Saturday, April 20, 2013
1 John 4:1-3 Beloved, 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. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.
Why discerning truth from error is necessary for the Christian
A Christian is called by God to exercise discernment in practical, doctrinal and spiritual matters. The reason for this opening statement is because the entire Christian life rests upon three legs: practical, doctrinal and spiritual. Practically we are called to love the Lord our God with everything we have and to love our neighbor as ourselves. (Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30-31) This practical aspect of the Christian life is directly connected to the spiritual (supernatural) element of the new birth and indwelling Holy Spirit that we receive at salvation. (1 Corinthians 2:12; 3:16) Both the practical and spiritual elements of the Christian life are communicated by way of the doctrines and words of scripture. (2 Timothy 2:15; 3:16) Exercising discernment is at the heart of Christian spiritual maturity. When a Christian exercises themselves in practical, spiritual and doctrinal matters of the Christian faith, they are able to discern good from evil. (Hebrews 5:14)
What the Apostle John was combating in his day and time
When John wrote what he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, various heresies and errors were emerging in his day. In the first century of the church, heresies sprung up to redefine and rework the truth of God's word in four essential areas that are interrelated to one another:
1. The doctrine of God
2. The doctrine of Jesus Christ
3. The doctrine of scripture
4. The doctrine of salvation
John wrote what he wrote to combat heresies that were challenging those four main areas. The main heresy John may had dealt with was promoted by a heretic who is known in Church history named Cerinthius1. In our world today, especially in the past 200 years, dozens of new heresies have arisen that challenge the same aforementioned areas of Bible truth. The Spirit's call to Christians in 1 John 4:1-6 to discern the Spirit of Truth from the spirit of error is more needful today than ever before.
Believing in the right Jesus and the right book
As you read John's statements in 1 John 4:1-6, you discover that He was asserting the difference between the Spirit of truth and spirit of error. Only the Holy Spirit will lead you to believe in the right Jesus of the right Book. As Christians today, we must be certain that we not only confess faith in Jesus, but that we confess faith in the correct Jesus. Consequently, the Right Jesus can only be known from the right book. Already by John's day there were groups claiming Jesus as their founder and Person of worship. The followers of Cerinthius and other men like him attempted to replace the Bible or alter its contents with other fallible, man-made works (compare endnotes below).
Why getting the right Jesus and the right book is crucial
If you deny the Bible as being the only Book inspired of God, then you won't get Jesus right. Consequently if you get Jesus wrong, then you will end up with a false god of your own making. Furthermore, if you have the wrong book, the wrong Jesus and the wrong God, you end up with no salvation. John's call to spiritual discernment requires the Christian to draw necessary doctrinal, spiritual and practical boundaries between truth and error. Truly what you and I believe about God, Jesus, the Bible and salvation will define whether or not we have the true Gospel or a non-saving imitation. As we close today's blog, the words of the Apostles Paul and Peter echo the words of the Apostle John in 1 John 4:1-6 concerning our need to discern the Spirit of truth from the spirit of error.
First, The Holy Ghost through The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4:1, 6 (1)"But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons." (6) "In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following."
Then note God's words through the Apostle Peter notes in 2 Peter 1:19-21 "So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. 20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God."
1. Cerinthius was widely published and widely known in the ancient world of the 1st century. According to the second century church father Iranaeus in his work "Against Heresies" and the early second century church father Hyppolytus of Rome, Cerinthius believed that Jesus was a man who received a spiritual power called "Christ" at His baptism. Throughout the course of Jesus' life, the spiritual power of Christ enabled Him to perform miracles. Once at the cross, the power of Christ left Jesus so that He could die on the cross. This heresy mirrored the belief system of a hostile anti-Christian Jewish sect called the Ebionites. Both Cerinthius and this group not only opposed the full Deity of Jesus Christ, but also his virgin birth. Cerinthius in particular held that only the Gospel of Matthew was inspired, hence dismissing the rest of the New Testament scriptures written up until that point.