I apologize for being a little late this week. Yesterday and today have been rather hectic, and I don’t like to rush this. So let us begin chapter 4:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
Remember that this is a letter and that the chapter divisions came later. John has not fully changed thoughts here, but has flowed from speaking of the Holy Spirit to speaking about false spirits. This coincides with his message in the last section as well which is based on true and false Christians.
Now how do we understand spirit. This is very important. Pneuma as I am sure many are familiar with, means wind, breath, or spirit. The biblical understanding of spirit is intimately tied with breath, for one’s breath is understood to be one’s lifeforce (Genesis 2:7).
In this verse, John goes back and forth between the plural and the singular. So the question is, are we dealing with 2 spirits manifesting themselves in people, or are we dealing with many spirits. I believe both, however the many isn’t talking about demons or angels, but about human spirits. We are to test each person’s spirit to see what spirit lives within: God’s spirit of the devil’s.
Unlike the former section where the difference between a false and true Christian is determined by the act of love, here God’s Spirit verses the spirit of the antichrist is determined by a confession: Christ has come in the flesh and is of God. The pseudoprophetai or the false prophets are best understood here as those that teach otherwise.
It is important here to reflect on the difference between an in-house debate and true heresy. There are some issues that should not be decisive for a Christian body. Here, at SEA, we consider the Calvinism and Arminian debate to be such an issue. However, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take a stance on doctrine. There are some ideas which we cannot tolerate, and we must recognize that if someone is teaching something which undermines Jesus Christ Himself, we cannot believe that the Spirit of God resides within that person.
This also means that we should guard our own minds against false teachers. We should not listen to those that would deny the Trinity of God, or teach that salvation is by works, or that there are multiple paths to God. Such teachings are of the devil, and we must recognize that. But even to these, we act in love, seeking their repentence, not their condemnation.
We must stand true to the gospel, and have faith that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, Savior of the world.