Will the Real Holy Spirit Please Stand Up?
We have seen that sound doctrine and sound love are both essential to the Christian faith and must be held together and not against each other. Living in love and living the truth of the gospel are what gives us assurance that we are Christians. We must be believing, be living, and be loving. We have noticed that John saved the witness of the Spirit that we are Christians to last rather than have us look to some spiritual experience as the source of our assurance. This is so important because so often we stress experience, especially the experience of the Spirit as the proof we are Christians. But here it seems the opposite is stressed, that the experience of the Spirit is a result of Christian love and knowledge of the truth. Did not Jesus walk with His disciples for three years, teaching the truth of the kingdom and walking in love? It wasn’t to the very end that He even started to talk about the Holy Spirit. Were not the 120 in the upper room in one accord before the Spirit fell? There is so much talk about the Spirit to the expense of the person and work of Christ. Perhaps we need to consider getting our priorities right.
We will see from the text we are about to examine the dangers of putting the work of the Holy Spirit over against the work of Jesus, as though the two can be separated.
Exposition of the Text
Verse 1: Beloved, do not believe every spirit, BUT test the spirits, whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
Apparently, many of those who had left the fellowship had boasted of their experience with the spirit. The claimed to be inspired prophets just like the false prophets in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, Moses taught the children of Israel how to discern between the LORD’s prophets and the false prophets by applying two tests. The first test was whether their prophecies came true or not. If a prophet’s predictions did not happen, then that prophet was to be rejected as a false prophet. The second test was that even if the prophet did some sign or wonder, but the prophet encouraged the people to go out and worship other gods, they were to be rejected also. So a true prophet’s prophecies come true and a true prophet also is also true to God.
So John tells the believers to not be so gullible as to believe everything someone says just because that person claims to be full of the Holy Spirit. They and their message must be put to the test. We remember that those in Berea were nobler than those of Thessalonica because they searched the Scriptures to verify the message of Paul and his companions. Were those who left willing to have their teachings put under such examination? Or did they act as spiritual bullies and say: “How dare you question the message I got from the Holy Spirit?
Verse 2: This is how you can be sure that a message is from God. Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh comes from God.
We have a sure test given here to the believer. We read from John 15-16 that the Holy Spirit comes to make Jesus known and not to speak of Himself even though the Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Trinity. One who claims to be “in the Spirit” will lift up Jesus. In particular, the truth or the Incarnation of Jesus in human flesh will be affirmed. In context to those who left, they did not confess that Jesus was God. They may have allowed that the Christ Spirit came to Jesus at Jesus’ baptism and left at the crucifixion, but they would have treated the idea that Jesus the man and God the Son were one and the same with contempt. Their whole concept of salvation was based upon being freed from the body which they considered to be a prison for the spirit. But this was not what Jesus taught. We are reminded from the very beginning of this epistle that John and the other apostles had seen, heard, and touched Jesus.
Verse 3: And every spirit who does not confess Jesus does not come from God; this is the Antichrist which you have heard is coming and in even now already in the world.
If the message does not come from God, then it is obvious is comes from the Devil. The Devil tries to imitate the things of God to deceive. So a lot of the devil’s doctrine may sound good to the ears and have the ring of spirituality associated with it. But what is God’s message? God’s message is that he so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son. And John 1:14 says this Word was made flesh. This is a doctrine which is at the very core of the Christian message and is not subject to negotiation. So we don’t just have a message which claims to come from the Spirit. We have Jesus, the one John and the other apostles saw, beheld, heard, and touched with their earthly senses. And the Christian has the Spirit also, but the testimony of the Spirit is none other than that which has been proclaimed all along which is “God sent His Son, Jesus. Any message which someone claims is from the Spirit will testify of the truth of Jesus. All other messages of the Spirit are to be rejected outright as coming from Satan and the world, the very Antichrist himself.
4. But YOU are of God children and have prevailed over them because the One in YOU ALL is greater than the worldly one.
Those who had left must have bristled at what John has just said. These spiritual one’s had thought themselves to be the enlightened ones and those whom they left behind to be dull when it came to spiritual things. But John clearly claims that the very opposite is true. Those who left are compared to the Antichrist. Their doctrine was a doctrine of demons and not of God. The claimed to be filled with the Spirit, but it was the church who was really filled. Those who left felt they had conquered the world, but the world had really conquered them. And the believers had truly been the conquerors, not because of anything they possessed as far as human means were concerned, but because they were in Christ and filled with the Spirit of God. So long as anyone is in Christ, that person is a conqueror, and as Paul says, even more than a conqueror. But as soon as one thinks anything of himself/herself, then this privilege is lost.
Verse 5: These people are worldly, and for this reason their speech is worldly. No wonder the world listens to them!
This again is a paraphrase of the Greek, but I feel it gives a better feel in English what John is saying. John had earlier reminded the readers that they needed to stop being amazed that the world hated them. The world’s hatred should be seen as a proof of being a true Christian. The world will accept religion, even outlandish ones. The Greek world was full of bizarre forms of worship and belief, even by people who were considered sophisticated and intelligent. If one is religious, they can feel perfectly at home in this world. But let the name of Jesus be mentioned and see how the mood changes. It wasn’t a problem to those who had left and saw the human Jesus at best being a prop or pawn of the Christ spirit. The fact the world so readily accepted and still accepts today their message should serve as a warning as to where their message is coming from.
Verse 6: WE are of God; the one who knows God will hear what we have to say, but those who are not of God will not listen to us. This is how we can tell the difference between the Spirit of Truth and the spirit of deception.
The WE here is emphatic and inclusive of John and the church he is writing to. Where Christ is, there will the true church be, and vice versa. And if we are truly in Christ, we must expect the same treatment that Christ received here on earth and still receives today. Those who love Him will also love us. Those who love Jesus we must also love. But those who hate and reject Jesus will also hate and reject us. If the world is hearing us gladly and those who love Jesus are not, then we need to look seriously at what we are proclaiming. But if those who are worldly reject us and God’s people hear us, then we know that we are of God also. It is impossible to love both God and the world, but God is faithful. Even if we love the world and hate God, God continues to love, for God cannot deny Who He is. It is the world that He so loved, even though the world has so hated Him, that He sent His only Son Jesus to save all who will believe. He did not come to condemn the world but to save. The fact that so many have totally rejected God’s grace and will fall into eternal condemnation as a result in no way diminishes God’s love for them and desire that they might repent before it is too late. It would behoove us to act even as our Master.
The world has changed very little since the days of John, other than the tide seems to be going out rather than in as people wax worse and worse. There are a lot of sophisticated people in this world. We think of celebrities who will accept any flighting fancy of religion while denying the truth of Christ. Tom Cruise is a Scientologist. Madonna when she isn’t worshipping herself, is delving into the Jewish Cabala. Bob Dylan has changed religions like changing dirty socks. He even tried being “born again” once. No matter how ridiculous their religions are and bizarre their behavior, the world is amused by them. But let one Christian stray, and look out. They will turn on such a person like a pack of dogs. And even if they cannot stick a fault on him/her, they still rage against them as though they were Hitlers and evil people. The world talks tolerance, but how it rages with anger against the truths of Christianity. It might be said that they tolerate anything but those narrow, bigoted, right wing, hate mongering Christians. All sorts of indecent speech is protected by free speech, yet say something about Jesus in a positive note and look out. The only time it is acceptable to use the name of God or Jesus is as a curse word. But we should not be surprised at this.
Yet it seems that the church has reacted by creating a more world-friendly Jesus, or at least God. We think that by taking the offense of the cross out of the message and just talk about love, tolerance, acceptance, and praise. Won’t this attract the world to our Churches? I have nothing against common hospitality, nor do I have anything against praise or love, but does not Jesus say that He is the ONLY way, the ONLY truth, and the ONLY life and that there is no other way to God. And does it not say that it is necessary to being a Christian at all to confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh? We can neither give ground on loving one another nor can we surrender our core doctrine which basically is that every single human being has sinned and therefore liable to eternal judgment. No one can save himself/herself. God out of love and mercy has sent His only Son, Jesus who came in human flesh, born of the Virgin Mary and lived among us a sinless life, tempted without sin but died for ours to pay the penalty for us. He rose on the third day and was seen alive by many as well as touched. He ascended after giving authority to the church to proclaim the message of salvation. He will return again to judge the living and the dead. To be saved, on must believe that God has done all of this for us, repent and believe on Jesus Christ and publicly confess this belief in Jesus in words and life. These are not negotiable. You just cannot pick and choose some of them and leave others out. God had not asked us to make friends of the world but to be faithful to Him.