“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is the spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world” (1 John 4:1-3).
“Beloved, believe not every spirit”
It is unfortunate that in today’s world, there is a spirit of tolerance among the culture and community at large. To express any sort of disinterest or disagreement with the overall flow of the population is to welcome being shunned and banned from society. Whatever happened to freedom of speech? It may only be for those who are already telling the people what they want to hear.
John tells us that there must be a level of criticism concerning truth and falsehood. The Christian must not accept everything that he hears unless it is directly from the Word of God. Even then, the Christian is called to be like the Bereans, who upon hearing Paul went back to the Bible to make sure that what Paul said was true.
The Christian must not believe every spirit. The Christian must not believe every teacher. The Christian must not believe every Bible teacher. Nor must the Christian believe everything that he reads.
“but try the spirits whether they are of God”
Instead, John tells the Christian that he must try the spirits. The Christian must try the words of the teacher and thus evaluate the teacher as an avenue of truth or falsehood. The Christian must try what he reads to determine, based on Scripture, if the writer is aligning himself properly with the Word of God. The Christian must, in essence, be a man of discernment.
It is unfortunate that discernment is lacking in the community and the church at large. To be discerning is the equivalent of being able to look upon a situation, message, or person and being able to properly determine what is of the truth and what is of error. One of the major problems that can be seen in this area is that many people want other people to do their thinking for them.
When people do not think for themselves and go to the Word to determine the truth, they are allowing others to influence their thinking and thus determine their thinking. This does not mean that there is no room for biblical counsel and a good pastor. But it does mean that the Christian must be more diligent, much like the Bereans.
“because many false prophets are gone out into the world”
Here we see a matter of great concern in the present day and age. John recognized that there were false prophets that had gone out into the world. But did you catch his word choice? He said, “… many false prophets…” had gone out and were in the world. It will do no good to turn a blind eye to the matter.
What is true of John’s day is true of the present day, as well. There are many false prophets in the land. There are many people who claim to know the truth but are far from it. There are many people who recognize parts of Jesus but not the whole. A part of Jesus will do no good. A person cannot accept Jesus as Savior but not Lord. A person cannot accept Christ as a good teacher and not as God. The list goes on.
“Hereby know ye the Spirit of God”
The Christian must know the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God is indicative of the truth. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth and the One Who has given the world the Word of God. John was concerned that his flock knew how to distinguish truth from error, and this short portion of Scripture leads the way to John’s instruction.
“Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God”
During John’s day, there was a heresy that was infiltrating the church. The teaching consisted of, but was not limited to, Christ only coming in spirit but not in the flesh. The teaching was reminiscent of that of Plato’s teaching in which matter was considered bad and elements of the spirit were deemed good. Thus, the false teachers taught that Jesus did not come in the flesh, but that it only appeared as though Jesus did. In this teaching, Jesus did not die on the cross but only appeared as though He did.
However, John opens the book of 1 John by telling his readers that he and the other apostles heard Jesus, saw Jesus, touched Jesus, and so on. John spoke in this manner to highlight the fact that Jesus did come in the flesh.
John’s teaching was fitting for the first-century believers. It is important to note that simply stating that Jesus came in the flesh does not make someone a believer. John was addressing a situation that was looming large and, in his historical context, what he said was absolutely fitting.
“And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God”
On the other hand, John went on to say that a message that consists of Christ not coming in the flesh is not of God. John has already said much about spirits and the Holy Spirit. John is declaring to his readers that there are other spirits apart from the Holy Spirit in this world. Simply put, John is speaking of demonic forces. Demonic activity plagued the people of the Old Testament. The Scriptures say that, in all the people’s idol worship, they were not merely worshipping idols but demons.
The false teaching that pervades society today is nothing short of demonic spirits luring people away through lies. Satan is the father of lies; this means that lying and falsehood find their origin in him. Not only that, the Bible tells the Christian that he is in a battle that is not of flesh and blood.
“and this is the spirit of antichrist”
When John spoke of the spirit of the antichrist, he spoke of the foreshadowing events and activities during his day that look toward the coming of the antichrist. One day, someone will live upon the earth, act as a false Christ, and lure away the masses through great deception. The false teaching that plagues society does not run counter to the antichrist who is to come. Instead, the false teaching foreshadows his coming.
“whereof ye have heard that it should come”
The Bible is full of encouragement and full of comfort. The Bible is full of direct command and example. The Bible tells of God as existing throughout all eternity and that God is the Creator of the earth. The Bible displays many elements that are helpful for the life of the Christian. The Bible also gives the Christian many warnings so that the Christian will not be caught off guard.
“and even now already is it in the world”
The antichrist is not only someone who will come, but also someone who is in the world. There is a spirit that wages war against Christ and is, in essence, against Christ. False teachers are not only ones who will come, but the world is full of them today. It is hard to know when the end of all things will be. It is hard to know when the antichrist will come. Many people have made guesses, and many people have been wrong. One thing is for sure: if the world needed to be brought to a time of great deception prior to the antichrist’s coming, the present moment would lay a firm foundation for his feet. The spirit of the antichrist is already in the world. Seek discernment that you may see the difference between truth and error.
Father, I pray that You would give me discernment. I thank You for Your Word, and I pray that You would give me a greater understanding of Your word. In Jesus’ name, Amen.