Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits 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 that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
1 John 4:1-3
Oh my word, what a timely text! With the previous chapter ending by saying that we can know that Jesus lives in us because of the (Holy) Spirit He gave us, now John takes another step forward in our experience. How can we tell who is right and who is not?
Simple: Test the spirits.
Well, it is actually simple, but at first it sounded a little creepy to me. On closer examination, however, it isn’t creepy and it isn’t hard. Does a teacher or commentator acknowledge that Jesus Christ came in the flesh? Do they acknowledge Him at all? If they do, they are from God; if they don’t, they are not from God. If they don’t acknowledge Jesus, they aren’t from God, they are antichrist. If this is so, would we consider them a reliable source of insight? Well, you can decide that one…
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.
1 John 4:4-6
John finishes this thought in these verses, making his point even clearer. We have overcome the spirit of antichrist, because the Holy Spirit within us is greater by far that the spirit of antichrist could ever dream of being. Interesting point to bear in mind when reading commentaries, blogs and books. These false teachers speak from the viewpoint of the world, not from the viewpoint of God, and the world will listen to them. Yes, and while the world will listen to the false teacher, the spirit of antichrist, the world will not generally listen to us, for they simply can’t fathom what we are talking about, so let’s not be surprised by this.
I’ve spoken with many Christians who fear that they might be tricked and led astray, and I always tell them that they will not be tricked and led astray if they have a strong relationship with Christ. That is precisely what John is asserting here. It’s so simple to tell the difference, and when you were little, your mother or father probably told you how to recognize who is credible and who is not, for I’ll bet they told you to “consider the source.” To put it another way, I wouldn’t recommend that we take spiritual advice from an atheist, nor would I suggest that we should take Bible instruction from a non-believer.
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
1 John 4:7-10
We are now beginning the central core of this letter, and this core runs from verse 7 to the end of this chapter. It is not only the central core of the letter, but it is also the central core of Christian theology. All of those comparisons at the beginning of the letter, and all of the discussion of evil, antichrists and the testing of spirits comes back to this theme, for without it, the rest of the theology of our faith is rendered meaningless. In short, what is written in this section is the one thing that gives Christianity its power and authority, and against which the gates of Hell itself cannot, and will not stand.