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Expositing 1John 4 - The War Between the Spirit of Truth and The Spirit of Error

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Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them.We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.- 1John 4: 1-6 (ESV)

The Apostle Jesus loved. John is responsible not only for the Gospel that bears his name but three epistle letters found towards the end of the New Testament. While there is little doubt as to his authorship, there is no trace of what congregation he was writing to. Based on the content we know that he knew them well and they were experiencing a schism in their fellowship based upon false teaching that had infiltrated them. This false teaching had drawn followers away from the true Gospel of Jesus Christ in much the same way we see false teachers do today. Beloved we must always remember that the Bible is the final revealed will of God. In it we will find instruction, protection, and warning. It will lift us up but it will also put us on guard. God does not want to see schisms in the body of Christ. He wants us prepared for the false teachings we are seeing today so that we would not fall prey to the wolves who seek to devour the flock and so that we might protect each other until the day Jesus returns. The fourth chapter of the first epistle of John opens up with six verses that describe for us the spiritual war that is being played out all around us. There are many spirits in this world beloved but only one Holy Spirit. We are at war with the spirits that would oppose Christ. As the Bible teaches us we either are helping to gather people to Christ or we are actively helping to scatter people away from Him. There is no third road. The world loves to sell us on the notion of shades of grey. That truth is somehow contingent upon everyone's individual perspective. The Bible however is black and white. Right and wrong. There is only one way to eternal life and it is not up for debate or discussion. That is why the world hates the Spirit of God so much. That is why Satan spends so much energy trying to cast doubt upon the world through science, false teachings, or any other means he can. Let us walk through these six verses and see what God has to say about this spiritual war we are in.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1John 4: 1 (ESV)

The opening verse is probably the most quoted of the six. The first instruction we are given from God is that we are not to believe every spirit. While that might sound simple enough we ought to really think about this. God knows that we are gullible creatures. In the 1990's there was a movement that was birthed in Canada and moved to the US called holy laughter. It was supposedly an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that resulted in people rolling around on the floor and barking like dogs. We are not talking about some back alley teaching either. This was mainstream with hundreds of thousands of people buying into it. Soon after that was the false Brownsville revival where people claimed the Holy Spirit was causing them spasmodic jerking motions with their bodies and wild stuttering found in many eastern mystic religions. Shortly after that came a tattooed biker from Canada who was reaching a million people with a false revival out of Lakeland Florida. He claimed that the Holy Spirit told him to punch and kick people to impart healing. He also taught about being drunk and stoned in the spirit, a manifestation still welcomed today at places like Bethel Church and IHOP. This is all in just the past 25 years. These are all cases of people simply believing the spiritual manifestation they were experiencing as having come from God. No questions asked. Paul teaches us that the people of Berea were of more noble character because they tested everything they were being taught. They weighed it against Scripture. We see almost none of that in the modern church today. People who want to check with the Bible are labeled legalists. Experience is being taught to trump doctrine. A more Satanic plan I do not know. In this spiritual war we are in the opening directive is very clear - do not believe every spirit.

Instead, we are to test the spirits to see whether they are from God or not. This is something many Christians do not even consider. A spiritual experience does not mean that the spirit is from God! It very well could be from the devil. The Bible says that Satan and his emissaries disguise themselves as angels of light. Why would they do that except to deceive the elect? When I hear the testimony of someone like Kim Walker-Smith from Jesus Culture I cringe. Despite the sheer lunacy of most of the testimony she describes being led by Jesus into the throne room of God and meeting the Father face to face. Assuming she is not simply making it up we can be assured that was not Jesus and she did not meet the Father. How can we be so sure? Because the Bible teaches us explicitly that if any of us should see the Father we would die. Testing the spirits is what discernment actually means. It is not intuition. It is not clairvoyance. It is being able to tell what spirit is from God and what spirit is not. How do we test then? With the Bible! Forget your "on time" words and false prophecies that infiltrate the church today. Is there something God forgot to say? He told us everything we need to know in His Word. Is there any mention of barking like a dog as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the Bible? No. How about kicking someone in the face to impart healing? No again. Any references to glory clouds, gem stones, gold dust, or angel feathers? No four times. We must be very careful beloved because not all false teachings are that easy to debunk. Testing requires diligent work. The most skilled false teacher knows how to misuse the Bible in order to draw a following unto himself. For example, word faith preachers like Joel Osteen will often times claim the Bible says that we are to call things that are not as though they were and that this supports their teaching that we are little gods with the power of creation in our words. Well that sounds Scriptural until you actually read the verse:

As it is written: "I have made you a father of many nations." He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed--the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. - Romans 4: 17 (NIV)

When you do the work of a Berean you discover that the Bible says God calls things into being that which is not. Not us. I tell people all the time who read my writing to do so with an open Bible. I am just a man, encased in flesh, with a deceitful heart. My intentions do not matter; only my teaching does. Now that God has given us the opening directives of not falling for everything and to actually use the Bible to test whether something is from Him or not He reveals the "why." Why do we need to be so diligent? Why do we need to do the work of a Berean?

Because many false prophets have gone out into the world! I am not sure we truly grasp what this is saying to us. The Bible says that narrow is the way to eternal life and few are those who find it. Few. Not stadiums filled with people. Not mega church amounts. Few. While few are those who will be saved, many are the number of false prophets that have gone out into the world. The connection is obvious. Sure there are many people who simply will never even try to come to the Lord but then there are those that think they have. That will spend their lives thinking they are saved and serving God when He never even knows them at all. How can we be sure of that? Because the Bible tells us so:

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.' - Matthew 7: 21-23 (ESV)

The Bible says that we can believe in vain. That we can place our faith in a false gospel and a false jesus. A jesus that cannot save us. A gospel that cannot save us. The Bible also says that if we convince ourselves that the darkness within us is actually light, how deep is that darkness! We see these false teachers every day and turn a blind eye to them. We dismiss them as being somehow inconsequential. Perhaps because we like their personality. We like their public speaking skills. When someone dares to point out their falseness the false teacher is defended. Beloved the Bible describes these people as wolves because they devour the sheep of the Lord. The opening verse from 1John 4 cannot be clearer. There are many false prophets in this world so we better be in the business of not accepting any spiritual experience as being from the Lord and we better test them so we might better discern what is and what is not from God. John continues:

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. - 1John 4: 2-3 (ESV)

Sometimes we read a Bible verse and we take it too much at face value. When John says that every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God and those that do are from God he is not merely speaking about verbal confession. The truth is that false prophets and teachers do not come into a church with a big sign around their neck saying that they are a wolf. They will verbalize Jesus. The issue is that what they teach will not. Here is a portion of the Commentary from Matthew Henry regarding these verses:

"The sum of revealed religion is in the doctrine concerning Christ, his person and office. The false teachers spake of the world according to its maxims and tastes, so as not to offend carnal men. The world approved them, they made rapid progress, and had many followers such as themselves; the world will love its own, and its own will love it."

You can say the name of Jesus and still preach a false gospel. I want us to seriously consider what Matthew Henry says here in relation to the entire premise of the seeker friendly and purpose driven church models that operate in nearly all of churchianity today. These church growth schemes are built on the premise that churches ought to speak to the world according to its maxims and tastes. Just this year we saw multiple churches employ completely secular songs during the time normally associated with worshipping God. One was the club song, "I Like to Move It, Move It" and the other was Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball." Another pastor thought it would be fun to play the heavy metal band ACDC and their irreverent song, Highway to Hell. The entire logic behind the seeker friendly and purpose driven movements is to not offend carnal men. Do not speak to them about sin and repentance. Instead speak about love and purpose. Instead of seeking salvation, craft sermon series that speak to their carnal needs such as improving their marriage or finding their significance. Instead of abandoning self in worship unto the Lord give them pop entertainment that feeds their carnal flesh.

What is the result? The world approves them, just as Henry says. The fact that Joel Osteen can pack 50,000+ into an arena each week is not because God has approved him. It is because the world has approved him. The same goes for the other mega church false preachers we see. They enjoy rapid progress and success. They have many followers who swear by them because the world will always love its own and its own will love it. It is the spirit of antichrist. Please note, not THE antichrist, which is a person described in the end times. Rather any spirit that aligns itself against Christ is by definition, an antichrist spirit. Once again, God is reinforcing the two sides of this war. There is no fence to sit upon. You are either of Christ or by definition you are antichrist.

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Credentialed Minister of the Gospel for the Assemblies of God. Owner and founder of 828 ministries. Vice President for Goodwill Industries. Always remember that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to (more...)

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