1 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. 2 In this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God. 3 But every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God; and this is that antichrist that you have heard should come and even now is in the world already.1 John 4:1-3
John moves on to addressing a question which his last statement (3:24) might raise. How do I know that it is indeed the Spirit of God which dwells in me? You know that you dwell in Christ by faith because Christ gives His Spirit to you. False prophets (the word here is literally pseudo-prophets) have gone out into the world, and those who heed such charlatans will be tempted to misgivings about whether they indeed have the Spirit of God dwelling in them. Beyond that, false teachers will endeavor to convince true saints that the real Spirit of God is over here, in this white, windowless van. John is giving the “stranger danger” talk to his beloved children.
So John tells us to prove the spirits. The word here is used elsewhere in Scripture and is used more broadly to describe the testing of a counterfeit coin against the genuine. It was not uncommon for ancient coinage to have bits shaved off in order to gradually produce more (but fraudulent) coins. John says to hold up an objective truth against a spirit and by this test determine whether it is the genuine Spirit of God, or the spirit of Antichrist.
That which confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God. Now this might seem overly simplistic, but here is the basic Christian confession: God became man, He was name Jesus, and He was the Christ who died, but by the power of God rose again. In other words, this “test” John gives is a proto-creed. Did the eternal Christ come in the flesh as the man Jesus of Nazareth? Yes. And this, it should be evident, is the Gospel Comfort which the Spirit of God takes from the Father and the Son and shows unto us (Cf. Jn. 16:13-15).
Therefore, it follows quite logically that the central lie of heresies is that Jesus Christ is not come in the flesh. In other words, antichrist spirits want to dodge and evade the plain testimony that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. Put plain as day, it isn’t of God to deny the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Notably absent in much of the modern evangelical infatuation with “the Antichrist” is that it misses this central error of false prophets. It thinks of Antichrist as some political figure. But John tells us that this figure (which I take to be Cerinthus in particular) was already in the world, and that his teachings which denied the incarnation of Jesus Christ must be kicked to the doctrinal curb. This antichrist spirit was already in the air in John’s day, and we know the central error of that “hydra-like” doctrine.
The practical application here is that the Christian is not stuck in an endless esoteric guessing game. The Word, the same Word which made heaven and earth, came in the flesh. By faith, you partake of the triune God’s divine joy. Any imaginative gymnastics routine which tries to reject the Gospel that Jesus Christ came in the flesh (and by implication lived, died, and rose again for our salvation) can, not so politely, be told to touch grass.
- 1 John 5:20-21 | We Know
- 1 John 5:16-19 | The Sin Unto Death
- 1 John 5:13-15 | Big Prayers
- 1 John 5:9-12 | God on the Stand
- 1 John 5:6-8 | The Threefold Witness
- 1 John 5:1-5 | Swept Up Into Victory
- 1 John 4:17-21 | Bold Sons & Fearful Slaves
- 1 John 4:11-16 | The Offensive Love of God
- 1 John 4:7-10 | God is Love
- 1 John 4:4-6 | Overcoming Swarms of Devils
- 1 John 4:1-3 | Stranger Danger
- 1 John 3:23-24 | The Nail in Timidity’s Coffin
- 1 John 3:19-22 | God is Greater than Our Hearts
- 1 John 3:13-18 | The World Hates You
- 1 John 3:10-12 | Children of God, Children of the Devil
- 1 John 3:7-9 | To Destroy the Works of the Devil
- 1 John 3:4-6 | Sin is Lawlessness
- 1 John 3:1-3 | What Unearthly Love
- 1 John 2:28-29 | A Trumpet Blast for Feeble Saints
- 1 John 2:24-27 | The Pastoral Prerogative for Run-on Sentences