Test the spirits

1 John 4:1–8

Our scripture today is seen by many people as the key part of the letter of First John.

First John was probably written by the Apostle John, who tradition holds is the author of the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation. John was born in the year six, and his brother James was also a disciple of Jesus.

John knew Jesus especially well. He may well have been a cousin of Jesus and was perhaps the disciple whom Jesus asked to care for Mary his mother. He was one of the inner circle, being the first disciple and the only disciple at the crucifixion of the Messiah.

John wrote this letter in his older age to correct some errors that had risen in the early church.

You may be eager to know what those errors were, but John was just as keen to not tell us. His focus is to show us the way to be right with Jesus whatever our error.

One of the possible errors at the time may have been to do with Jewish believers. They were being expelled from their synagogues, and so some denied Jesus was Messiah in order to be allowed back. But there were other problems in the church, and the focus here seems to be people who say they have a message from God when they don’t.

And so John starts this section by warning his readers. “Do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit.”

It was generally acknowledged by the Jewish people that the spirit of God was not the only spirit who could inspire people. We know from the Bible that although God at times would speak directly, at other times his messages came from angels. In general though we treat that as one source. The angels spoke with God’s authority and so what they said was in fact as if God had spoken.

There are also angels who do not speak with God’s authority. They belong to Satan and speak with Satan’s authority. If you listen to one of them it is as if your were listening to Satan himself.

John says there are many false prophets. Many people who claim to be inspired by the spirit of God but have actually been inspired by Satan. How can you tell a false prophet apart from a person who has a difference of opinion with you?

John says that if you have a difference of opinion, you will both agree with each other on this one critical point. If you both agree that Jesus had a real body, you have a difference of opinion. The false prophet denies that Jesus had a real body.

This person is a false prophet and the Antichrist.

John talks in verse three about the Antichrist. He says, “Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here.”

It seems that they had already heard about the Antichrist. You may have heard some things about the Antichrist as well. Some Christians are asking, how close are we to the arrival of Antichrist and the return of Christ? This is based on a view that the Antichrist comes at the end of the age, just before Jesus returns.

The first three mentions of the Antichrist are in this letter. The only other mention is in 2 John.

You have heard one mention. Here are the other three mentions of the Antichrist:

“the Antichrist is coming, and already many such antichrists have appeared.” (1 John 2:18)

“Anyone who denies the Father and the Son is an antichrist.” (1 John 2:22)

“many deceivers have gone out into the world. They deny that Jesus Christ came in a real body. Such a person is a deceiver and an antichrist.” (2 John 1:7)

There are many antichrists, and they have been in the world since the start of the church. We have to be alert for their lies. There are many spirits, but not all of them tell the truth. In fact you don’t need to go far from this building to find spirits that are willing to give you a message from the other world. There are hundreds of places all over Jinju with shamans. The spirits that speak through these shamans are liars. Shamans are false prophets. They are not the ones to guide your life. Stay well away. The Bible does not warn us away from sorcery because it doesn’t work, but because it is real and powered by evil.

The good spirits are aligned with the Spirit of truth. These spirits confess that Jesus Christ came in the flesh, and they are from God. They hold to the truth that Jesus is both divine and human.

John is urging three things about our belief:

First, we must believe that the man Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the divine Word of God.

Second, we must confess that Jesus Christ was and is fully divine as well as human.

Third, we must declare that Jesus is the sole source of eternal life since he alone reveals the Father to us and atones for our sins.

This is the truth of verse two: A true prophet “acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body.”

Another test for a prophet is in verse five. A false prophet speaks with a worldly voice.

“Those people belong to this world, so they speak from the world’s viewpoint, and the world listens to them.” (1 John 4:5)

If a prophet agrees with the world, they are a false prophet. False prophets and the world are in perfect agreement.

There is also a harmony, a correspondence, between the Holy Spirit in the believer and the Holy Spirit in the prophet. When God’s Spirit inspires a prophet, his people will discern God’s truth.

“We belong to God, and those who know God listen to us. If they do not belong to God, they do not listen to us. That is how we know if someone has the Spirit of truth or the spirit of deception.” (1 John 4:6)

The people of God know his voice and respond fully to him.

The Antichrist cannot hurt you. The false prophet cannot steal away your soul. We have nothing to fear from Satan or his messengers. John reminds us of this in verse four. “the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.”

You will be safe from false prophets and cults as long as you test all prophets, because you have God’s Spirit in you. Test the prophets. Test their words. Do they agree with the world?

What might that look like? Maybe they promise you what the world promises – wealth, fame, success, happiness. Maybe they tell you to be you and not worry about changing yourself. They may say you are fine the way you were born.

Scripture says you were born a sinner. Scripture says all have sinned. The world says I’m OK, you’re OK.

Jesus says to love each other, not to tolerate divisions and not to cause splits. We do not divide with people who hold different views but confess the basic truths. They are not false prophets. The false prophets deny Jesus and they do not belong to God.

“Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.”

You can be sure that you are not a false prophet. You can be sure that the Spirit of God lives in you. You can be confident in this because you have love. The Spirit of God testifies. He does this by the fruit in your life. He reveals his presence in love, as it also says in Galatians 5:22.

“the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, …” etc.

The other way you can be sure is that you believe Jesus had a real body, and you believe Jesus was a real person. Your belief is confirmation that God’s Spirit lives in you.

Amen 아멘

About Pastor Simon

Pastor at Jinju International Christian Fellowship. Formerly of Eastbourne, East Sussex, UK. I am Simon Warner of Jinju Church. We speak English at Jinju Church, South Korea.
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