1 John 4:1-6 Part Two: John's Two Tests
Let’s read 1 John 4:1-6,
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
This is the second of two sermons on this text. Last week we addressed the problem that we see in this text. John says, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God…”. John also says, “...for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” He also warns these believers by saying, “This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.”
John had traveled to many places and everywhere he went he encountered false prophets, false teachers, deceivers and enemies of the gospel. He knew that there was no town or village, no community, no providence, no nation or continent on which you would not find these false prophets.
We live in a world that is full of lying and deceitful spirits. Because of this, Christians need to test the things that they hear by the Word of God. John noticed that the believers he was writing were prone to believe these antichrists. Therefore, he commands them not to believe everything they hear but they are to test these spirits to see if they were from God.
What does John mean by saying that we need to test the spirits to see if they are from God?
Unregenerate men speak with the tongue of their father Satan. Jesus speaks of this in John 8:44, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
Christians, however, confess that Jesus is LORD because of the Spirit of God. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:2-3 Paul says, “You know that when you were pagans, you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you are led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says, ’Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit."
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:13-14, “And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
Behind every word spoken there are spiritual things that are at work. Paul says in Ephesians 6:12, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against every spiritual wickedness in high places.”
If a person comes to realize the danger that is lurking all around them they may be terribly frightened and wonder how they are to respond. They may shrink back and ignore the danger. Or having seen the danger they may become paralyzed out of fear.
Having come to see this danger they would be like Elijah’s servant who rose early in the morning to discover that the entire city had been surrounded by a great army. In that moment the servant said to Elijah, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” Elijah said to him, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
In this text John has made us aware of the danger and we too may cry out, “What shall we do? How should we respond to this situation?” The apostle encourages us by saying, “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”
In our text ,John gives two practical things that we can do to guard themselves from these antichrist’s.
First, they are to determine who the deceivers are by what they confess about Christ.
Secondly, we can observe to see if they listen to the apostolic teaching or if they listen to the world.
Many years ago I had an encounter with a man who took John’s words in this text seriously. As we talked it became very evident that he seemed to apply this instruction in our conversation.
I will often listen to sermons as I am getting ready for bed. I pick these sermons randomly and I have made it my habit to listen to them unless I think that they are not treating the text appropriately. They may have a voice or a presentation style that I do not like but I will never turn it off because of that.
Sometimes I will listen to a sermon and really like it. When this happens it is not uncommon for me to listen to it several times and then I will call that church and ask to talk to that pastor so that I can tell them how much I appreciated how he handled that text and to thank them for their faithful ministry.
About five years ago I called an older pastor and told him how much I appreciated his sermon. As we talked, what stood out to me was that throughout our conversation he seemed to be testing me. He asked me many questions and they seemed to focus upon the tests that the apostle John puts before us today. While we were on the phone he would gently probe me about how I viewed Jesus Christ and he sought to determine how I viewed the Word of God. He wanted to know if I had a proper view of Christ and a high view of the Scriptures.
I have never forgotten that conversation. It was so different than any of the other conversation that I have had with other people. That man seemed to genuinely want to know who he was talking too. He did not assume that he was talking to someone who was worth listening too simply because I had paid him a compliment and told him that I liked his sermon. He wanted to know if I was of the world or if I was a true believer. His probing questions showed me just how intentional we have to be about doing such things even in a casual conversation like the one I just described.
As I have considered 1 John 4:1-6 I have found myself wondering if that minister had done this because he had taken John’s words to heart and applied them when he encountered other people. He seemed like a minister who would often remind the elders in his church to ‘test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.’ If that is the case, consider the safety and protection that such a congregation would enjoy.
I mention this story because John is telling us that we need to be diligent to do this as well. Yet, this is not always something that is easy to do. Let me give you an example.
John Cotton, was a minister who was the pastor of the largest church in Boston. He had become one of the most influential ministers of his time. There was an experience that taught him about the importance of our text today.
When Mr. Cotton moved from New England to Boston there was a woman named Anne Hutchinson who followed him to America. Anne thought very highly of Mr. Cotton and soon she began to criticize the other ministers and say that Mr. Cotton was one of the only ministers who had a right view of grace. She began to hold meetings in her home, where sixty other women gathered each week to review sermons and she would add her own interpretation. Soon many in the church became her followers.
At first, Mr. Cotton supported her not realizing just how serious this would become. Eventually, however, he realized how far she had strayed from biblical teachings. For example, she did not believe that it was necessary for good works to give evidence to a changed heart. She also began to emphasize what the spirit was telling her than of what the Scriptures were teaching.
Mr. Cotton soon began to see that she was failing John’s tests. He tried to correct her teaching and she agreed to sign a document expressing her repentance, however, it soon became evident that in her heart she really did not repent. Church discipline was then taken to remove her from the church in the hopes that she would repent and be restored. Mrs. Hutchinson was smart, a good speaker and able to draw a crowd and persuade people but she did not pass John’s tests. (Puritan Heroes, Matthes and Beeke)
The tests that John gives have a personal application and a corporate application. These tests apply to each and every individual and also to the whole church. Therefore, each one of us ought to be apply these two tests when we are talking to someone.
The first test is found in verses 2-3, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard was coming and now is in the world already.”
John is not simply saying that every person who says with their mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’ is saved. It is those who confess with their mouth and believe with their heart that are truly saved. Romans 5:8-10 says, “But what does it (the Word) say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”
We cannot determine who are antichrist’s by how they look or how they dress. We cannot always tell by their demeanor and disposition. You can’t tell a good ministry by the size of the church. This test requires that we get people to talk about what they believe about Jesus Christ.
How do they talk about Jesus? Did Jesus come in the flesh?
What did Jesus come to accomplish?
Is Jesus fully God and fully man?
Is Jesus the only way of salvation?
Do they believe that Jesus rose from the dead and promises to return again?
Two weeks ago I was watching an interview. It was an interview between a reporter and an actor. The reporter said that we needed to hear this man’s testimony about his faith and implied that it would be very impactful to us all. I watched that interview and I was not impressed.
This man talked a lot about God but never mentioned Jesus.
He talked a lot about hearing God’s voice but he never mentioned the scriptures.
He talked a lot about being a better person but he never mentioned the grace and mercy of God that came through Jesus Christ.
These were not the words of a believer but of an antichrist. Yet, many people never even thought to test this man’s words. The interviewer was captivated by this man’s teaching but it was a false teaching full of error. In the end these words would not help anyone find salvation.
It would have been nice to have watched that interview and heard a strong message concerning Christ Jesus. It would have been nice if he would have spoken like Paul, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my speech and my message were not with plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (2 Cor. 2:1-5)
Not all will fail to mention Jesus when they are speaking like that man did; and yet, they can still be false teachers. There are many who will say that Jesus was a prophet, that He was a good man, that He was a good teacher. They will say that He did good things and that He loved others. But these people do not believe that Jesus was God who came in the flesh to redeem sinful man from their sins. Many will not say that Jesus is the only way of salvation (Acts 4:12) Such people are deceivers.
True disciples will teach what Jesus taught. Believers have been commanded to do this in Matthew 28:19-20by Jesus, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
John speaks about ‘confession’ two times in verse 2. He says, “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.”, the word ‘confess’ means that we say the same thing that the scriptures say about Christ. What we are taught in Scripture regarding Jesus Christ is what we should be confessing to ourselves and others.
The second test that John speaks of in our text is found in verses 5-6, “They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”
Last week we saw a great example of a group of people who passed both of John’s tests. In Luke 1:1-4 we read, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”
These believers passed John’s tests by confessing Christ and all that He had accomplished. Luke said, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us...”. Luke is even more clear as he begins the book of Acts, “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up...”
These believers passed John’s second text by receiving the apostles teaching. Again in Luke 1 we read, “...just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us…”. And Luke expresses this again in Acts when he wrote, “...after He had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom He had chosen.”
These believers listened to the apostles teaching and compiled the narrative concerning all that had been accomplished. They carefully followed these teachings and they were able to give an orderly account of these things to others. In this way they proved to have come from God. They proved that they were of the Spirit of truth.
We can tell who a person is by how they respond to the Word of God. If they listen and apply the Word of God to their lives then it can be assumed that they are enjoying genuine fellowship with the LORD. But if they do not listen closely to the teachings of Scripture but instead speak a message that the world will listen too then they are not of the truth but are of the spirit of error.
Spurgeon spoke of the appetite that a Christian for the Word of God. He says, “Believers have felt an inward relish and delight in divine truth, and our spiritual instincts have taught us that it was intended for us. A man may be misled by his natural appetite, but the spiritual man’s holy taste never deceives him. If he can feed upon the Word, this is clear evidence that it is ‘food convenient for him’, and that the Lord intends it for him. The Holy Ghost has said, ‘Eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness’, plainly indicating that the truth which gives delight to the renewed soul may be safely feasted on, and that we have full license to enjoy it without stint.”
The threat that John has dealt with in this text is very real so he challenges all of us to use these two tests to determine who speaks the truth and who speaks in error.
First, we find out what they think about Jesus Christ.
Secondly, we see if they can sit under the apostles teaching and submit to it.
You may be sitting here today and you may want to make sure that your confession concerning Christ is accurate. Let me suggest that a good place to start is by memorizing ‘The Apostles Creed’ or ‘The Nicene Creed’.
As we close let’s say the apostles creed together…
I believe in God the Father, Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord;
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the virgin Mary;
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven;
And sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
The holy catholic church; the communion of saints;
The forgiveness of sins;
The resurrection of the body;
And the life everlasting. Amen.