Summary: It’s our job as Christians to appraise viewpoints as to whether they come from God or some other source. We need spiritual discernment to assess the validity of voices we hear.
Sermon Series on First John, “Collecting Evidence of Faith”
“Beware: Falsehood” I John 4:1-6 -Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
I enjoy watching Antiques Roadshow on PBS. One of the show’s most famous discoveries was a Seymour mahogany card table from Boston, bought at a garage sale by a New Jersey retiree for $25. She later sold the table at Sotheby’s for over half a million dollars. Sometimes the appraisers tell people they’ve brought in a priceless heirloom, and sometimes they burst some bubbles, revealing items appearing to be valuable as worthless, deceptive frauds. It’s our job as Christians to appraise viewpoints as to whether they come from God or some other source.
Religious notions abound. There are many disparate voices out there, and some are dangerous. People claim to speak by the Spirit, but do they? How much do you really know about the guy preaching on the radio? Discernment is a good thing overall, for example--on the web, the last time you did some internet research, how carefully did you check your sources? How much did you know about the sites you logged onto? John is strongly cautioning us to beware of the “spirit of error.” We need spiritual discernment every time we encounter voices claiming to be from God: books, magazines, radio and TV preachers, websites and blogs. Some are spouting false doctrine. So don’t believe everything you hear.
John urges us to “test the spirits” in verses 1-3 to see if the spirit teachers have comes from God; some possess the spirit of antichrist. In other words, don’t blindly accept what you’re presented simply because the source claims to be of God. John warns that many views belong to this world. How do we “test” to see whether a teacher or organization is speaking the truth? We don’t want to bless that which comes from ego, evil, or error. Before we trust teachers, we test them. We distinguish truth from error by knowing Scripture. If we’re biblically illiterate we are fair game for any false teacher.
In the Old Testament, there were several tests to determine whether prophets came from God: Did their short-term predictions come to pass? Did they use pagan divination methods? Did their teachings match the Scriptures? What about their ethical conduct? And did reliable sources weigh and confirm their beliefs?
Today we need to be aware of the distinguishing characteristics of cults. Cults are groups that zealously set themselves apart from mainstream religion, claiming to be the only true faith. They often have exclusive writings, unique interpretations, and rigid rules. Their path to salvation is by works. They expect unquestioning acceptance of their teachings.
Cults often deny the deity and/or humanity of Christ, which was a major reason why John wrote his epistle. Authentic faith requires a proper understanding of Jesus. Gentile Christians in John’s day were being misled by people who followed Plato’s view that the physical body is a prison and that only the spirit is important. This is why in the Gnostic Gospel of Judas Jesus thanks His betrayer for helping Him escape His mortal body (the Gnostic writings came from the 2nd & 3rd centuries and were rejected by the early church fathers). False teachers in John’s day were claiming that Jesus was only a spirit. The New Testament authors uniformly state that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine, the unique God-Man, or as John writes, “the Word-made-flesh” (John 1:14). Jesus reveals the Father to us, and through His sacrificial death He atones for our sins. He is the Way of eternal life. Our first question then, when examining any religious group is: “What do they believe about Christ?”
Besides cults, there are many self-appointed, self-ordained teachers who answer to no one, and totally unaffiliated churches. They claim they answer to God, which may sound alright, but when there’s no one to check them or their teachings, any kind of false beliefs may be possible. They’re like loose cannons, spouting off under no one’s sanction or authority. They often claim that any who disagree with their teachings are disagreeing with God. Some people don’t care for “organized religion,” but one significant benefit is accountability.
I admit that, in the defense of truth, it’s easy to feel discouraged and outnumbered. To encourage us, John reminds us in verse 4: “Greater is He who is in you than the evil one who is in the world.” We are overcomers, thanks to God’s working within us. Dualism claims that there are two equal opposing forces in the world--good and evil. We see this expressed in fantasy and science-fiction, where tension builds over which force will prevail. The Scriptures assure us that God is greater than any evil, and that we’re on the winning side. We need not worry; the outcome has already been determined. Our Savior faced the devil (the ultimate source of false teaching) and won; we are “more than conquerors” through Christ.