This is the manuscript for the sermon I preached at West Bradenton Baptist Southside on Sunday October 27th, 2019.
There are many teachings, beliefs and religions claiming to possess “the way” to God in this world today. All or most of them either claim to have the key eternal life, nirvana or happiness or they mix and match different theological and philosophical beliefs together to make up a personal religion custom designed for every person. We live in a pluralist society where the idea of one truth, one means of salvation and one God are considered narrow minded and ridiculous teaching. Religious tolerance is proclaimed across the globe and if you even think about exposing a certain teaching as false you are judged as hateful, judgmental person and is intolerant.
Christians are often looked upon as people who are stuck in the dark ages because we have committed to living our lives believing Jesus is the only way, the only truth and the only life and without him you cannot have the eternal life. We live in a consumer-minded culture where the consumer can pick and choose wherever he/she desires (restaurants, department stores, electronics etc.). People in the world cannot grasp the concept of there being only one way when it comes to faith.
Many years ago, Oprah Winfrey was confronted by a member of her television studio audience in relation to her views about God. The person mentioned the words of Jesus being the way, the truth and the life and she responded, “There couldn’t possibly be only one way… there are millions of ways that lead a person to the Light or what others call god!” In Oprah’s mind there are millions of ways to finding your way to what one thinks is God.
With the millions of philosophical thoughts, ideas, and teachings how is one ever able to discern the truth? How can you and I ever find the truth in this plethora of religious thought that the world is so lovingly embracing and pushing on us and our children? Is there a litmus test, if I may, in discerning the truth? If so, how can you and I know that our way is the only way? I will address some of those questions today.
Today we are picking up in our study of 1 John in chapter 4. We are God’s children and we live righteous lives by pursuing holiness or right living through loving one another. We have learned and established that world will know we are God’s children by how we live and how we treat one another. In 3:24 John reminds us to keep the commands of God (Love God and love others) and we can do this because His Spirit abides in us. The Spirit of God dwells in every believer and only through His Spirit we can love and live the way God intended.
At the conclusion of chapter 3 John references the Spirit of God that abides in us and in chapter 4 John reminds his readers the warning against false teachers/prophets who were out in the world teaching under the inspiration and authority of other spirits that are not from God. Apparently with this church division there were individuals who had come in and divided the church over bad doctrine and false teaching and John continues to remind them to be on guard of people claiming to proclaim a different Gospel.
“In the 1st century it was common for people to claim special inspiration for their teachings, as the apostles claimed the Holy Spirit as the source of their teaching. Now John warns the church to test teachers who claim to give inspired teaching for that teaching’s source.”
During the early Church most communities met in homes. Being a young church, they didn’t have many formalities, no creeds or doctrines to unify (or divide) the body. There certainly wasn’t a New Testament because it hadn’t been written or established yet. All these home churches had were the letters from the Apostles, commissioned teachers from the apostles and accounts from eye witnesses of Jesus Christ. Oral communication was necessary because these churches relied on representatives of the Gospel who would come and teach. Paul had sent out letters and Timothy and Silas as representatives. John did the same and sent out His elders. Unlike today sometimes these churches didn’t know who was going to preach when they met. Problems arose in the church when certain teachers would come to town (called Pneumatics – Teachers claiming their message was divine) claiming to have the authority of God and teaching a different Gospel. Many churches were susceptible to false teachings because they didn’t understand what was true and what was false. The churches simply trusted the person claiming authority had authority. John was telling this church to not trust every teaching that comes into the church. John reminds the recipients of this letter that they have the TRUE Spirit of God, so it is their job to be able to discern between the truth and false teaching.
1 John 4:1-6
Vs 1 – Beloved – esteemed, dear, dearly beloved. John continues to speak to this church as people who he loves and holds close to his heart. He is assuring them that he is not being a harsh dictator but as one who has a great love and affection for this body of believers.
“do not believe every spirit” – He warns his readers to not commit to, be persuaded by or have confidence in every doctrine of teaching that comes through the church doors. The word “spirit” is from the Greek word “Pneuma” and it means breath or a movement of air, a simple essence. It also refers to an immaterial being who is higher than man but lower than God (i.e. angels, demons etc). So, John is referring to spiritual beings, but I think he is also referring to those who represent these spiritual beings; false prophets. He warns the church to test any breath that breathes words spoken in the name of God. So, John is saying, “do not be quick to commit yourself to any old teaching that sounds spiritual, religious or even enticing.”
“test the spirits” – Instead John calls the church to test, examine or conclude after examination to see if this spirit is from God or not. The applies today as there are a plethora of spiritual teachings in this world and honestly some of them sound appealing and in some cases could be much easier to accept than the truth of the true biblical Gospel. John writes that we are to examine the teachings we hold dear, what we believe and why we believe it. Just because something sounds nice, positive or spiritual does not necessarily mean it is from God.
“for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” There are people in the world who are spreading false teachings. There are men and women who say Jesus is not and cannot be the only way. They may claim to have an enlightening experience where God showed them something more, had a dream or vision, or are just plain devious and desire to lure you from the truth.
Vs. 2 – 3: These two verses serve as a litmus test for genuine Christian faith. As Christians you and I have devoted our lives to Jesus Christ and we have surrendered our will, life and very being to Him. We purpose to live with Christ as the head of our lives and have committed to living in obedience, love and in a manner glorifying to the Father. Christians are to love God with our whole being. We are completely and utterly in love with Jesus and we are committed to living in obedience to His commands. We are committed to love one another, to live our lives sacrificially for one another, and live life together as brothers and sisters in Christ for the glory of God. Since we are followers of Jesus Christ any teaching that pushes us away from Him is not of God.
If anything, or anyone comes proclaiming a message that takes away from the Lordship of Jesus Christ in your life is not from God. Anyone who says Jesus did not come in the flesh, did not die on the cross, was not raised from the dead and did not ascend to heaven and sits at the Father’s right hand is not of God. Maybe you have heard someone say, “I believe Jesus was a good moral teacher but he is certainly not the ONLY way to God” or you may have heard someone say, “I like some of the things Jesus says, but I like some teachings of Buddha, Confucius, and Vishnu. I like some of the words of the Bhagavad Gita, and the Koran… all religions have some good components to them and I like to pick and choose what I believe.” One that is becoming more and more common, “I don’t believe in any kind of God and I certainly don’t believe the myth of Jesus Christ.” These are not God inspired statements. John says, “If a spirit confesses Jesus as God incarnate it is from God. If it doesn’t it is not.” It is a simple test, yet it is effective for the Christian.
If a spirit does not confess Jesus is it not from God, and it is from the evil one… the antichrist; the adversary of the messiah. These teachings are dangerous and as believers we are not to concede to or embrace them.
Vs 4 – We are children of God… Take moment and let that sink in. We possess the Spirit of truth in us; thus, we have overcome the false teachings of the world. The Spirit of God resides in you (if you are a believer) and is more powerful, it is greater than any power, being or spiritual force that is out there. Romans 8:38 – 39 says, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We are victorious as believers and the ways of the world cannot and will not overtake you or separate you from the love of God.
Vs 5 – False teachers and teachings are rooted in the world. If you recall the world is synonymous to the godless world system. The philosophies, theology and teachings of the world are anti-God. They are opposed to God so they will not point to God being the ONLY way. People will love these false teachers because of their false teachings. The world will embrace the idea of living your life however you want, you do not need accountability, God cannot be the only way, you don’t need to commit to only one God, don’t worry about sin, don’t bother with pursuing holiness or right living. Live for yourself and you will find happiness and heaven. This is what the world loves and embraces.
Vs 6 – We are from God and not of the world, so the way we live our lives should look VERY different from the way the world lives. The way we live our lives should distinguish us from the world. We are called to live separate from the world. While we do abide in the world, we are not to embrace the ways of the world. Devotion to God will separate us from the world and it will cause tension in our lives.
How to protect ourselves from spiritual deception
Richards, L. O. (1991; Published in electronic form by Logos Research Systems, 1996). The Bible readers companion (electronic ed.) (895). Wheaton: Victor Books.
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I currently live on the Gulf Coast of Florida with my beautiful family. The Lord has blessed me with over 25 years of full time ministry. He is and has been faithful.