I John 4:1 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
3 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.
As we noted in chapter 3, there were many antichrists in John’s day. John will continue this warning in chapter 4. It should not surprise those who are saved that this is true. Sadly, there are many who are not saved who would rather believe a lie than allow the Holy Spirit to show them the truth.
Believers are addressed here as “beloved”. Again, this is a term of endearment. God loves His children. His children have a special place with Him. They are held in His almighty and loving hand. He nurtures them in that hand.
It is important for true saints to do critical thinking. The foundation for critical thinking is the Word of God. We should not be critical of the Word of God. We should take the Word of God as the truth that it is and judge all things in the light of the truth. The devil has many fallen angels working for him. None of them are more powerful than God. Every thought and every word that we hear needs to be tested against God’s Word.
John reminds us of the reason we need to do this. Many false prophets are gone out into the world. We have named some names in the past. Any man who will not use the pure and tested Word of God should be rejected. Those who begin with a perversion will invariably teach falsehoods.
When I was in Bible School, we had a special prophecy conference and the instructor for that conference reminded us that when we listen to any speaker or when we read any theological book, we need to pay close attention to where the man starts from and then we can watch how he builds his case. A man who starts with a perversion will demonstrate his carelessness for the Word of God. He will not care about the many differences between the various perversions. He will reject the possibility that there can be an accurate text available to man. Thus he cannot build a strong house.
In verse 2 John gave us the criteria for testing the spirits. We need to notice that the spirits are written with a small “s”. The Spirit of God is written with a capital “S”. There is only One Spirit of God. There are many spirits.
John reminds us that “every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God.” Gnosticism was alive and busy at the time of John. The Gnostics denied the possibility of the physical pure body of Christ. They taught that Jesus Christ had come in a mystical spiritual form, but not in a visible physical form. Thus they denied the God-man, Jesus Christ. This was a heresy taught in John’s day and it is also widely taught today. There are many religions that teach this lie. There are many subtle variances of this heresy as well.
The Catholics would suggest that they agree that Jesus Christ is God. However, they prove their denial of this by stating that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was necessary to provide our salvation. They claim that she is the “co-redemptrix” with Jesus Christ. They claim Jesus needed her help to take care of our sins. However, they then state that man must still pay for his own sins. Catholicism is a confused and corrupted religion. The Protestants came from Catholicism. Most Protestants are moving back under the umbrella of Catholicism now. They have a variety of distortions of the truth that they pedal. The Catholics don’t care about these heresies. As long as they acknowledge the Catholics as the superior religion, they can believe what they want.
There are deceived people who take a flippant view of verse 2 and they try to include heretics as true Christians in doing so.
In verse 3 we are reminded that “every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God.” We cannot have variations of what God’s Word says and still have the truth. Either Jesus Christ is God or He is not. Either He is fully God and fully man or He is not the Messiah. The Bible calls Him the Son of God and the Son of man.
Those who reject God’s clear declaration, are of the spirit of antichrist. The Bible has stated that this spirit should come, but John also tells us that this spirit is already in the world. It was in the world in John’s day and it is in the world today.
Those who are saved need to reject that spirit and need to be governed by the Spirit of God. It is possible for a person to claim that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh and yet deny His deity. Notice the record from Matthew 16:
Matthew 16:16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
Jesus commended Peter for this declaration in verse 17. Peter had made a completely true statement. Jesus stated that God the Father had directed Peter to make that correct statement. Now notice Jesus’ response to Peter in verse 23.
Matthew 16:23 But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.
Jesus had been teaching the fact that He was going to be arrested, tried, crucified and raised up again the third day. Peter rejected that fact. He stated that he would not allow this to happen. In verse 23 we see that Jesus addressed Peter as “Satan”. Peter was behaving as an antichrist. He was speaking as one who would interfere with Jesus’ purpose in coming to this earth.
The point is that a person cannot declare Jesus Christ is come in the flesh and then deny His purpose in coming. There needs to be a consistency in the life of the one who is professing to believe in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
The Christian life is not a game. It is serious and it is the only life. We need to try the spirits. We cannot just take a person at his word. We have already noted that in chapter 3. The Christian’s life will be changed and it will be genuine. God does not want His children to be gullible. We need to examine what a person says. There have been many antichrists who can quote the Bible. They can be quite convincing. We must build our lives on the truth. Everything that a professing Christian says and does must be tested in the light of God’s sure Word. If you do not have God’s sure Word, you cannot test every spirit.
God loves man. He wants us to know the truth. We can know the truth. God also warns us that the broad way leads to destruction. It is the narrow way that leads to life. God’s way is as wide as He made it. We cannot make it any wider. It does not matter what tactics the devil enlists. God’s way cannot be altered. Be sure you are following His way. Don’t be deceived.