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Sunday, February 10, 2013

[Matt's Messages] "Test the Spirits"

“Test the Spirits”
Essential Christianity: 1 John
February 10, 2013 :: 1 John 4:1-6

Our sermon series in 1 John is called “Essential Christianity,” because John has been teaching us what is essential to be and to believe to be a Real Christian.

And now that we’ve passed the halfway mark in the book and are heading into the last two chapters, I’ve been wondering what you’ve been learning.

So, it’s time to play “What is the Essence?”

I’m going to come down here into the pews (whoever came up with the word “pew” by the way?  Sounds like something stinky like Peppy Le Pew!).

But I’m going to come down here and ask you some questions.

Raise your hand to be called upon in the section I’m in.  Or if no one raises their hand, I’ll just shove a mic in your face.

Question #1.  

What Is the Essence?

What have learned so far that is essential about God?

God is .....  What?


So, (Question #2) if we claim to have a relationship with Him who is in the light, then what is essential that we need to walk in?

We need to walk in the light as He is in the light.

Ok.  Question #3.

Isn’t okay to just talk the talk?

What is the Essence?


“Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.”

Ok. Question #4.

What is the Essence?

What does John teach us that we should NOT love?

What is essential for us to NOT love?

“Do not love....” what?

Do not love the world or anything in the world. Because the world is passing away.

Question #5.  What is the Essence?

If we shouldn’t love the world, who should we love?

Who is it essential that we love?

“Love your...brother.”


Question #6.  How do we know what love is?

Whose example is essential for knowing what love is?

1 John 3:16, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”

Very good.

Last question for “What Is the Essence?”

Question #7.

What if my heart condemns me?

What is the essence of what I should do if my heart rises up and accuses me of not loving enough, not obeying enough, not walking in the light enough to believe that I am a real Christian?

What then?


Who are you going to listen to? Your heart or your God?

God is greater than our hearts.

Last week, John ended chapter 3 by saying, “Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.”

And His Spirit is God and He is greater than our hearts. We need to listen to Him.

And since John introduced the word “Spirit,” that’s where he goes next in chapter 4.

John tells us to not give credence to every spirit, but to “Test the Spirits.”

Today at the Sunday dinner table, you should ask each other what was the point of today’s message.

Two weeks ago it was Love Your Brother. Last week it was God Is Greater Than Our Hearts.

This week, it is “Test the Spirits.”

This passage used to always scare me.

This passage used to always scare me because it was about “spirits.”

I kind of thought of it as being about ghosts or about demonic possession.

I’ve heard some hair raising stories of exorcisms where the exorcizing minister uses 1 John 4 as the way of telling whether or not the spirit that is controlling this person is a demon or not.

“Do you acknowledge that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh?”

And the demonized person says, “No. Jesus has not come in the flesh.”

“Aha. It’s a demon. We tested the spirits.”

Well, maybe.

I can see that being a secondary application of this. Though I’m pretty sure that if someone is demonized to that extent, you don’t have to use 1 John 4 to tell what kind of a spirit it is. There will be lots of other fruit that shows where it comes from.

I think that this passage is actually talking mostly, primarily, basically about teachers, spiritual leaders, spiritual movements, religious groups and organizations, “churches.”

John is telling his disciples to be careful what spiritual leaders you listen to because they are all serving (being inspired by?) one kind of spirit or another.

And not all spirits are equal.

There are many people who claim to be “spiritual,” but that does not mean that they are following the Holy Spirit.

And some who claim to be following the Holy Spirit are not.  Listen to verse 1 again.

“Dear friends, do not believe [listen to, give credence to, trust in] every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

You see what he’s saying?

There are now many false prophets in the world. Be careful whom you listen to.

Don’t just listen to anybody who claims to be a teacher.

Don’t just follow anybody who has the name Spiritual Leader in front of them.

Don’t just believe anybody who has the name Pastor in front of them.

Including me.

Test the Spirits.

What kind of test?

Well, there are lots of tests that you could put a spiritual leader through that would be good.

And I don’t think that John is giving an exhaustive list here. He’s going to hit on the big one but he’s not saying that it’s the only way to test the spirits.

Do you remember this list from earlier in our study?

Moral, Social, Doctrinal?

These are the three essential areas that John keeps circling around to help his readers know that they are real Christians.

Moral - Do they obey? Do they walk in the light.
Social - Do they love? Do they love their spiritual siblings.
Doctrinal - Do they believe the right things?

John keeps coming around and hitting those three areas.

And they’d be good areas to test any spiritual leader.

Does that supposed pastor try to live morally?  Does he or she practice what they preach?

Not perfectly, of course, and they may have major blindspots, but are they headed in the right direction?

Does that supposed spiritual leader love others, especially other Christians?  Or do they only want others to love them?

That’s not always easy to tell, but when you can, it’s a good test.

And what do they believe?

That’s where John goes here. It’s the doctrinal test of the spirits. V.2

“This is how you can recognize 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. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”

Let’s put it this way.

Test the Spirits.

#1. ASK WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT JESUS.

Jesus divides.

He is the prince of peace, but he also divides with sword.

You are either for Him or against Him. There is no other category.

I remember a few years ago when Wade Nolan was our Wild Game Dinner speaker, and he said that many men try to sit on the fence between following Christ and not following Christ.

But then Wade said, “Guys, there is no fence.”

You are either for Him or against Him.

There is no fence.

And John says (v.2,) “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God [Want to know whether this spiritual leader is worth following or not?]: 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.”

There is no fence.

Apparently, John was dealing with false teachers who claimed that Jesus Christ was not God in the flesh. They were denying the Incarnation.

They might have gone so far as to say that Jesus was divine in some way, but not God in the flesh.

They could not have sung “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and believed it.

Maybe the Spirit of God came on the man Jesus, but then left Him.  That’s been a popular theory through the years.

But not “Veiled in Flesh, the Godhead See; Hail the Incarnate Deity.”

Not, “The Word became Flesh and Dwelled Among Us.”

Chapter 1, verse 1, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of Life.”

Jesus!

What do they say about Jesus?

“This is how you can recognize 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.”

Now, you could confess that Jesus has come in the flesh and still not be a spiritual leader worth following. Especially if you don’t obey Jesus and don’t love your brother.

And especially if you believe other really wrong stuff about Jesus.

But if you deny who Jesus is then you are not worth following, not worth trusting, not worth believing in.

Test the Spirits. Ask what do they say about Jesus?

This is true today.

For example, the Dalai Lama.

Let’s take, what I would assume is an easy one, but, these days, you don’t really know.

The Dalai Lama claims to be a spiritual leader. Millions follow him.

What does he say about Jesus?

I don’t know everything he’s ever said, but he’s claimed to read the New Testament and to be inspired by Jesus’ compassion.

But he does not believe that Jesus is God come in the flesh.

And he is a Buddhist.  Buddhists do not believe in the Incarnation.

“This is how you can recognize 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.

How about Oprah Winfrey?

She has long claimed to be a Christian.

And normally, if someone says they are a Christian, then I should begin by leaning into believing them. I want them to be, so I will start with hoping they are.

Does Oprah teach spirituality?

She certainly does. Millions listen to her.

What does she say about Jesus? Well, she gives Jesus some credit.

But she also gives credence to all kinds of other false spiritualities, too.

And she says this, “What I believe is that Jesus came to show us Christ consciousness. That Jesus came to show us the way of the heart and that what Jesus was saying that to show us the higher consciousness...” 

Oprah was behind the teacher Eckhart Tolle who was said, “Was Jesus the son of God?" he asks rhetorically. "Yes. But so are you. You just haven't realized it yet."

“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.”

We could go on with examples, but the point is clear.

Ask What They Say About Jesus.

Because it’s all about Jesus!

Just because they claim to have some wisdom, some insight, some power, some spirit, doesn’t mean that they are worth trusting.  Be careful!

“This is how you can recognize 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. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”

Remember that word “antichrist” or “against-Christ” that we learned about in chapter 2?

Jesus predicted those who would teach against Him.

And we know that we are in the last hour NOW because antichrists have already been unleashed on the world.

And it’s only gotten worse.

And it’s going to get even worse.

But do not fear!

#2. REMEMBER YOUR VICTORY IN CHRIST.  V.4

“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”

That’s an awesome verse. Many of have the last half of it memorized.

But the first half is good, too!

John thinks that his readers might be discouraged by all this test the spirits talk, all of this antichrist stuff.

So he encourages them.

“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them [the antichrists!], because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”

You have overcome the antichrists because you have believed the gospel, and you have received Christ, and now the Holy Spirit lives in you.

And He is so much greater than the spirit who is at work in the world!

Remember your victory in Christ.

That word “overcome” in verse 4 is the same word as we saw in chapter 2.

“I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one.” 

Greek word, “Nikao.”  Where we get the word “Nike” from.

Victory.  Overcoming.

“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, [not because you are so great, but] because the one who is in you [Christ!] is greater than the one who is in the world.”

So, don’t worry.

Be vigilant. Be careful. Test the Spirits.

But if you belong to Christ, don’t worry.  You are on the winning side.

Just stick with Christ.

Hold fast to Jesus. He is SO MUCH greater than the one who is in the world.

#3. KEEP LISTENING TO GOD IN HIS WORD. V.5

“They [the against-christs, the false prophets, the false spiritual leaders] are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. [It only makes sense–they say what the world wants to hear. But. V.6] We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.”

Test the Spirits.

How can you tell who has the Spirit of truth and who has the spirit of falsehood?

It’s by whom they listen to. V.6 again.

“We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.”

Now, if I said that, then it would be crazy.

“I’m from God. If whoever listens to pastor Matt listens to God, but however does not listen to Pastor Matt does not listen to God.”

That’s crazy-talk!

But John is speaking as an authorized representative of Jesus Christ. An apostle.

Hand picked by Jesus and authorized to speak in His place.

And what John writes here is Holy Scripture. God’s Word.

“We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.”

So, keep listening to God in His Holy, Inspired, Apostolically authored, Word.

Test the Spirits by testing them against this.

You’ve heard me say this before.

Test everything I say by this word.

And if I begin to veer off, then get rid of me, not the Word.

And test the spirits of every other pastor or leader that comes along by this Word.

“This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.”

Ask What They Say about Jesus.

Because it’s all about Him. There is no fence.

Remember Your Victory in Christ.

Don’t be scared as you test the spirits. The one who is in you is greater thant he one who is the world. And because of that, you have overcome!

Keep Listening to God in His Word.

Because those who know God, listen to Him in these pages.

Test the Spirits.

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