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.