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.