DOES IT PASS THE TEST?
Lord, we believe that You came in the flesh.
Read 1 JOHN 4:1–6
On Denying the Incarnation
4 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. 2 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.
4 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[a] of truth and the spirit of falsehood.
a 1 John 4:6 Or spirit
New International Version (NIV)
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“The perpetual enemy of faith in the true God is not atheism (the claim that there is no God), but rather Gnosticism (the claim that God is known)” (Martin Buber, 1878–1965).
John again turns to combating heretical teaching, denouncing false prophets (pseudo-prophetes) operating under the spirit of the antichrist. The specific test of whether a teaching or person is from God or the world is by the acknowledgment that Jesus has come in the flesh. In John’s time an early form of Gnosticism was evidently proving quite troublesome to the fledgling Christian church.
Gnosticism taught that spirit is wholly good and matter is wholly bad. This dualism led to the idea that the human body is therefore evil, which is problematic for the claim that God became man in Christ. To resolve this dilemma, gnostic teachers taught either that Christ only seemed to have a body (Docetism, from the Greek dokein, “to seem”), or that the divine Christ joined the man Jesus at baptism and left him before He died (called “Cerinthianism” after its most prominent spokesman Cerinthus). This is why John emphasizes having seen and touched the physical body of Jesus (1 John 1:1): he insists that Christ is both fully God and also, crucially, fully man.
John challenges his readers to test the spirits to see whether they are from God. The best methodology is to see whether the spirits agree with those two great truths about Jesus. He offers them the hope that even though this may feel impossible at times, the One who is in them is greater than the one who is in the world; moreover, He will give them the wisdom and power to overcome all evil spirits and toxic teachings. This must have been extremely reassuring to John’s readers and is just as true for us today.
Don’t believe everything you hear. Instead, allow God to teach you how to test new teaching against His word and, especially, against the foundation of Christ’s divine-human nature.
Lord, thank You for the power to overcome all that the devil has planned for us.