1 John 4:1-6
Testing the Spirits
In this chapter, John gives us some tests whereby we may know whether one is truly of the faith. We have already discussed one that he refers to later in the chapter which is loving one another. It’s a favorite theme of John. We will begin, however, where John begins.
John begins his testing of the spirits saying that “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” Notice that this is a doctrinal test. It takes us back to the beginning of the letter: “That … which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life” (1:1). It is a nonnegotiable of the Christian faith that the Son of God became a son of man. He did this so that children of men might become children of God. But his incarnation (in-flesh-ment) was necessary that he might bear our sins and take our place on the cross. He tasted death for every man. John is certain of this. And we must remember that John was there. It was he who saw, heard, and handled. This is so crucial to the Christian faith that to deny this is to place oneself in league with the spirit of the antichrist.
John has a second test. He says, “Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” Wow! In this day and age, someone would accuse John of megalomania. Who does he think he is? Well, he was an apostle. And the apostles were the first order and rank in the Church (Ephesians 4:11). The Church is built on the foundation of the apostles (Ephesians 2:20). The Church defines herself in her creeds as being “one, holy, universal, and apostolic.” Their position was so unique, they were irreplaceable, meaning there are none today, and never will be. They were especially commissioned by our Lord as witnesses of his resurrection, to testify to his saving work, to confirm the gospel with works of healing and miracles. It was they and their trusted listeners who wrote the apostolic word the Church has received as her New Testament. These men were the Church’s earliest authority. It wasn’t that they were perfect, but when they spoke in agreement about the revelation of Jesus Christ, there was really no court of appeal. This revelation is the Holy Bible. And the Holy Spirit speaking through the Church down through the ages is our interpreter. So we have doctrinal tests and “how to live our life” tests. And we need them both, not so much to test others, although that may be necessary from time to time, but mainly to test ourselves.