception of them will have a significant impact on our assessment of the religious community. The real reason, however, for these words is to assure the children of God that they are precisely that-the children of God. Their response to the message of Christ confirms that to be the case, and they are to comfort their hearts in that awareness.
THE EVIDENCE OF AFFILIATION WITH GOD
The love of reference is spiritual in nature, and rises above mere personalities. When the love of God is "shed abroad in our hearts by he Holy Spirit" (Rom 5:5), it produces a profound attraction to God Himself. It also results in a preference for the people of God, and a hearty appetite for the truth of God. Where God's people are not loved, a love for God is glaringly absent. Where the truth of God is not loved, God Himself is not loved.
More particularly, our love of the brethren involves receiving what God has given them for Christ's body, and giving to them what has been granted to us by His grace. Loving one another involves mutuality or spiritual exchange. In the case of John, loving him involves receiving what he was given from God.
In loving one another, we are not attracted by the human personality, or by fleshly similarities. It is the Divine likeness, or image of Christ, that draws us. That is the reason for these strong statements.
Love Is of God
The phrase "love is of God" means love is "FROM" God, and is so translated in the NIV, NASB, and NRSV versions. We possess it, but it came from the Lord. It was not developed by us, but granted to us. Thus it is written, "Peace to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph 6:23). And again, "And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus" (1 Tim 1:14). Again, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love . . . " (Gal 5:22).
The Spirit spells this out with remarkable clarity in First Thessalonians 5:9. "But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another." Again, Paul wrote to Timothy, "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Tim 1:7).
We are, then, custodians of that love, given to us by the grace of God. It is to be directed toward "one another" as well as God Himself and His word. To fail in this regard means the Spirit has been quenched, the power denied, and grace frustrated (1 Thess 5:19; 2 Tim 3:5; Gal 2;21).
Everyone Who Loves
There is no possibility that this is not absolutely true: "everyone who loves is born of God and knows God." Among other things, this confirms love is not shallow, nor is it based upon the flesh. It also declares that being born again and knowing God are a requisite to loving one another. This is a great consolation to those who do love the brethren. While they may lack many desired traits, they can find encouragement in their preference for the people of God. Such have been born again, and are in joyful fellowship with God. Else they could not love His people.
He Who Does Not Love
Of course, the converse is also true. "He who does not love does not know God, for God is love." It makes no difference what profession of faith may be made, or what religious affiliation is entertained. The person who has no regard for the people of God does not know God. What is even more, God has revealed such people will be condemned in the day of Christ. "You who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thess 1:7-8). When you ponder the lack of love among professing Christians, this is a most sobering thought. Nevertheless, it is the truth, and is to be received.
God Is Love
Twice this statement is found in Scripture, and both of them are in First John. "He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love," "And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him" (4:8,16). By this, the Spirit is not equating God and love. He does not say that "love is God," but that "God is love."
By saying "God is love," the spirit is accounting for God's action, both in creation and redemption. It was His regard for His offspring that compelled Him to determine to bless His people. Grace, mercy, compassion-these are all exhibitions of God's nature. "God is love." It should be apparent that we are handling a most profound truth in this text.
The specific point being made is that God, being Love, cannot beget children unlike Himself. When we are "born again," we are not simply given a fresh start, we become "partakers of the Divine nature." One of the primary evidences of this is our love for the brethren. Our desire to receive from them and minister to them confirms we are in the same "family" with them (Eph 3:15). How serious a matter, therefore, for us to consider. Right here, we may gain great confidence. Think upon these things.
No ambiguity! Not the slightest hint of uncertainty! These are words addressed to faith, and will yield a glorious harvest when received. The Spirit has not called us into the arena of speculation, but ultimate reality. He has not spoken to us of mere possibilities, but of sobering verities.
Remember the revealed reasons for this marvelous Epistle.
Be sure, therefore, that these objectives cannot be accomplished without testing the spirits, to see whether they are from God. We cannot ignore the proliferation of false teachers and still obtain the stated benefits. All of these things will be realized in a militant environment, where opposing influences are brought to bear upon us.
Notwithstanding this situation, salvation makes us equal to it. He that is in us is, in every sense, greater than he that is in the world. The heavens still rule and Jesus is still the King of kings and Lord of lords. The devil is not greater than Jesus, nor are his children greater than the children of God. As we throw ourselves into the Divinely appointed work of testing the sprits, we will realize the blessing of the Lord. He never calls us to do something without providing the needed resources to accomplish it.