Testing the Spirits
Text: 1 John 4: 1-8
Proposition: Discerning the spirits of this age is the challenge of learning to recognize the truth, way and life of Jesus Christ from the smoke and mirrors of antichrist.
Introduction: Have you ever been driving down the highway and you suddenly find yourself in a snow storm. The visibility gets lower and lower, once you could see half a mile, then just 500 feet and then just 20 feet. There are several things that go through your mind. You think that because you haven’t gone off the road yet, you won’t, so you don’t slow down. It’s a phenomenon called over driving your headlights. Others on the highway are passing you even though the visibility is only 20 feet, so you feel justified by their actions. The thought occurs to you that if you slow down you might become a hazard to those behind you, they might run into you, a logical thought so you keep speeding. You think you know the road and it seems best to get to your destination as soon as possible so you just watch for the red lights or brake lights ahead…but you don’t slow down. In our culture today there is a similar logic. It says that newer truth is better than older truth, it says that if most people believe something to be true who am I to resist it. It says despite the present ruin and collapse of conditions there’s no need to be concerned. It says that ultimately you decide what is truth. What overdriving your headlights or following the trends of culture describe is the way deception, even self deception can kill us. In this world deception is what the devil is masterful at. Some would laugh at that but the nature of deception is that you don’t see it. Satan’s intention of using deception is to set the stage for a global deception led by a person we call the Antichrist. This implies that the spirit of deception is what also characterizes the antichrist. We hear Scripture describing the impending presence of this person as the spirit of antichrist. Like the driver who overdrives his headlights and goes off the road in chaos, so too is our culture overdriving what it knows to be true. Have a look at 1 John 4:1-8.
I. Beware of the Glitter of the Antichrist, Its Deception Can be Extreme.
Look at verse 1, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” This language can seem strange to us, the idea of believing a spirit or of even challenging it. To be clear spirits are angelic beings, either fallen or holy. The only exception is the reference to the third person of the God head, the Holy Spirit Who is fully God. We can’t see spirits but we believe that they not only exist but exert great influence. Jesus once explained the way the Holy Spirit moves to Nicodemus by using the analogy of wind. Though you can’t see where it came from or even where it’s going you can hear it moving things around you. We can’t see the spirit of antichrist, or the demonic used by Satan, but we can hear the evidence of their presence, we can hear what they teach or promote. The predominant way that we challenge spirits is in being careful to weigh what they seek to teach or promote. So listen to what they teach, listen to the way people are being influenced, to the way you are influenced, whether it is towards Jesus or whether it is to move you away from God. So John says that the way you discern whether the spirit or teaching is of God or not, is elementary, basic. “By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.” This could look like an encounter with a couple of people from a cult and the acid test will always come down to, ‘Who is Jesus’. Mormons believe Jesus is a spirit being, the brother of Satan. Jehovah Witnesses believe He is an angelic being, even Michael the arc angel. John is saying that the acid test of who Jesus is will come down the truth that Jesus is fully man, born of a woman and that He is at the same time fully God. The humanity and deity of Jesus are what enable Him to be the Savior who takes away our sin by taking it to death in His death, bringing forgiveness of sin by paying its price for us. That is the essence of salvation, of atonement, of justification, it is proved effective by the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead and by His ascension to the Father and by His eventual Second Coming to the earth. ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done’ is what He taught the disciples to pray. None of that is possible if Jesus is not fully man and fully God, if He did not actually die and was raised bodily to life again. The spirit of antichrist, that which would try to replace Jesus with something else, will try to deny some or all of this truth. It’s been said that ‘it is possible for people who live right, to speak, feel and do things that seem right, but the spirit is wrong. The spirit of God puts Jesus at the focal center. The spirit of antichrist will often simply not acknowledge Jesus and elevate something else instead, a church, a ministry, a person.’ People around the world including here in Canada have seen statues of Mary or Jesus move, weep blood, weep healing oil. From Vietnam, Ireland, Israel to India people have seen statues animated and what overwhelms them is that stone statues moved. The properties of stone are seemingly changed and for a moment they moved or bled or seemed alive, and the effect is fear, awe, even worship. But the focus is a statue that is animated not the humanity and deity of Jesus Christ. Remember ‘the spirit of antichrist will often simply not acknowledge Jesus and elevate something else instead, a church, a ministry, a person.’ It’s a tactic the antichrist will use in even greater form one day, just read Revelation 13:14,15.
II. Know That the Protection of God Is Greater That Satan’s Devices.
The spirit of antichrist is in the world today and that was Johns observation back in the first century! Today the emphasis on super heroes, on alien invasions, on the endless Star Trek movies, all pitch a world without Jesus. The fascination with horror movies pitches the depravity of man as invincible. The fascination with health pitches life almost everlasting. Sexuality has become an unsolvable puzzle that continues to add pieces to the picture. Even in the church there is a consuming passion for it to be bigger, more attractive, more prosperous, more inclusive such that Jesus decreases and programming increases. None of that is new, the form maybe but not the idea. So John writes, “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” Who is the ‘them’ referred to here? I’d submit it is the false prophets whether they be movie producers, educators, pastors or politicians. All could pitch a future that is far from Biblical. You not only can but have overcome them. What John is driving at is the fact that the greatest power in the world is resident in you in the person of the Holy Spirit. The discernment of the Holy Spirit is without error, unlimited by external influence. The Spirit of God uses the Word of God and the people of God as a protection against the spirit of the antichrist. You have already in various ways overcome them. The delusion of the spirit of antichrist is astoundingly pervasive. Look what John writes, “They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them.” The majority are of the world and are susceptible to deception. Yet the protection of God is over those that are His. “We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” What exactly do you think it means when it says ‘we are of God’. The answer can only be that the Holy Spirt is the One who indwells us and gives discernment. Look what comes next, “He who knows God hears us”. Who exactly is the ‘us’? The answer is that it refers to the Apostles, to the ones the Holy Spirit inspired to write the Scriptures. He who is not of God, that is does not have the Holy Spirit because they have not come to faith in Christ, does not hear us, the Apostles and their inspired writing of Scripture. That’s the way that God protects us, by the Holy Spirit using the Word of God to point out truth from error. That leads us to another protective device of God. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” Literally that reads, “those who are loved, let us love.” Loved by Whom? Well you are loved by God. So let us love those whom God has loved to the point where He made them His children in Christ. If you love the others that God has loved in this way, it is an indicator that you know God. That’s not theology, it’s not a knowledge about God, it’s a knowledge with God. That’s going to lead us into the main point of this chapter, the great wonder of how the saving grace of God works. Let’s look at that next week.