The Light of Discernment - 1 John 4:1-6
The Holy Spirit in John & 1 John
HS in Gen 1; HS poured out on prophets & kings
Joel 2 - will be poured out on all flesh
JtB - HS descended & remained, Jesus baptizes with the Spirit (John 1:29-33)
Salvation is by being born again by the Holy Spirit (John 1:12-13, 3:1-8)
All who believe in Him receive the HS after His death & resurrection (John 7:37-39)
Another Helper/Comforter/Paraclete (John 14:16-26, 15:26-27, 16:7-13)
Note wisdom implied in Upper Room Discourse
In 1 John 2:18-27 -
anointed by the Holy One - gives knowledge (20)
Let the message you heard from the beginning abide in you (24)
Anointing abides in you - no need for anyone to teach y’all, because His anointing teaches you about everything (27)
In 1 John 3:9 - is the source of sanctification - our growth in Christ and growth in holiness / Christlikeness
In 1 John 3:24 - The Spirit given by God gives us the ability to distinguish between brothers and false brethren
Objection: Many people claim to have spiritual insight, claim to know God, claim to have teaching we should listen to. Many are convincing or show evidence of supernatural insight. How are we to distinguish between those who speak the truth and those who are animated by a spirit of falsehood? Or between those born of God and those born of Satan (as 3:10 so shockingly put it)?
Note connection to 2:18-27 - there we said
Antichrists abandon God’s people & God’s truth // Christians abide in God’s truth because they are anointed by God’s spirit
as we answered question, “How can we recognize & reject spiritual deception?” Today in 4:1-6, we’re going to add a third part to that question:
Q. How can we be ready to respond to spiritual deception?
I. Expect spiritual deceivers (vv1-3)
I. Expect spiritual deceivers (vv1-3)
This starting point probably sounds familiar if you’ve been with us in our study of 1 John. Remember in chapter 2, John says that many antichrists have come, and they went out, abandoning God’s people and God’s truth. Here, John refers to them as “false prophets.” Claiming to speak for God, and then attempting to lead people away from the Truth.
John says that they are many - many people will raise their voices up against the Truth. It should come as no surprise, since Jesus Himself told us in Matthew 24 that many would come in His Name, many false prophets would arise to lead people astray.
The best defense against spiritual deception is found in this letter. To remember the message that came straight from Jesus. To abide in His Word and in His commands, to believe what Jesus said about Himself and about salvation, and love one another.
And here, in verses 1-3, to be ready and expect spiritual deceivers.
John issues a strong charge in verse 1: Do not believe every spirit. Instead, he commands us: Test the spirits.
That’s a command. The goal of the test: To see whether or not they come from God. If you don’t test the spirits, you will fail to see the deception.
When John says “spirits,” he’s talking about what animates the person making the spiritual claims.
We’ve seen already in 1 John and in our Christmas series in John 1 that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God Himself. Together with the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is God. The Holy Spirit is also the One who gives eternal life to all who believe in Jesus. He is at work in every Christian, dwelling in every Christian. He empowers the believer through spiritual gifts. He teaches the believer. And He helps us discern truth from error.
But there are other spiritual beings at work in the world. The word “spirit” is a general one, more general than angels, or demons, or powers, or principalities, and it encompasses them all, and then some.
In Hebrews 1:14, the author refers to angels as “ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.”
16 That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick.
1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared,
What are we to make of all this? If you have been living in this world and have been blind to the fact that there are spiritual forces, evil beings bent on opposing God’s purposes in His world, then look again at these verses, and open your eyes. Spiritual realities are everywhere, if you’re willing to look for them. If we don’t believe - or if we forget - that there are supernatural forces at work around us, then we will not test the spirits, we will not expect spiritual deception, and we will see injury as a result.
False prophets and spiritual deceivers may bring fantastic claims with them, or impress you with spiritual insights. Or they may be subtle. But they are false prophets, deceivers, animated by the spirit of antichrist.
As false prophets, they claim to speak for God or claim to know spiritual truths that supersede or improve Biblical truth. Sometimes they will tell you that they can let you in on the real truth that the Bible is only hinting about, but their claims will always undermine the clear message of Scripture.
As deceivers, they use plausible arguments, complicated systems, or stories weaved like a net or a web. As they speak, you find yourself impressed by the apparent depth of their knowledge. Often, they’ll tell you that you can’t possibly understand Spiritual truth on your own. Like a magic decoder ring, they want you to look at Scripture through their lens.
APPLY: One of the ways to recognize this right off the bat is this: If they’re telling you that a present-day reader cannot understand the basic message of Scripture and the Gospel without their extra teaching, either because it’s tapping into some ancient background that you never heard about, or because it’s tapping into some extra super spiritual meaning in Scripture that very few people possess, they’re either deceived or they’re a deceiver.
Studying the historical background of Scripture can be an enormous blessing, but it’s always a servant of studying Scripture, never its master. The Bible tells us that it was written for every people in every generation.
Paul writes to the Church in Corinth - largely made up of former pagans who did not grow up hearing Old Testament stories about Abraham and Moses and Israel - and in 1 Cor 10, he writes about the Exodus and the Red Sea and the 40 years in the wilderness, and he does not tell them that they won’t be able to understand it without archaeology and Egyptology, and a study of Canaanite religions. No, he says,
6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.
And a few verses later,
11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
I’m telling you this as someone who loves the studies I just mentioned - Biblical archaeology and all the rest. They are wonderful. But they don’t tell us what the Gospel means. The Bible does. They don’t tell us what the Bible means. The Bible does. The spirit of antichrist and the false prophets that speak under its thrall want you to believe that the Gospel that Jesus Christ died to save sinners isn’t good enough, that you need more. By the time they’re done, you don’t know what to believe anymore, and the extra super spiritual knowledge that they claimed would unlock your Bible ends up just making everything a cloudy, confusing mess.
So I mentioned that they’re false prophets and deceivers. As antichrist, spiritual deceivers attempt to put their system in place of Scripture.
33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Instead of God’s Kingdom, their systems distract you with the cares and worries of this world.
Instead of salvation in Christ, they proclaim a substitute salvation - they tell you that the Gospel isn’t actually about eternal life and the Kingdom of God, but that it’s really about something else. Often, it has some connection to the Gospel, but like a fun-house mirror, the proportions are all wrong.
Instead of reconciliation to God through Jesus - instead of a relationship with Jesus Christ and the proclamation of the Good News to the ends of the earth, a false prophet will give overarching status to some other mission.
They tell you that doctrine and belief don’t really matter, it’s alleviating poverty, or promoting human flourishing, or passing the right legislation - that’s what they think really counts. Do you see how their systems distract you with the cares and worries of the world?
False prophets like that strangle the life out of the seed that falls among the thorns.
You can identify a false prophet by the fact that whatever his thing is, it demands your all. It calls you away from the Jesus Christ of Scripture.
1 “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ 3 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.
In Deuteronomy 13, the assumption is that the false prophet may very well have signs and wonders accompanying his message. It is the content of the message that you must test.
So beloved of God, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God. Expect spiritual deceivers.
Look at verses 2-3 again with me and let’s see how we should perform this test. John tells us that we should:
II. Examine spiritual claims (vv2-3)
II. Examine spiritual claims (vv2-3)
Notice in verse 2 that John begins with “by this you know” - just like he did in 1 John 3:16 that we read two weeks ago:
16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
The content of the test is the Gospel message about Jesus. In other words, we can examine spiritual claims against Scripture. The Holy Spirit will never inspire anyone to speak anything that contradicts what He has already said.
The starting point is confessing - that’s a fancy word for agreeing with your testimony. Confessing sins is just agreeing with God that we are sinners and that we need a savior. Verse 2 says that every spirit that comes from God is going to speak agreement with what Jesus has said about Himself.
Spiritual loners are spiritual rebels
The true confession agrees that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.
First, that Jesus is the Christ - In other words, He is the Jewish Messiah, fulfilling the Old Testament promises of salvation. No one who rejects the Old Testament can claim to know God, since Jesus Himself said that He is the One promised in the Old Covenant.
Second, that He has come - there is so much in those two words - has come. It tells us that Jesus existed before He came, and that His coming happened in time. It happened in a specific place, at a specific time. Our faith is deeply tied to history. Has come also tells us that His coming happened in the past and yet continues to have significance today. Our faith is historical, but it is not a relic of history. Founders of philosophical schools die and their ideas outlive them, and it doesn’t actually matter much if they were the people we think they were. You can master Platonic thought without much worry about Plato’s historical reality. But your salvation today absolutely depends upon the fact that Jesus Christ has come. And those two words also tell us that His mission was not far away in some far away world. His mission was here, on this physical earth.
And He has come in the flesh. The pre-existent Son of God was born in human flesh, and became the Son of Man.
Only those who agree with this message have the Spirit of God.
Like the Bereans of Acts 17, who examined the Scriptures to see if Paul’s message was true, we should examine spiritual claims by examining Scripture together. And we should do so carefully. Since false prophets can be subtle, we should ask,
“Does this person submit to God’s Word? Do they agree with what Scripture says about Christ?”
Can their claims be verified by Scripture?
Is this person concealing theological claims in things that don’t seem to be religious on the surface? For example, I’ve noticed that novels often carry a theological agenda that attempts to undercut Scripture by creating a compelling world where God isn’t God.
Or, where are the substitutes for Biblical truth, and how do they undermine it?
EXAMPLE: Mormonism replaces the eternal God who eternally exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with false gods bearing those names, including a false Jesus, and false Scriptures that attempt to undermine Scripture by adding to it.
EXAMPLE: Some conspiracy theories replace authority and Scripture with the big story of the conspiracy, replace Biblical ideas of justice and truth with nailing people to the wall for their part in the conspiracy. Often refuses to be corrected or submit to Scripture. Might claim to coexist with Christianity, but the false prophet leading the charge will demand you to re-envision the world through their authoritative lens
EXAMPLE: Pseudo-religious fitness regimens - the false prophet might have an impressive resume. His fitness program might have helped him lose 100 pounds. But does it demand your allegiance? When you have to choose between faithfulness and fitness, do you drop everything when he whistles?
In each of these examples, some element of the Gospel has been replaced with a fake. Creation, the Fall, Sin, Redemption, Atonement, Justice, Salvation, Authority, Divinity - false prophets insist on proclaiming their message and will not confess God’s message. Because in the end, they do not agree that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, the Christ; that His mission was to become man, and that He has come as our Advocate and Propitiation - our substitute, by whose death our sins are forgiven and by whose resurrection we are justified and promised eternal life by the Holy Spirit.
So John says that :
III. Expose spiritual vandals (vv4-6)
III. Expose spiritual vandals (vv4-6)
Look at the promise in verse 4. You little children who have been born of God by faith in Jesus Christ have overcome the false prophets and antichrists.
When you feel like this is just too complicated and difficult, remember that John is not saying that you have to go compete with the false prophets on their own ground. He’s saying that they’re already overcome, your job is simply to expose them as the spiritual vandals they are.
How have we overcome them? John uses the same kind of verb here that he used in verse 2. Jesus Christ has come and you who are born again have overcome them. His mission, His death and resurrection, that’s where the victory is.
33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
The reason Jesus came was to destroy the works of the devil. And so He has come, and He has overcome the world, and you beloved children are in Christ by faith, AND HE is in YOU.
Verses 5 and 6 tell us that these false prophets - however grand or spiritual or fancy their message sounds - they’re just speaking the same language that the world is.
But they will not listen to God. They will not listen to God’s Word. They will not listen to God’s messengers.
The sheep recognize their Shepherd’s voice in His Word, and in the teaching of the Apostles that He sent. Jesus said to those who did not believe:
47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
We can see how this worked out in the days of the Apostles. The Apostle Paul set the Old Testament and the Gospel of Luke together as Scripture.
Peter refers to Paul’s letters directly and calls them Scripture in 2 Peter 3:14-16.
And Paul knew that as he wrote, he was writing Scripture:
37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.
Just as John says here in verse 6, that everyone who knows God listens to “us,” meaning the Apostles.
So let’s wrap this all up with some more application:
If we expect spiritual deceivers and examine spiritual claims, then we should expose spiritual vandals without fear because the victory has already been won.
Expose them to protect God’s children from deception.
Expose them to call them to repentance.
Expose them in hope, praying for the Spirit to cast out the false spirit.
But, maybe you wonder: What if the false prophet is someone I love?
We must remember that exposure of sin is one of the ways that God sends a wake-up call to people - both to the one being exposed and those around them. In 1 Timothy 5, Paul says that an elder or a pastor who persists in sin should be rebuked in public so that the rest of the congregation would stand in fear. This is not just an option, it is the command of Scripture, for the sake of God’s people.
As Jesus says in Matthew 7:15, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravening wolves.”
In fact, Paul says in Galatians 1 that if even he, or even an angel from heaven should come and preach a gospel contrary to the one we heard from the beginning, “let him be accursed.” There is no spiritual leader or celebrity or pastor or family member or beloved church mouse who can be given a pass on this.
And what about this: As you hear these words, what if in your heart you say, “What if I’m the false prophet?” If you have claimed or proclaimed or believed falsehoods about Jesus, I have very good news for you: False prophets can be saved, and people under the influence of spirits that have not come from God can be rescued and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Creation // Fall // Redemption // Restoration
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.