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. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 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. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 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.
In the sentence preceding 4:1 John says, “And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us“. He turns our attention from testing our hearts to testing our minds. We know we belong in Christ if we have pure love in our hearts, and we can be sure we have His Spirit by testing our knowledge of Christ. The apostle commands us to test the spirits. This is a call for discernment. So what does he mean by ‘test the spirits’? Is he saying that there is more than one spirit that can lead us?
“The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.” – 1 Timothy 4:1-2
In John’s command to test he specifically names false prophets. If a person is not led by the Spirit of God then they are led by evil spirits (demons). In the verse from 1 Timothy above we see this clearly written. There is no talk about death, God, religion or eternity, other than the truth in the Bible, that is not demonic. Anything worshiped outside of the Biblical God head is a worship of demons. John asks us to be skeptical of what we hear and who is teaching us. We need to be sure that we are following Biblical principles and not distortions from evil seducing spirits, propagated by people with no twang of conscious, or who push it down until God gives them no more.
“Error can not stand the test of Biblical scrutiny.” – John MacArthur
The prophet gives us three tests in this text to help us discern what spirit we are encountering. Why? Because many false prophets/teachers have gone out into the world. It is our job to recognize and steer clear of them so that we may know and worship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the way He commands. Any variation from Biblical doctrine (no matter how insignificant it may seem) has the power to turn us away from the one true and living God.
The tests (note that all 3 must be met):
1. Continual confession of the Divine Lord & His Incarnation (every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.)
The person(s) in question must continually agree (notice the present tense) with the Biblical doctrine of the person of Christ (Christology), which is written throughout the bible, specifically spoken of in the book of Hebrews. Please read this section of the Westminster Confession of Faith. Great care and consideration was taken to compile this Confession to be accurate and held to biblical standards. In short and imperatively: Christ was with God in the beginning. Jesus is fully man and fully God. He lived a sinless life and was crucified. In His death He willingly took on the sins of the elect, to purify them from unrighteousness. He died and was buried and 3 days later raised from the dead in bodily form. He now sits at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for those who are called.
This means that if the person(s) in question do not believe in this entire doctrine, they do not worship the same God as the God of the Bible. This includes Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses or anyone that denies Christ’s deity. “Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.” – 1 John 2:22-23
You reject Jesus, the true Jesus, the one and only, and you are rejecting God, no matter what you think. Anybody who rejects Christ rejects God. You honor the Son and the Father or neither. – John MacArthur
2. Signs of Regeneration (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’s epistle is written to the church and in this passage he calls them ‘little children’. This is a reference back to 1 John 2:12-14 where the Apostle calls us as children of God to remember from where our salvation came. When God quickens you to realize your need for Him it is all you can do to find truth – and that in His word. He creates in you a new heart, a reborn heart, you become a new creation. Once this transformation occurs you have a choice. You can accept and seek out the sanctification that is coming, or you can push it to the side and be miserable until you hand yourself over to God. In the incarnation, God becomes a partaker of human nature. In regeneration, man becomes a partaker of the divine nature.
As John says, ‘He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world’. You may try to live a life in rebellion to the God that gave you new life, but that will only lead to despair. God is greater than Satan – there is no comparison. Satan is a created being, and God is eternal – no end and no beginning. In reality, if you have been changed by God and made new, you understand that Christ is your Lord, and you want to do what pleases Him – even becoming like Him. When you are saved by God he places His Spirit inside of you. This is why the apostle Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”
When testing a teacher/prophet (or even ourselves) we must examine their lives to see if they fit in line with what the Bible says a true believer looks like. They should be always growing closer to resembling Christ. Some passages that give us guidelines are 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and Ephesians 4:17-32. Wisdom from God produces righteous fruit – demonic wisdom produces lies, hypocrites, and opposition to righteousness.
“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” – Colossians 2:6-7
3. Committed to Divine Law (We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us.)
The apostle John has been given authority by Christ to teach and lead the new church. He speaks about himself, as well as the other apostles when he says ‘we’. The letters they have written to the church are for the people of the church so they might grow and be sanctified in Christ. These writings are what we now read as scripture. John is calling the believers here to submit to the Word of God. What is the Bible? It is God’s revelation of Himself and His plan for redemption to mankind. It is a story about Christ. This test goes right back to the first. If someone comes to you claiming to be saved but denies the scripture that talks about Jesus’s incarnation, they are not saved. All the truth we need about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is in the Scriptures. To deny or refuse it is to openly confess that you are not part of it.
“17 But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. 18 They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” 19 These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.
20 But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.
22 Be merciful to those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.
24 To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— 25 to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.” – Jude
Lord’s Day 8
How are these articles divided? (From LD 7, Q 23)
Into three parts:
the first is about God the Father and our creation;
the second about God the Son and our redemption;
the third about God the Holy Spirit
and our sanctification.
Since there is only one God,
why do you speak of three persons,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
Because God has so revealed himself in his Word 2
that these three distinct persons
are the one, true, eternal God.