Title: Spirit or spirits?
Text: I John 4:1-6
FCF: We often struggle knowing who to believe and listen to as they speak truth to us.
Prop: Because God’s Spirit conquers the spirit of this world, we must test the spirits by doctrine.
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to I John chapter 4. We are only 4 chapters away from being completely done with our Epistles of John Study. After 28 chapters of Matthew it may seem odd to be so close to finishing another 3 books. Still I hope, and trust that you have been supremely blessed and encouraged by the messages in I John thus far. Because I have been supremely blessed by God’s faithfulness to His children. What a great comfort it is to know that God has not left us to fear and doubt our way through our Christian walk. Instead, He wants us to be bold, courageous, holy, and loving for His name. And He has supplied all we need to do just that. And He continues to supply all we need to do just that.
Today we begin the third wave of teaching from John. We are 60% complete with the book of I John by verses, and there are only two more waves to go before we are done. We have learned so much – it really is difficult to recap it all but if I can put it in a nutshell, essentially, If you are truly and genuinely one of God’s children then you will show evidence that you are being conformed to the image of Christ by how you live. And if you do not live any differently in reference to sin and righteousness, then you are not one of God’s children.
In this third wave, once again John begins with a doctrinal test. He begins with what we must believe. And as has been his practice there is so much about this passage that brings comfort and assurance to those who are genuinely God’s children. Of course, that also means that there is plenty in this passage to cause great concern to those who are not God’s children.
I am in verse 1 of chapter 4. I’ll be reading from the NET but follow along in whatever version you have.
Well let’s waste no time diving into the text this morning.
I.) God’s Spirit preaches a message consistent with known doctrinal confession, so we must test the spirits. (1-3)
a. [Slide 2] 1 – Dear Friends, do not believe every spirit,
i. John transitions from speaking about the very real proof that someone is in God and God in him being the presence of the Spirit of God in a person.
ii. However, the thought occurs to John, by inspiration of God, that not every spirit is of God. Just because you have received, or trusted what a spirit has revealed to you, doesn’t mean that you have received from the Spirit of God.
iii. There are spirits, winds, forces, powers, and principalities that operate in this world besides the Spirit of God. There is no comparison in power, and ultimately all spirits are under the sovereign direction and control of God. Nevertheless, there are forces at work to undermine the truth.
iv. John tells his beloved friends to not have faith in, not catch and cling to anything and everything that is being taught. There are some messages sourced in spirits that are not God’s Spirit.
v. Therefore his readers must…
b. [Slide 3] but test the spirits to determine if they are from God. Because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
i. They must test, or prove, or discern.
ii. There has always been tests to prove whether something is true and therefore from God or false and therefore not from God.
iii. Even back in the Old Testament there were tests for prophets. John alludes to that here. Those tests were – did their life demonstrate submission to God, did what they say come to pass, and did what they say lead to worship of Yahweh or of another?
iv. So to any Jewish readers John’s thoughts would be familiar. However, Gentiles would have been far more syncretistic in their understanding of religion and truth. Instead of abandoning one religion to join another, often Gentiles would simply incorporate new gods into their existing pantheon.
v. So to suggest that there is one Spirit of truth and the rest are of lies, is a very narrow view for many of John’s readers.
vi. Still, it is something that they would have believed already having been brought to life in Christ.
vii. We are left to wonder – yes John, but how? How do I determine if the message I am being tossed is worthy of being caught? How do I know it is not the Spirit of God?
c. [Slide 4] 2 – By this you know the Spirit of God:
i. There is always a question when John says “by This” as to whether the this is before or after.
ii. And while it is possible that John could be referring to the test (by the test you will know the Spirit of God) and certainly he probably does mean this…
iii. The test has not been clearly articulated.
iv. So the “this” here points backward, but by necessity it also points forward.
v. What is the test?
d. [Slide 5] Every spirit that confesses Jesus as the Christ who has come in flesh is from God.
i. The test is confession.
ii. We’ve talked about confession. Confession is so much more than saying something.
iii. Confession means to make a covenant, to promise, to agree, or to say the same thing. To sign your name to a binding contract is to confess.
iv. Confession then has little to do with what is merely said but rather covenantal fidelity. It is keeping a promise – forever.
v. This “spirit” has been wed to certain truths to the point that it continues to adhere to a promise of certain things. What are those things?
vi. [Slide 6] The Greek here is somewhat difficult to pin down. Literally it would read “every spirit that confesses Jesus Christ in flesh came” We could smooth that over to say “every spirit that confesses Jesus Christ came in flesh” But because of the use of the words it is unclear how many aspects of this is being confessed. There are three opinions
1. Every Spirit that confesses Jesus Christ came in flesh – so the confession is concerning Jesus’ incarnation and Christ is maybe a little more than an identifier. The messiah.
2. Every Spirit that confesses Jesus Christ and that he came in flesh – So the confession is both Jesus Christ – again a little more than an identifier Jesus the messiah and his incarnation. Confessing two things. Him and His incarnation.
3. Every Spirit that confesses Jesus as the Christ who came in flesh. – Obviously this is the way the NET takes this and perhaps you can guess this is where I fall. This would mean that the confession is not just Jesus but a specific kind of Jesus, namely one that is the Messiah of God that came in flesh. Therefore uniting the person of Jesus to the prophesied mission of God and that that mission would be completed with the Messiah becoming a man. This seems to fit with other passages of similar construction and hits at the core of the arguments of proto-gnostics who had left the church there.
vii. [Slide 7] Furthermore, we must understand what this confession claims about the incarnation of God’s Messiah. That he has come. This is a word indicating something that has happened in the past but has continued results. And that He has come in flesh. What does all this mean? John is also including in this confession about Jesus’ incarnation that
1. He existed before He came in flesh.
2. He still exists incarnated. This is a status that He has not shed. Christ is still in possession of both a divine and a human nature.
viii. A person who has a covenantal faithfulness to these truths about Christ has a spirit that is from God.
e. [Slide 8] 3 – but every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God
i. This adds weight to my previous conclusion in that John does not add the came in flesh component here. In other words since he has already defined what kind of Jesus is in view – he does not need to specify it again.
ii. And a person who has no covenantal loyalty to this doctrinal truth is not of God.
iii. So if the spirit is not of God, where is its source?
f. [Slide 9] And this is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and now is already in the world.
i. The source of this spirit is rooted in all that opposes Christ and God in this world.
ii. It is sourced in Satan.
iii. And again John concludes that that spirit is still coming – but is at work even now.
g. [Slide 10] Passage Truth: So John to his readers warns them that they should not receive all messages from those who claim to have the Spirit of God. Because there are prophets who have spirits of the antichrist who lie and want to deceive them.
h. Passage Application: John tells his readers to test them by their doctrinal confession of the identity of Christ and His incarnation. Because if they fail that confession, they are not of God.
i. [Slide 11] Broader Biblical Truth: The bible is full of warnings against false prophets. Since the garden there have been those who misrepresent God’s Word’s to humanity. But the test is always doctrine. The test is always truth.
j. Broader Biblical Application: Therefore, we ought to also measure each message we hear by the measure of doctrine. This confession John mentions here is by no means exhaustive. There are several confessions in scripture to prove a message is genuinely from God. What they all have in common is that they are formulated to combat a present error in doctrine. And they therefore must be modified as need arises. In our present world – Jesus being a real human is not so much an issue. But being the God-man very much is. In total, we must take the revealed truth of scripture and use it as the measuring stick against all philosophies, preachers, and worldviews. And not just our private interpretation of scripture, but rather the unity in the Spirit revealing the real interpretation of its truths to the church through the ages.
[Slide 12(blank)] So we must be careful of false teachers, claiming the Spirit of God, but preaching a message different than what we’ve been taught. We must be vigilant and test every message that we hear by the sound doctrine of the word of God as it has been interpreted by those who are genuinely His children. But what if we fail? What if we mess up or miss it! Are we doomed then? Doomed to believe a lie? Will we lose our salvation if this happens?
II.) Because God’s Spirit continually keeps and draws God’s people with His message, we must test the spirits. (4-6)
a. [Slide 13] 4 – You are from God, little children, and have conquered them
i. John uses the pronoun here in Greek “You”. The pronoun is unnecessary. And although that doesn’t force us to conclude this – it seems that John means this emphatically.
ii. He wants to stress that his readers are different. They are not like those who have the spirit of the antichrist.
iii. Instead, they are from God.
iv. What does that mean?
v. They have conquered the spirit of the antichrist.
vi. They have subdued those spirits and continue to do so even to the time when John penned the words of this verse.
vii. What an amazing assurance that although he has commanded them to discern the spirits – he also assures them that they have already conquered or subdued those that are not from God.
viii. How can he be so sure of this?
b. [Slide 14] Because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
i. God in us is greater than all the spirits at work in the world.
ii. This is the doctrine of eternal security friends. But it is not a “once saved always saved” message. This is not talking about whether or not you will go to heaven. It includes this – but this is primarily speaking of enduring faith. Eternal faith.
iii. If a person is in the church, they look like a Christian but walk away from the truth, all they prove is that they were not of the faith.
iv. John clearly tells us that we who have the Spirit of God living in us, will not succumb to the lies of the spirit of the antichrist. We have subdued them. We are able to discern them.
v. That doesn’t mean that we won’t change our minds on minor points, or see things differently – but on the big things like the gospel – yeah – we will not – and dare I say we cannot abandon those things.
vii. It is a covenant that God has made between Himself and His Son – and we who are in Christ do not have the ability to break that covenant.
viii. We do have the ability to think we are in Christ when we actually aren’t. But for those actually in Christ…
ix. He has placed His Spirit in our hearts that demands our covenant loyalty. That doesn’t mean we won’t sin, or doubt, or be dry at times – but it does mean that we will never deny Christ and Him crucified for sinners.
x. That is why Jesus could say “If you deny me before men, I will deny you before the Father.” Friends if this is read on face value, it seems like Christ is able to damn a person to hell because they deny Him. When in reality Jesus is actually saying I am making you into a person who cannot and therefore, will not deny me. So if you deny me – you were never mine.
c. [Slide 15] 5 – They are from the world; therefore, they speak from the world’s perspective and the world listens to them.
i. This again is probably emphatic. By comparison to his readers – the people of the world are different.
ii. THEY are from the world. What does that mean?
iii. They speak from a perspective of the world. Their motives are tainted by the world’s values and philosophies.
iv. And here is the interesting thing… The world listens to them.
v. You see not just the preacher of the message is in view here. No also the audience.
vi. Only a worldly audience allows a worldly preacher.
vii. Only a worldly audience listens to a worldly preacher.
viii. This is the bible version of the idiom – birds of a feather flock together.
ix. And if this is true – so is its opposite.
d. [Slide 16] 6 – We are from God; the person who knows God listens to us, but whoever is not from God does not listen to us.
i. Only a godly audience listens to a godly preacher with a godly message.
ii. What does this mean?
iii. A godly audience may listen to a worldly preacher and message for a time, but eventually will become wise to the errors and disassociate with the message and the speaker.
iv. A worldly audience may listen to a godly preacher and message for a time, but eventually they will grow weary of the truth and desire something that makes their ears tingle instead.
v. Another way to see this same truth is that whoever is from God listens to godly teachers. So if someone is unable to be taught by godly people, if they are unteachable or not submissive – this is a sign that they are not of God.
e. [Slide 17] By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit.
i. John rounds out all this teaching by saying that all that he has said in this new wave of teaching is how we can know the difference between the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit.
ii. The Spirit of truth – God’s Spirit – in the heart of someone who is in God and God in Him – produces a person who listens to godly preachers and their message, and does not abandon the confession of Jesus as the Messiah of God in flesh.
f. [Slide 18] Passage Truth: John gives his readers a blessed hope. They will not ultimately fall prey to the lies of the spirit of the antichrist. They will not be fooled. The Spirit of God is greater than all the others spirits and messages that are not the truth. Those of the truth will listen to those who speak truth and those of the lies will listen to those who speak lies.
g. Passage Application: And so John’s application remains the same. To test the spirits to see which is of truth and which is of lies.
h. [Slide 19] Broader Biblical Truth: Looking at the whole bible we see that God preserves and protects His own. We are sealed until the day of redemption by the Spirit. We see God’s providential hand providing for His children in the Old Testament. And we know the end as John himself reveals to us the great victory of Christ. We will therefore hear the voice of our Shepherd and run to Him, not from Him. We will discern the voice of the wolves because they do not sound like our Lord. We will endure in the truth.
i. Broader Biblical Application: So we must be vigilant and test the messages that we hear. We must measure the men we listen to. We must evaluate ourselves to see if we possess the Spirit of truth.
[Slide 20(blank)] So what can we learn from this text? How then shall we live?
In typical fashion for John, he desires greatly for His little children to be comforted amid the trials and tribulations they are experiencing by these false teachers. He wants them to be careful, but assures them of their victory in Christ.
John wants them to test teaching according to the confession of doctrine that they have heard. He wants to assure them that they are able to do this because the Spirit of God in them is greater than any false teaching or the demonic influence from which it springs. And as a final proof of whether teaching is valid, he states that teaching is listened to by those with whom it resonates. If God is in you, then teaching that conforms to the confession is what you listen to. If God is not in you, then you cannot abide teaching adhering to the confession.
Perhaps at this time John’s message is more important than ever. As we supplement our normal gatherings around the word with online preachers and pastors, we may easily be sucked into preaching that is pointing to a different Christ. We must be ever vigilant because it seems that every month there are more people to add to the list who have apostatized and left the faith.
So how do we test these preachers and pastors?
The test of a preacher is not that his church is well attended, because he says he has been led by the Spirit of God, or because he claims to be a prophet. Instead the test of a preacher is his message and if he is listened to by God’s people.
Let me be blunt.
A preacher is not confirmed as a godly preacher because he has new and innovative ideas concerning truths that have been traditionally held for some time. It does no good in our faith to be a revolutionary. That doesn’t mean there are not new perspectives on long settled traditional doctrine – nor does it mean there is no room to question or prove said doctrine. But to throw out things that have been widely accepted as doctrinal truth on the basis of your own personal study of the scriptures, does not make you a revolutionary… it makes you a rebel. You aren’t wise… you are a fool. Any preacher that casts aside doctrine long established, with only private interpretation of the scriptures to back his claims ought not be trusted. And let me tell you there is a wide swath of this.
Andy Stanley recently said in a sermon that we ought to unhitch ourselves from the Old testament. As backward and near heretical such a statement is, he has since topped it. Recently he said that God loves us more than He loves His law, or even Himself. That God’s law was His toys that he didn’t mind that we broke. Friends God’s law, God’s Word, is Jesus Christ. God’s love for us is not in opposition to His law because that would be in opposition to Christ. Rather, God’s love works in concert with His law – namely to conform us to His Son.
This is an example of the teaching we must discern and test. Compare it all to what we have believed.
But not only by his message is a preacher confirmed, but also by those who listen to him.
And this works in two different ways.
First, we see from our text, that the audience, the listener is confirmed to be of God when they listen to someone who preaches the message that conforms to the confession of the apostles. If they are able and desire to listen to it.
[Slide 21] This is the opposite of the truth of the itching ears passage. II timothy 4. People with itching ears do not abide the sound doctrine of the word of God but desire new and revolutionary messages. So when we find a group of people who love God’s word and want that sound teaching – it is a genuine sign that they are God’s people.
But connected to that point about the messenger himself is this…
A preacher is not confirmed to be telling the truth by drawing large numbers of unbelievers or baby Christians. If a man draws unbelievers or baby Christians with his message – the verdict is still out on this man.
Joel Osteen has a church of over 40,000 members and growing. Does that mean he has the truth? No! Far from it actually. It is not the number but the kind of people being drawn that we must pay attention to.
If a man draws men and women who are walking in faith and following after Christ, and they affirm the message being preached, that is the test of the preacher. Does the preacher draw mature believers? Does the preacher grow mature believers? That is the test. Why?
Because this is not a test of how persuasive or charming the man is. Rather it is a test of whether or not the man behind the pulpit preaches the message of Christ! Christ says that His sheep hear His voice. And Paul confirms that natural man does not understand the words of God. Therefore, insomuch as a preacher declares the words of Christ and Christ’s sheep listen – it confirms not only the preacher to be true and genuine – but the listeners as well.
[Slide 22(end)] What an amazing message of assurance to us that we will not be deceived. We can discern the spirits. We can detect truth from error. Why? Because the Spirit living in each and every one of us testifies to the truth that we have all heard about God – this gospel. Therefore, we will not be deceived. We test the message by what we have already heard and we test the listeners by whether they cling to the sound teaching of God’s Word. That confession. That faith. That Gospel.
God will not let His children be deceived. This doesn’t mean we can sit inattentively and accept all teachings – but it does mean that we will never abandon the truth.
Again – for the success of His children, God continues to get all the glory. And indeed – that is how it should be.