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First John

The Spiritual World

1 John 4:1-6

Of all difficulties the modern Bible teacher must face, the one which is least common to ancient times is this: modern man has ceased to believe in the existence of the spiritual world. We must address this first, for our ignorance of it is certainly not bliss.

Test the Spirits

(1 John 4:1 NIV) Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

I think it fairly obvious that John would not have written this if he were not aware of the existence of the Spiritual world. What evidence do we have for this?

First, we have the evidence of the Scripture (and other ancient writings). The Roman empire is no more, but all of us believe it existed. Why? Largely because of the writings about it. Nothing is more obvious from reading the Bible than the existence of the spiritual world.

We have - if we will listen to it - the evidence of our own lives. We live in the spiritual and physical worlds simultaneously, and each affects the other. By observing these effects we confirm the existence of both.

We have current evidence. Talk to a missionary about this one; you'll find that Satan's strategy is very different in, say, Thailand than in America. Here, Satan's ploy is, "I don't exist, and therefore neither does God." There the ploy is, "I am the strongest demon you can imagine; worship me."

If we do not believe in the existence of the spiritual world, we open ourselves up for attack from it. But even if we do, we still need to know how to defend ourselves.


Wherever there is truth mixed with falsehood, we need a method of telling the two apart - testing, in other words.

Some might say, "John, how can your intellectual approach to this be of any help? After all, I've seen 'spiritual' people on television; they shout and jump around and anoint people - you don't do any of that."

My gift is teaching. As to anointing, jumping and shouting, presuming they are called to such, I am not.

You are a spirit; but you are also an intellect. What happens in the mind affects the spirit. If you maintain your integrity (your "oneness") this will be of benefit in the spiritual realm.

As we shall see later, perhaps the true Spirit does not need to jump around so much. One does not rule over the soul except by calm.

We must, therefore, know how to test the spirits. Just how are we to go about constructing such a test?

To "test," as it is used here, means something like we would road test a car. We try it out and see if it's as good as the manufacturer claims. So testing will involve us in some activity of some sort.

The first criterion of a good test is this: it arrives at the truth. If it doesn't, throw it out. That's pretty obvious.

The second criterion is a little more subtle: it must be understandable. We must not only know that we've arrived at the truth, but we must know how we arrived at it, and have confidence in the method.

The third criterion is this: it must be consistent with other true tests. The world and all in it are God's, and he is not double minded.

False tests

Just like anything else in the truth, Satan certainly would like to deceive you in this. He does this in two ways:

Twists of true tests. Satan takes the true tests of God (which we shall see in a minute) and turns them into a false test. They look good - but they don't work. Here are some of these:

Love. The greased pig of the English language, we sometimes say that if it produces love, it must be true. This is a twist of the test that the world shall know we are his disciples by our love for each other. Satan substitutes his own version of love.

Expertise. We are to listen to the Apostles. Often, however, we presume that a Ph.D. will substitute nicely for being an Apostle. Any hare brained theory sounds good if you have a suitable degree to go with it.

Denial of the true tests. Satan can also deny the true tests. Here are some of the techniques:

New and improved. For six thousand years man was mistaken, but now the truth has finally been discovered (e.g., men and women are interchangeable parts).

Secret. The wisdom of the ages is only available by consulting the mystic guru in the mountain cave.

Think for yourself. Good advice, as far as it goes. But take it too far and it can mean, "Make up your own religion out of the bits and snatches you have."

It doesn't matter what you believe. As long as you're sincere, the earth is flat.

True Tests

John now gives us the true tests we should use:

(1 John 4:2-3 NIV) This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, {3} but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

The Incarnation

Why does John begin with the Incarnation of the Son of God?

If Jesus is not fully man, there is no atonement - and no possible forgiveness of sins, no reconciliation with God.

If Jesus is not fully God, there is no authority in Him. His words are merely good advice - not the commands that bring life abundantly. And without authority of God, how could he forgive sins?

(And by the way, this believe should be shown in action).

The Christ

That is to say, that Jesus is the Messiah promised to the Jews from ancient times. Why is this important?

It establishes the factual verification - the authenticity - of Jesus. This is not just some belief that will help you if you swallow it whole, no Peter Pan getting the audience to wish Tinkerbell well. It is rooted firmly in reality.

It also implies that you understand, from prophecy, what is to come. If you accept Jesus as the Christ, you accept the prophecy of things to come. Therefore you have hope for those who believe - and warning for those who do not.

Listening to the Apostles

This is somewhat more difficult to discern - as it involves knowing what the Apostles taught! But the rub of the matter is this:

Is what you hear consistent with the Scripture? We have examples of the kinds of things that would be heard to be inconsistent (celibacy) and also of the diligence of the Bereans - who "searched the Scripture."

This must be balanced by the Spirit's leading in our time. Many things said in the New Testament are intended as examples specific to Roman times, and these we must transform to our own times. We cannot ignore the principles they represent.

There are other tests which John does not mention here:

There is the test of love for the brethren, which we will examine in the next lesson.

There is the test of a prophet's complete infallibility.

There is Christ's test: "by their fruits you will know them." Things that happen in the spiritual world have their effects here - and those effects will be very telling.

Three Groups

(1 John 4:4-6 NIV) You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. {5} They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. {6} We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

John now talks about three groupings, and it is profitable for us to examine them individually.

Dear children

There are two key points that John brings out for the true Christian:

They have overcome. Kindly note the past tense. John is talking about the children of God who are in right relationship with God.

First, there is no call to panic! We can hear all we like about how much evil there is in the spiritual world (and there is plenty), but it makes no difference. The Spirit in us is greater than any and all in the world.

Second, "the big dog sleeps wherever he likes." This means that ordinary Christians, those who are not called to spiritual warfare directly, are not troubled by such things. For most of us, that means that the spiritual world cannot hinder our work in Christ.

They have overcome by the power of God. It is not our victory; it is His. We can see that in a number of ways:

True power is shown by an air of calm. The Great Dane never barks at the Chihuahua. Perhaps there is more show than substance in screaming and anointing?

True power brings peace and security. Satan cannot assault what God defends; therefore, we have peace.

These things remain so - as long as we remain in Christ. Remember, it is not our power, but his.

The world

One of the great doubts for Christians is this: how come I'm the only one who believes? (One reason we meet as a church is so that we can see that there are other believers!) If this is so obvious, why doesn't everybody get it?

The Western world today does not believe that the spiritual world exists. Therefore, such things need to be explained away somehow.

To "not believe" is to accept the spirit of this world - the spirit of Satan himself. Blind to the spiritual, they are spiritual - and cursed.

This produces pain in this life and great sorrow later.

Such people serve only their own appetites. If you live for your belly, what happens when you die?

You cannot cheat an honest man, but the deceivers themselves will be deceived.

Their words sound good, but as Jeremiah asked,

(Jer 5:31 NIV) The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?

What will you do in the end? If God did spare the angels who rebelled, what will He do with you?

Apostles and teachers

The "we" in verse six refers directly to the Apostles, and by inference can be extended to all those who teach that which the Apostles taught (my authority is not my own, but given to me with the gift - as is the responsibility.) They are the standard by which we are to read Scripture. I read many writers from many different times, from the days of the Apostles, through the Middle Ages and on up to the present. Here's how I handle it:

Don't ask whether or not they agree or disagree with what your particular point of doctrine might be. You are not the standard; you and your denomination might very well be wrong. Just because you see it a particular way today doesn't necessarily mean the older guy got it wrong.

Don't ask if they do or don't love the people in our church. Some of these people are rather crusty ascetics. Some are just naturally irritable people. Their love in person doesn't always show in their writings.

Ask - do they listen to the Apostles? Do they follow the teaching handed down? Or are they inventing a new doctrine?

It is my intention in this class that I hand on to you the doctrine of the Apostles, unchanged, no additions or deletions, just as it was handed to me. No doubt I am mistaken on many points; no doubt my mental failures have given the appearance of contradiction. But that just shows I'm human; I miss the target. But at least I know where the target is.

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