1 John 4:1-3
He Has Come in the Flesh
Having spent time testing ourselves, it is now time to test others. John began this discussion with 2:18-27. There we learned that the spirit of antichrist begins with denying that Jesus is the Christ, the anointed one. John immediately equates this with denying our Lord’s Sonship and equality with the Father in the very next verse. In other words, to say that Jesus is the Christ is to say that Jesus is the Son of God: “No one who denies the Son [i.e., that he is the Christ] has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.”
Now the Apostle hones matters down even further. He begins by warning believers to “test the spirits.” Do not think of “spirit” as some ghost but as the doctrine that is taught by someone animated by a spirit—in this case, an evil or demonic one. John tells us that the world is full of these spirits and we must be discerning, for the devil is the father of lies and very subtle in his words. So, John adds this very important test: “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” There were some in that day that believed God only “seemed” to come down in human form—that the ineffable God could not really do such a thing. But Christianity teaches exactly the opposite—that God did come down, and not only “appear” in a human form for a moment like some Greek god, but actually took upon himself human flesh and blood, body and soul, born of a virgin, lived our life, died, rose again, and then returned with that same humanity and flesh to his rightful place beside the Father. Marshall writes: “The Incarnation was not a temporary event but the permanent union of God and man in Jesus Christ” (NICNT, 205). To sum, the believer confesses that the Son of God, who is God of God and Light of Light, who always has been and ever shall be, came down from heaven and was made man for our salvation. And to deny this is to deny the faith and to ally oneself with the spirit of antichrist.
It is rare today that one would deny that such a man as Jesus lived; that is an historical fact. But few will confess that he was God walking among men in human flesh—godlike or godly or a good man, to be sure—but not God Incarnate. This “spirit,” regardless how tolerant and inclusive it may sound, is the spirit of antichrist for the simple reason that it denies the truth of who Jesus is (the God-man) and thereby what he does (save us). This spirit was in the world then and is in the world now. We must ever beware of it for such people seem harmless enough—and those are the worst kind.