Summary: 1 John: Chapter Four Doctrinal Test of Spirits (1-6)
1 John: Chapter Four
Doctrinal Test of Spirits (1-6)
John addresses the recipients again as beloved, his favorite term of endearment. The context here is the uncritical acceptance of any and all supernatural phenomena. He gives them a test to determine origin of spirit, whether it is of God or of the devil. We know that in the NT times charismatic phenomenon was widely prevalent and not well discerned (ie 1 Cor; 1 Thes 5:20) even as it is not well discerned in many places today. He commands them not to believe every spirit but test the source of the spirit to see if they are from God because many FT have gone out. He is continuing the theme of spirit. “As long as I am talking about the spirit. . .” The test is if they confess Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (2). It is testing their belief in the incarnation and deity of Jesus Christ. But again the confession means more than lip service; it includes an allegiance which produces a life consistent with that confession. Remember in Mat 7:21 at the DOL there are those who call him Lord, Lord but He himself rejects them as never knowing him. Any confession of faith must be backed up with a desire for and an obedience to the commands of God, in this epistle specifically, the command to love (3:18). The ultimate proof is in the character of ones’ life. Now this is not the only test, this is John’s test because of the nature of the heresy.
To console them once again, he says in contrast to FT you have overcome the them, the deception of the FT because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. Who is the he?, the Spirit. People listen to the FT because they are from the world you however listen to the apostolic word because you know God. He sounds arrogant but remember John is not just any teacher but an apostolic witness and therefore inspired (therefore this text cannot be used by abusive spiritual leaders!). He knew his writing had weight and authority that was unique.
This knowing and being able to listen is because of the Spirit in you. He says greater is He that is in you. The source of discernment is not you but God’s Spirit in you. Overcoming is ultimately by the Spirit not us. This fact guards any of us against spiritual elitism and Pharisaic pride. Your ability to listen and grasp truth is a work of the Spirit in the moment. Not just cognitive but approve of it and welcome it. Paul says that we rejoice in the truth. “There is a certain affinity between God's Word and God's people. Jesus had taught that His sheep hear His voice (Jn. 10:4,5,8,16,26,27), that everyone who is of the truth listens to His witness to the truth (Jn. 18:37), and that 'he who is of God hears the words of God' (Jn. 8:47). In the same way John asserts that since 'we are of God (6) and 'you are of God' (4), you listen to us. There is a correspondence between message and hearers. The Spirit who is in you (4) enables you to discern His own voice speaking through us (2). So you can recognize God's Word because God's people listen to it, just as you can recognize God's people because they listen to God's Word (Stott, 159)."
Our false beliefs are as much sin as our lack of love. Knowing doctrinal truth is important. Doctrine affects minds and the heart and therefore our behavior.
The necessity of Love (7-12)
Again loving others is evidence of paternity. The command to love because love is from God and therefore it shows you have been born of God. If you do not love, you do not know God because God is love. Here it is again, you cannot love (Godly love) without being born of God. Christian love – the love of God poured into our hearts by the Spirit flowing out joyfully to meet the needs of others. Knowing God necessarily results in being a loving person. It is the command that gives the power of grace to fulfill the command. Augustine said command what you will and will what you command. Where God commands he gives the power to be loving. The issue is faith. Do we believe God’s promises? God loved us so the love of God flows to others. God’s love is completed, fulfilled – purpose of his love is to flow toward others.
Obedience Gives Assurance (13-21)
Assurance is a clear goal in the epistle – 2:3, 5b; 3:10,14 19, 24b; 4:2, 6b; 5:2, 13. This is clearly an issue and motive of John! The Spirit in our lives is evidence that we abide in him or in essence are Christ follower. Now note the context. It is the Spirit that gives us ears to hear and hearts to obey. So by giving the Spirit he means the ability to hear and want to hear the commands of God, they are sweet not burdensome. The Spirit gives us the desire and also the ability to love or obey the commands. Love is a manifestation of the Spirit (13). To abide in God is to abide in love. To abide in loves is evidence that we abide in God even when it is difficult (3:17; 5:15). Again, the character of our lives gives evidence of paternity (14-16). It is in believing this love for us that frees us to radical acts of love (16; Heb 10:35-39). John sees that when God comes into your life; love comes into your life (16).