1 JOHN 4
How do we know if a prophecy or body of teaching is genuinely from God? How can we really know what is true? How can we avoid being both gullible and cynical – both equally dangerous characteristics in a Christian? (It is interesting that almost everyone would rather be known as cynical rather than naïve!) It is also interesting that many folk are cynical about politics and naïve about matters of faith – you only have to peruse Facebook to confirm that!
But for matters of doctrine and truth, the answer is to test the spirits – to weigh up the people and their message. One thing is for certain, says John: only those messengers who recognise that God the Son was present on earth as Jesus Christ, can claim to be speaking God’s truth. John therefore completely rejects the Gnostics and their corrosive, evil doctrines.
“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them (the spirits of the antichrist), because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (4:4). We have nothing to be afraid of because Christ is inside us; we have a certain knowledge of the truth and cannot be overcome. Our destinies are secure! “This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit” (4:13).
Again, John stresses the importance of believers demonstrating love. The Gnostics were soft-headed and hard-hearted; Christians should be the opposite. Our spiritual DNA should be of the same self-sacrificial nature as that of Jesus. He paid the ultimate price for us; God expects that we should pay some smaller, but still costly, prices for one other.
The Holy Spirit, who lives within each of us, is further evidence that our faith is genuine; that Spirit impels us to acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God. It also compels us to live and love like he does.
“We love because he first loved us” (4:19). Again, God has taken the initiative in our lives, and we can only respond. But our love response is not just directed back to God; it is also passed on to our very visible fellow believers. In fact, if we cannot manage to love them, how can we really love the unseen God? (And the right answer is: we can’t!)