1 John 4:1- 6 – Spiritual Evaluation

1 JOHN 4:1- 6



The world in which we live is awash with a multipicity of religions, cults, sects, beliefs, movements and philosophies. Everyone has a philosophy of life even if they are unable to articulate it.

The basic philosophy of our sociaety in the UK is Existentialism – to put is in a crude and basic way  is means that “I” is the most important person in the world and “NOW” is the time to live for. So people live for the moment – they get into relationships for the present enjoyment with the view that I can enjoy it now and bail out when I change my mind.  Materialism and pleasure is very much part of extistenial thinking – why have so many leisure centres come into existence in recent years and why has the holiday and tourist industry flourished so?? Is it simply because we are ecomonically better off with more disposable income?? Well that surely plays a part. BUT the philosophy behind it motivates the public to buy into it.

We would be naive to think that because we are Christians that we are immune from the influences of the philosophy of the day. The Church is influenced all too often by the dictates of society. So a churchman can openly state that adultery is an acceptable practice [as the bishop of Edinburgh said this past week 6 January, 2013]. BUT ultimately what I think, or what you think or what society thinks is only secondary — it is what God thinks that is important.

How do we as Christians discern the truth in this morass of opinion.

After all it is not what we are that is important but what we do!!” so said a guest on a chat show this week.

Why can’t I do as I please I’m not hurting anyone!”

The arguments often sound so plausible! We live in a society where truth is relative. A 1991 poll in the USA showed that 67% of American believe that there is no absolute truth.

There is no moral absolute: what is right and wrong varies from situation to situation – 69% of Americans agree. We have no reason to believe that the UK is any different — it may well be a higher percentage.

The result is that the only virtue is tolerance, an open-mindedness that teaches that ALL values are equally valid so long as they are sincerely held. The only value that is NOT toleranted is the view that there is absolute truth.

So what we end up with is what Colson in his book , The Body, says [p.228] “There are no absolutes except the absolute that there can be no absolutes.”

Is it possible to distinguish between truth and error??  One of our problems is that we try to reason out way to the truth – if there is an absolute truth that is!!

While it is true that we are intellectual creatures who have reasoning abilities — truth and error are not the exclusive possession of the intellectuals.

The test that the Bible puts forward is NOT an intellectual test but a spiritual test  – That is NOT to say that as Christians we throw our intellect out the window. This has been an accusation levelled against evangelicals, and not without cause — we do need good intellectuals in evangelical circles BUT the ultimate test is a spiritual one.

Sin has not only affected the moral character but also the intellectual ability of mankind. It is the Spirit of God who redresses that problem. It is the Spirit who leads us into ALL truth.

1 Corinthians 2:9-14

9 However, as it is written:

“No eye has seen,

no ear has heard,

no mind has conceived

what God has prepared for those who love him” —

10 but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God….. 14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. (NIV)

From a Biblical perspective there are some tests by which we can know what is true and what is false.




1 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.

Every era of history has its own particular philosophies and beliefs – the time that John wrote this letter was no different.

MATTER IS EVIL> Gnosticism, or what came to be known as Gnosticism later on,  taught the matter was evil – thus flesh was evil. The way to overcome the flesh therefore was to abuse and punish it. This was done by following a system of good works which of course brought salvation down to the level of human effort.

EVIL IS IN THE MIND> Because the spirit was “good” [according to Gnosticism] evil originated in the mind. Thus the way to salvation was through good thoughts and the flip-side of this was that hell is a state of mind.

ILLUS.: I lead a Bible study for enquirers and new Christian in RSA – on the first night a man told me that hell was  state of mind and that he had already been there.

Judgement is then a mental process which takes place now –

John is making it clear in this passage that behind all truth and error is not people’s mind or their flesh but spirit. All truth comes from the Holy Spirit.

John 16:13 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. (NIV)

John believes that people are inspired to confess of deny Christ by “spirits”, some reality beyond the human level. In the end there are only two spirits – the Spirit of Truth and the Spirit of Error –

In our western society where we are brought up to believe that seeing is believing we are very sceptical of this kind of thinking. But you go to Africa or South America you will find that they are far more conscious of the spirit world.

As Christians we should be more conscious of the spirit world because we are involved in a spiritual battle –

Ephesians 6:12 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (NIV)

2 Corinthians 10:4 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. (NIV)

Paul is not talking about physical strongholds but spititual; strongholds that keep the spirit of men and women in bondage to Satan. Too often we forget we are in a spiritual battle and if we could understand this battle more we would spend far more time in prayer than we do now.

It is not an intellectual battle [while we must not be anti-intellectual] – it is a spiritual battle – and we need to realise that the spirit of error is not always in direct oppostion to the truth but often just taking us off course enough to lead us into error. Heresy and false teaching are not denials of the truth but distortions of it.

So in a world that is constantly claiming new insights and experiences of the spirit we need to be aware. Within the scope of the church we have the same thing – we must be aware of what contradicts scripture or behaviour that discredits thse gospel. At the same time we must avoid dry, intellectual, doctrinally dead orthodxy. This leads to what Paul calls as those 2 Timothy 3:5 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. (NIV)

These false teachings do not come in the shape of disembodied spirits but in the form of people and we must test the validity of their teaching against scripture with the help of the spirit of Truth – the Holy Spirit. We must be careful that simply because something is different to what WE are used to that it is therefore wrong – it need to be rejected because it is wrong and not because of our traditions or prejudices or because our comfort zones are being threatened.



2 This is how you can recognise 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.

The supreme test of all spiritual teaching and belief is this “What do you think of Christ?”  All too often we judge people by outward behaviour – of course behaviour is important – but being a Christian in not conforming to a code of practice. Rather “What do you believe about Jesus Christ?”

If you evaluate all the cults and sects and false religions with all their beliefs there is always one common theme – they deny that Jesus is God and man – God come in the flesh – Emmauel [God with us].

The denial takes two forms – either that Christ was not really human OR that Jesus was not really divine.

There was a teaching at the time of John’s writing that Jesus was not the Christ but that he was “Christed” – ie. the spirit of Christ came upon Jesus at his baptism and left him before his crucifixion. BUT the Bible does not teach that Christ came “into” the flesh of Jesus BUT that Jesus was Christ come in the flesh

Abetter Translation of v2 would be NOT as the NIV

Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,     BUT    Every spirit that acknowledges Jesus as Christ come in the flesh is from God,

Why is this so important?  because it is the centre and foundation of our faith. It is the incarnation of God. We cannot work our way to God but God in the person of Jesus Christ has come  to us. And the way to God is not by good works or intellectual pursuit BUT by God making us alive in Christ. Any person or any teaching that denies this truth is anti-christian.

The test of true loyalty and allegience to God is what we believe about Jesus Christ – not just intellectual ascent but a spiritual,  heart  belief and trust in Christ as Saviour and Lord.


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.

When the son of God came from Heaven he took our human flesh and nature upon himself. When by the power of God’s Spirit we are saved and brought into God’s kingdom we receive spiritual life – we are born from above. [Jn. 3] We are given spiritual life.

2 Peter 1:4 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (NIV)

In this passage John is talking about the battle between truth and error, between the spirit of Truth and the spirit of anti-christ. This struggle is not taking place in a world far beyond and above our own. The spiritual battle is for the hearts and minds of people.

John commends his readers because not only have they not been taken in by these false teachers but they have tested their teaching and found it wanting. We must not underestimate the power of evil BUT remember that the Holy Spirit is greater and by his illumination we too can overcome the spirit of error.


It is no magic formula – God is greater than anything or anyone and if you are a true believer then God lives in you and you in God.  And Christ has overcome sin and death and deception.  If you are his child then you have overcome that. Not because you are better or more intelligent than other people BUT because Christ has redeemed you and given you spiritual life.

Christians are not perfect – that is fairly obvious – BUT as a child of God he will not allow you to be overcome by the spirit of evil and falsehood.


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 recognise the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

The word “world” is used in a number of ways in the Bible and here it is primarily referring to the system / or people who are against God or at least not for God.

The world listen to its own and recognizes its own because the world is saying what they wnat to hear and what they agree with. This explains why they are so popular!!

ILLUS.: Who really moulds the thinking of our society – and affirms our society in what it believes. The Soap-operas and the Chat-show Hosts. Why are they so popular?? because they reflect the view of society and affirm the society in the path it is taking.  They affirm that it is alright to practice Homosexuality and lesbianism. That it is acceptable to commit adultery. That everyone is free to exercise their rights – no a lot of emphasis on responsibility. AND let someone in the audience express a Christian view point require absolute standards and the cameras quickly move on OR they are cut down by the host as old fashioned or too fanatical and irrelavant. What is accaptable is only what the majority agrees with.

This is exactly how the Bible descibes a society who rejects God:

2 Timothy 4:3 3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (NIV)

We can’t judge God’s message by how many obey it.

The test of truth is “Does it agree with the Apostles teaching?” That is what John means in v.6. “We are from God…..”

The satandard for what we are to believe, the standard for what is truth is what was from the beginning. 1 John 1:1

1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched — this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. (NIV)

It is characteristic of cults and sects to add to the Bible – the Bible plus…… – OR for modern intellectualism – the Bible minus …… [if they believe any part of the Bible at all. It is very subtle.

ILLUS.:2 Timothy 3:16 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, (NIV)

 In the NEB {New English Bible} it reads: All God-breathed Scripture is  useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness

The implication – not all scripture in God inspired – who then decides what is God-inspired ??  –people!! See hos subtle it is.

The Spirit whom God has given to His people enables them to discern what is Truth and what is Error. How do we do that? Well NOT ONLY by examining the the message and the messengers BUT also by the character of the audience who listens to them.

1. This testing is not to be done by individuals only – but as a corporate community of God’s people. We are to wrestle with the complex issues of life and belief.

2. John is not calling us to analyse and examine every minute belief and practice of every individual christian. He is arguing that we faithfully believe and guard the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

That is why the leaders of the church must have a high standard of theological understanding and faithfulness to the truth.

3. John has put the emphasis on the central truth of the gospel – Jesus Christ {God -man} through whom alone there is salvation.

I believe there are three levels of believe – ABSOLUTES – CONVICTIONS – PREFERENCES –

ABSOLUTES – those things that are not negotiable – the diety of Christ – salvation by faith alone – the authority of the scriptures …..

CONVICTIONS – modes of baptism – the role of women in the Church –

PREFERENCES – hymns or choruses – style of worship [raise hands or not] – ……

Why is what we believe so important? Because it will affect what we are! What we value! Because it affects our behaviour!

ILLUS.: Why do you treat a diamond ring with such care? You consider it to be valuable because you believe those you say it is. If you were to be convinced that it is not valuable you would cancel the insurance on it tomorrow.!!


If you believe that marriage is a monogamous life relationship – you will value that and will be less likely to have an adultrous relationship than someone who believes marriage should be an open relationship that can be ended when comvenient.

What we believe is very important!!

Two extremes to be avoided –

1. don’t rush to pass judgement on others. Sometimes it is misunderstanding and not error.

2. As a Chruch we cannot neglect the task of teaching and nurturing people in the Christian faith. To often we try to manipulate people to behave according to our rules – we try to cahnge them from the outside in – if they come to belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and seek to obey him then HE will change them from the inside out.

And each of us need to constantly be evaluating what we believe and how it works out in our daily living.

What we believe will determine what we are and how we live.


(Discerning truth from error)


1 John 4:1-6.












(What is real)



(What is true)



(What is good/best)



(What is done)


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