header image
1 John 4:1-6: The Spirit of Truth and the Spirit of Error Print E-mail
1, 2, 3 John
Sunday, 13 December 2009

Download (right-click) or Listen Now:

We live in a day when people make all sorts of spiritual claims.  People profess faith in everything from crystals to aliens to themselves.  Although it may not be popular to be too certain about your spiritual beliefs, we are told that ‘spirituality’ is making a comeback.  We have leaders like certain talk-show hosts to particular movie actors, who encourage spiritual health through various means.  Even in the Church, we have some who claim to be hearing ‘new things’ from the Spirit.  We have leaders who have spiritual ‘visions’ that we are to follow without question.  After all, who are we to question the Spirit’s leading?  To complicate matters even further, we are now enjoying the ‘Christmas Season,’ a time when secular artists are singing about the birth of Christ on the radio and people are saying all sorts of things about just who was born in that manger to Mary and Joseph.

To put it lightly, there is much confusion when it comes to ‘spiritual matters’ these days.  If we look to the culture, then we obviously find more questions than we do answers.  Yet, at times, the same can be said of the Church at large.  Therefore, we must return to what the apostles teach us about the spiritual world.  We must listen and learn from their instruction.  With this in mind, we turn our attention to 1 John 4:1-6.  John has already outlined the doctrinal test for assurance of eternal life in this letter (see 1:1-4, 2:18-27).  He has told us that if we indeed have such life, then we will believe certain truths about Christ.  He is continuing to build on this idea in 4:1-6.  In just a few verses, he gives us an important message about spirits and their connection to Christ.  I want to divide this message into three headings: the imperative, the test, and the difference.

The Imperative:  Test the spirits (v. 1)

John begins this section with a couple of important imperatives, or commands, in verse 1.  Look at that verse with me.  John mentions the Spirit in the previous verse (3:24) and teaches that through the Spirit we can know that he (the Lord) abides in us.  Yet, after mentioning the assurance that the Spirit provides, John adds that just because something claims to be ‘spiritual’ or even ‘from the Spirit of God,’ that does not mean that the claim is true.  Therefore, he commands his readers: do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.  Why is it so critical that his readers keep these commands?  Because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  These other spirits are not neutral.  They are behind the false prophets that Jesus (Matthew 7:15) and Peter (1 Peter 2:1) warn us about.  Thus, John is calling us to be discerning.  Just because someone claims to be spiritual or have a word from the Spirit does not mean that we are to believe them.  No, we must first test the spirits to see whether they are from God.  Of course this brings up an obvious question: how are we supposed to do this?  John goes on to provide us an answer in the next couple of verses.

The Test:  What do you believe about Christ (v.2-3)?

In order to understand what John says here, we must remind ourselves of what his opponents were apparently teaching.  Although we do not know all the details, we can tell from the letter itself that John’s opponents were denying that Jesus is the Christ (2:22).  Along with their moral errors and failure to love the brothers, they were also denying the truth about Jesus.  They denied that He had actually taken on flesh, since they saw the flesh as inherently sinful.  If flesh is evil, then there is no way that the Christ could actually take on flesh.  They simply did not believe in the incarnation and they were looking to deceive others in John’s community (2:26).  All the while, it seems they were claiming to be spiritual and anointed (v. 18-27).

Thus, John tells his readers that they must test the spirits by examining what they believe about the person and work of Christ.  Look at verses 2-3.  John says that a person must believe that Christ has come in the flesh.  It is only those who believe this that are from God.  If anyone denies this, then they do not have the Spirit of God.  Rather, John says that they have the spirit of the antichrist.  Once again, the contrast is black and white.  Those who confess the truth about Christ are from God and those who deny such truth are not.  The test that John gives us here is a Christological test, namely what does a person believe about Christ.

Of course, we must remember the context of this test and realize that it is not the only test for discerning spirits.  Even in this letter we have seen moral and social tests.  Thus, we do not want to say that this is the only test.  Yet, at the same time, we need to see the centrality and importance of proper beliefs about Christ.  Our Christology is critical.  And we must avoid the mistakes of John’s opponents, who seemingly let their belief that flesh is inherently evil cause them to deny the truth about Christ.  Yet, people have made the same mistakes through the years.  Instead of beginning with the Bible and what it reveals about Christ, people begin elsewhere and hoist their conclusions on the text.  We must be wary of that.  For example, many during the Enlightenment concluded that miracles did not exist.  Therefore, Jesus could not have walked on water or fed thousands or even physically raised from the dead.  Some deny the sinfulness of mankind and therefore do not believe that it was necessary for Jesus to die in our place at the cross.  We could go on, but I simply want to point out that we must begin with the text.  What the Bible says about Jesus is true and any spirit that denies that is not from God. 

The Difference: You are from God (v. 4-6)

So then, should we fear these spirits?  Should we be afraid of those who have the spirit of the antichrist?  John answers with a resounding ‘no’.  Look at verse 4.  He encourages his readers by reminding them that they are from God and have overcome them.  We have no reason to fear because he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.  Yes the Enemy is real and the spirit of the antichrist is active, but they are not stronger than our God, whose Spirit dwells within every believer.  Don Chaffer, the lead singer of Waterdeep, wrote a song about the Devil entitled ‘The Animal.’  He makes the point in the verses that the Enemy is very subtle and hard to recognize at times.  Yet, his conclusion in the chorus is noteworthy: “The Animal is bigger than I thought, oh the Animal is bigger than I thought, yes the Animal is bigger than I thought, but he’s not big enough.”  I believe this sums up pretty well what John is teaching us here.  Yes, we need to test the spirits and be aware of the Devil’s tactics.  Yet, we need to always keep in mind that he is not greater than the One who is in us. 

John describes his opponents, or the ones who have the spirit of the antichrist, further in verse 5.  Look at that with me.  Instead of being from God, they are from the world.  The content of their message is worldly and it appeals to the world.  People are often led astray because the deceitful message is so appealing.  It appeals to their pride and self-worth or it appeals to their longing for ease and comfort.  The message is worldly and the world loves it.

Yet, the message that John and the apostles and the early Church has been teaching is not appealing to the world but to those who know God.  Look what he says in verse 6.  It is hard to identify who the pronoun ‘we’ refers to in this verse.  It could be a reference to the apostles or to the Church at large or to John and his readers, but either way, the point remains: those who listen to the accepted truth of Christ (as witnessed by the apostles and written in the Scriptures and recognized by the Church) are from God.  Any who deny this truth are not from God.  Thus, another test for discerning between truth and error is by identifying who accepts the message.

For us, I think we could say it this way: anyone who denies the apostolic witness of Christ as delivered to us in the New Testament is not from God.  In this way, we can discern between the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.  Likewise, we must be cautious of anything that is too popular.  If the gospel we preach is not offensive but is acceptable to the world, then we are probably not preaching the true gospel.  The opponents of John just could not believe that the Christ would humble himself and take on flesh and then suffer and die on a cross.  They thought that such a message was offensive and so they sought to remove the offense. 

If we look at Church history, we see that they were not the last group to take that approach.  Many have tried to make the gospel more acceptable.  Thus, they deny the humanity or deity of Christ.  They deny the miracles of Christ and the resurrection of Christ.  They deny that our sin was so great that He had to suffer under the wrath of God in our stead.  All of this just seems too offensive to some so they do their best to make it all less offensive.  But the gospel message is offensive.  So much so that it will never be popular in the world.  Our job will never be to try and fix the gospel (as if it needed fixing), but to simply and boldly proclaim what the Bible tells us to be true.  The world may not listen, but those who know God will and they will rejoice.

The message that John gives us in these few verses concerning spirits makes one thing very clear: theology is vital.  In particular, we see that we must know our Christology.  As we celebrate that child that was born in the manger, John makes it clear that we need to know who He was and is.  I fear that many think they know who was born to Mary and Joseph.  Many, especially during Christmas, pay some sort of homage to Jesus of Nazareth.  But do they really know the real Jesus?  Do they really know that He was God in the flesh?  Do they know that He was completely God and completely man at the same time?  Do they know why He came?  Do they know that He came to live a life of perfect obedience to His Heavenly Father?  Do they know that He was born to die on a cross for their sins, born to suffer in their place?  Do they know that He fulfilled that plan and was buried for three days?  And do they know that three days later the Father raised Him from the dead to show that His sacrifice for our sins was enough?  Do they know this Jesus?  Do you? 

In light of our passage this morning and the fact that we have set this time of year aside to focus on the birth of Christ, I challenge you to take some time and ponder the person and work of Christ.  Read through the gospels and be amazed at the Savior.  Walk with Him through the streets of Jerusalem and see His heart for the lost and needy.  Hear Him call for repentance from the Pharisees and faith from the outcasts.  Trace His steps to Calvary, listen to His prayers from the tree, and watch Him give up His life.  Then go to the empty tomb and rejoice in His victory.  Be certain that you know the child in that manger, for He is the difference between truth and error and the difference between life and death.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 29 December 2009 )

User Comments

Page 1 of 0 ( 0 User Comments )
©2006 MosCom

Add comments to this article: 1 John 4:1-6: The Spirit of Truth a... ...

Enter your comment below.

Name (required)

E-Mail (required)
Your email will not be displayed on the site - only to our administrator

Comment (supported) [BBcode]


We invite you to visit our new Facebook page


Click below for the Advent Daily Devotional written by our pastor


Download or read our new church covenant


Don't Waste Your Cancer

ESV Search

(e.g., John 1 or God's love)

Who's Online
We have 11 guests online
Visitors: 8585132