Know the Spirit of God
5th Sunday in Easter
1 John 4:1-11
1 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. 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, 3 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. 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. 5 They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 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. 7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
Grace, peace and mercy from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen!
Our text is: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
Test the spirit, that how our text begins today. But what is the test? How do we do it? John tells us, listen carefully: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus the Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.”
The test is to confess that Jesus the Christ has come in the flesh. What’s it mean to confess? We do it every week at the beginning of the service and again just before the sermon hymn, but have we ever really thought about what confessing means? What does the world think it means? How does Webster’s Dictionary define it? “To tell or make known, to admit one’s guilt. Sounds a lot like one of some our uses of the confession doesn’t it? “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and truth is not in us.” That’s what John said in 1 John 1:8.
The word confess in the Greek is homologeo. It means to say the same thing as some one else, to agree with another, to be subject to another. Not to refuse or refute a promise, in other words to agree with God. It’s not to deny but to declare, to make public confession, to profess openly declare, to speak out freely to make known the object of ones worship, prayer and praise. It is to give thanks to that object of one’s worship.
Therefore to confess Jesus correctly is to confess Him as He truly is, as He says He is. He is the Christ, the Messiah, the chosen one, the anointed one. He is the only one, there is no other, He is the Savior. The fact that Jesus is both Christ and Savior leads us to His identity: He is the Son of God. He’s not just another ordinary human being, someone seeking notoriety, someone seeking public office or stature or the trust of society. He’s the one, the only one – the begotten Son of God—begotten of His Father from all of eternity. Scripture tell us, He is 100% man and 100% God. Jesus is man and Jesus is God. To confess Jesus Christ correctly is to confess Him as both.
Therefore we confess Christ “has come in the flesh.” He is born of the Virgin Mary, and took on human flesh just like ours. He saved us by living a holy life, resisting completely every temptation and keeping to His Father’s perfect will. We confess that He allowed His body to be nailed to a cross to die for the sins of the whole world. We also confess that, three days later, He rose from the dead—body and all; and later, ascended into heaven—body and all. The eternal Son of God became man in order to save man from sin and death by His own life, death and resurrection.
So here it is. “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus the Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God” To confess Jesus is to confess that He is both God and man who died for our salvation and rose again. And you might be thinking, Pastor that’s the same old stuff that we confess every week in the creeds. Right you are so praise the Lord! That means that the faith you confess in those creeds is affirming the very Spirit of God. This means that you openly confess the Christian faith. But beware every false teaching tries to annihilate this ultimate truth.
When John wrote this epistle he was dealing with one of the earliest heresies to attack this Christian confession a heresy called Gnosticism. It taught that God was spirit and everything physical was evil Therefore if everything physical was evil; there was no way that the Son of God would be human. Being holy, God wouldn’t come to the earth but would stay as far away as possible. Jesus could only be spirit, not flesh and blood. See the danger? If Jesus was only spirit, then He never offered up His body for your sins on the cross. If that were so the price your sins for was never paid. And if He didn’t pay it, then you must pay it by your works and deeds. And if you fall short then only hell awaits. This was the cult of John’s day.
The New Testament days are full of all sorts of pagan heresies. Such heresies are more than happy to acknowledge that Jesus was a man, even a very nice man who did good things before He was killed. But the idea that He was God they couldn’t accept. Do you see the danger? If Jesus was just a nice man who did good things and then died, then He didn’t die for you. Many nice people have done good and died. But if Jesus was just one more in the string of the nice people, then the price for your salvation hasn’t been paid. If the price hasn’t been paid, then you have to pay it yourself by your works and deeds, if not then hell waits for you.
The way to measure any doctrine is what it says about Jesus. Does it confess that He is the Son of God who came in the flesh to save or not? If it does, it is of God. If it doesn’t, it’s a false teaching that will tell you that you’ve got to save yourself.
One erroneous example in John’s day taught that that Jesus was man and god, but said that He started as a man then became a god by His own good works and labors. Therefore, if you are to be saved or become a god, you will do so by your own good works and labors. That’s not a teaching of the Holy Spirit, because it doesn’t confess Jesus Christ come into the flesh, but instead Jesus Christ gone into divinity. That’s a false spirit still going in this latter day.
If someone teaches, saying, “Jesus Christ has come in flesh and died for the sins of the world, but you must submit to me and my teachings to be saved.” In that case, the man puts his own beliefs at same level with the Christ’s doctrine, and says that Jesus isn’t the only authority anymore. For a human to demand submission in matters of faith is to be distinctly anti-Christ.
Or take the opinion that Jesus can’t be present in His body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, because you can’t put the infinite Son of God into finite elements. What does this say about Jesus? It says that, although He could come in the flesh, He can’t come in bread and wine. This puts limitations on the Savior, which means He’s not quite the omnipotent Son of God. He’s not quite Jesus Christ come in the flesh anymore.
Luther made the observation that false spirits don’t really teach; instead, they deceive. Consider some of the more frustrating phrases heard in Christendom today: “Doctrine doesn’t really matter” or “Christianity is a way of life, not a religion.” These may sound attractive, but they’re really phrases that urge you not to learn. It’s to say, “It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you believe it” That’s not a position of strength, but a plea for ignorance: don’t worry about what God says in Scripture, just go ahead and live as your sinful mind thinks best. That’s what false spirits do: rather than teaching anything, they seek to prevent you from learning and rejoicing in that which is true.
We’re not preaching that only Lutherans go to heaven. Wherever God’s Word is proclaimed, the Holy Spirit is at work to save, even when man is teaching error along with it. But the more errors that are permitted, the greater the chance that a church will eventually stop proclaiming Jesus Christ come into the flesh. When it no longer does so, all that is left are false spirits. That’s why, by the grace of God, we seek to preserve our Lord’s Word, so that we may always confess Jesus Christ come into the flesh.
So we give thanks today that St. John gives us this marvelous test of any teaching: 1. Does it confess Jesus the Savior? 2. Does it confess Him to be the Christ, the chosen One of God to save? 3. Does it confess Him to be both divine and human? By the grace of God, we confess these truths about Jesus, because that is what the Word says.
We acknowledge there are all sorts of teachings about Jesus out there, and those who hold them vastly outnumber those who confess Jesus Christ come in the flesh. Those teachings will be far more popular, even contagious in the world, and our text tells us why: “They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” The world is going to like other messages because it doesn’t know God, and because those other messages don’t require godly faith. As a Christian, it could get rather scary as you feel vastly outnumbered.
So what do you do? You hear the Word, and you hear this Word from your Savior: “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.” Christ has overcome the world. He has established His Church on His Word and promises that not even the gates of hell shall prevail against it. Having overcome the world by His death and resurrection, He shares that victory with you. As you confess Jesus Christ come in the flesh, you do so as one who has overcome the world because Jesus has made you His. And because He has made you His, you’re far from alone or outnumbered. At the Supper soon to come, you sing this faith with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven. And no less than Jesus Christ, come in the flesh, comes to you in bread and wine to give you forgiveness and life.
So hearing that Word, you repeat it. You confess it. You tell others about it; not because you have to, but because there’s no better thing to say. Really, there’s news no more astonishing than that God loved the world so much that Jesus Christ came in flesh into the world to save. The world and sin and death have been overcome, and the Lord will use His Word proclaimed to save all who hear out of this world.
Confessing His Word, you love one another. You sit next to your fellow members, fellow over-comers of the world - in Christ. As you gather here to receive God’s grace, you encourage each other that you’re not alone, because you are the body of Christ—of Jesus Christ come in the flesh. And you love each other in word and deed, because Jesus has set you free from every selfish sin that would keep you from doing so. You love each other because of the immense value that Jesus Christ has placed upon you, that He has come into the flesh to redeem you from sin.
So test the spirits, confess the Word and love one another; that’s what you do. Why? Not because you save yourself, but because you have been saved: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” And know the Spirit of God. For He so loves you as to say that, for the sake of Jesus Christ come in the flesh, you are forgiven for all of your sins. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen and amen!
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, AMEN!