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In 1 John 4, we find the apostle John giving us a no fail test for how we can discern between good and bad spirits. Interestingly, John isn’t telling us how to discern between demons and God Himself, but rather between various spirit messengers. And just who are “good spirits” in John’s mind? Keep in mind that Jews in New Testament times had an idolatrous obsession with angelic beings, so John is probably talking about discerning between demons and angels. The fact that he begins his discussion with a mention of false prophets indicates that he is thinking about spirits speaking through other people, not just spirits showing up in your bedroom at night. Let’s now see what kind of instruction John offers us.
Beloved, 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 Jn. 4:1)
John starts off warning us that spirits can work through false prophets, which brings to mind the picture of human teachers. He says that there are many false prophets at work. Okay, we’ve got our guard up.
Of course if John thinks this wave of false prophets is a new thing, the man’s a dingdong because the Old Testament is full of references to false prophets speaking lies in Yahweh’s Name. There’s nothing new about false prophets. But anyway, let’s give John a chance.
By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. (1 Jn. 4:2-3)
Here it is: the big revelation. Anyone who says Jesus Christ came in the flesh is legit. But wait—is Jesus’ fleshiness really the critical point we should all be focusing on? Isn’t His Divinity the far more important issue? What does it mean to say Jesus came in the flesh? We could say you came in the flesh, too, because you have a body. In fact, we’ve all come “in the flesh”. None of us were born into the world flesh free. What kind of baloney is John dishing out here to say that merely acknowledging that Jesus walked around in human form is some critical way to tell the liars from the good guys?
Do you realize how many false religions acknowledge Jesus as a historical figure today? Jesus’ fleshiness is the least debated point about Him. It’s His Divinity that everyone rejects, but most people have no problem saying Jesus had flesh.
What John is literally saying here is that we just have to acknowledge that Jesus walked around on the earth in a body. If you run with this theory and never get around to acknowledging that Jesus is God Almighty, you’re going to end up in Hell. So far we’re really not liking John’s test.
But now let’s be super generous and assume that John is just expressing himself badly. Let’s assume that what he really means is that we have to say that Jesus was God come in the flesh. This isn’t what John has actually written down, but we’re trying to help him look like less of a fool. So let’s assume that what John really means is that anyone who tries to deny that the Jesus who everyone saw walking around on earth was really God in human form must be a spirit that is opposed to God. This sounds a little better until we flip over to the Gospel records and read the following:
When Jesus had come to the other side, to the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met Him as they came out of the tombs. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. Suddenly they shouted, “What do You have to do with us, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?” (Mt. 8:28-29)
Demons also were coming out of many, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But rebuking them, Jesus would not allow them to speak, because they knew Him to be the Christ. (Lk. 4:41)
So according to these passages, do demons have a problem acknowledging Jesus’ Divinity? No, it’s more like they won’t shut up about it. Where was John when all of this was happening? John was one of the first disciples to join up with Jesus. John should know better than most how mouthy demons can be, so why is he handing us this guff about demons never saying Jesus is God or acknowledging that Jesus came to earth in a fleshy form?
You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. (1 Jn. 4:4)
Who have you overcome? The evil spirits who are supposed to be so phobic about acknowledging who Jesus is. No, actually, you haven’t overcome anyone. If the Holy Spirit were to ever drop His guard around you, demons would tear you to pieces in nothing flat. It’s pompous fools like John and Paul who encourage you to view yourself as having some kind of supremacy over angelic creatures, yet these men are only going to lead you into harmful delusions. You’ll never see the day that demons tremble in your powerless presence. Even with all of your Scripture quoting and emphatic rebuking, you don’t faze them in the slightest. Go ahead, try and put on that ridiculous “armor of God” that was invented by Paul—that same fool who also tries to tell you that Satan is the ruler of this world. You are no match for demons. God created you to be utterly dependent on Him, but these New Testament apostles are always trying to reverse truth and make it out like you’ve got the power while God is merely your handy Assistant. Notice how John says you have overcome the spirits because God is in you. He doesn’t say God has overcome the spirits. No, God is just some battery pack dwelling inside you that empowers you to overcome. God is the supplier of that armor that you strap on so that you can drive the demons back in your own strength. Are you seeing the problem with this language? Anytime you are the one being exalted, you know someone is lying to you.
They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Anyone who knows God listens to us; anyone who is not from God does not listen to us. From this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 Jn. 4:5-6)
If you need more evidence of how massive John’s ego is, here you are: the man actually has the gall to hold himself up as our litmus test of truth. John and his fellow teachers are utterly perfect, you see, and everything they say is from God. So obviously anyone who doesn’t accept what John and his buddies say must be of the devil. Wow. “Anyone who knows God listens to us.” You gotta love it when some guy tries to tell you what your spiritual standing with God is based on whether you agree with him or not. “Anyone who is not from God does not listen to us.” Right.
But now let’s put things in perspective. In this very same chapter, John will also tell us:
For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. (1 Jn. 4:18)
According to John, no true Christian could ever feel less than loving towards their fellow human beings. Is there anyone in your life who you’re currently holding a grudge against? Is there anyone whose death you would secretly celebrate? Is there anyone who you currently hate? According to John, your nasty attitude proves that you’re a child of the devil and that you’ve never even known God, for you see:
Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 Jn. 4:7-8)
So you see? If you hate, you can’t be a Christian. But then again, hateful Christians acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God, and this creates a major quandary for John, because he also says:
If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. (1 Jn. 4:15)
Well, now we’re confused. What are we to make of all these Christians with really unloving attitudes who acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God? Do they know God or not? According to John they do…and according to John they don’t. But even though John is contradicting himself all over the place, we’d better agree with him, because John says that anyone who disagrees with him is “not from God.”
There, now wasn’t that a fun ride? Aren’t you glad the early church fathers decided to include this little letter into our collection of “God-breathed” Scriptures? And just where do we get the “God-breathed” label from, anyway? From Paul–that guy who tells you to suit up in your magic armor because you’ve clearly got what it takes to beat those demons back. Paul’s also the dingdong who tells us that one day Jesus will hang up His crown and give all of His Authority back to Yahweh because somehow Jesus is not quite as God as Yahweh is (see Applying 1 Corinthians 15: Paul Demotes Christ). It’s astounding how we’re all just downing this blasphemous rot without ever daring to question it. It’s disturbing how we’ve all decided that fools like Paul and John are spiritually mature when they can’t even make up their minds about who Christ is and what His followers will act like. But this is where we end up when we keep bowing down to shepherds who teach us not to think for ourselves.
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Practicing Discernment: 3 Biblical Tests That Let Us Down
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