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  • Writer's picturePastor Brett

Test Anxiety #4


-( Previously )-

1. God tests us. (1 Peter 1:6-9)

2. We test God, but only in one way. (MCI 3:6-12.)

3. We test ourselves. (2 Corinthians 13:5-10.)

-( Presently )-

4. We test the spirits. (1 John 4:1-6.)

There is an interesting group of believers that receive only five verses’ notice in the book of Acts. They were Jews in a city called Berea. Here’s what Acts 17:10-12 tells us about them:

THAT VERY NIGHT THE BELIEVERS SENT PAUL AND SILAS TO BEREA. WHEN THEY ARRIVED THERE, THEY WENT TO THE JEWISH SYNAGOGUE. AND THE PEOPLE OF BEREA WERE MORE OPEN-MINDED THAN THOSE IN THESSALONICA, AND THEY LISTENED EAGERLY TO PAUL’S MESSAGE. THEY SEARCHED THE SCRIPTURES DAY AFTER DAY TO SEE IF PAUL AND SILAS WERE TEACHING THE TRUTH. AS A RESULT, MANY JEWS BELIEVED, AS DID MANY OF THE PROMINENT GREEK WOMEN AND MEN.

The Jews in Berea exhibited three virtues and we would do well to follow their example in each of them. First, they were OPEN-MINDED. This gave them an eagerness to hear the truth being presented to them by Paul and Silas. Some people will try to tell you that being open-minded means you’ve abandoned the search for truth and simply swallow everything you’re told. No, that approach is being simple-minded, not open-minded. Open-mindedness gives claims of truth a fair hearing, followed by a careful testing to see what is true and false.

The second virtue of the Bereans was that they didn’t take Paul and Silas’ words at face value, but they compared it with their own copy of the Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament) to see for themselves if this new teaching were true. They did this all the time, DAY BY DAY. Everything Paul and Silas taught was scrutinized. If anything was contrary to God’s word, they would have rejected it as true.

The third virtue is in their faithful response to the teaching they received. Once they were satisfied that though Paul and Silas were telling them something NEW, it was nonetheless TRUE, and MANY of them received the word and BELIEVED. By way of contrast, later in chapter seventeen, Paul preached to people in Athens. They were open-minded and listened to Paul, but they did not check the Scriptures. They treated Paul with CONTEMPT and only SOME of them believed and were saved. We need to be like the Bereans and not like the Athenians!

By the way, this ancient group is not to be confused with the modern group of Bereans who have departed from the truth and are, IMHO, a little odd. I’ve read syndicated columns in newspapers and recommend you not bother with them.

Test everyone who claims to represent God; accept nothing at face value, but dig deep into their teaching and living, seeking conformity with the truth as confirmation of their message.

As a pastor, the Apostle John is addressing a specific situation in his churches: times in worship where someone would exercise their gift of prophecy. This would involve someone claiming to have received a message from God or having seen a vision, information specific to that church at that time. When these words of prophecy were given, it was a very subjective experience for the prophet and for the church receiving this prophecy. There is a Spiritual Gift of Prophecy so that practice is legit (if unfamiliar to most churchgoers), but not every claim to speak for God is legit. Each instance must be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Given the subjective nature of even a truthful use of this Gift, it was open to abuse. Anybody could claim to have privately received instructions from God and say anything they want. There is also the possibility of self-deception. For these reasons, it would be a mistake to treat every instance as genuine. So, John commanded; DO NOT BELIEVE EVERYONE WHO CLAIMS TO SPEAK BY THE SPIRIT.

Keeping this command requires us to recognize a general principle: YOU MUST TEST THEM. We need to exercise a healthy dose of biblical skepticism whenever someone claims to speak on God’s behalf. Our testing of all claims begins with the life of the claimant, then goes into the theology of their words. Look TO SEE IF THE SPIRIT THEY HAVE COMES FROM GOD. This testing may involve the exercise of another Spiritual Gift, the Gift of Discernment. This gift enables a person to recognize good and evil when it may not be apparent in a person’s words or manner.

A reason for this scrutiny is that there are many enemies to the truth: John warned them, THERE ARE MANY FALSE PROPHETS IN THE WORLD. Part of the moral failure we see in our time is the unwillingness to recognize evil or even acknowledge its existence.

Then take a look at their words and the theology they represent: in this passage, John’s test of authentic theology is belief in the human existence of Jesus Christ. This feels like a very specific test, but elsewhere in his letters, John will make the same use of the divine existence of Jesus Christ. In total, the key question is, “What is this person saying about Jesus?”

Jesus is the center of our faith, so claims to represent God will honor four fundamental truths of Jesus’ nature.

- He existed as God before the Incarnation.

- Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah God had promised to save His people.

- Jesus existed fully in human flesh and yet was fully divine at the same time.

- Jesus Christ continues to exist as both God and Man, the perfect Mediator between God and man.

In the history of the Church there were several heresies where people departed from the true faith by saying Jesus was either God or man, but not both. This is a falsehood that betrays the speaker as a false prophet. The one who teaches this truth and lives accordingly is the one who HAS THE SPIRIT OF GOD. Their prophecy can be trusted to be true.

On the other hand, everyone who denies the truth about Jesus is not speaking for God. Their prophecy can be rejected as false. In fact, John taught, those who disavow Jesus are worse than wrong, they have the SPIRIT OF THE ANTICHRIST! John is the only Bible writer to use the term ANTICHRIST. He uses it in both singular and plural versions, as a future and present threat to Christians. The FALSE PROPHET of verse one is the same as the ANTICHRIST of verse three. In brief, the ANTICHRIST is a movement of antitheism that contradicts everything Jesus taught and commanded. There have been individuals who have/who will be leaders in this movement, they may be called “the Antichrist.” Everyone who denies the truth about Jesus is evil; they cannot be trusted to represent God.

Having identified our enemy (Satan, his demons, and human mouthpieces), we are empowered by God to overcome the enemy (4-6). John promised victory for everyone whom the Spirit inhabits. In writing, BUT YOU BELONG TO GOD MY DEAR CHILDREN, Pastor John encouraged his flock by reminding them they are God’s children and are not merely prey for the SPIRIT OF ANTICHRIST. Part of standing against evil is remembering whose we are: we are God’s.

YOU HAVE ALREADY WON A VICTORY OVER THOSE PEOPLE is another word of encouragement. John acknowledged the SPIRIT OF THE ANTICHRIST was already in the world. That’s the bad news. The good news is that no matter how powerful such people become, no matter how much influence they have, no matter how much worldly success they achieve, they have already been defeated. VICTORY is ours!

This VICTORY is reliable because we didn’t win it – God gave us the VICTORY: BECAUSE THE SPIRIT WHO LIVES IN YOU IS GREATER THAN THE SPIRIT WHO LIVES IN THE WORLD. This is a spiritual VICTORY, not necessarily a physical one. It may be hard for us to see our VICTORY in the short-term, physical world, but it is reliably present in spiritual terms.

False teaching fails because it arises from a worldly perspective. In contrast to God’s children, those who speak falsely BELONG TO THIS WORLD. Pastor John warns his people to not get tangled up with people who have a SPIRIT OF DECEPTION, which is the spiritual origin of worldly wisdom.

We all know people who can - and do - appeal to “common sense.” They can be pragmatic and practical. They can appear to make good sense. However, that is a deception because truth comes from God alone. Because THEY SPEAK FROM THE WORLD’S VIEWPOINT, other worldly-minded people, most human beings, accept their words as true. The believer is to wear no such blinders. Instead, we grow in understanding of the world as it is because through the Spirit, we see the world as God sees it.

Our testing is to discern whether a teaching or prophecy (all claims to know and speak for God) come from a Spirit of truth or a spirit of deception. Followers of Jesus BELONG TO GOD and thereby KNOW GOD and LISTEN to the truth. On the other hand, fakers or forsakers of Jesus DO NOT BELONG TO GOD and therefore DO NOT LISTEN to the truth.

One test to discern whether a person is speaking out of the SPIRIT OF TRUTH or a SPIRIT OF DECEPTION is to watch carefully to see how they react when they hear the truth. People who recoil from Scripture, want to argue, make excuses, and/or deliberately disobey God’s commands are under a SPIRIT OF DECEPTION. Their thinking is corrupt and worldly. They are not to be believed.

People who accept, even rejoice to hear the Bible, who confirm they have a lot left to learn, and are characterized by godly, moral behavior are under THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH, that is, the Holy Spirit. As Jesus said in John 8:47, “Anyone who belongs to God gladly listens to the words of God.”

Test everyone who claims to represent God; accept nothing at face value, but dig deep into their teaching and living, seeking conformity with the truth as confirmation of their message.

As a pastor, part of John’s purpose in writing is to tell the truth in a way that encourages his people. The place where this becomes most obvious is the statement in verse four, YOU HAVE ALREADY WON A VICTORY OVER THESE PEOPLE, the false prophets who tried to distract and deter the believers from the true faith to suit their worldly purposes.

Think about that as a weight lifted off your shoulders. God does not require you to win arguments. He does not expect you to overcome by strength of your own will.

Instead, what God expects is to do what He has already equipped you to do with success: know the truth and refuse to follow anyone who tells you otherwise. None of us has to be smarter or have a stronger will than these antichrists, we are simply to spot them and stand firm in the faith we have received from the apostles. It is OK to turn and walk away if someone persists in lying to your face.

This is an utterly reliable truth because THE SPIRIT WHO LIVES IN YOU IS GREATER THAN THE SPIRIT WHO LIVES IN THE WORLD. Be faithful in who you follow, and God will take care of the rest.

RESOURCES:

Philip W. Comfort and Wendell C. Hawley, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol. 13, 1-3 John, 2007, pp. 357-360.

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