1 John 4:1-3 ESV
“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. 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 heard was coming and now is in the world already.”
This passage of Scripture is an example of a passage of Scripture that should not be interpreted on its own without the larger context. And that larger context goes beyond just the book of 1 John but reaches to all passages of Scripture which talk about false prophets and what makes one a false prophet or teacher. For one, our English words don’t always capture the true meaning of the original writings and words.
Take for example this word “confess.” In the English language it can mean merely to admit something verbally. So many false assumptions have been made by people about such passages of Scripture as in 1 John 1:9 where it says, “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This is not speaking of a mere verbal admission of sin. Plus we need to read that in the whole of 1 John.
This word “confess,” in this context, literally means to fully agree with God, to speak to the same conclusion as God, to have the same mindset as God, and to align with God regarding our sin. And what does God say about our sin? He says that we must die with Christ to sin, that sin must be put to death in our lives so that we are no longer enslaved to sin but so we are now becoming slaves of God and of his righteousness. So, this we must do.
Now, with regard to this passage in 1 John 4, it would read “every spirit that fully agrees with God, that speaks to the same conclusion as God, that has the same mindset as God, and that is aligned (united, allied) with God regarding Jesus Christ and who he is, that when he walked the face of the earth he was God incarnate, God in the flesh, fully God yet fully man, this one is from God. And this alignment with God should be obvious.
But then we have to look at other passages of Scripture which describe what it means to be “from God,” for there are many other stipulations. And then we should also look at other Scriptures which define false teachers for they are not ones who teach the truth. But, and this is important that we realize this, they are charlatans, fakers, pretenders, and this is why we cannot go by a mere verbal confession coming from their lips, for they are messengers of Satan who disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.
So, when we test the spirits, the words and the character of human beings, and we test what they say and what they do against the Scriptures, in their context, then we can begin to see who is of God and who isn’t, and again, that goes way beyond just a profession of who Jesus is. For 1 John alone says that if we say (with our lips) that we have fellowship with God while we walk (in conduct, in practice) in darkness (sin), we lie and do not practice the truth (1 Jn 1:6).
And then we read on that by this we know that we have come to know him if we keep (obey) his commandments (New Covenant instructions). For if we say (with our lips), “I know him,” but we do not make obedience to our Lord’s commands our practice, but sin is what we practice, then we lie, and the truth is not in us. We do not really know the Lord if we do not keep his commandments and if we continue to live in deliberate sin (see 1 John 2-3; also Matt 7:21-23). So, we test the spirits against these verses, too.
Therefore, the moral of this lesson is that we cannot go merely by what people say with their lips. Now, if with their lips they are clearly teaching what is false, we can test that. But if with their lips they profess faith in Jesus Christ, maybe they do and maybe they don’t have faith. That is tested by other words they say and teach and it is tested by what they do, too. But we should do this prayerfully and carefully so that we don’t misjudge, too.
1 John 4:4-6 ESV
“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. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 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 yet another way we can test those who say they are from God. Those who are false believers in Jesus and/or who are false teachers of the faith are from the world, and they speak from the world. And to speak from the world means that what comes from your lips is mostly all about what is of the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride of life – all this is not from the Father but is from the world. And if we embrace and prefer the world, then the love of the Father is not in us (1 Jn 2:15-17).
So, what do you talk about the most? What do you talk about with your co-workers, with your family and friends, on social media, with your hairdresser, and with your fellow Christians, etc.? Do your conversations primarily revolve around your walks of faith in Jesus Christ and what you are learning from the Scriptures, or are your conversations primarily or always about what is of this world? What do you talk about most? Unless of course it is work-related and so your primary conversation at work is about work, which it should be, what we talk about most shows where are hearts are.
It grieves me to get on social media, and in some cases to see so many Christians talking about all things that are of this world but rarely ever talk about Jesus Christ and his word unless it is Easter or Christmas. And then their conversations are mainly just the story of Jesus’ birth and death, but rarely do they speak about what that means for us in our lives, and what God requires of us. So they go through the motions of religion, but their conversations are full of the world.
So, either their faith in Jesus Christ is not genuine, and what they have is religion but not a genuine walk of faith in Jesus Christ, or else they are Christians but presently they are not walking according to the Spirit but they are walking according to the flesh. Now, if a person professing faith in Jesus Christ has never truly repented, and never truly surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ, but they just made a verbal profession of faith, but then continued on in their sin, according to Scripture, they are not saved.
The Scriptures also appear to show us that it is possible for Christians to move away from their pure devotion to the Lord and to fall back into sin and to need to repent and to be revived and brought back into true fellowship with their Lord. And the Scriptures also indicate that if this does not take place, but they continue living in sin, they will not inherit eternal life with God.
Now, if those who profess faith in Jesus Christ have genuine faith they should be willing to listen to others of genuine faith who are speaking the truth of God’s word. But so many professers of faith in Jesus Christ want nothing to do with hearing the truth of the Scriptures but they only want to hear what tickles their itching ears and what makes them feel good, and they are also ones whose conversations are mostly about the world. And this is a very sad reality.
Oh, to Be Like Thee, Blessed Redeemer
Lyrics by Thomas O. Chisholm, 1897
Music by W. J. Kirkpatrick, 1897
Oh, to be like Thee! blessèd Redeemer,
This is my constant longing and prayer;
Gladly I’ll forfeit all of earth’s treasures,
Jesus, Thy perfect likeness to wear.
O to be like Thee! while I am pleading,
Pour out Thy Spirit, fill with Thy love;
Make me a temple meet for Thy dwelling,
Fit me for life and Heaven above.
Oh, to be like Thee! Oh, to be like Thee,
Blessèd Redeemer, pure as Thou art;
Come in Thy sweetness, come in Thy fullness;
Stamp Thine own image deep on my heart.
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