1. For a church to be filled with the Spirit of God means that its members will have hearts set free by God.
i. A doomed heart, and how to reassure it (1 John 3:19-20)
However firmly grounded the Christian’s assurance is, we sometimes need reassurance. Sometimes the accusations of our ‘conscience’ will be true accusations, and sometimes they will be false, inspired by ‘the accuser of our brothers’ (Rev 12:10). In either case, that inner voice is not to overcome us. We are to set our hearts at rest in his presence.
Love is the final test of our Christian profession. True love, or self-sacrifice, is unnatural to human beings. So to show true love is, of itself, the evidence of new birth and of the work of the Holy Spirit (3:24; 4:12-13). Love shows ‘with actions’. These are actual things we can point to – not things we have professed or felt or imagined or intended – but things that we have actually done. As Westcott puts it ‘The fruit of love is confidence [that we are Christians]’
ii. The liberated heart, and how to know its blessings (1 John 3:21-24)
The blessing of a heart which is at peace and does not condemn us are two fold:
- to have communion with God which is free and unrestricted
- and to receive answers from him (Matt. 7:7—8).
What must we do to receive this blessing from God? Fundamentally, there is only one command: have faith in Christ and love for one another. There is a significant difference in the tense of the two verbs, believe and love. Faith in Christ is a one off decisive act; love for others is a continuous attitude. Both are tests of a true Christian.
SO WE HAVE THE SAME MIX AS LAST WEEK: BELIEVE THE RIGHT THINGS AND BEHAVE THE RIGHT WAY!
2. For a church to be filled with the Spirit of God means that its members can recognise the Spirit of truth from the spirit of falsehood (4:1-6)
We can test the spirits, and ‘get to know’ which is which, by examining both the message they proclaim and the character of the audience which listens to them.
The background of these verses, as of 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, is a situation in which ‘prophecy’ was prevalent. So John urges them to investigate the source of prophecy. Was it from God? Or were the speakers false prophets? John also applied moral tests, both righteousness (3:10) and love (4:8). But there are theological tests as well (as in Deut. 13:1—5 and Jer. 23:9ff.). To believe in the name of God’s Son Jesus Christ is a central Christian belief, and a searching test of the true Christian and the true prophet.
i. The content of the teaching (4:1)
God has given us his Spirit (3:24), but there are other spirits active in the world. It is important to observe that the command to believe in the name of God’s Son Jesus Christ (3:23) is followed by the prohibition do not believe every spirit. Jesus warned his disciples of false prophets (Matt 7:15; Mark 13:22-23). So did Paul (Acts 20:28-30) and Peter (2 Pet. 1:1).
Still today there are many voices clamouring for our attention, and many cults gaining widespread popular support. Some of them claim a special revelation or inspiration to authenticate their particular doctrine. There is need for Christian discernment. Too many are too gullible, and exhibit a naive readiness to credit messages and teachings which purport to come from the spirit world. Unbelief (i.e. “do not believe every spirit”) can be as much a mark of spiritual maturity as belief.
2. The test itself: This is how you can recognise the Spirit of God (4.2-3)
Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. Even evil or unclean spirits recognise the deity of Jesus during his ministry (e.g. Mark 1:24; 3:11; 5:7—8; cf. Acts 19:15). But though they knew him, they did not acknowledge him to be God.
The Spirit of God, on the other hand, always honours the Son of God. Jesus taught that it is the Holy Spirit’s particular ministry both to testify to, and to glorify, him (John 15:26; 16:13—15; cf. also 1 Cor. 12:3). The truth is not that the Christ came ‘into’ the flesh of Jesus, but that Jesus was the Christ come ‘in’ the flesh.
2. The response of the hearers (4:4-6)
Their ‘overcoming’ is not so much moral (as in 2:13-14) as intellectual. The false teachers have not succeeded in deceiving them. Not only have they tested them and found them wanting, but they have conquered them by decisively repudiating their teaching. As John Calvin puts it: ‘Unless the Spirit of wisdom is present, there is little or no profit in having God’s Word in our hands’.
Background paper: An Overview of Cults and their Harmful Methods in the UK
1. How do we have confidence toward God? (3:21-22)
2. How do we know that God abides in us? (3:24)
2. Why does John say "do not believe every spirit" (4.1)? Should we simply test what people literally say, or infer and judge their deeper meaning?
3. How would you go about "testing the spirits"? What questions would you ask?
4. What are some common characteristics of cults? (see separate sheet for help!)
5. There are many people in cults today who acknowledge that “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” (3:3), so, what is John talking about?
6. What are the essential things we must believe about the person of Christ to be saved?
7. In 3:4, how have “you” overcome "them"?
8. In 3:5, "Listens to us". Who is "us" that John is referring to?
9. From this passage, what can we learn about the ministry of the Spirit of truth in the life of our church?