THE SPIRITS OF TRUTH AND FALSEHOOD
Prior to the time of the completion of the New Testament, God used prophets to convey divine revelation.
I Corinthians 12:1 - 1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.
I Corinthians 12:4-11 - 4 Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. 6 And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. 7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. 8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; 9 To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; 10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: 11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.
I Corinthians 13:8-10 - 8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
In I John 4:1-6 we see that when one heard a prophetic utterance, he had to discern its source and, therefore, its reliability. What we learn from this passage is applicable today when it comes to discerning the source of preaching and/or teaching in our churches.
I John 4:1-3 - 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.
1. There is a command to test all human teachers.
I John 4:1 a - Believe not (i.e. stop believing or stop trusting) every (or each) spirit, but try (i.e. test or examine) the spirits whether (or if) they are of God (i.e. to discern if God is the source of their teaching).
All prophets were the mouthpiece of some spirit.
All true prophets were the mouthpiece of God the Holy Spirit. He is referred to in v. 6 as the Spirit of truth. Therefore, their messages were inspired and trustworthy.
All false prophets were the mouthpiece of an evil spirit or demon. They are referred to as the spirit of error (v. 6b) or the spirit of antichrist (v. 3). Therefore, their messages were falsely inspired and not at all trustworthy.
Behind every prophet was a spirit, and behind every spirit was either God or the devil. Before any spirit could be trusted, it must be determined if the spirit is of God.
2. There is a need to test all human teachers. This was true when I John was written, and it is true today. False teaching still has its ultimate source in demons or in Satan who lead human beings to convey their falsehoods.
I John 4:1 b - It is because many false prophets are gone out (i.e. have gone out) into the world.
I John was written to the church at Ephesus in about A.D. 85-95. 30-40 years earlier, Paul had warned the elders of this same church, the church at Ephesus:
Acts 20:28-30 - 28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. 29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
Timothy 4:1-3 - 1 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; 2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; 3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.
I John 2:18-23 - 18 Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. 20 But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. 21 I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth. 22 Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. 23 Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.
3. The way to test all human teachers is by discerning if what they are saying or teaching is Scriptural
I John 4:2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God.
John uses a specific example of discerning false teaching to teach the principle that all teaching must be judged by the Word of God.
Hereby - by this
Know ye may be a simple statement of fact (i.e. you know or you understand). It may instead be an imperative or command which John's readers are to obey and be understood in the sense of know or understand. It has been translated as an imperative or a command, meaning that he is telling them to know or understand something.
The Spirit of God is God the Holy Spirit.
Every spirit is each spirit.
That confesseth is which is confessing (i.e. declaring or acknowledging).
That Jesus Christ is come (i.e. has come) in the flesh is the message which comes from the Spirit of God. It can also be understood as that Jesus is the Christ (or the Messiah) come in the flesh.
Is of God - In this context, the only Spirit Who acknowledges Jesus Christ having come in the flesh, Who thereby meets this qualification, is God the Holy Spirit.
I John 4:3 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.
Verse 3 is a second thing believers are to know: Any spirit which contradicts the truth of Jesus Christ having come in the flesh is delivering an unscriptural message and is not to be believed. His message has not been derived from the Holy Spirit; instead, it has a demonic source.
Every spirit is each spirit.
That confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come (i.e. has come) in the flesh is which is not confessing, which is not declaring, or which is not acknowledging that Jesus Christ is come (or has come) in the flesh. In other words, it is denying or repudiating the idea that Jesus Christ is come (or has come) in the flesh.
Is not of God means that God is not the source of this spirit or of this spirit's teaching. Instead this teaching has been conveyed by a spirit or demon to a false prophet who then conveyed it to a human audience.
Arguing from the particular to the more general, one can draw the conclusion from this that any time a spirit is conveying false doctrine (i.e. something that is unscriptural), he cannot be of God. Thus, in principle, a spirit who conveys false information is not the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit will never lead anyone contrary to the Bible. The discerning of spirits was given as a temporary sign gift and (along with the other temporary sign gifts) would cease to be given with the completion of the New Testament. By contrast, the New Testament Scriptures have been given to believers for their guidance or direction until the Lord's return at the rapture. If someone teaches things that are contrary to the Scripture, he is a false teacher; and the source of his teaching is not God the Holy Spirit.
This (i.e. a spirit's denial or repudiation of Jesus Christ's incarnation) is that spirit of antichrist.
Regarding the antichrist, II Thessalonians 2:4 says,
Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.
That spirit of Antichrist may mean that the ultimate spirit who is the source of this denial of the incarnation of Christ is none other than Satan who will direct and empower the antichrist. It may also mean that the same disposition of mind will be operative in the yet future Antichrist. Even so, the ultimate source of this disposition of mind, which teaches unscriptural things, is Satan himself.
Whereof is which.
Ye have heard that it should come means you have heard that the antichrist is coming.
And even now already is it in the world suggests that even though the Antichrist is yet future, the spirit or disposition of the Antichrist is already here. It is that which opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped.
Deuteronomy 13:1-5 - 1 If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, 2 And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; 3 Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 Ye shall walk after the LORD your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him. 5 And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the LORD thy God commanded thee to walk in. So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee.
How can you spot these false teachers today? By asking the question: Is their teaching Scriptural?
Acts 17:11 - 11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
I John 4:4 4 Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.
Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them (i.e. you have overcome the false prophets) - John reminds his readers that they have already overcome the false prophets by believing the gospel and by being saved.
I John 5:4-5 - 4 For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. 5 Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?
The believers overcame these false prophets in the past; and, as a result, they are in a state of having overcome them.
Because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world - As a result of being saved, they have the indwelling Holy Spirit of God in them rather than Satan, who is behind the scenes working through his spirits or demons, conveying messages to these false prophets; and God the Holy Spirit is greater than Satan and his demons in every way.
1. The world recognizes its own people and listens to a message which originates in its own circle - 4:5
I John 4:5 5 They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.
They refers to the false prophets.
Of the world indicates their source. They come from the world system rather than from God the Father.
Therefore is the translation of a prepositional phrase which is literally, Because of this, On account of this, or For this cause.
Speak they is they are speaking.
Of the world indicates that the world is the source of what they are saying rather than the content of what they are saying. What they say comes out of the world system, which is headed up by Satan, because they do not know anything different. Thus, what they say is characteristic of the ungodly world system.
And the world heareth them (or the world is hearing them) means that the world is listening (or paying attention) to these false prophets.
2. Christians recognize their own people and listen to the message which comes from God - 4:6
I John 4:6 6 We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.
We refers to John and likely includes his readers.
Are of God implies that believers have their source in God in contrast to the false prophets who have their source in the world.
He that knoweth God heareth us indicates that saved people pay attention to messages coming from God's servants.
He that is not of God heareth not us indicates that the unsaved people do not pay attention to messages coming from God's servants. They refuse the testimony of the New Testament or they seek to add to it or to adulterate it.
Hereby is because of this or by means of this (i.e. because he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us).
Know (or discern) we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error, which means the true spirit and the deceitful spirit, the spirit which speaks truth and the spirit which speaks error (or deceit), or the spirit which is the truth and the spirit which is the error. In any event, here is how one can discern the Holy Spirit, i.e. the Spirit Who comes from God, from the spirit or demon that comes from Satan.
He that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. All who are really born of God will accept the teaching of the apostles found in the New Testament. Also, those who are not of God refuse of the testimony of the New Testament, or they seek to add to it or to adulterate it in some way.
How are you going to discern between the truth and false teaching? How are you going to discern between Biblical practices and unscriptural practices? By a thorough knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures.
Joshua 1:8 - 8 This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.
And how are you going to get a thorough knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures? By studying it personally. By being fed and properly taught by the ministry of the pastor of the local church. We have gotten away from the thorough study of the Scriptures in independent Baptist circles. We have become a movement which limits our messages to the gospel but, generally speaking, no longer feeds the flock of God.
If you want a church in which the believers are going to grow and mature spiritually, you had better be in a church where the pastor is a man who carries out his Biblical responsibility of feeding the flock of God rather than of limiting his message only to proclaiming the gospel message and of preaching exciting, pep rally type of messages and unrelated topical messages, which will take the believers nowhere spiritually, but which will gradually cause them to deteriorate spiritually so that they will fall for every new thing that makes its way down the road.
This sermon is the 9th part of the series, Study of I John. Other sermons in this series are: