1Loved ones, don’t believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God. For many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2In this way you can know the spirit of God. Every spirit that confesses that Jesus has come in the flesh is from God, 3but every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard will come, and now is in the world already. 4You are from God, children, and you have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5They are of the world. Because of this they speak what comes from the world, and the world listens to them. 6We are from God. The one who knows God hears us. Whoever is not from God does not hear us. From this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit. — 1 John 4:1-6 (TFBV) [Emphasis mine]
This passage provides us with the most common test of spiritual matters in the Bible. It’s a good test. Often it has been limited to asking what a spirit or demon might say. Can it tell us that Jesus has come in the flesh? But that’s not the point of this passage.
There’s one thing at the center of the Christian faith: God is present with us in a very special way through the incarnation. God became a human being and lived right here (John 1:14). It’s easy to miss this. There are so many things you can say about Jesus that are good, but not good enough.
- He was a great teacherâ€”indeed he was, but he was more than that.
- He was divineâ€”yes, but he was also fully human.
- He was a good manâ€”yes, but he was also God.
- He was a healerâ€”yes, but he was God who came here to heal us.
I could go on and on (and often do!), but you may see my point by continuing through the underlined passages. John tells us that we are from God. Why? Because of Jesus. God is living in us. The one who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world. Why? Because of Jesus.
Imagine God’s great love that caused him to come and live as we must live, and then die here on earth! I have heard this compared to one of us becoming an ant, for example, to save some ants from destruction. But it is so much greater a distance than that.
And how does one test the spirits? Do they understand and confess God’s love displayed by coming in the flesh, coming as a human being in order to save us? There are so many doctrinal and intellectual tests we could go through, but here we’re presented with a living doctrine, one that impacts us right at the heart of it all.
There’s a scene in one episode of The West Wing in which a Christian Chinese refugee meets President Bartlett, who questions him about his faith. Bartlett asks the Chinese pastor to name the apostles, which he does, but then he tells him that the Christian faith isn’t about naming apostles. We’re saved by faith. In many ways, we can say that we’re saved by truly realizing just how much God loves us.
Do you confess that Jesus has come in the flesh and lives in you through the Holy Spirit?