Praise God for someone you know who is honest and true. Pray for wisdom about living among people, some of whom are less than totally honest.
On denying the incarnation
4 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognise the Spirit of God: every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5 They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognise the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.
‘Don’t believe everything you read or hear.’ Many years ago, I was talking with a former principal of a developing country’s theological college. He thought that one of the main issues for his students was ‘who to believe and who not to believe’.
That was a problem in the churches John was advising too. There were various skewed versions of Christianity circulating at the time, and, no doubt, some people found them attractive. But John urges discernment. First, don’t believe every speaker, however plausible they may be. Listen to them carefully. They may be anti-Christ (v 3). Secondly, look for those speakers who acknowledge that ‘Jesus Christ has come in the flesh’ (v 2,3). In other words, a touchstone for all authentic Christian faith was, and is, Jesus Christ: both fully divine and fully human.
For ourselves, the Spirit of God in us is stronger than the spirit of the age or the spirit of falsehood (vs 4b). The best way is to know God and to listen to Jesus’ apostles, who, John says, ‘are from God’ (v 6a). This will help us spot the ‘spirit of falsehood’ (v 6b).
When assessing how trustworthy someone is, how much should we take into account: their words, their behaviour, their look, our instincts, other people’s response to them?
Deeper Bible study
‘The perpetual enemy of faith in the true God is not atheism (the claim that there is no God), but rather Gnosticism (the claim that God is known).’1
John again turns to combating heretical teaching, denouncing false prophets (pseudo-prophetes) imbued with the spirit of the antichrist. The specific test of whether a teaching is from God or the world is whether it acknowledges that Jesus has come in the flesh. In John’s time an early form of Gnosticism was evidently proving quite troublesome to the fledgling Christian church; John here targets it with both barrels.
Gnosticism taught that spirit is wholly good and matter is wholly bad. This dualism led to the idea that the human body is therefore evil, which is problematic for the claim that God became man in Christ. To resolve this dilemma, gnostic teachers either taught that Christ only seemed to have a body (Docetism, from the Greek dokein, ‘to seem’), or that the divine Christ joined the man Jesus at baptism and left him before he died (called ‘Cerinthianism’ after its most prominent spokesman Cerinthus). This is why John is so strong on having seen and touched the physical body of Jesus:2 he insists that Christ is both fully God and also, crucially, fully man.
John challenges his readers to test the spirits to see whether they are from God. The main way they are to do this is to see whether the spirits agree with those two great truths about Jesus. He offers them the hope that even though this may feel impossible at times, the one who is in them is greater than the one who is in the world; he will give them the wisdom and power to overcome all evil spirits and teachings. This must have been extremely reassuring to John’s readers and is just as true for us today.
Don’t believe everything you hear. Instead, allow God to teach you how to test new teaching against his word and, especially, against the foundation of Christ’s divine-human nature.
1 Martin Buber, 1878–1965 21 John 1:1
Bible in a year
Read the Bible in a year: Jeremiah 27,28; John 11
Pray for Scripture Union
The SU Council will be meeting in some form today. Pray that as they seek to provide stimulus and inspiration to the movement, they will hear from God and that the ministry will be enhanced as a result.