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Testing The Spirits: A Call to Discernment (Part 2)

1 John  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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If so be the LORD the HOLY GHOST hath regenerated you, and the SPIRIT witnesseth with your spirit, that you are born of GOD. For then hath he taught you the plague of your own heart. And what artifice of men, or devils, can bear up against this divine teaching, when you yourself also daily feel, and know how that heart is for ever interrupting your spiritual pursuits, and warring against your soul! So, in like manner, when GOD the HOLY GHOST hath taught you who CHRIST is, and the efficacy of his blood and righteousness; when you have felt the sovereignty of his grace, the compleatness and fulness of his finished salvation; have known the love of GOD, the sweetness and suitableness of his promises, and been fed by them from day to day, can an host of heretics persuade you that these precious things are false, and that JESUS CHRIST, the SON of GOD is not come in the flesh? Oh! how gracious hath our GOD been, to provide such blessed securities for his people against all perilous times like the present!

Last week, we started our little journey through these 6 verses. We saw in the scriptures how a call for discernment was present in the Old testament and the New. Coming from Moses, Isaiah, Jesus, Paul, and John.
We then saw in verse 1 the command for discernment, and the concern for discernment.
We are called to biblical discernment because many false prophets are in the world. Not everyone who claims to be a spiritual instructor, or even a Christian, is from God.
I realize that we cannot continue on a one verse per week pace, as we have 5 more verses and only one week to cover them in. considered using the same time frame - 45 minutes per verse. But i realized that not many of you want to stay here until 3:30, so i will sacrifice and be as succinct as I can be!
So where are we headed?
Well, if verse 1 was the what and the why for biblical discernment, then verses 2-6 are the how.
If verse 1 lays down the premise and the call to discern, then these next verses outline some principles and clarifications for our discernment.
Why do we need these principles? Aren’t we capable on our own?
*Give illustration to do CIA trainee having to locate the terrorist who is dressed and appears exactly like the group of people around him.
In other words, John does not simply call us to be concerning because there are many false teachers and pseudo-prophets who are out for the destruction of the church and the blasphemy of the name of God and then just say, “Good luck!”
John really brings us back here to where he started in the beginning of the epistle. Our call to and method for biblical discernment rides precisely on the person of Jesus Christ - who He is, what He does, what the implications of those beliefs are.
1 John 1:1–3 ESV
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
Our discernment is centered around having biblical beliefs and behavior - these are marks of the true followers of Christ, and they are marks that should be looked for in any claimed teacher.
True and false teachers can be discerned by the belief, behavior, and basis of their life.

True and False teachers can be discerned by what they believe, and what is the basis of their life.

1. The Teacher’s Belief - Vs. 2-3

The first test is theological, or Christological. Namely, here, what does the person teach about Christ?
“John has already indicated that behind every prophet stands a spirit, either the spirit of God or the demonic spirit of antichrist. He has spoken of the need to test the spirits by their origin. But how are they to be tested? How can a normal Christian know whether the spirit is of God or of antichrist? ‘What do they say about Christ?’ is John’s question. Do they acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ come in the flesh or do they deny this? If they deny Christ, they are not of God no matter how marvelous their activity.” - James M. Boice
John starts by giving the positive example.
1 John 4:2 ESV
By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,
What does it mean that they “confess”? is it some sort of evil that they have to confess of? Well, of course we know that is not the case.
To confess is to homologeo - same-speaking literally. It means to say the same thing, to agree. What are they agreeing with? The fact that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. and not just that statement, but all the implications wrapped up in it.
Another way of saying this statement is “every spirit that confesses that Jesus is Christ come in the flesh is from God.”
In other words, its more than simply acknowledging a person in history who was called Jesus Christ, as almost all the cults and secular historians will assent to that truth - but its about acknowledging who he is and what he did.
What are the objections?
Here Spurgeon is helpful.

Some say that Jesus Christ was not God. Others say that He was not man, while some talk as if everything about Him was a mystery. Those who are truly sent by God declare plainly that Jesus Christ literally came in the flesh; such teachers are “from God.” If the doctrine of the incarnation of God in Christ is denied, as it was by the first heretics, we may conclude that the Spirit of God is not in such teaching. Any doctrine that dishonors Christ—whether in His person, or His offices, or His atonement, or in any other way—you may at once conclude is not from God, for that which comes from the Spirit of God glorifies Christ.

Confessing Jesus Christ come in the flesh involves confessing who he is, and what He does.
1 John 2:22–23 ESV
Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.

Who Jesus Is

Who He is.
1 John 2:22–23 ESV
Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.
John 1:1–2 ESV
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.
Jesus is God. This is the primary and foremost acknowledgement that must be made by any teacher who makes claims about Christ.
And we cannot simply say that Jesus is a god as the cults say, or that Jesus is a form of God as the Modalists say, or that Jesus was not truly incarnated as the Gnostics said. We must confess that Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh.
This
These disputes happened early in church history, and they happen still today.
One example from history - how many have heard of the Council of Nicea or the Nicene Creed?
These events in history, although long forgotten by many and possible never considered by some, give us an illustration of just how important clarity and discernment are.
There was a group called the Arians. These believed that it was unfit that God should have a son and that son somehow be equal with him. So the solution was for a man named Arius to propose that Jesus was somewhere between God and man.
There was much dispute and clamor over this belief, but the issue was that the Arians seemed to affirm every scripture that was placed before them. Obviously their interpretation was flawed, but they claimed to agree with scripture.
Thus came the importance of two words in Theology. Homoousios and Homoiousios. Believe it or not, the difference between these two words became the litmus test to expose false teachers.
Homoouios - of the same substance.
Homoiousios - of similar substance.
You see, the Arians could say that they believed the testimony of scripture, but they could not affirm that Christ was Homoousios or of the same substance of the Father. Rather they would affirm that he was Homoiousios - or of similar substance to the Father.
One minute detail, and let this not seem boring or trivial - but it is of great importance.
Just a few months ago we had a group come in the doors of our church who were much like the Arians in the early church. They gladly accepted the Bible as their rule of faith, but they interpret it in such a way that they do not believe that jesus is of One Substance with the Father.
So it must be discerned what a teacher believes about who Jesus is, but also what Jesus did.

What Jesus Did

Jesus being God is not to be separated from what He did and what He came to accomplish.
We have already seen that He is God come in the flesh, but consider again what John said in
John 1:14 ESV
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
He is God in flesh. The incarnation is critical to our belief as the Church.
“According to the plan of God, Jesus came in the flesh so that he might die a substitutionary death as a man for the sins of other men. That is the only way he could redeem all who would believe.” - John MacArthur
He came do die a substitutionary death.
2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Galatians 4:4–5 ESV
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
Galatians 4:4–5 ESV
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
Romans 5:8 ESV
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:6–8 ESV
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:5–8 ESV
and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
It is possible for someone to say they believe that Jesus Christ is God but yet totally ignore why He came in the flesh. He came because we are alienated from God by Sin. He came to die for men who were dead in their sins. He came to pay the price of sin that we owed. He came to appease a wrath that we had incurred. He came not to be a good example, a good teacher, a good man, and to give people happiness, but He came to die for us. to ignore this, deny this, or push it under the rug is to ignore the point of the incarnation.
Hebrews 2:17 ESV
Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
Do you see why this is so important?
Do you see why in Verse 3 John says that those who do not confess Jesus are the spirit of antichrist? It is not just a mistake or a slight variance in teaching, this is paramount!
There is a popular belief today, and a matter of political correctness, that certain other religions worship the same God that we see in scripture, just without Jesus. this is simply false.
Any worship of any God that does not include the person of Jesus Christ is idolatry. It is a God made in another image.
Jesus made this perfectly clear.
John 14:6 ESV
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Luke 10:16 ESV
“The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
Luke 10
So what one beliefs, down to these very details, is the test of a true or false teacher.
Along with what they believe, we must see the what is the basis of their life.

The Teacher’s Basis. - Vv. 4-6

In these next three verses, John uses three distinct pronouns to help in our discernment.
You, They, We.
The first two, You and They, serve as a comparison between the believer and the false teacher and their system.
They third pronoun serves as another litmus test to prove whether they are from God or not.

"You and They”

Verse 4 begins with you - this is a reference to the ones who are from God, that is, the Christians, and one of the characteristics of the believers. That is, namely, that we “overcome them.” or, the false teachers.
This is an affirmation of the believer’s security against false teachers.
What does it mean to overcome them?
its a military term, really. It means to prevail, to conquer, to outlast, or excel.
Now, are we to go out and physically conquer the false teachers and start modern holy wars on the behalf of Christ? Of course not. Boice puts it well.
The Epistles of John: An Expositional Commentary The Church and the World (vv. 4–6)

First, he says that they have overcome the false teachers. He is not referring to a physical contest by these words, nor even to a struggle in the area of morality. It is rather an intellectual battle in which the Christians have been victorious. The false teachers had been seeking to deceive these believers, but they had not succeeded. Merely by testing them and refusing to be taken in by their lies, the Christians have conquered

So the true believers will not be caught up in the lies and the deception of the false teachers, but they remain firm in their belief - they remain sure and unwavering.
1 Corinthians 15:58 ESV
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
Ephesians 4:14 ESV
so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
But how do we do this? Why do we overcome them and not the ones who they deceive?
John gives us a clear answer - it is not us, but the one in us.
Here is Boice again.
The Epistles of John: An Expositional Commentary The Church and the World (vv. 4–6)

Second, John indicates why the Christians have been victorious. It is not that they were stronger in themselves, for they probably were not. The Gnostics were the ones who were the intellectual giants. Rather, it is that God was in the Christians and that he who was in the Christians is stronger than he who is in the world.

The Epistles of John: An Expositional Commentary The Church and the World (vv. 4–6)

Second, John indicates why the Christians have been victorious. It is not that they were stronger in themselves, for they probably were not. The Gnostics were the ones who were the intellectual giants. Rather, it is that God was in the Christians and that he who was in the Christians is stronger than he who is in the world.

John already apoke of this previously, if you recall. In the end of chapter three, there is a beautiful trinitarian pattern of belief that is pointed out.
1 John 3:24 ESV
Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
1 John 3:23–24 ESV
And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
God the Holy Spirit abides
We obey the command of the Father by believing in the Son Jesus Christ and God abides in us by the Holy Spirit. This is not a picture of everything about God, but What a beautiful picture of how He is at work.
And the Spirit dwelling in us teaches us in the truth, causes us to love the truth, and keeps us from apostasy.
1 Corinthians 2:12–16 ESV
Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
So that is “you”, or, the true believers. But what about “They?”
Rather than being taught, guided, and kept by the Spirit of God, the false teachers are slaves to the world system that they are a part of.
John says they are of the world because what they say is from the world. It is the world’s philosophy even if it is dressed in Christian language ad sprinkled with scripture for good measure.
So not only do they reject true teachings about Christ, but they espouse rather the teaching of the world - and the world listens to them, because they are one in the same. But we have overcome them because we do not have the same spirit.
Ephesians 2:1–3 ESV
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
So as believers, who is in us? It is the spirit of God.
As the world, who is in them? The spirit of antichrist, the spirit of the evil one. The one who is in us all by nature, as we were children of wrath. This is why false teachers are false, because their nature is that of the evil one.
So what about when someone says, “Everyone who knows anything agrees with this.” or “everyone believes this - it is just accepted fact.”
well, the fact that a majority of people hold to a certain fact is no proof that it is truth. Just so with these false teachers. “They are from the world, therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them.”
So that is the contrast between “you” and “they.”
Believers and false teachers have different beliefs because they have different natures. Believers are kept by the Spirit of God, while false teachers are led by the Spirit of antichrist.
and furthermore, John speaks finally of “we.”

“We”

Now, this “we” is not the same as the “you” in verse 4. This “we” is the same “we” that began the letter of 1 John - it is the “we” of the apostles. The ones who were direct counterparts to the false prophets of that day. The “we” primarily refers to John and the other writers of scripture.
Now, if this were a mere individual talking, it would be pretentious and presumptuous. This is One apostle citing the collective testimony of Apostolic teaching. This was nothing brand new to the believers, for consider what it said of the believers in .
Acts 2:42 ESV
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
What is the Apostles doctrine today? Is it some arbitrary teaching that comes from anyone who claims the name “Apostle” or “prophet?” No, the Apostles teaching today is what it was then as well - we have it recorded in scripture.
So here we have another test - the ones who know God listen to His Words. The Scripture. But whoever does not know God does not listen to His Word.
Why is it important that John was led by the spirit to use “Us”, referring to the Apostles?
There is a widespread movement today that is saying the Christianity of Jesus is different than the Christianity of Paul and the Apostles.
Have you ever heard anyone say, “Well I just read the words that are in red in my Bible.” Or “I just follow Jesus and not the other doctrines.”
This is what John was counteracting, and this is something we must counteract as well.
1 Timothy
2 Timothy 3:16–17 ESV
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
The final and often very clear test that John gives here for teachers, is what is their basis for teaching? Do they accept what all the Bible says? Do they ignore certain parts, or re-interpret it to mean what they want it to mean? Or do they stand firmly on the Apostles’ doctrine and from God’s Word say “Thus says the Lord.”
The scriptures are not simply a starting point, they are to be the basis of all we believe and teach, and all that we practice as well. It has been said, Good Theology leads to Doxology - that is, a right view of God leads to the Worship of God.
In discerning false teachers it can be said, Orthodoxy leads to Orthopraxy - that is what they believe about God and His Word affect the entirety of what they say and do. A separation there is an unwanted sign.
So, believer. Take heart!
The task of biblical discernment is not impossible, rather it is part of our very nature as Children of God. By the Holy Spirit in us, we discern whether a teacher holds a right view of Christ, His Person and His Work, and a right view of Scripture as the basis of their lives.
Put simply again,

True and False teachers can be discerned by what they believe, and what is the basis of their life.

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