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).