By William V. Beasley
Do you have eternal life? This is something that we can know (I John 5:13). It is something that each of us should be striving to know. To know, yea, means a hope of heaven when this life is over. To know, nay, means hell as long as we remain in that condition. Let us continue our study of 1 John that we may know concerning our eternal salvation.
“Prove The Spirits” (1 John 4:1-3)
“Beloved, be not believing every spirit but (ever) be testing out the spirits whether they are from God, because many pseudo-prophets are gone out into the world” (4:1, R. C. H. Lenski, Interpretation of Peter, John, Jude, p. 484). All Christians have the responsibility to “ever be testing out the spirits.” This is not reserved for the elders, deacons, preachers -or even for George (“Let George do it”). What “spirit” are we testing? It is not the speaking of the Holy Spirit (a part of the God-hood), but of the “spirit” within a man. The warning is about false, pseudo prophets (these have a spirit in them). Is the prophet abiding in the Son? Father? Is God’s word (seed) abiding in the man? This proving is a continuous process (re-read Lenski’s translation). Those who preach truth may begin to preach error. All false teachers teach some truth.
John tells us (4:2-3) how we “prove” the spirits, but there is more in these verses than is apparent with a hasty reading. It is not speaking of a simple verbalization, “Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.” After having given (by our count) some 18 or 19 things to know one has eternal life this “seven word salvation” would be completely out of place. We test, try, prove by considering a man’s confession; we cannot see his heart. A man’s confession is made not by his lips alone, but also by all his actions. It is a confession (profession) by word and deed that Jesus Christ is personally Lord (Ruler) and Savior. We are to be, as it were, fruit inspectors (Matt. 7:16, 20). Unless the confession is correct, the heart cannot be.
John did not object to negative teaching: “Every spirit that confesseth not Jesus is not of God. . . ” (4:3). “Confesseth not” is a stronger and broader term than “denieth” (2:23). One is a negative action; the other is the lack of a positive action. We must be confessing Jesus Christ in our lives. People can, yea must, see Him in us (Gal. 2:20; Matt. 5:16). The marginal reading in the ASV for “confesseth not” is “annulleth Jesus.” We can annul Jesus in a great many ways other than by verbalizing, “Jesus Christ is not come in the flesh.” Any and all refusals to obey are an annulment of His Lordship in our lives. Our lives may, indeed, disagree with what we say (Luke 6:46).
“Overcome” False Prophets (1 John 4:4-5)
To “know that ye have eternal life” you must overcome the false prophets, the servants of the Devil, “he that is in the world” (4:4). We have at our disposal the “greater” One (James 4:7-8; Phil. 4:13). The false prophets are “of the world” (4:5) and can attract the world(ly). We must have a love of truth (2 Thess. 2:11), be spiritually minded (1 Cor. 2:4) and set to stop the mouths of false prophets (Tit. 1:10-I 1). Beloved, we cannot stop the mouths of false prophets while we play `footsie” with them. When someone goes astray we are wont to ask, “How could this happen?” The answer is apparent: They were of the world for the “world heareth” (4:5) the false prophets (see John 8:47). They lacked a love for the truth.
Respect Apostolic Authority (1 John 4:6)
Today we hear such things as, “Well, the apostles were just men,” “That was only Paul’s opinion and Paul was a woman hater” or “We do many things for which we have no authority.” Jesus taught that the words of the apostles were authoritative (Luke 10:16) and John re-affirmed that authority: “We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he who is not of God heareth us not. By this we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error” (4:6). The apostles, guided by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:10-13), wrote scripture (2 Pet. 3:14-16). The “spirit of truth” is in the man who goes to the apostles (New Testament) for authority; the “spirit of error” sees no need for such “legalism.”
Do you know you have eternal life? Are you ever testing the spirits? Are you daily confessing Christ in your life? Are other people constrained by your life to “glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16)? Have you overcome (overcoming) the false prophets? Do you respect (obey, abide in) the apostolic authority? Does your life set forth the “spirit of truth?”
Truth Magazine XXIII: 3, p. 50
January 18, 1979