Summary: How can we tell a false from a true messenger of God? How does love separate truth from error? How do we know God loves us? Why is love of the church and its people such an important indicator of our love for God? How willingly and openly confess Christ?
Prelude to Part 1
How can we tell a false from a true messenger of God? How does love separate truth from error? How do we know God loves us? Let’s examine God’s love and the difference it makes, by looking at 1 John 4:1-11.
1 John 4:1 Test the Spirits
In 1 John 4:1 we read, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” A misunderstanding of Jesus’ instructions not to be judgmental, is that we should not discern who are false prophets. Yet after Jesus said, “Judge not” (Matthew 7:1) He said “Beware of false prophets.” (Matthew 7:15) Is that a contradiction? Jesus does not want us to be always judging, hypercritical, and beware of false prophets, falsely claiming to bring a message from God. How do we test without judging? We do not condemn, but discern by the fruits.
1 John 4:2 Test of Confession
1 John 4:2 says, “By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God”. One test of who is led by the Spirit of God is their confession. John refers to the ancient heresy of Docetism, which claimed that Jesus did not have a body, but was a disembodied spirit, a ghost. They claimed that He did not really suffer, die and rise again. On the other hand, He was not a mere man, because of John’s words “has come in the flesh,” alluding to his Gospel claim that He was God, the Word (John 1:1-4).
1 John 4:3 Spiritual Discernment
1 John 4:3 says, “and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.” Being anti- or against Christ is a spirit that we are familiar with in our world, but when a religious teacher claims to be Christian, yet teaches that Jesus was a mere human being, we should beware. Or when someone claims that our four records of Jesus’ teachings are to be disregarded as God-breathed because they were written by men, we should discern a wrong spirit.
1 John 4:4-5 Of God or the World
1 John 4:4-5 says, “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them.” In dramatic opposition to false teachers, those who believe the truth are on one side; false teachers are on the other. There is no mention of a neutral position and to assume a neutral position is also to be in error, because we “have overcome them.” Echoing Jesus’ words, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own.” (John 15:19)
1 John 4:6 Spirit of Truth or Error
1 John 4:6 says, “We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” John is saying that we who teach the things of God are heard by those who know God. What qualifies any teacher is not apostolic succession or ordination by men, but the spirit of truth rather than error. When people give in to the spirit of falsehood, contradicting the teachings of the Apostles, claiming the Bible is just the teachings of men, they become false prophets, falsely claiming to be speaking for God.
1 John 4:7-8 Love is of God
1 John 4:7-8 says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” When churches show hatred instead of love, then they do not know God. Only by loving God can we truly know God and this love is intimately connected to knowing truth. The greatest truth of all is love. Whatever love for one another a person has within them comes from God. Because God is love, then love of God and neighbor is the surest test that a person is from God.
1 John 4:9 God’s Love Manifested
1 John 4:9 says, “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.” In this verse John summarizes his Gospel and John 3:16. Jesus is distinguished from all other sons of God as His only begotten Son or uniquely God’s Son in a manner that no other is. This counters the Ebionite heresy that denied the divinity of Christ. God’s love is made most conspicuous in the birth of Jesus and we believers are the specific beneficiaries of life through Him. Eternal life is given us by faith in Jesus Christ.