Abide In God (Love)

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. – 1 John 4:16 ESV

1 John 4:7-21

In the verse above, John makes the statement that “God is love.” It is His essence, not just a characteristic of who He is. For John and the other apostles, to have experienced the love of God was to have experienced God Himself. Why? Because God expressed His love for mankind by sending His own Son to die on their behalf and in their place, in order to satisfy the judgment of God against their sins. So when they accepted that gift by believing in His Son, they experienced a love like nothing they had ever known before. They became the recipients of an other-worldly kind of love, the love of God, and through Jesus, came to know God better than they had ever known Him before. They discovered what true love really looks like and they found out what it feels like to abide in that love. And their strong belief was that, to abide in God was to abide in His love. And vice versa, to abide in His love was to abide in Him. Remember, John has said, “No one has ever seen God” (1 John 4:12 ESV). But those of us who are in Christ have experienced and known His love. And when we love one another in the same way that He and His Son have loved us, we abide in that same love. We experience the love of God all over again. The love that we are commanded to share with one another is the same love we have received. But we must be careful to ensure that we do not redefine love to fit our temporal, human sentiments.

One of the dangers we face is when we wrongly conclude that if God is love, then love must be God. Notice that John did not say, “Love is God.” When we flip this around we end up with love as the supreme good, not God. And because we are human, we tend to make love all about us. We end up putting ourselves at the center of that love. And that love is best expressed in terms we define and dictate. In other words, we conclude, “I feel most love when __________________.” You fill in the blank. In other words, we make a list of things we believe will make us feel loved. If God gives me a good job that pays me good money and makes me feel fulfilled, then He loves me. If God heals my disease and gives me a long life, then I will know that He loves me. If God gives me someone to marry who is highly attractive and fun to be with, then I will feel loved by Him. But what’s the problem with all of this? The natural conclusion is that if we don’t get what we want, we feel unloved by God. We have defined love on our terms and if God doesn’t love us the way we want to be loved, then He is unloving. Frederick Buechner wrote, “To say that love is God is romantic idealism. To say that God is love is either the last straw or the ultimate truth.” Sometimes the love of God will come across as hate to us. We will not feel loved. Because God’s deepest concern for us is not for our happiness, but our holiness. There will be times when God does not give us what we desire. Because He does not love us? No, because He DOES love us, and He alone knows what is BEST for us. Paul prayed repeatedly that God would remove “the thorn in my flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7 NLT). But God did not answer those prayers. At least not in the terms Paul was expecting. But what was Paul’s conclusion? “So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud” (2 Corinthians 12:7 NLT). Each time Paul had prayed for what he believed he needed, God had lovingly told him, “‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT). God had something far greater He wanted to do in Paul’s life. His love is always redemptive and restorative, but with an emphasis on the future. God did not promise us our best life now. His love has an eschatological or future aspect to it. These bodies are impermanent. They will not last and were not designed to do so. He has something far better in store for us. Ultimately, God’s love is focused on who we are in Him and what we will be when His Son returns.

So what if we loved one another the way God loves us, the way Christ loved us? What if our greatest expression of love for one another was focused on God’s desire to sanctify those that are His and redeem those who are not? I am NOT suggesting that we do not meet physical or emotional needs. John has made it clear that love must be practical and tangible. But as children of God, our love must have a greater, deeper focus than the alleviation of temporal suffering. To love as God has loved us is to care deeply about one another’s spiritual well-being. It is to sacrifice all that you have in order to see another human being reconciled, made right with God. Paul reminds us, “Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19 ESV). Our love for others must ultimately be about their reconciliation to God. God’s love is always redemptive, restorative, and regenerative in nature. It is about far more than our happiness or temporal well-being. And we must remain in, abide in that kind of love – embracing it, sharing it, displaying it, and spreading it to all those around us.

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God = Love.

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. – 1 John 4:16 ESV

1 John 4:7-21

John has already told us that God is light (1 John 1:5). Now he lets us in on another significant reality about God’s divine character. He is love. He doesn’t just love. He is love. It is His very nature. In fact, all that He does is done as an expression of His love. But that raises some interesting and somewhat mind-boggling contradictions for us as human beings. It causes us significant confusion because we have a hard time reconciling the images of God’s wrath, judgment, and punishment as revealed in the Bible. These seeming contradictions raise questions that usually begin with the words, “But how could a loving God …” We wrestle with stories from the Old Testament that picture God as demanding the annihilation of entire groups of people. We struggle with the concept that God would punish people by condemning them to an endless existence in a place of perpetual torment. Trying to comprehend these two extremes has caused many to either reject God altogether or to attempt to rationalize and reconstruct their image of God. Many believers, uncomfortable with the concept of God as a judge who metes out justice and judgment, have simply re-imagined Him, eliminating His less-attractive characteristics and recreating Him as the all-loving, all-accepting, all-inclusive, all-for-us, all the time God. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar and popular author and speaker, represents many who have chosen to rethink their view of God. “We must get this clear, together, to see real progress. Is God good? Is He Loving, Peaceful? Does God look like Jesus, who forgave 7×70 times, even to the point of death, and lived a non-violent, non-retributive life? Or… Is God angry? Is He violent and warring? Does God look like the god portrayed in the Old Testament, commanding wars, genocide and destruction? Does He look like a retributive, end-times Jesus who will ‘kill millions upon His return,’ seemingly having a cut-off point’ to His own teaching on forgiveness?” Unable to reconcile the two seeming extremes of God as portrayed in the Scriptures, Richard Rohr and others have simply chosen to construct their own view of God. They prefer to camp and count on the all-loving version. Why? Because they are uncomfortable with what they refer to as the schizophrenic God of the Bible. They say, “He cannot be a warring, genocidal maniac, and then a loving servant Savior who forgives and includes all – especially the most undesirable – and finally a bloodthirsty, horse-riding, sinner-slayer who enacts ‘justice’ in ‘the end.’” So they recreate Him in their own image. But doing so requires that they view the Sciptures no longer as God’s revelation of Himself to man, but as man’s attempt to reveal their marred and somewhat immature understanding of God. The Bible becomes nothing more than a collection of human stories revealing mankind’s growing and progressively enlightening view of God. And Jesus becomes no longer a Savior from sin, but a seer who helps man see the truly loving side of God.

But the problem with all this is that John and the other apostles tell us, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10 ESV). John is not afraid to talk about sin. And he is most certainly not afraid to testify that mankind needs a Savior from sin. In fact, as far as John was concerned, the greatest expression of God’s love for mankind was the selfless, sacrificial, undeserved death of His own Son. The brutal execution of Jesus was God’s love on display. Hard to understand? Difficult to comprehend? You bet. Sounds harsh and barbaric doesn’t it? It assaults our sensibilities. But just because we can’t reasonably rationalize how a loving God could require the brutal death of His own Son in order to pay for sins He didn’t even commit, doesn’t mean we should totally reconstruct the scenario to better suit our sensibilities. Jesus Himself told us, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 ESV). Death as an expression of love. It is God’s holiness, righteousness, and justice that make His love all that more incredible. Paul reminds us, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). Our sin separated us from God. Our sin required a just and holy God to do the right thing and mete out judgment and the deserved punishment. But God loved. When man couldn’t live up to the holy standards of a righteous God, He stepped in and did something about it. He loved us when we were at our worst. But His love didn’t overlook our sin. He didn’t just dismiss our guilt and ignore our debt. To do so would have required Him to be less than God. No, God remained just, holy, and righteous while loving us at the same time. But to do so, someone had to die. Someone had to pay the penalty. His own Son. The sinless Son of God. And it is that remarkable act of LOVE that should motivate and inspire our love for others. We don’t make God more loving by attempting to make Him less judgmental. For God to ignore our sin would not have been loving, anymore than a father to ignore the rebellion of a child. God’s love shines greatest when we see man’s sin at its darkest. Man is sinful. Sin is rebellion against God. The penalty for sin is death – eternal separation from God. But God loved. He paid the penalty by sending His Son to die – out of love. As an expression of His love. Because He loves. Love is at its most beautiful when juxtaposed against a backdrop of unloveliness and undeservedness. Loving the unlovely isn’t just hard. It’s impossible. Without the love of God.

Perfect Love.

No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. – 1 John 4:12 ESV

1 John 4:7-21

Twenty seven times in 16 verses, John references “love.” He tells us to “love one another,” that “whoever loves has been born of God,” that “God loves us first,” and that “God is love.” He also speaks of love being “perfected” and “perfect.” Those two words, when associates with love, come across as unachievable and impossible in this lifetime. How in the world are we, as believers with active sin natures, to love perfectly? Can our love really be perfected in our lifetime? Or is it something we have to wait for until Christ returns and we are glorified and made to be like Him?

John gives us the answer to these questions and more. He commands us to love one another. And where did he get that command? From Jesus Himself. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34 ESV). We are to love one another in the same way that Jesus loved us: Selflessly and sacrificially. Jesus reminds us, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 ESV). And this love that Jesus expressed came directly from God the Father. It was God’s love lived out through Jesus’ life. “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). Jesus gave His life as an expression of the love of God. God loved the world through Jesus. He was the conduit of God’s love. And God wants us to do the same thing through us. Starting with our brothers and sisters in Christ. He wants His love to be perfected through us. That word in the Greek is teleioō and is means “to carry through completely” or “to bring to an end.” God wants His love to flow through us to one another and not simply end on us. In fact, it was for this very thing that Jesus prayed in the garden on the night of his betrayal. “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me” (John 17:22-23 NLT). Jesus’ death has made it possible for God’s love to flow through us to one another. The same love God has for His Son has been poured out on us so that we might pour it out on each other, and so prove that we are His disciples. John reminds us, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10 ESV). As a result, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19 ESV). And when we love one another, we make visible the love of God. In fact, we make the transcendent, invisible God tangible and knowable. “ No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12 ESV). Men can’t see God, but they can see God’s love through us. Paul tells us that Jesus was “the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NLT). John, in his gospel, wrote this regarding Jesus: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (John 1:18 NIV). But the most radical expression of God’s love was through Jesus’ death. John puts it this way: “In this is love…that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10 ESV). Jesus’ selfless sacrifice of His own life was a declaration and proof of God’s love for man.

But let’s take it back to us. Can we love like Jesus loved? Can we love perfectly or completely? I think the answer lies in our understanding of what John meant by “perfect love.” He isn’t talking about something we manufacture or create. He is talking about God’s love being carried through us to its intended destination: others. God’s love was not meant to dead end with us. He loved us so that we might love others. Again, John puts it in very clear terms. “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:16 ESV). How do we know how much God loves us? Because of His Son’s death in our place. We live in that love, counting on it daily, trusting in it regularly. “By this is love perfected with us” (1 John 4:17 ESV). As we live in His love, it begins to flow out of us. As we remember and rely on His unconditional love for us, we realize that there is no legitimate reason we should not share that same love with others for whom His Son died. We are not having to conjure up love for others. We are simply sharing or passing on the love that God has shown to us through His Son. I love the imagery Paul uses to explain the power that we have available within us. “For God, who said, ‘Let there be light in the darkness,’ has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17 NLT). It isn’t our love that is perfect, but His love being made carried through to completion through us. Most often, in spite of us.

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Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?

Here’s how you test for the genuine Spirit of God. Everyone who confesses openly his faith in Jesus Christ—the Son of God, who came as an actual flesh-and-blood person—comes from God and belongs to God. – 1 John 4:2 MSG

1 John 4:1-6

There are so many versions of Jesus being offered up today that it’s hard to keep track. There is Jesus, the life coach, whose sole purpose was to provide us with a model for self-improvement. Just follow His instructions and you can be just like Him. Then there’s Jesus, the moralistic monk, who gave us a host of wise sayings to quote and even to live out if we so choose. This Jesus was kind of a Hebrew Muhatma Gandhi, who spoke against social injustices and promoted peace and love. There’s Jesus, the martyr, a radical peasant who tried to bring about a social revolution, but died while trying. His faithful followers picked up where He left off and kept the spirit of His cause alive. There’s even Jesus, the Son of God, who whose a man chosen by God to be a living example of what it looks like when men learn to live in harmony with their Creator.

But the problem with all these versions of Jesus is that they are not the real Jesus. They may give us brief glimpses of some aspect of His life or a partial view of His nature, but they leave out the most important, life-altering point of His existence. He is Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God who took on human flesh, in order to pay for the sins of mankind and satisfy the just demands of a holy, just and righteous God. John made this point clear at the very beginning of his letter, stating, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us” (1 John 1:1-2 ESV). Jesus, the eternal life, had been manifested or made known to John and the other disciples. They had seen, touched, and heard Him. They had spent over three years living with Him. They had seen Him perform miracles, transfigured, walk on water, raise the dead, and suffer a brutal death by crucifixion. But they had also seen Him alive three days after He had been buried in a borrowed tomb that had been surrounded by guards. They had heard Him say that He was going away, but that He would be returning for them some day. And they had clearly heard His parting words as He gave them His great commission to spread the good news regarding Him to all the world. This is the Jesus John preached. This is the Jesus Paul proclaimed and gave his life for. This is the Jesus of Peter, Matthew, Mark, Luke, Titus, Timothy, the Philippian jailer, Lydia, Silas, Barnabas, James, Tabitha, Phillip and millions upon millions of others over the last 2000-plus years.

But we live in a society that has a difficult time accepting the truth about Jesus. So they re-invent Him. They come up with their version of Him that makes Him more palatable and acceptable. The Jesus of John and the disciples is too intolerant and demanding. Their version of the gospel doesn’t come across as good news at all. So people reject it or simply revise it to suit their tastes. In his book, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society, Lesslie Newbigin writes:

The gospel is news of what has happened. The problem of communicating it in a pluralistic society is that it simply disappears into the undifferentiated ocean of information. It represents one opinion among millions of others. It cannot be “the truth,” since in a pluralistic society truth is not one but many. It may be “true for you,” but it cannot be true for everyone. To claim that it is true for everyone is simply arrogance. It is permitted as one opinion among many.

The problem is that John and the disciples present Jesus as the only way. “Everyone who confesses openly his faith in Jesus Christ—the Son of God, who came as an actual flesh-and-blood person—comes from God and belongs to God” (1 John 4:2 MSG). Even Jesus Himself claimed, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). He wasn’t one way among many. He wasn’t just another option. He was the only way. The exclusive, no-other-alternative-available way. It was A. W. Tozer who said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” But I would add, what comes into our mind when we think about Jesus is what will determine our relationship with God. Jesus was and is the Son of God. He is the God-man, 100 percent deity and 100 percent humanity. A mystery that is inexplicable by man, but essential for the salvation of mankind. Jesus lived a sinless life. Yet He was required to die a sinner’s death, in order to pay the penalty due for the sin’s of mankind. He died in our place. He took on our sin and the punishment we deserved, so that we might receive forgiveness, pardon, and escape from the condemnation of death. But we must believe that He was who He claimed to be. We must accept the gift that He so graciously offers. We must believe in and trust our lives to the Jesus Christ as sent by God, proclaimed by the apostles, taught in the Bible and confirmed by the presence of the Holy Spirit. No other Jesus will do. No other way will suffice. No other version of the truth will work. “And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5 ESV).

Ears to Hear.

We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. – 1 John 4:6 ESV

1 John 4:1-6

This passage is filled with warnings about those who would deceive with false messages regarding Jesus and, ultimately, the Word of God. If they don’t confess and believe in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God sent to take on human flesh and become the Savior of the world, their message is to be rejected. But John also puts a lot of the responsibility on those who hear. In other words, the ones who receive the message are just as responsible as those who give it. There is a need for us to listen attentively, warily and wisely. And that is where the Holy Spirit comes in. Jesus Himself once said, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!” (Matthew 11:15 NLT). John records Jesus using this phrase again in the book of Revelation when Jesus spoke to the churches, one of them being the church in Ephesus. “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches” (Revelation 2:7 NLT). In the Greek, there is only one word that John uses and it is the word, akouō. But this word means far more than just to hear. It conveys the idea of hearing and comprehension. It means “to understand, perceive the sense of what is said.” So we are to listen carefully to what we hear being taught, whether it comes from a pulpit or podcast, the TV, a book, a magazine, or the lips of a close friend.

As John is prone to do, he has once again set up a striking contrast between one thing and another. He provides us with no grey area. For him, it is a matter of truth or falsehood, black or white, fact or fiction. The messenger is either from God or from this world. The listeners are either children of God or children of the devil (1 John 3:10). The message is either the Spirit of truth or the spirit of error. There’s the Word of God and everything else. The problem is that we live in an environment where everything is becoming increasingly grey and indistinct. It is becoming more and more difficult to know what is truth. Everything is relative. Tolerance is the law of the land. Anything goes. Everything is to be accepted. And if we are not careful, even as believers we can find ourselves buying into the lies. We are being bombarded with messages that sound so compelling. And many of them are coming from those who claim to be speaking on behalf of God. But anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand. We must filter out the rhetoric and rationalizations and listen to what the more sinister, hidden agenda behind the message might be. We must probe behind the surface of what is being said and discover the heart of what is being taught. We must ask whether what is being conveyed is in keeping with God’s Word. We must question whether their message is from God or from men. It may be appealing, well-worded, highly convincing, logical, and rational, but if it contradicts the Word of God, it is to be rejected. The problem is that much of what is being taught today doesn’t come across as heresy. It comes couched in terms that speak of God’s love, compassion, grace and mercy. It encourages us to be accepting, tolerant, and forgiving. It paints God as a cosmic force who exists to help men and women become all that they can be. He is portrayed as a life couch who wants to help each and every individual reach their full potential. He wants to give them heaven on earth, but based on their terms, not His. He is imagined as a God who wants everyone healthy, wealthy, happy, whole, and free to live their life according to their own standards. Sin gets redefined or eliminated altogether. Salvation becomes nothing more than a form of self-actualization. Holiness gets replaced with happiness. Jesus gets reduced to little more than a role model worth emulating, but not a Savior worth accepting.

What is amazing is the ease with which many children of God accept the messages of this world. Paul knew this day was coming and he warned his young protege, Timothy, about it. “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4 NLT). I believe Paul was referring to those who claim to be believers in Jesus Christ. They would go from listening to sound and wholesome teaching to chasing after myths. They would be driven by their desires and seek out those who would tell them what they wanted to hear. And there will never be a shortage of those willing to tell us what we want to hear. They will gladly redefine sin, re-imagine God, reinvent the gospel, reduce the role of Jesus, remove the threat of hell, reject guilt, and revise the teachings of the Bible to fit our more modern, 21st-Century mindset. Their message is appealing. They use spiritual language. They quote Scripture. They talk of God. They speak of Jesus. They promise happiness and wholeness. They write best-selling books. They fill large auditoriums. They appear on national TV. They attract large crowds. And they teach a spirit of error. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand! “They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them” (1 John 4:5 ESV). Jude gives us an even more dire description of these false teachers. “…they are like dangerous reefs that can shipwreck you. They are like shameless shepherds who care only for themselves. They are like clouds blowing over the land without giving any rain. They are like trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots. They are like wild waves of the sea, churning up the foam of their shameful deeds. They are like wandering stars, doomed forever to blackest darkness” (Jude 1:12-13 NLT). Appearances can be deceiving. So can words. Listen carefully and discerningly.

True Confession.

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. – 1 John 4:2-3 ESV

1 John 4:1-6

“I believe in Jesus!” How many times have you heard someone make that statement? Does saying those four simple words make someone a “believer” in Jesus? The real question we need to ask someone who makes that claim is, “What do you believe about Jesus?” Belief in Jesus can run the gamut from the mere acknowledgement that He was an actual historical figure to the assurance that He was the Son of God sent to be the Savior of the world. And those are two extremely different views. So what someone believes about Jesus is critical to understanding what they mean when they say they believe in Jesus. The same is true of those who claim to teach truth regarding Jesus. Just because they use His name does not mean they believe He was God in human flesh, sent to pay the penalty for the sins of man. In fact, there are many today who are reinventing and redefining Jesus, creating a hybrid, more user-friendly version that better suits their own agenda.

Their Jesus is not the one we read about in the Scriptures. He is not the one the apostles wrote about and spent their lives teaching about. The same thing was true in John’s day. Which is why he warned his readers to test the spirits. Not everybody who used the name of Jesus was speaking on behalf of Jesus, or teaching the truth regarding Jesus. Their message may have sounded plausible and even pleasing, but if they were teaching a different version of Jesus than what the apostles taught, they were to be avoided at all costs. John’s criteria was simple. They had to confess “that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” (1 John 4:2 ESV). Belief in the incarnation of Jesus was the foundational requirement for authenticity as far as John was concerned. If someone refused to believe that Jesus was the Son of God, sent to earth in human form, in order to live a sinless life and die a sinner’s death on behalf of man, then whatever else they taught about Him would be false. Denial of Jesus’ diety and humanity would be the equivalent of worshiping a false god. God’s Word taught that Jesus was deity, the second person of the trinity, who left heaven, came to earth “in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins” (Romans 8:3 NLT). If anyone rejects that version of the truth about Jesus, they are not worshiping the God of the Bible. They are not believing in what God said regarding Jesus. “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him” (Matthew 17:5 NLT). They are not believing what Jesus said about Himself. “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33 ESV). He went on to say, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35 ESV). And Jesus completed His message concerning Himself with the words, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40 ESV). Jesus came to live, to die, to rise again from the dead, and to provide sinful men with a means by which they might be made right with God.

If Jesus was NOT God in human flesh, then He would have been unable to live sinlessly. If He did not live sinlessly, then His death on the cross would have failed to propitiate or satisfy the just demands of a holy and righteous God. A sinful sacrifice would not have sufficed. If Jesus had been only a man, He would have had a sin nature just as the rest of us. He would have been insufficient and unsatisfactory as a sacrifice. But Paul reminds us, “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT). Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, “God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God” (Romans 4:24-25 NLT). To believe in Jesus is to confess that He was the Son of God. It is to confess that He was God in human flesh, who lived a sinless life, died on the cross as payment for the sins of all mankind, who rose again and sits at the right hand of the Father, and is one day coming back. Any other version of Jesus is wrong. It is dangerous, deceptive and deadly. What we need to discern is not simply that others believe in Jesus, but what do they believe about Jesus. Paul put it simply and succinctly when he wrote, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9 NLT).

Listen Carefully.

They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. – 1 John 4:5-6 ESV

1 John 4:1-6

John made a fairly bold claim when he wrote, “We are from God.” He was telling his readers that he could be trusted because what he wrote, he had received directly from God. He was making it up. It wasn’t his opinion or his fading recollections of how things had happened. John had received his message directly from the Spirit of God, just as Jesus had promised. “But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative–that is, the Holy Spirit–he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you” (John 14:26 NLT). John had special help and assistance. So did Paul and the other writers of the Old and New Testaments. Paul made a similar claim when he wrote the church in Corinth, “When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths” (1 Corinthians 2:13 NLT). Paul and John both believed that what they were writing, teaching, and proclaiming was the very Word of God. Paul reminded Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV). And Paul was not just referring to the Old Testament. The authors of what would become the New Testament believed what they were writing was from God. Peter said this of Paul, “just as also our dear brother Paul wrote to you, according to the wisdom given to him, speaking of these things in all his letters. Some things in these letters are hard to understand, things the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they also do to the rest of the scriptures” (2 Peter 1:15-16 NET). These men were penning the words of God. They were prophets acting on behalf of God. Listen to what Peter claimed:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son,i with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. – 2 Peter 1:16-21 ESV

Peter was confident that what he wrote was from God, given to him by the Holy Spirit. So what they taught concerning Jesus was God’s words, not their own. That is why they were so adamant that their readers, those who believed in Jesus, not be deceived by any other messengers who might teach a different Jesus, a different gospel, or a different Spirit. Paul and the other New Testament authors wrote under the divine influence of the Spirit of God. They were not just motivational speakers coming up with their own version of the truth or their own take on spiritual life. Paul wrote, “And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:4 NLT). He claimed, “When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths” (1 Corinthians 2:!4 NLT). The things of God are impossible for the non-spiritual to discern or understand. “But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means” (1 Corinthians 2:14 NLT). But they can understand the things of the world. The non-spiritual, those who do not know Christ, are susceptible and receptive to falsehood, because they don’t know any better. But believers have the Holy Spirit, who helps us discern the difference between truth and fiction, the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. But we must learn to listen carefully to what He is saying. We must spend time in the Word of God in order that the Spirit of God can educate us and equip us for life in this sometimes very confusing world. We have the truth, as revealed in the Word of God. We have the ability to understand God’s Word because we have God’s Spirit. And we have the promise that “the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world” (1 John 4:4 NLT). 

Holy Help.

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. – 1 John 4:4 ESV

1 John 4:1-6

Not everyone who claims to speak or write on behalf of God has been sent by God. But how are we to know the difference? When you walk into a Christian bookstore and see the shelves lined with titles that all claim to be written from a Christian perspective and worthy of not only your time, but your money, can you trust them to be trustworthy? John gives us the litmus test: Find out what they say about Jesus. In other words, check their message. Do they confess Jesus as the Son of God and the Savior of the world? That’s the foundational test. But beyond that, is their message consistent with Scripture? To discover that, you will have to know the Scriptures. And you will have to be discerning, because false prophets do not usually deny Jesus. They simply do not confess Jesus. The danger is much more subtle. They may teach a slightly different Jesus. They may portray a redefined version of Jesus. But is their message consistent with the Scriptures? Is the Jesus they present the same one the apostles confessed? Has their Jesus been “modernized” to bring Him up to speed with current events and our culture’s changing views? Is the version  of Jesus they paint of a more tolerant, loving, totally accepting, non-condemning Jesus? Or is He the Jesus that loved sinners and said to the woman caught in the act of adultery, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11 ESV). The problem today with many who claim to be speaking on behalf of God is that they want their Jesus to be accepting of both the sinner and the sin. They want a version of Jesus that is tolerant and totally accepting. And He is. But they forget that “he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5 ESV). “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8 ESV). When we start redefining Jesus and His message, we are on shaky ground. And when we start accepting the teachings of those who would portray a slightly different Jesus than the one the Scriptures reveal, we are venturing into dangerous territory. So what are we to do?

John would have us remember that we have help. Jesus has left us a helper, the Holy Spirit, who lives within us and lives to assist us and empower us as we make our way through this life. John tells us, “the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world” (1 John 4:4 NLT). Because we have the Spirit’s help, we can overcome all the false teachers and confusing doctrine that is being spewed out all around us. The Greek word John uses that is translated “overcome” is nikaō, and it can mean “to carry off the victory.” When referring to Christians, it typically means that they are those who ”hold fast their faith even unto death against the power of their foes.” And the Spirit is the one who helps us do just that. We have to rely on Him to help us spot falsehood. He alone can help us discern fact from fiction. But here is the point many of us miss. He will not do it apart from the Word of God. Dr. Thomas Constable puts it this way: “We overcome Satan, his agents, and his influence as we resist his temptations to doubt, deny, disregard, and disobey the Word of God.” But we overcome only with the help of the Spirit. But it is so important for us to remember that He will use the Word of God as the means by which we evaluate and test what is being taught. It is far more easy for us to doubt, deny, disregard and disobey the Word of God when we don’t know the Word of God. It is far more likely that we will give into false teaching when we don’t know what the true teaching of Scripture is. The Holy Spirit helps us understand Scripture. But if we spend no time in the Word, we make it impossible for the Spirit to teach us, convict us, equip us or comfort us through the Word. Paul reminded Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” (2 Timothy 3:16 NLT). Jesus promised us, “But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative–that is, the Holy Spirit–he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you” (John  14:26 NLT). So we have everything we need to withstand the assault of the enemy that comes in the form of false teaching, deceptive doctrine, and tempting half-truths. We have holy help, in the form of God’s Spirit and God’s Word. So we can overcome.

Spiritual White Noise.

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. – 1 John 4:1 ESV

1 John 4:1-6

What’s right and what’s wrong? Who’s telling the truth and who’s lying? How do I know who to trust? There are so many people saying so many different things, how can I tell who I should listen to? Let’s face it, we live in an age of confusion. There are so many voices shouting so many different messages and sharing so many different opinions, that it is hard to filter out the fact from the fiction, the heresy from the hearsay. Even the shelves in Christian bookstores are filled with an ever-growing selection of so-called religious titles on everything from finance to family devotionals, and losing weight to increasing your joy. Even the TV is filled with Christian broadcasters doling out an eclectic and ecclesiasticly confusing wave of “spiritual” messages for the masses. It can all become a bit overwhelming. And the same thing was true in John’s day. Which is a big part of the reason he wrote his letter in the first place. He was addressing a group of believers in the local church in Ephesus who had recently experienced a divorce of sorts. A contingent of their brothers and sisters had left their fellowship over a disagreement over doctrine. There had been a not-so-amicable parting of the ways. One group had begun espousing a different message and teaching a variant form of truth. But there was enough common language and similarities to make it confusing for those who had been left behind. They were probably wondering, “What if they’re right and we’re wrong?” Some of what their former friends had been saying probably sounded reasonable and even attractive to them. They were most likely  asking themselves, “How can we be so sure of ourselves?”

The danger they faced was allowing their confusion to turn to compromise. Their lack of confidence in what they believed could be easily taken advantage of by anyone with a slightly different take on the facts. And we run the same danger today. There is no shortage of individuals espousing their opinions about all things spiritual. Which is why we have to be careful. John indicated that there is “the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:6 ESV) and we have to be able to know the difference. So he provided us with a very simple test. “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” (1 John 4:2-3 ESV). This is the foundational requirement for determining truth. What do they believe about Jesus? Notice it is not whether they believe in Jesus, but what do they believe about Jesus. Do they believe He is the Son of God? Do they believe He was God in human flesh? Do they believe He was the Christ, the Messiah, sent from God to pay for the sins of mankind? There are many who use the name of Jesus and even write books about Jesus, but who refuse His deity and deny His role as Savior. Sometimes their messages are subtle and difficult to discern. They use familiar phrases and similar terminology to ours. They speak of Jesus in glowing terms and talk of the spiritual life in terms that cause us to let down our guard. But John called them false prophets. They claim to speak for God, but what they are saying is not from God. Which is why he said, “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1 ESV). Test them. Put what they are saying up against the Word of God. Start with what they say about Jesus. Make sure they are confessing the same Jesus the apostles taught, the Holy Spirit confirms and the Bible reveals. Not every Christian book is Christ-centered. Not every Christian teacher is speaking on behalf of God. John warns us, “They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them” ( 1John 4:5 ESV). Which is why their books may sell in record numbers. It explains why many of these authors and speaks are so popular. Paul warned Timothy that this was going to happen. “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3 NLT). Everybody wants to have their best life now, so if you write a book that tells you exactly how to have it, you’ll have a best-seller on your hands. Everybody wants to be better, to improve their lives, so if you can tell them how God exists to make that happen, you’ll be on the lecture circuit before you can say, “Become a better you!” But we need to test the spirits. We need to determine what they believe about Jesus. The spirit of the antichrist is all around us. And it is not always blatantly anti-Christ. It appears in subtle, beguiling forms as half-truths and slight variations on what God has said. Like the serpent in the garden, the enemy continues to say, “Surely God has not said.” Then he gives us his version of the truth. Close, but deadly wrong. But John reminds us, “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4 ESV). We are the children of God. We have the Spirit of God. We must constantly return to the truth of God as revealed in the Word of God. We must not allow ourselves to be misled, misinformed or misdirected as we make our way through this life. Christ must remain our focus.

That’s the Spirit!

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. – 1 John 4:2-3 ESV

1 John 4:1-6

That’s the Spirit. Or is it? Eight times in these six verses, John uses the Greek word, pneuma. And like a lot of Greek words, this one has a variety of meanings. It can refer to a breeze or movement of air; the soul of a man; the source of any power, affection, emotion, or desire; or it can be used when talking about the Spirit of God. The definition is established by the immediate context, including the words around it. But not only do we need to determine which pneuma John is referring to, he wants us to know how to figure out the difference between the Spirit of God and the spirit of the antichrist.

Not only does John repeatedly use the word, pneuma, he keeps bringing up the topic of confession. He does so in a variety of way, referring to prophets, hearing, speaking, confessing, and listening. In other words, John puts a high priority in these verses on communication. Prophets, by definition, were to speak on behalf of God. They were to be His mouthpieces, declaring the words of God to the people of God. When they spoke, the did so on His behalf. But John also puts a lot of responsibility on those who hear. They weren’t just supposed to listen, but they were to be discerning. Why? Because not every pneuma or spirit is from God. Not every influence or power that appears to be spiritual is from God. The Old Testament had some clear indicators as to whether a prophet was speaking truth or not. You couldn’t just go by what he said or did. You had to dig deeper and look at the root of his message. God gave the people of Israel the following standard:

“Suppose there are prophets among you or those who dream dreams about the future, and they promise you signs or miracles, and the predicted signs or miracles occur. If they then say, ‘Come, let us worship other gods’—gods you have not known before— do not listen to them. The Lord your God is testing you to see if you truly love him with all your heart and soul. Serve only the Lord your God and fear him alone. Obey his commands, listen to his voice, and cling to him. The false prophets or visionaries who try to lead you astray must be put to death, for they encourage rebellion against the Lord your God, who redeemed you from slavery and brought you out of the land of Egypt. Since they try to lead you astray from the way the Lord your God commanded you to live, you must put them to death. In this way you will purge the evil from among you.” – Deuteronomy 13:1-5 NLT

If they dreamed dreams and talked about signs and wonders, but encouraged the people of God to worship false gods, they were false prophets. And the penalty for their deception was death. Pretty serious stuff. In the book of 1 John, the apostle gives a similar warning to test the spirits or spokesmen declaring to be representing God. And the criteria for the test was simple: What do they say about Jesus? Do they confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh? Was He the Son of God? Was He the Savior of the world? “Every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist” (1 John 4:3 ESV). It is the lie of Satan. People can claim to have the truth, know the truth, and speak the truth. They can claim to speak for God. But if they do not confess Jesus as the Son of God, sent by God to pay for the sins of man, they are not of God. They are from the world, John says. Not only that, they speak from the world, and the rest of the world listens to what they have to say. But John made it clear that he and the other apostles were from God. They spoke on behalf of God, because they confessed the same Jesus that God confessed. And they spoke to those who were also from God. The children of God recognize the voice of God. Over in his gospel, John recorded an incident that occurred in the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus found Himself surrounded by a crowd who demanded, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly” (John 10:24 NLT). Jesus responded, “I have already told you, and you don’t believe me. The proof is the work I do in my Father’s name. But you don’t believe me because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one” (John 10:25-30 NLT). John follows this up in his letter with the declaration, “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4 NLT). We have the Spirit of God within us. We have the power of God available to us. We have the truth of God made known to us. All because we believe and confess that Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and the sole reason we have a right relationship with God the Father. And anybody who teaches anything else is dead wrong.