Read: 1 John 4:1-21
Consider: The tone of today’s reading from 1 John is one of warning. This fits in with the general tone of the whole letter that was written to a group of believers, some of whom had abandoned faith in Jesus as it had been taught to them. The claim of those who left the fellowship was that they had greater spiritual insight, not shared by the rest of the group. Despite their claim to belong to God, they did not live out their faith in godly living. Those who remained in the fellowship found that this shook their faith and it made them question the certainty of what they had been taught. It is within this context that John writes his letter. As an eyewitness to Jesus’ life and ministry, John could speak from his first-hand knowledge of Jesus, to reaffirm the basis of the gospel message that had originally been shared with them.
Returning to our reading from chapter 4 of 1 John, we read: Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 4:1). John makes an important distinction between the spirit that leads to the truth (the Holy Spirit) and the spirit that leads to false teaching (the spirit of the antichrist). This is essentially the difference between God’s spiritual view and the world’s view.
When John speaks of testing the spirits he sets out a number of tests to use. Firstly, he says: This is how you can recognise the Spirit of God: every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God (4:2-3a). Secondly, John says: Everyone who loves has been born of God, because God is love (4:9). Thirdly, he says: This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: he has given us of his Spirit (4:13). The three characteristics of true believers is that they acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God, their life is characterised by love and the Spirit indwells them.
Reading through 1 John 4, I was struck by the situation in some churches today where they have an unbalanced view of the spiritual life. Some have concentrated upon demonstrating love in the world, but yet deny the divinity or humanity of Jesus. Some hold such a high view of love that they place it above everything else they believe and put into practice. This has resulted in them denying the authority of Scripture and what it says about particular sinful behaviours, leading to certain things being excused in pursuit of love. They ignore how Jesus himself showed love to people; he forgave them, but also instructed them to ‘sin no more’. Jesus never condoned wilful sin, as it is incompatible with a godly life.
The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives for ever (1 John 2:17)
Pray: Father, protect us from those who excuse sin rather than pointing people to true repentance and the forgiveness that can only be found in accepting Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. May we never forget the basics of the good news of the gospel message and its life-changing nature. Amen