Testing the Spirits For your Joy
Main Idea: To avoid being misled by false prophets, test everything against scripture.
1 John 4:1-6
Last week we were challenged to radical love, a kind of love that is not optional but commanded by Christ himself. The challenge was this: what would we risk for true love?
Here in John’s first letter we cycle back towards the need for theological discernment.
Going back to 1 John chapter 2, we know that the church have been warned that this is the last hour or the final countdown to the return of Jesus. John warns the church about the Anti-Christs that are already in the world. We also know that the church that John was writing to was facing heresies about Jesus; these heresies reduced Jesus to a mere man and nothing close to divine.
The message of 1 John chapter 4, reiterates the message of 1 John 2 by producing yet test on the same wavelength as John chapter 2, which we will get to in a moment.
1 John 4:1 “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
Even during the time of the first century church, there were already so many teachings of pseudo-Christianity that is better known as Gnosticism, as we have learned and there are various sects of these teachings, not to mention the Empire-wide pantheistic religion that the Roman rule imposed on all of its subjects. Indeed, even back then, the days seemed very dark. There was persecution and false doctrine everywhere and it probably truly felt like the last hour.
Jesus himself has warned the apostles about false teachers during his time as a man on Earth:
Matthew 7:16 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”
Mark 13:22-23 “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be on guard; I have told all things beforehand.”
It is no wonder then that John says in 1 John 2:18 “They went out from us, but they were not of us.”
I do not think this surprised John because Jesus himself had warned him. He carries on this warning to the church through his letter and so John instructs them in how to discern which prophets and messages were from God and which were not.
1 John 4:2-3 “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come from the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the anti-Christ, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.”
It seems pretty straightforward doesn’t it? It is and it’s not. I love John’s writing because he puts it very plainly.
There are two important words or concepts that we need to understand in some sense of its fullness before this passage really opens up to us in its simple beauty.
Spirit of God
First are spirits and the Spirit of God.
What has been made clear to us throughout the letter of John is that there is darkness and there is light, there is truth and there are lies, there is love and there is hate and similarly now, there is the spirit of truth and the spirit of error, one is from God and one is of the Anti-Christ.
Again in Matthew 7:15-20 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”
You will know the wolves in sheep’s clothing based on their fruit or their deeds.
There is only one good and God-sent spirit, that is the Holy Spirit and the fruits of that the Holy Spirit produces are love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness, peace, and self-control. Therefore, it can be safe to assume that the deceased and depraved fruits of the anti-Christ’s spirit is anything opposing what was mentioned, such as lust, murder, adultery, sorcery, debauchery and the like.
This does not mean that Christianity is about bearing fruit or doing good deeds but on who we are rooted in. Are we rooted in Christ’s truth or the Anti-Christ? What we are rooted determines the fruits we bear and the deeds that come from such character, because behind our deeds is our beliefs.
It’s in the antithesis of these opposing pairs that John proclaims that God does not straddle the fence, He is light, He is truth and He is love. I understand that there may be gray areas in the church, different stances on different topics and areas, but get this, there is no gray area Christian.
You are either a sheep or a goat, you are either of darkness or light, you either have the Spirit of Truth or you have the Spirit of Falsehood. You are either rooted in Christ or you are rooted the Anti-Christ, rooted in falsehood, rooted in death.
The second word is confess, which is very much related to the Spirit of God. Confession within this is the acknowledgement of Christ’s identity. Who Christ is, is at the very center of this doctrinal test, indeed, at the very He center of our Christian life. If Christ is the sole standard to measure doctrines, so should Christ be the measure of our lives.
This is how we know who has the Spirit of Falsehood and is of the world, and who has the Spirit of God, and is of Christ. We must measure all of the prophecies, the messages, the ethics, and the morality that we are constantly bombarded by through every medium.
We have learned from previous messages that there are cult-like movements, and pseudo-Christians that we need to stand on guard for, but that is not all. They are but a symptom of a larger pandemic that plagues this world, our society, and our institutions and that is the spirit of the Anti-Christ, which is in the world already.
But why is the important to get our doctrine straight? Why can’t we just go along our merry way once we get “saved”?
Doctrine for some may be an arduous study of textbooks and listening to teachers and preachers drone on and on, but true doctrine to the first century church is what kept the church orthodox. It was what kept the church on the right path and allowed it to thrive because what was true back then, is still true now: what you believe determines what you do.
If the mind is left with uncertain and ungrounded thoughts about who Jesus and who God is, it hinders the heart from growing into true love and affection. We need to know who Jesus is in order to love him, but also need to know him biblically.
That is why loving Jesus with our mind is so vital. The ungrounded mind is a vulnerable foothold for the enemy to have mastery over your whole being. When the mind goes, so the heart will follow.
Confession however, is not just referring to the acknowledging of Jesus Christ coming as a man on Earth, for anyone can pay lip service to Jesus. It also concerned with putting our faith on Jesus, laying our life down for Jesus.
Why? Because when we see Jesus for who He is and recognize him for who He is, we know that His kingdom is the only lasting kingdom. We know Jesus is the wellspring of life and the only one that can satisfy. We know that Jesus is king and reigns as we speak, therefore, our confession of who He is, is an act of trust because we are now casting our hope on Him. And if He is King, it means He is the final authority. He alone has the authority to forgive and the power demolish sin’s grip; he has the authority to direct our lives into holiness.
We cannot separate the historical Jesus and the eternal Christ; it would be treason to the highest authority, and the highest name in the heavens, and that name is Jesus Christ.
When we confess Jesus incarnate, we are also bowing down to Him as King and relying on Him as Savior.
There is a relationship between the Spirit of Truth and confession and that is: the Spirit of Truth produces true confession. This is the very same corresponding relationship between the Message which is Jesus, and the Hearers which is the church. The following verse shows us well.
1 John 4:4 “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”
John commends the church he is writing to for overcoming the false prophets and their erroneous messages about Christ. They have stood firm in what they have been taught about who Jesus us. John further assures them that they are from God and Christ is greater than the Anti-Christ who is in the world. What an encouragement to be written to the church.
However, there is one, groundbreaking, all-important, and beautiful truth that can easily be taken for granted within this verse. Again, we would be remiss of the simple beauty that John writes about here.
You are from God, and have overcome them.
The condition on which they are able to overcome is because they are from God. From what we have been reading, to be from God is to have the Spirit of Truth. How does one come to acquire this Spirit of Truth? Other parts of John’s letter give us more insight.
1 John 2:29 “… you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.”
1 John 4:7“…whoever loves has been born of God and knows God”
1 John 5:1 “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God…”
The conquering the Anti-Christ’s heresies was not just about sound doctrine but it is ultimately because they are born of God. There is an identity that has been given to the church not their own doing but because they have been birthed into a new family. A part of this identity is receiving the Spirit of Truth, which is ultimately not about knowledge; it is not a degree to be attained or a seminar to go to. It is first and foremost a revival of the heart.
Receiving the Spirit of Truth that produces theological discernment and the desire to be grounded in true doctrine comes from Jesus alone. Why?
Romans 3:10 “No one is righteous, no not one. No one understands. No one seeks God”
This cannot be understated or water-down. We are hell-bent towards rebellion and rejecting God and his truth; it’s in very fabric of our soul, at the forefront of our mind and at the gate of hearts, but that is not the end of the story.
“For sin is the sting that results from death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Corinthians 15:56-57
The victory is Jesus.
The only reason there is true confession and a repentant response to the message of the Gospel that is Jesus Christ, is because of Jesus Christ. We were once on the other side of the truth; in fact we opposed it. This verse is not saying the mere lip service confession puts you on the side of Life, but it is the revival of the heart that finds their salvation in Christ that produces true, heartfelt, soul-grounding, mind transforming confession.
Every battle we win against false doctrine, the Anti-Christ, sin, and evil is because of the power of the cross. It is because of Jesus who sits on the throne.
It’s as simple as,
1 John 5:12 “Whoever has the son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
It cannot be emphasized enough that our salvation is through Christ alone.
This is the beautifully simple truth that transforms lives and regenerates hearts. We cannot miss it.
Finally, John writes, “They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of Truth and the Spirit of error” 1 John 4:5-6
If we are not from God nor are we born of God, we are from the world and the Spirit of Falsehood dwells within us. This much John has made clear in his letter. That is why John says “do not love the world” in 1 John 2:15. Lovers of the world listen to one another and affirm what each one is saying; not only is there agreement, there is also fellowship amongst them. Not loving the world does not mean we hate people; It means we hate the desires that are of the world.
1 John 2:16 “For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and desires of the eyes and pride of life – is not from the Father but is from the world.”
Indeed, the most prominent message against Christianity in our post-modern society is that there is no God, and that material world is all that there is. If there is no God, there is no moral standard, and if there is no spiritual self, then there is no need for salvation.
There is probably no greater heresy facing our day than the teaching that says there is no God.
Richard Dawkins is a leading evolutionary biologist and a famed atheist that has published many books and has debated many theists about faith and the existence of God.
“The question of whether there exists a supernatural creator, a God, is one of the most important that we have to answer. I think that it is a scientific question. My answer is no.”
Even Richard Dawkins believes that this is one the most important questions to answer because how you answer this questions determines what you do because what you believe determines what you do. However, Richard Dawkins got it wrong, the answer is not scientific in nature. It’s spiritual. It has always been spiritual, the letter of John has been clear on that.
It’s not just in academia because it’s also in pop-culture.
This is a quote from Woody Allen,
"I firmly believe, and I don't say this as a criticism, that life is meaningless. I'm not alone in thinking this — there have been many great minds far, far superior to mine, that have come to that conclusion. And unless somebody can come up with some proof or some example where it's not, I think it is. I think it's a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing, and that's just the way I feel about it."
" What I would recommend — this is the solution that I've come up with — is distraction. That's all you can do! You get up, you can be distracted by your love life, by the baseball game, by the movies, by the nonsense. Can I get my kid into this private school? Will this girl go out with me Saturday night? Can I think of an ending for the third act of my play? Am I going to get the promotion in my office? All this stuff, but in the end the universe burns out.”
The warning to the first century church seems just as pressing today. You do not have to be an atheist to have their values and their priorities; all we need to do is buy into their distractions. Do not love the world and its desires for these desires are but distractions and lead us astray from the glory of God. The truth is most of us are distracted.
These messages are everywhere therefore we must test every spirit, even our own.
For Your Joy
I want to end this message with how John’s letter begins, because we cannot fully understand the context of this passage when we don’t go back to the purpose on which is it was written for. This purpose is found in
1 John 1:2-4 “the life was made manifest, and we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us – that which we have seen and hear we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”
The purpose of proclamation is for fellowship, but we must have the right one. This is the Gospel, and at the center of Gospel is Jesus Christ for He himself is the Life that John talks about; Jesus came and died to free us from the power of sin. And as we have learned, our response to the proclamation, and to the Gospel is not the work of our will but the work of Jesus on cross that regenerates our depraved hearts that cannot hope to please or follow God on its own accord. He sends us His Spirit that does the impossible: allow us to be in communion with the Holy God by giving us new desires.
The ultimate purpose of knowing true doctrine is to always lead us to a deeper sense of fellowship with Jesus and within this fellowship is unspeakable joy.
The ultimate purpose of John’s writing to the church with all his warnings, and his admonishing, and the call to love is because he wants us to be filled with joy. And joy comes only from the fellowship with Jesus; it comes from our relationship with the Word of Life. I’m not just talking about Sunday worship, Wednesday prayer meeting, Friday bible study, but the pure enjoyment of Jesus, everyday, where every breath is praise and every day is worship.
I’m not just talking about happiness, but joy in spite of our happiness being gone. Joy in spite of circumstantial reasons and emotional ups and downs.
This was Christ’s prayer John 17:13 “But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.”
Jesus prayed for your joy, in fact, that you may have his joy and eventually have it in its fullness when you come into his physical presence; this can only come from relationship with Him not in anything else.
By now I hope that I’ve made you uncomfortable enough to realize that loving Christ on our own strength is impossible but it’s also vital. We cannot fake our love for Christ, we cannot mask it with good deeds, Sunday attendance, and even sound knowledge of the bible; Jesus knows our heart. It has to be true affection and love towards the Almighty. Anything less would be death. We cannot produce authentic joy in Christ. Only Jesus can do that when he does the work in our heart, only then can there be joy.
This joy comes from fellowship and sad to say is that not many of us have it. We are too easily distracted and led astray. I think it is one of the main reasons why John warns against the Spirit of Falsehood, because it will distract us and turn us away from Christ and take us away from true joy. It takes us away from our true design.
Are you tired of living a joyless Christian life? Are you tired of living your faith from Sunday to Sunday? Are you tired of sin taking joy away from your life because it hinders us from seeing Christ in all His glory?
I heard this a lot growing up and I hear a lot now, even from myself as much as I try not to admit to people because it’s one we’ve heard too many times to count.
“My walk is dry.”
“I don’t know where I am.”
“The word of God has no effect on me.”
“I’m still struggling with _________.”
“My circumstances have not changed.”
Endless Christian murmurs.
Philippians 2:12-13 “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure”
Work out does not mean simply do good deeds, it’s fighting for your joy in Jesus because the willingness to fight is the work of God, through what Jesus did at the cross. A part of this working out of our salvation is guarding our heart and minds by testing the spirits, and measuring them against biblical truth, measuring them against Jesus. This requires work on our part, but a work that throws itself at the feet of Jesus and trusts that He will see us through the battle.
Take a hold of joy, and run to the cross.
1. What is one thing that stood out to you from this week’s message?
2. What does this passage say is the distinction of a believing spirit and the spirit of the antichrist?
3. Why is it important to know that He who is in us is mightier than he who is in the world?
4. What does it look like to “keep listening” in order to know Christ and keep from becoming deceived?
5. What has reading the Bible on your own done for your life?
6. How can I pray for you?