Summary: It is a terrible mistake to separate the Work of the Holy Spirit from the Person and work of Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture
Will the Real Holy Spirit Please Stand Up?
We have seen that sound doctrine and sound love are both essential to the Christian faith and must be held together and not against each other. Living in love and living the truth of the gospel are what gives us assurance that we are Christians. We must be believing, be living, and be loving. We have noticed tha John saved the witness of the Spirit that we are Christians to last rather than have us look to some spiritual experience as the source of our assurance. This is so important because so often we stress experience, especially the experience of the Spirit as the proof we are Christians. But here it seems the opposite is stressed, that the experience of the Spirit is a result of Christian love and knowledge of the truth. Did not Jesus walk with His disciples for three years, teaching the truth of the kingdom and walking in love? It wasn’t to the very end that He even started to talk about the Holy Spirit. Were not the 120 in the upper room in one accord before the Spirit fell? There is so much talk about the Spirit to the expense of the person and work of Christ. Perhaps we need to consider getting our priorities right.
We will see from the text we are about to examine the dangers of putting the work of the Holy Spirit over against the work of Jesus, as though the two can be separated.
Exposition of the Text
Verse 1: Beloved, do not believe every spirit, BUT test the spirits, whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
Apparently, many of those who had left the fellowship had boasted of their experience with the spirit. The claimed to be inspired prophets just like the false prophets in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, Moses taught the children of Israel how to discern between the LORD’s prophets and the false prophets by applying two tests. The first test was whether their prophecies came true or not. If a prophet’s predictions did not happen, then that prophet was to be rejected as a false prophet. The second test was that even if the prophet did some sign or wonder, but the prophet encouraged the people to go out and worship other gods, they were to be rejected also. So a true prophet’s prophecies come true and a true prophet also is also true to God.
So John tells the believers to not be so gullible as to believe everything someone says just because that person claims to be full of the Holy Spirit. They and their message must be put to the test. We remember that those in Berea were nobler than those of Thessalonica because they searched the Scriptures to verify the message of Paul and his companions. Were those who left willing to have their teachings put under such examination? Or did they act as spiritual bullies and say: “How dare you question the message I got from the Holy Spirit?
Verse 2: This is how you can be sure that a message is from God. Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh comes from God.
We have a sure test given here to the believer. We read from John 15-16 that the Holy Spirit comes to make Jesus known and not to speak of Himself even though the Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Trinity. One who claims to be “in the Spirit” will lift up Jesus. In particular, the truth or the Incarnation of Jesus in human flesh will be affirmed. In context to those who left, they did not confess that Jesus was God. They may have allowed that the Christ Spirit came to Jesus at Jesus’ baptism and left at the crucifixion, but they would have treated the idea that Jesus the man and God the Son were one and the same with contempt. Their whole concept of salvation was based upon being freed from the body which they considered to be a prison for the spirit. But this was not what Jesus taught. We are reminded from the very beginning of this epistle that John and the other apostles had seen, heard, and touched Jesus.
Verse 3: And every spirit who does not confess Jesus does not come from God; this is the Antichrist which you have heard is coming and in even now already in the world.
If the message does not come from God, then it is obvious is comes from the Devil. The Devil tries to imitate the things of God to deceive. So a lot of the devil’s doctrine may sound good to the ears and have the ring of spirituality associated with it. But what is God’s message? God’s message is that he so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son. And John 1:14 says this Word was made flesh. This is a doctrine which is at the very core of the Christian message and is not subject to negotiation. So we don’t just have a message which claims to come from the Spirit. We have Jesus, the one John and the other apostles saw, beheld, heard, and touched with their earthly senses. And the Christian has the Spirit also, but the testimony of the Spirit is none other than that which has been proclaimed all along which is “God sent His Son, Jesus. Any message which someone claims is from the Spirit will testify of the truth of Jesus. All other messages of the Spirit are to be rejected outright as coming from Satan and the world, the very Antichrist himself.