“…do not believe every spirit…” 1 John 4:1
One of the worst feelings is realizing you’ve been hoodwinked… tricked… deceived by someone or some information that seemed true, but is a patent lie. It has happened to me more than once on social media, making me very untrusting of any ‘news’ I find on the internet. The issue of ‘fake news’ drove a large part of our most recent national elections, and the news media hasn’t been more highly scrutinized by the public since the civil war era. It seems we are a people craving for truth. There seems to be ‘truth mills’ aplenty, spinning out fabrications of believable nonsense at a rate never before seen. The spirits of divisiveness, cruelty, meanness, and pride has seemed to grow right along with them. The worst spirit seems to be the one working to dismantle and destroy anything to do with Christianity.
Just as the 21st century church is under the attacks of post-modernism, the first century church was under attack by a myriad of apostacies. Many false teachers had arisen, preaching many ways to heaven… or at the very least, any way that pointed away from the atoning work of Christ on the cross. Roman hedonism continued to rot away the core of their civilization. Corruption in government and business was driven by the egos of narcistic men and women. They were the models for their day… the stars, the VIP’s, the pinnacle of ‘success’. John, however, challenged this world view when he directed Believers NOT to love the world (2:15-17), and then provided two proofs of true discipleship in chapter three: obedience to the law (3:4,22-24); and the calling card of love (3:16-18; 23).
This week’s five understandable words provides, yet, a third test of discipleship. John’s letter is speaking to us through the centuries to be people of the law, and people who love… but to also be people leery of those claiming the truth. The word John used for “spirit” was the Greek word, pneuma, with the generic meaning, “wind”. Like a sailor testing the elements before setting off on a voyage, the Christian is to know the prevailing winds of society and use God’s Word in discerning the best route to navigate through the tempestuous seas of life. The ESV words, “do not believe” are also translated “to test” (infinitive form). The Greek word is, dokeo, and literally means “to think something over”. In other words, we should closely scrutinize any information being portrayed as true… for God is the God of all truth, and will always be glorified in truth – whether it be in history, science, mathematics, etc. His instruction to test the spirits pointed to the resistance of the gospel in that day. The spirits of today’s secular post-modern perspective is not much different from that found in John’s day: narcissism, hedonism, power, pride, and corruption in every facet of society. We are to have a keen awareness of the socio-philosophical trends which exist around us and navigate through it by the guidance of God’s Word (Mt.16:18), while being a light to the world as we go. (Mt.5:14)
John, being an eyewitness to the truth of Christ’s life: His miracles and sacrificial death; and having interacted with the resurrected Christ, posed the other side of the coin to this third proof of discipleship: recognizing and pronouncing Jesus as the Christ… The Redeemer, Savior, and Risen Lord. (4:2)
John’s third test was a basic litmus test for every Believer, and is straight from the Lord’s teaching. John must have remembered the Lord’s query recorded by Matthew (16:13-20) when He asked, “Who do men say that I am?” It was Peter who declared Jesus to be the Son of God, eliciting this response: “…on this rock I will build my church…”. It is upon the bedrock of faith in Jesus Christ that souls are born into God’s Kingdom, and which will continue to build His church, and to Whom all heaven celebrates as the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.
Fellow Sojourner, will you come away with me to God’s Word? Away from the heresies of this world? Away from the those carrying the ‘secrets to success’? Away from the spirits of deception, pride, and prejudice? Do not believe every spirit, but draw near to The Way, The Truth, and The Life. By doing so, you will discover the way is as obvious as a highway in the desert (Is.40:3; Jn.1:23); the truth will set you free (Jn.8:32); and the life is an abundant one (Jn.10:10)!