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Contending For The Faith

How John Tells Us to Fight

1 John 4:1-5
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because 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 of God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. 4 You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them.
NKJV

Spiritual warfare is conducted at many levels. In these passages, the Apostle John provides us with the practical guides for fighting this battle within the Church.

First John is a letter about faith and love and the overwhelming importance of the Gospel. It is written against a background of false prophets. These prophets were part of the Christian community, but left to pursue their false teachings. 1 John 2:19
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us. NKJV

Many surmise these false teachers were members of either the Docetic or Cerinthian Gnostic groups. This may or may not be true, but what is gleaned from this epistle is that the false teachers departed from the Christian community to promote many false doctrines. John&s advice to his readers is to "Stop Believing the false teachers!" Instead of believing every teacher who came along, the church was to test the spirits. In the Greek, the word translated as "test" means to prove or approve, to examine. In other words, the Church is to study the doctrines of the teachers against Scripture to determine if their words are truth. This is similar to Luke's commendation of the Bereans (Acts 17:11).

It is important to understand that John sees only two sides to the world. When John tells us to "test the spirits," we must understand that he believes all spirits are either from God or from Satan. There is no middle ground. There is no "gray." All is lightness or darkness. If one does not walk in the light of God, then he is a child of the Devil.

John's test is relatively simple: "that Jesus is come in the flesh." While there may be several technical interpretations as to the exact meaning of the phrase, it is best understood not to refer merely to the birth of Jesus as a human, but rather to the entire picture of Christ as painted in Scripture. Jesus is God in human form, come to earth to show us an example of how to live with and for God, and to provide the bridge of salvation back to God.

When John says that spirits from God "confess" that Jesus is Christ, he means that the teachers are controlled by the Spirit of God and agree with the teachings of Scripture. The teachers who follow the anti-Christ do not agree with Scripture. They paint Jesus as a different being, perhaps human but not God, or God, but not truly human. Whatever the teaching, their bottom line does not agree that Jesus is God, Lord, and Savior, come to earth in human form.

Notice one important point in this. These teachers do not deny Jesus Christ, they merely distort Him in one form or another. They make Him a good man (Muslims) but not God. They make Him more human than divine Jehovah Witnesses) - or more divine to the detriment of His humanity (Christian Scientists). They picture Him as something other than what He truly is, such as a mixture which ultimately seems to be neither human nor divine - like the Mormons who teach that Jesus is flesh and bone, but not blood, and that His spirit was procreated by God, just as was Satan's, making Jesus Satan's spirit brother.

John's passage focuses on two tests - the one above discusses what the false teachers say. The second test focuses on who follows them. True Christians will not follow these false teachings. They will test the doctrines against Scripture and will discern they are false. Only those of the world, those who follow the anti-Christ, will agree with the false prophets. These are the people of the "world," the sphere of Satan's influence (1 John 4:5).

John sees Christianity as belief in a person, Jesus Christ, not belief in a doctrine. This is an important distinction, for, again, it relates to one&s picture of Jesus. What do you believe about the Christ? What spirit do you follow?

For John, the spiritual battle is set at this level of only two choices. If you is a child of God, then you have already "overcome" the world (1 John 4:4). This word, in the Greek, properly means to conquer or prevail. You have already prevailed because God has prevailed through Christ. You are the conqueror, because Jesus is the King and Conqueror.

So, John tells us that we may win the spiritual battle by applying these two tests -

Who do you follow?

 

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