Summary: BIG IDEA: How can we recognize false prophets? By what they say, and by who listens to them.
Introduction: How can you tell if someone is lying to you? [ASK] How do you spot a lie? Some people give it away in their body language--not making eye contact, for example. What about spiritual things? How can we recognize a “false prophet”? This is more difficult, for a false prophet may be completely convinced that what they are saying is true. So how can we know if someone is speaking spiritual truth or spiritual falsehood?
[READ 1 John 4:1-6]
ILLUS: A young American engineer named Billy was sent to Ireland by his company to work in a new electronics plant. It was a two-year assignment that he had accepted because it would enable him to earn enough to marry his long-time girlfriend, Irene. She had a job near her home in Tennessee, and their plan was to pool their resources and put a down payment on a house when he returned. They corresponded often, but as the lonely weeks went by, Irene began expressing doubts that he was being true to her, exposed as he was to lovely Irish lasses. Billy wrote back, declaring with some passion that he was paying absolutely no attention to the local girls. “I admit,” he wrote, “that sometimes I’m tempted. But I fight it. I’m keeping myself for you.” In the next mail, Billy received a package. It contained a note from Irene and a harmonica. “I’m sending this to you,” she wrote, “so you can learn to play it and have something to take your mind off those girls.” Billy replied, “Thanks for the harmonica. I’m practicing on it every night and thinking of you.” At the end of his two-year stint, Billy was transferred back to company headquarters. He took the first plane to Tennessee to be reunited with his girl. Her whole family was with her, but as he rushed forward to embrace her, Irene held up a restraining hand and said sternly, “Just hold on there a minute, Billy. Before any serious kissin’ and huggin’ gets started here, let me hear you play that harmonica!”
>>She was testing him! In the same way, we need to test ideas & teachings before we embrace them, for John makes clear that there are counterfeit spirits in the world trying to lead God’s people astray. John gives us two ways we can know if someone is speaking spiritual truth.
I. We can know by what they say about Christ (1-3)
A. False prophets speak from false spirits.
1. A prophet was a person who had come under the influence of a supernatural power, whether good or bad. His message came from that power, so that what the prophet spoke was actually the message of the spirit who inspired him.
2. These “pseudo-prophets” were not merely teachers as we might understand them. They were actually inspired by a spirit—the spirit of antichrist (3) or the spirit of deception (6).
3. In contrast, John speaks of the Spirit of God, i.e., the Holy Spirit, who lives in us and leads us (cf. 3:24).
4. It is significant that almost every deviant form of Christianity in some way diminishes or distorts the Person of Christ. The test is so simple: was Jesus truly God’s Messiah, the Word made flesh, fully man and fully God? If not, whatever the source of the denial, it cannot be called Christian.