Sermon on 1 John 4:1-6, for the 5th Sunday of Easter 2021 (B), "Live by the Truth"
Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed, Alleluia! So far in 1 John we’ve discussed how we are “Raised for Fellowship,” how “We Shall Be Like Him”, and what “Resurrection Love” looks like. Today is not so much of a “resurrection theme”, but John calls us to distinguish truth and lies. This week I shared an essay in the Midweek Encouragement by the Nobel prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn, titled “Live Not by Lies.” He was exiled in 1974 from his homeland in Russia, for criticizing the communist regime, and paid for it by serving a sentence in the gulags—prison labor camps for political prisoners, dissidents, and common criminals. His crime was to think different and to speak out. He witnessed firsthand the horrific power of lies to subjugate a nation and spoke against it at great personal cost. A Christian who chose not to live by lies, he chose to live by the truth.
From the Garden of Eden to today, the deadliness of the devil’s countless lies remains the same. The devil is always reinventing, repackaging, and reselling the same old lies. Jesus calls the devil a murderer from the beginning and the father of lies. His first lie was to sow distrust in God’s Word. Feeding Adam and Eve’s fateful choice to learn to know evil, thinking they could control it to their own benefit. We always need to guard against the devil’s repackaged lies and hold fast to God’s Truth. Lies will run from God’s truth as darkness runs from the light. For that to happen, we need to shine God’s Truth. On the other hand, when lies are believed, they deceive, murder, kill and oppress.
It’s said that a lie runs halfway around the world before the truth gets its pants on. Lies spread like wildfire, and usually they’ve done their damage and gone away long before the truth can catch up, or it’s already too late. As Christians, we need to hear all those who call us to return to the truth: Jesus, John, and even men like Solzhenitsyn, who called us to “live not by lies.” He said we should never participate in or strengthen anything false. In other words, we should be inflammable, resistant to the fires of lies, renouncing them, not fueling them. Soaked in the waters of baptism, we should always be ready to extinguish a lie. John’s way of saying it is that we must be wise and on guard, and do not believe every spirit.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. Picture the false spirits, false prophets and lies spreading like wildfire in the world, and John calls us to skepticism and disbelief of those lies. This is one of those key verses that show us the other side of faith. Wisdom, discernment, and testing are expected of mature faith. Faith should never be an “easy-believism” or naivete that swallows whatever we are told. Cross-examine, double-check, don’t take things at face value. That’s true in many areas of daily life, but John is especially talking here about faith and the teachers in the church.
We are to test, challenge, and dispute with “the spirits” to see whether they are from God. That is, we are to test what we hear—including every message from myself or other preachers. We don’t get a special imprimatur or official stamp of approval that “anything he says goes!” Rather God’s Word, the Bible, measures and rules every teaching. To test the spirits is to hold every teaching, every idea, up to God’s Light, and examine it as true or false. And if it is God’s Truth, it is to be believed!
How will we know the Spirit of God from the spirit of error? First and foremost by their confession of Jesus Christ. John lays it out black and white—every spirit that confesses Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. Do they uphold the true confession of Jesus? Many claim Jesus but are false prophets or antichrists. Jesus called them wolves in sheepskins, because they prey on the flock and hide in lamb’s disguises. To “out” those wolves, we need to know the true confession of Jesus, to spot the fake.
You may know that treasury agents are trained to identify fake money primarily by spending a lot of time studying, handling, and feeling the genuine article. By holding, touching, and examining the genuine dollar bills, they become so familiarized with the “real deal” that it’s easy to spot and identify a fake. Similarly, there are too many fakes, frauds, and imitations of the truth to study and debunk them all. Many religious fakes are obvious and fall at first inspection, but some are powerfully deceptive frauds. Lincoln said: “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” It’s the power of a lie, and the devil’s repackaging a million different ways. In the same way, when we know the Truth, are so familiarized with the “real deal” of God’s Word—if we study and know Jesus as Lord—we will be far less likely to fall for a fake. By instinct we’ll sniff out an antichrist or false prophet. A wolf preaching some “other Jesus” than Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of the Bible. All fakes will finally fall to the Light of the Truth.
John traces the outline of the True Jesus. To confess the Father, we must confess the Son. You can’t have the Father without the Son (1 John 2:22-23). We must confess Him as the Christ—the anointed or Chosen Savior. Peter got it right by God’s help, when he confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16). John adds the true confession of Jesus confesses He came in the flesh. Not an angel or spirit, not a look-alike, but a real human born of His virgin mother Mary, and who died in the flesh and rose in the flesh, touched, and handled by the eyewitnesses. Jesus is true Man, in the flesh, and also truly Son of God (1 John 4:3-4, 14-15).
All this and more, the genuine Biblical confession of Jesus, makes up the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds that we confess each Sunday. Obviously, the devil doesn’t attack only these main points of Jesus’ identity, but any and every teaching of Scripture. The devil lies endlessly about God’s Word. But with the Bible as our measuring stick, and the Creeds as a faithful summary of Scripture used for nearly 2,000 years, we can quickly sort out the vast majority of frauds, false prophets, and antichrists, from the true Christ of the Bible.
John wrote in vs. 3, every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Remember how many of God’s promises are “now, but not yet”? The “now, but not yet” applies to the spiritual battle between truth and error also. The spirit of antichrist is now present. Since the time of John. There will always be enemies of Christ. But the spirit of antichrist is growing till the devil’s final push at the end of times, to deceive as many as possible. 1 John 2:18-20 says, “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore, we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” We will face growing tension, spiritual warfare, and division among Christians as we approach the end of times, the last hour.
Notice the origin of many false prophets? John warns: “they went out from us, but they were not of us.” The antichrist comes out of the church, in religious clothing. Wolves in sheepskins. 2 Thessalonians 2 calls the Antichrist the “Man of Lawlessness” and says he “opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” While pushing over gods and objects of worship, the antichrist remains religious in character. He tries to usurp and replace all gods and objects of worship, proclaiming himself to be God. Many Christians expect a political figure, more than a religious one, but these passages show a distinctly religious flavor to the work of the antichrist. Hundreds of individuals have been identified as Antichrist in recent history. Again, there will be many, John warns, but the main thing is that we steer clear of them and stay on guard. Counterfeits go out, but are not “of us”, not the true church. When we commit to “live not by lies”, we must help the world not see the counterfeits, but the true Christ, true prophets, and His true church.
V. 4-5 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. Little children of God are mighty. We are weak but He is strong because the God who is in us has overcome the world. God overcomes the false prophets, the antichrists, and the spirit of error that runs the world. He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. So, God is obviously the Greater One in us, but who is the lesser “he who is in the world?” Firstly, that’s the devil. When Jesus went to His death, He announced that “now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out” (John 12:31) and that the ruler of this world “has no claim on me” (John 14:30). Jesus judged and cast out the devil when He died on the cross. The devil has no claim, no power, no authority on Jesus. He’s a lingering, defeated, dethroned enemy who prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). But little children, you are from God, and have overcome him, because Greater is God is in you, than he who is in the world.
And there are those who “are in the world” who follow the devil. False prophets, wolves, antichrists, any that are captive to error. God, “who is in you is greater than he who is in the world,” applies to them also. God is greater than all who lie and slander those who are of the truth. Our victory is in God, so we need not fear the power of lies and worldliness. Solzhenitsyn, who resolved to “live not by lies” was never martyred, but he paid a price for his stand. Many Christian martyrs and men and women of courage also have paid a personal cost to refuse to live by lies. We need not fear to pay an earthly price because Christ is the victory over the world. There is still time in this last hour, for people to be won over to God’s truth, to pray for and seek their salvation from the failing, defeated, and doomed kingdom of the devil.
V. 6: “We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” The world will always accept the lies and worldliness it wants to hear. All that promotes sin and ungodliness, self-centered living, denial of sin and responsibility, walking in darkness. The world is all for that. The spirit of error. Pandering to the spirit of error makes one popular, but speaking the truth gets the scorn and abuse of the world. We are from God. The boast is not in ourselves, poor sinners rescued by grace, but in our mighty God who overcomes. We must always distinguish the Spirit of truth from the spirit of error. Live not by lies, but by the Truth. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no one comes to the Father except by Him (John 14:6). The True Christ of the Bible, is our true victory over sin, lies, and evil, as Jesus delivers one day the final defeat of all the powers of darkness. Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia! Amen.