TRUTH IS THE BASIS FOR FAITH AND LOVE —
SPIRITUAL TEACHING MUST BE EXAMINED TO IDENTIFY ITS SOURCE
There is a great tendency today to elevate love about doctrine (truth). But what is the connection and the relative importance?
I. (:1) CHRISTIANS ARE COMMANDED TO EXERCISE DISCERNMENT
A. Commandment stated negatively — Don’t be gullible
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit”
Love does not mean compromising the truth.
All believers are responsible for exercising discernment … not just the elders.
Cf. Competent to Counsel — stresses our responsibility and competence to help one another in our struggle against sin. We all have the anointing within us.
Often simple folk are overly impressed with apparent supernatural phenomena — such as prophecy and tongues. John’s readers may have been tending to accept uncritically all teaching which claimed to be given under divine inspiration. You cannot always equate the supernatural with the divine.
B. Commandment stated positively — Test the spirits
1. the nature of the test — “but test”
True faith examines its object before placing its confidence in it.
Don’t examine with a suspicious attitude, looking to find fault; but put doctrine to the test with a view to proving what is trustworthy (i.e. don’t treat the teacher as a heretic until he proves to be one.)
2. the subjects of the test — “the spirits”
3. the goal of the test — “to see whether they are from God”
4. the need for the test — “because many false prophets have gone out into the world”
cf. OT examples — 1 Kings 22 — 400 prophets on Ahab’s payroll; they had all the comforts and the respect of the people vs. lonely Micaiah
II. (:2-3) THE TOUCHSTONE FOR ORTHODOXY IS A TRUE CONFESSION OF JESUS CHRIST
The Scriptures never ask us to look into the heart of a man and judge his motives; here we are looking at his public teaching.
A. (:2) The Spirit from God Confesses Jesus as the Christ Come in the flesh
“By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God”
Note: John is speaking of tests to differentiate spiritual life vs. death — he is not necessarily saying that other doctrines should be minimized; he is not laying down a foundation for what is essential for organizational unity within a local church or denomination; he is also not saying to accept everything else a teacher says without any question as long as the teacher is solid on this fundamental.
Specific confessions that square with the Scriptures will be important to meet the specific errors of the day — where the battle is being fought, that is where we need to speak clearly.
B. (:3) The spirit not from God does not confess Jesus as the Christ come in the flesh
“and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.”
III. (:4) GOD’S CHILDREN HAVE VICTORY OVER FALSE TEACHERS BY THE HOLY SPIRIT
“You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.”
Truth reigns supreme! The opposition of antichrists in the person of false teachers isnot strong enough to defeat the indwelling Holy Spirit.
John again assures his readers that he is confident of their abiding in the truth.
He makes reference again to the Greatness of God as the source of our security.
IV. (:5-6) THE SOURCE OF SPIRITUAL TEACHING DETERMINES THE AUDIENCE
A. (:5) The World Responds to False Teaching
“They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them.”
B. (:6a) God’s Children Respond to God’s Spokesmen
“We are from God; he who knows God listens to us;”
the “we” of vs. 6 refers to the apostles and their teaching; not the same as the “you” of vs. 4 = all believers;
The focal point of their doctrine = the person of Christ as Messiah, as perfect man, as God incarnate, as resurrected and coming again
C. (:6b) Therefore, the character of the audience distinguishes between the Spirit of Truth and the spirit of error
“he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”