I John 4:1-6

I John 4. The Tests for the ‘Real Thing.”

Do you remember  the ‘cola wars’?  The advertising campaign was based on a taste test to see if you could identify the real Coca-Cola.  Consumers overwhelmingly picked Coca-Cola as the ‘real thing’.  And the tag line became- Coca-Cola- The Real Thing.

In Psalms 34- the scriptures encourage us to “ taste  and see the  Lord is good.”John faced something more serious than the ‘cola wars’, he faced as we do today a war of truth and error of good and evil. John gives his readers two simple tests to see if it is the ‘real thing.’ Listen to John’s  simple instructions from I John 4: 1-6
“ Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but TEST the spirits ( plural) to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges ( confesses) that  Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge (confess) Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

You, little children, are from God and have overcome them, because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore they speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.”
Let’s first look at John’s use of the word spirit, spirits, Spirit of God, Spirit of Truth, spirit of antichrist, spirit of falsehood.  Obviously, there are the following spirits and Spirit: Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth. The spirit of falsehood, or spirit of lies are in opposition to the Spirit of God and they come from the devil who is called the father of lies.  In I Corinthians 2, Paul tells us there is a spirit of man.  This spirit of the natural man, the unbeliever is dead to spiritual truths of God. But as believers we have received the Holy Spirit, which is of God that we might know the things that are freely given us.

The unbeliever has received the spirit of this world- who is the devil. He or she is conformed by the  world and cannot understand or perceive the  real truth as  they are spiritually discerned. They can only believe what they can understand and explain with their own minds. But the Bible tells us- ear has not heard, nor eye seen nor entered into the hearts and minds of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him. ( I Cor. 2)  Their minds are veiled to the truth by the evil one. John tells us the whole world lies under his spell and power. He is the prince of this world. He conforms the thinking of the world to the point that as Isaiah proclaimed- they declare dark is light and light is dark.

As believers we are called not only to believe certain things- we are told not to believe certain things. John gives us a two fold test to – our own taste test to recognize and see the real thing.  Let us look first at the first false teacher and we will see how false teaching operates. Remember  Paul  told us we should understand the schemes of the enemy. In the Garden of Eden we see the first false teacher. Notice first of all- the devil does not appear as an evil spirit, a monster or in a red suit with a pitch fork- he disguises himself. He can appear as harmless as a serpent or even as beautiful as an angel of light. He is not only a false teacher- but a false prophet as well. His clever arguments and reasoning are based on intellect and emotions that convince one they can make up their own mind about what is good and evil. His half-truths conceal deadly lies. He told Eve she would surely not die- when God had told them they would. He said God was withholding what was good from them- that they could be like God.  False teaching based on a lie- and false prophecy, for they did die.

Now we must not forget that before we were saved we were conformed by the world and the world continues to try and mold our thinking- that is why we must renew our minds with the Word of God- the real thing. We also must remember we have an old nature that still wants to judge for himself and have the final say-so and be the ultimate authority of one’s life. Our old nature is at enmity with God- our old nature is a rebel at heart.

False teaching appeals to the flesh, especially when it provides excuses for sin by not calling it sin at all. False teaching has two main purposes: to keep unbelievers from believing  the truth- snatching away the seed of the Word of God and to confuse the immature believer, thus tossing them about with every wind of doctrine and keeping the immature believer- immature and thus ineffective. This immature believer tries to create a gospel that includes and makes room for the philosophies of the world.  Jesus as well as the apostles warned us about these false teachers.

In biblical times people more readily accepted the existence of the invisible spiritual realm and the spiritual beings. Today in the 21st century, mankind, by and large rejects the Bible as the Word of God. In today’s world most people reject the idea of spiritual beings and a spiritual realm.  Their minds are veiled to the truth and only the Lord Jesus can take away that veil. Their god is science, intellect, reasoning, logic and education. Never has it been more true that the world is filled with knowledge and people  are ever learning but sadly not coming to the truth.  False teachers are also very popular because they teach what the flesh, the old nature likes to hear.

As far as these people are concerned- those of us who believe the Bible is the Word of God are unsophisticated, backwards and superstitious. But for us the Bible is Holy and is our source of absolute truth- the real thing. Therefore- we believe as Paul tells us:  “ we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities and against powers and wicked SPIRITS in high places.”(Ephesians 6:12)

So John gives us two simple tests to try this teaching and see if it comes from the Spirit of Truth or if it is false teaching that comes from a spirit of falsehood from the one known as the father of all lies and the original false teacher. The unbeliever  and false teacher actually believes they have come to these beliefs on their own.  The first lie they believe is the first lie that was told:  that one can judge for  one’s self what is right or wrong, true or false by the light of whether it appears reasonable to him or her. Thus the mind of man becomes the ultimate test and the ultimate authority of all life.

I had a professor, a man of great intelligence with a PHD in theology who taught me both Old Testament and New Testament. Now I do not know if I was an unbeliever or an immature unbeliever at that time over 40 years ago, but the results were the same- I was tossed about by the winds of false doctrine by an authority figure who was smart and his reasoning appeared sound. Here is one example of his teaching, he told us Moses did not lead the children of  Israel out by the Red Sea but they escaped through a swamp-like marsh called the Sea of Reeds in which the chariots of the Egyptian soldiers got stuck. Over the years- the story just got exaggerated, he explained. He also told us the first 11 chapters of Genesis were mainly allegorical and not to be taken literally. I was confused and confusion is the first step to convincing. I was impressed by a popular authority figure who was interesting and convincing. It also was a green light for a young man who did not want to live by the rules of God.

John gives us the first acid test:  we can recognize false teaching if it does not acknowledge the incarnation of the Son of God. Does not believe God appeared in history in human flesh. In other words, they do not accept that ‘ in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. ‘

Realize that Jesus is God the Son’s human name. But know that God the Son existed always. There is never a time He did not exist in eternity past with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit- one God in three persons. He was given the name Jesus to Mary by the angels who announced she would bear the Son of God.  Thus the babe in Bethlehem, born of a virgin in the place and time and method as predicted and prophesized by prophets of the Old Testament was named Jesus but He was and had always been the Son of God.

The whole teaching of the Bible rests on this truth: this historical Jesus of Nazareth born in the flesh 2000 years ago was and is the anointed Messiah; the Son of God come in flesh. Immanuel, God with us.

Judaism does not recognize this truth. They are still looking for the Messiah to  come.

Islam does not recognize this truth- they believe Jesus was a prophet but not God in Flesh.

Hinduism and followers of Bhudda  do not believe or deny this- they simply say it cannot be known. But as Christians this is the most fundamental truth and doctrine which can never be compromised. We believe God came in human flesh- the God-Man. He appeared in history 2000 years ago. God became a man and dwelt among us. He humbled himself and became obedient to God the Father even to death on a cross for our sins so that we might attain salvation and enter into eternal life with Him- the giver of all life. That He was who He said He was- is testified to by His resurrection on the 3rd day and ascension into heaven 40 days later.

Test number one- true teaching versus false teaching: teaching that is from the Spirit of Truth must confess that God the Son became flesh and entered into human history as the one and only God Man who came not to condemn the world, but that through Him the world might be saved.

The word ‘confess’ used in the KJV means not only that we believe  the Word of God but have placed our faith in the Lord. He is the object of our faith. We trust the Lord with all our heart and lean not to our own understanding.  This means we believe there are some things where evidence is not available for proof or God has not decided to reveal those things to us at this time. In those cases we cannot lean on our own understanding. This where faith comes in. “ Now faith is the substance of things hoped for the EVIDENCE  of things not seen.” ( Hebrews 11:1) “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the Word of God.” ( Romans 10:17)  Let us consider the following  truths about this amazing Holy Book:

Therefore we believe the Word of God is absolute truth.We believe what is says about itself. For the Bible tells us it is God breathed- it is inspired; it is infallible and it is inerrant. It contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners and the joy of believers. It is our doctrinal guideline. The Word of God is alive and powerful. It is the incorruptible seed by which new life is generated. It is life giving, life changing and life sustaining.

That is not all- it frightens the devil, causes miracles, transforms circumstances, heals hurts, gives hope, builds character, overcomes adversity and defeats temptation. The Word of God releases power and cleanses our minds. We cannot live as Christians without the Word of God.

Consider the unique structure of the Bible:  66 books written over a period of 1500 years by 40 different human authors in three different languages. Yet it is remarkable in how it fits together from beginning to end.

It is a book of prophecy- of fulfilled predictions made centuries before the event occurred with 100% accuracy. Only God can see the future. There is the accuracy of its history and geography as confirmed by secular historians, such as Josephus. There is the abundance of manuscript evidence. There have been numerous archeological discoveries including the Dead Sea Scrolls found as recently as 1948 that verify the word has been faithfully preserved in its accuracy.

Paul  made it clear in I Corinthians 15 if Christ be not risen, our faith is in vain. God provided numerous eye witnesses to not only his death and resurrection, but over 500 saw Jesus ascend into heaven. Here is what noted historian, Sir Thomas Alderson says about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus:  ‘As a historian who weighs evidence to find the truth. I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proven better and more fully than the resurrection of Jesus Christ

Read it to be wise; believe it to be saved; and practice it to be Holy.

Now let us look at the second test  John reveals and understand who he is talking to and who he is talking  about.  There are three distinct groups John refers to in this passage: little children, they and we.

Little children or dear children refers to believers as John refers to believers as being from God or of God. These are Christians who have overcome the false teachers( they) and notice how they accomplished this feat.  Not by anything they did on their own- not by their intellect or thought process or by self will the believers overcame the false teaching of those in the world by the power of God that dwelt in them.

The ‘they’ refers to the false teachers who listen to the world system and culture that does not recognize God or His Word but are spoken of as being ‘from the world and shaped and conformed by the world philosophy- the philosophy of the spirit of antichrist . Their message invariably glorifies man and not God. It derives its authority from its own thinking and the current thinking of mainstream culture.  It does not believe in the Word of God and therefore does not measure what they believe by the Word of God.

The “we” referred to in verse 6-‘ we are from God’ refers, I believe to John and the Apostles. They walked with the Lord Jesus and talked with Him and lived with Him for over three years. John said we have seen him and heard him, touched him on both sides of the cross. He says we are from God and of God and those who are of God listen to us.  If we are believers, we can overcome false teaching by the power of God within us for the simple reason that greater is He who is in us than he who is in the  world. And we know we believe what the disciples have told us and written about  Jesus .

In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus recorded in Luke 16, Jesus tells of a rich man who died and ended up in Hades. There in torment the rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers of this place.  Abraham says they have Moses and the Prophets- let them listen to them. No pleads the rich man- send someone from the dead and they will believe. And Abraham concludes if they will not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even is someone rises from the dead.

Do you see what Jesus is saying? If a person’s mind is closed to the Word of God- no evidence can convince them otherwise. Thomas wanted the physical evidence that Jesus was risen from the dead and the Lord provided it but here is what he said. “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen me; and yet have believed.” (John 20)

Today , twenty centuries later  there are many who do not believe because they have not seen. They wanted more evidence than the Word of God spoken through prophets. Cain did not accept the Word of God- who told Cain that he would be accepted if he did what God told him to do.  Cain wanted to do what he thought was right in his mind.

We know that we know if we believe God the Son came in flesh and dwelt among us, died on the cross for our sins and was resurrected on the third day according to the scriptures  and then ascended into heaven 40 days later where He is now seated at the right hand of God. We believe it because we believe the Word of God. We believe it by faith.

Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14