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1 John 4:1-3: Spiritual Discernment

P. T. Barnum made a fortune on the theory that “a sucker is born every minute,” and he has many disciples today. The Internet has only widened the door of opportunity for those that prey on the unsuspecting. I have read that the second most lucrative industry in Nigeria is scamming foolish Americans out of their money by promising to give them millions of dollars.

Perhaps even more widespread than financial scams are spiritual scams. False cults and religions lure millions into their traps, promising them fulfillment, happiness, and more. Mormonism is growing rapidly worldwide. Jehovah’s Witnesses aggressively promote their heresies in just about every country of the world. It has been predicted that Islam will take over Europe before the end of this century, and it is also growing in America. And, judging by the popularity of it, many Americans are apparently being sucked in by the charlatans. Copied and adapted from Steven J. Cole, Flagstaff Christian Fellowship, Flagstaff, Arizona.

“The church can't stand behind multiple points of view and be legitimate. If the Gospel is true, everything else is a lie. If Christ alone saves, those who do not believe in Him are doomed. The church can't lead sinners to salvation if it presents one road as being as good as another. Yet we hear this inclusivism all the time from so-called Christians…the Gospel is exclusive. Jesus is the only way. The gate is that narrow" (John MacArthur).

Christian pollster, George Barna reveals that two-thirds of American people believe there is no such thing as absolute truth. Even more shocking is that another poll revealed fifty-three percent of those claiming to be Bible-believing, conservative Christians said, "there is no such thing as absolute truth." The very ones who claim to follow the one who is "The Truth," profess there is no absolute truth! What's wrong with that picture? Just look at the schizophrenic nature of Americans, when seventy percent of all Americans believe it is important to do what the Bible teaches, but more than two-thirds of this same group reject its moral absolutes.

We live in a world where people see truth as relative. But Jesus said, "I am the way, (so there is no other way) the truth, (so there is no other truth) and the life (so there is no other life). No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6). Some people have a hard time accepting absolute truth. Jesus says, "Sanctify them by Your Truth, Your Word is Truth" (John 17:17). And in John 8:32: "And you shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free." Free from having never known the truth.

2 Peter 2:1-4, “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.”

In today's world, it's not politically correct to put more value on your religious beliefs than on others and to claim that yours is the true religion, and all others are false. We believe the Bible is God's final, inerrant, authoritative word, and the only message that can save a lost, dying world. If we don't tell people that someone is wrong, who is going to tell them?

Verse 1: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

Since God has given us His Spirit (1 John 3:24) we have the ability, through His Spirit to discern because not every spirit is of God

So in this section John turns from the importance of love to the importance of belief in God's truth. He focuses once again on the doctrinal test and emphasizes the need to obey sound teaching.

Verse 1a: “do not believe every spirit…”

We are not certain if John is referring to human spirits or spirit beings, but the context leads us to the conclusion that behind false teachers with their false Christology is the “spirit of antichrist,” and ultimately the spirit of the consummate liar Satan (1 John 4:3). John could have said, “do not believe every false prophet” but he did not. In using the word "spirit" he was calling our attention to the literal spiritual war that is raging in the unseen world, the spirit of error on one side and the Spirit of truth on the other.

The Holy Spirit, through the pen of Paul, warns us: “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth…And take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God" (Ephesians 6:10-14,17).

Verse 1b: “but test the spirits, whether they are of God…”

“Test” in Greek is dokimazo, examine everything carefully. “Put them to the acid test of truth as the metallurgist does his metals. If it stands the test like a coin, it is acceptable otherwise it is rejected.” – A T Robertson

True discernment has suffered a horrible setback in the last few decades because reason itself has been under attack within the church. Francis Schaeffer warned us many years ago in "The God who is there," "The church is following the traditionality of secular philosophy. Consequently, reckless faith has overrun the Evangelical community."

Many are discarding doctrine in favor of personal experience. Others say they are willing to disregard biblical distinctives in order to achieve external unity among all professing Christians. True Christianity, marked by intelligent, biblical faith seems to be declining even among the most conservative Evangelicals.

We live in a world where postmodernism has gradually moved to replace modernism in its emphasis on human reason. Neopaganism has become the major contender with Christianity for the heart of Western civilization, its characteristics include:

•A denial of the personal attributes of God and of Christ.

•Claiming a legitimacy to worship the created order (Pantheism, Romans 1). •Laying claim to dogmatic tolerance. (we are to be tolerant of them, but they refuse to tolerate us).

•Seeking to intensify the life of a person rather than transform it: (you can pull yourself up by your own bootstraps).

•Offering no definite, well-grounded hope for the future.

•Seeking to reestablish the place of Eros in the life. (Hedonism).

•Militant opposition to Christianity or anyone claiming to have absolute truth.

•Denial of a personal salvation.

As Evangelical, Fundamentalist believers we categorically reject any and all teaching that teaches there are many ways to reach God and heaven. Are we that narrow? Yes we are! I heard about a preacher once who was so narrow that a gnat could sit on the bridge of his nose and kick him in both eyes. Yes, we are that narrow, but not any more narrow than God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit or the word of God.

“As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:9).

Verse 1c: “…because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

Not just a few but “many”! The danger was already on the scene for there were many false prophets already at work, exerting a potentially negative impact on the early church. Jesus had explicitly foretold the coming of such false prophets:

Matthew 7:15, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

Matthew 24:11, “Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.”

Mark 13:22,23, “For false Christ’s and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But take heed; behold, I have told you everything in advance.”

And Paul writes in Acts 20:29,30, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.”

And Peter adds, 2 Peter 2:1, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.”

These “false prophets,” teach false doctrines in order to deceive untaught, unwary and unsuspecting saints. These men claim to be prophets from God but in fact are not. They utter falsehoods under the name of divine prophecies. This is the same word John uses to describe the evil false prophet of the end times, the "front man" for the Antichrist.

Jude warned the saints of the infiltration of demonically directed false teachers with their deceptive doctrine...

Jude 3,4, “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, (Where were they? Inside the body!), who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Moses gave Israel a clear criteria for testing the spirits:

Deuteronomy 13:1-5, “If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods’—which you have not known—and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the LORD your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you.”

Verse 2: “By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God…”

Verse 2a: “You know,” ginosko means to perceive or know by experience and present tense indicates a continual knowing of this truth. Vine adds that John is saying “you know by experience of facts,” and so are able to recognize. The experience is comprehensive and belongs to all true believers. Ginosko was used of the intimate relationship between husband and wife, and between God and His people. Jeremiah 31:3, “I have loved you with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn you.”

Verse 2b: “Every spirit.” “The phrase every spirit does not refer to other beings than human, but to the person whose spirit is acted upon by the Holy Spirit, through whose instrumentality he confesses the truth.”–W.E.Vine

Verse 2c: “Confesses,” homologeo, acknowledges, to say the same thing as another and so to agree with another's statements. To confess Christ is to declare agreement with all that He says.

Here is the divine test, Steven Cole explains why John gives the divine test: “A false teacher may be gentle and loving. He may speak prophecies that come true. He may even perform miracles or cast out demons or speak in tongues. But, the question is, does he lead people to follow a false god?”

Matthew 7:22,23, “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”

1 Corinthians 12:3, “Therefore I make known to you, that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus is accursed,’ and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”

“My conclusion is that what 1 John 4:2 means is this: ‘By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which sincerely confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh and which has a corresponding disposition of loving reverence and submission to Jesus Christ, is of God.’ So the sign of the Spirit's reality is not merely the truth of the words coming out of the mouth of a prophet, but also the disposition corresponding to that truth.”–Ray Stedman

Verse 3a: “and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.”

So how should we test all who claim to speak for God today? John is saying we are to ask them what do they think of Jesus? As Jesus Himself said to the disciples "Who do you say that I am?" (Matthew 16:15,16). Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’” (Matthew 16:15,16).

Peter was saying, "I know who you are. You are the Messiah sent to save us and you are the Son of God from heaven." It is short and simple. Everything necessary for salvation is included in Peter’s answer. Everything depends on the answer to that question. Who is he? That was the question asked by Paul on the Damascus road when he said, "Who are you, Lord?" (Acts 22:8). It is the question every man must ask, and answer correctly, before salvation can be experienced. It is not enough to know the popular opinion of the Christ; the question demands, and will receive, a personal answer by every man coming into the world.

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” –C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

There are many today who are willing to say acceptable things about Jesus, but they will not confess Him as God Incarnate. They will say that Christ is divine, but not that He is God. Failure to confess Jesus as God is evidence that these people are against Christ (antichrist).

Verse 3b: “And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.”

“Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour…” (1 John 2:18).

John reminded his listeners that they needed to be discerning. He tells them not to be gullible but to ‘test the spirits to see whether they are from God.’ Jesus warned of ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ (Matthew 7:15). The Life Application Commentary lists several helpful warning signs or red flags that indicate someone may be promoting a false religion,

1) They Claim to have new truth from special prophets or special revelation. Their central authority is some charismatic leader rather than the Bible. You see this in: Joseph Smith (the Mormons), Mary Baker Eddy (Christian Science), and L. Ron Hubbard (Scientology). Every false religion bases their faith on some individual someplace who seeks to add to the Word of God.

2) They twist Christian doctrine. To establish their authority, new religions try to prove the unreasonableness of Christian doctrine. They especially attack the doctrine of the Trinity and of the deity (or god-nature) of Christ.

3) They undermine Scripture. False religions will string together unrelated verses in order to prove some way-out viewpoint.

4) They promote salvation by works. False Religions stress the actions necessary meetings, training, doing the work of the group as essential to acceptance by God.

5) They undermine the assurance of eternal life in God’s grace. False Religions teach that salvation exists in adherence to their teaching and practice, not in the merciful love of God through Jesus Christ.” –Rev. Bruce Goettsche,

“In 1 John 2 we learn these facts about Antichrists: 1) their primary target is Christians, 2) they arise from within the visible church, 3) they claim to have a special anointing, 4) they claim access to supernatural knowledge not available to ordinary Christians, 5) they have a defective doctrine of Christ, though they claim to believe in Him. If we compare John’s teaching to other New Testament passages on this topic we will find that many Antichrists operate in our day and their target is the Christian church. It stands to reason that Satan’s deceptive practices target the church, since the world is already under his sway. ‘We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one’” (1 John 5:19). Bob DeWaay,

A missionary to the American Indians was in Los Angeles with an Indian friend who was a new Christian. As they walked down the street, they passed a man on the corner who was preaching with a Bible in his hand. The missionary knew the man represented a cult, but the Indian saw only the Bible. He stopped to listen to the sermon. ‘I hope my friend doesn’t get confused,’ the missionary thought to himself, and he began to pray. In a few minutes the Indian turned away from the meeting and joined his missionary friend. ‘What did you think of the preacher?’ the missionary asked. ‘All the time he was talking,’ exclaimed the Indian, ‘something in my heart kept saying, ‘Liar! Liar!’ 
That “something” in his heart was Someone—the Holy Spirit of God! The Spirit guides us into the truth and helps us to recognize error. This anointing of God is no lie, because ‘the Spirit is truth.’” (1 John 5:6). – Warren Wiersbe

Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB).

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