June 18 – 1 John 4:1-6
Main focus: Abiding in Jesus requires practicing hopeful discernment between truth and lie.
This week, we’re opening our Bibles to chapter 4 to continue our progression through the book of 1 John. There are loads of beautiful and hard truths in this book so far, and we hope it’s been an encouraging and filling time for you.
In reading this passage, some buzzwords here might bring some less-than-pleasant images to mind. As we talked about a few weeks ago, when we read “antichrist,” we might recoil and think of the Left Behind movies or World War 3, but it’s not as cataclysmic as we think. John paints a clearer picture for us here, eliminating a lot of presuppositions.
A few weeks ago, we talked about how the plural “antichrists” are those who recently left the faith. Now John is also roping in those who refuse to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God, writing that “the spirit of the antichrist” is the one that “that does not confess Jesus” as God the Son in the flesh. He goes on to say that “even now [the antichrist] is already in the world” (4:3). With this in mind, we can hopefully breathe a little easier and not be as tense when hearing of the antichrist.
As we’re working through this passage, we see less language of fear of the antichrist and more of hopeful victory over the lies of the enemy. John writes that “you are from God, little children, and you have conquered them because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (4:4). This is again a point that John wants to drive home in this letter: while there are enemies out there, abiding in Jesus means repeatedly practicing discernment between truth and lies.
This is why John tells us not to “believe every spirit,” but “test the spirits” to see if they are from God (4:1). But what does it mean to “test the spirits”? In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul gives us a little bit of a clue to this, writing that “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit…To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:4, 7). He continues, citing several gifts, including “the ability to distinguish between spirits” (1 Cor. 12:10).
Now, this doesn’t let us off the hook by saying, “Well, I just don’t have that gift.” John is quite clear in his instructions not to believe everything we are told, as some people are “false prophets” (v1). But how do we test them? By bringing them up against Scripture. If someone were to say, “Jesus is not the Son of God,” we can test that against various Scriptures and discern that it is a false witness, as there are many passages that refute it (Matt. 3:17, John 5:26, 1 Cor. 15:28, 1 John 4:10, etc.). The same is also true with other aspects of the gospel. Claims against the need of salvation can be responded with Ephesians 2:1-9, where Paul tells us that we were dead in our sins, but were “saved by grace through faith.” Testing claims about the world and Scripture is a necessary and valuable part of following the Lord. We’re to keep the faith and discern, with Scripture, truth from lies.
This is part of the discernment that the Spirit gives us. One aspect of being born again is God opening your eyes to the truth of his word (Luke 24:45, Acts 26:12-18). The beauty of having such easy access to God’s word is that we can, at nearly any point in our day, check and discern the lies of the world with the truth of Scripture.
We’ll talk about this more in discussion, but in this passage, John wants us to understand that some will speak false teaching and lies about Jesus, his deity, and many other truths clearly taught in God’s word. The further warning is that these false prophets are already here in this world. These false prophets will continually try to combat the truth of Scripture with lies from the world, causing us to stray from right doctrine and our faith in Christ. The solution? We’re to cling to Jesus, steep ourselves in the Word, and test everything against the unchanging truth of Scripture. Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth,” (John 16:13). Part of the beauty and goodness of God is that he’s not going to pull the old switcheroo on us. He is constant and forever the same, and so is his word.
• Could someone read 1 John 4:1-6 for us?
• What stood out to you from the passage?
• What does this passage say about “the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error”?
• What are some of the lies of the world that you’re most prone to believe?
• Reading verse 4 again, how does this make you feel?
• How might this passage encourage us to go about discerning truth from error?
• What are some ways you want to grow in your knowledge of God’s word and your discernment of truth from error?