1John 4 - Outline of 1John (MENU page)
Several times in our study of 1John, the Holy Spirit has been mentioned, in regard to the believer's new nature, and the necessity of abiding in Christ. It is He who is the "unction from the Holy One" who teaches God's children to discern between truth and error (2:20). Yet, John does not refer to Him by name as 'the Spirit,' until 3:24. That verse introduces the section now before us. In 1John ch. 4, we are introduced to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Truth and Love.
 
II. God is Love (4:8,16), 2:3-4:21
Therefore, God's children...
G. Love the Spirit of Truth (The spirit of antichrist denies that Jesus Christ came in flesh.), 4:1-10
1. Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God:
because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God:
Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
3 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God:
and this is that [spirit] of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come;
and even now already is it in the world.
Beloved {'dearly loved ones', ie., you who are held firmly in the strong 'agape' love of God}...-
This word, which addresses all of God's children, occurs in v.1,7,11, and marks natural divisions in this chapter.
...believe not every spirit... because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
The previous chapter emphasized the need for selfless love of our brethren in Christ. But now we are warned that there are con men who will take advantage of such love. Therefore, even in showing love to others, we need discernment (which involves knowledge and judgment), lest we be led away into falsehood. Php 1:9
...but try the spirits whether they be of God...
Earlier, John addressed a similar warning to the 'youths' or 'young children' in the family of God (2:18-28). Although they did not yet have a firm grasp of scripture, they had an "unction" from God (ie., an 'anointing' of God's Spirit) within them, which would enable them to avoid deadly error. They were instructed to 'abide' {remain, continue} in the truth which they had received (ie., the basic truths of the Gospel, concerning the Person and work of Christ). The false teachers (who were referred to as 'many antichrists') had fallen into error because they had not continued in the truth which they once professed. But the new believers would continue in right relationship with the Lord, by heeding the inner prompting from God. The Holy Spirit, who knows the difference between truth and error, would guard God's young children.
     Here, all believers are instructed to 'try' {prove, put to a test} the spirits, to discern the difference between the Spirit of God and the spirit of antichrist. Truth and error is much more than a disagreement of words. Don't misunderstand, a right understanding of God's Word is essential. But God's Word came to us through the Holy Spirit (2Pet 1:21), and is only understood aright as the Spirit teaches us (Joh 16:13,14; 1Cor 2.12-14). False teachers, inspired by deceiving spirits, frequently misuse the Bible, twisting its words, to promote their errors (eg., 2Pet 3.16).
     The false prophets and false teachers are not simply men who are mistaken. Rather, such men have been deceived by demonic spirits, who are using them to deceive others. 1Tim 4:1; 2Pet 2:1
     How are we to 'try the spirits'? John prescribes two tests (the first in v.2,3; the second in v.4-6).
The first test concerns what the spirits say about the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.
Hereby know ye the Spirit of God:
Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God.
The spirit of antichrist denies "that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh." Now, this is not the first time that John has warned us of the spirit of antichrist. In 2:22, he said that the spirit of antichrist denies that "Jesus is the Christ." These are two different lies, which both undermine the Person and work of Christ. The messages of false prophets may take various forms, but their primary error relates to Jesus Christ.
What is the difference between these two similar errors?
  • 'Is the man, Jesus, really the Christ?' (That is the seed of doubt in 2:22.)
    There are two sides to this question...
    • Is the man, Jesus, the One whom God has appointed to fulfill all of His promised purposes?
      At one point, even John the Baptist had doubts about Jesus, because He came in a way that he had not expected. Therefore, he sent his disciples to ask, "Art thou he that should come? or, look we for another?" (Luk7:19,20). Jesus answered the Baptist's sincere question by demonstrating some of the characteristics of His future Messianic Kingdom, as described in biblical prophecy (Luk 7:21-23; Isa 35:5,6). Although John did not fully understand God's messianic program, his faith in Jesus, as the Christ, would not be disappointed.
    • Is the man, Jesus, the only true Christ?
      As we saw earlier, the gnostics considered the flesh to be hopelessly corrupt. Therefore, they denied that Jesus, the man, could be the Christ. Instead, some of them taught that the 'Christ spirit' came upon him temporarily during his ministry, and departed prior to his death. The 'Christ spirit' would come upon future men to complete as yet unfulfilled prophecies.
           Some of today's cults teach that Jesus was merely the channel of the 'Christ spirit' for his generation. According to the Bahai religion, the 'Christ spirit' was manifested in their founder, Baha-ullah, in 19th century Persia. Islam claims that Jesus was one of many prophets through whom God spoke prior to the coming of the last prophet, Mohammed.
           During the Great Tribulation period, it is unlikely that the antichrist will claim the biblical credentials of Jesus (eg., born of a virgin, in the line of David, born in Bethlehem... nor will he display the nail prints in his hands and feet...). No. Rather than posing as Jesus, he will simply claim to be the latest manifestation of the 'Christ spirit.'
  • 'Did Jesus, the Christ, come in the flesh?' (This is the question, here, in 4:2,3.)
    This doubt can take more than one direction (depending on which words are emphasized):
    • Was Jesus, the Christ, a real man (of flesh and blood)? (...Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.)
      Some of the gnostics taught that Jesus was a spiritual emanation (an angelic being) who only appeared to be a man.
      But if He lacked a 'flesh and blood' body, He did not truly die for our sins, nor was He buried, nor did He rise from the dead. Therefore, if Christ was not truly a man, your faith in Him is empty, and you are yet in your sins (1Cor 15:17).
    • Was Jesus, the Christ, merely a man (like all other men)? (...Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.)
      The Bible teaches that the man, Jesus, was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a human virgin, and was therefore truly man. But unlike all other men, He did not inherit the sinful Adamic nature, and was therefore truly holy. It also teaches, that the Person (within the man Jesus) did not have His beginning in Bethlehem. Rather, He came into the world out of eternity (Mic 5:2; Joh 1:1-3,14). Therefore, being truly God and truly man, He alone could span the gulf between the holy God and sinful man (1Tim 2:5,6). If He was not truly man, He could not have died in our place. If He was not truly God, He could not have died for the sins of the whole world (2:2).
This is that spirit of antichrist... already is it in the world. cp. 2:18
The spirit of 'anti'-christ is both 'against' and 'instead of' the true Christ. Any 'christ' who is other than the One of scripture is a counterfeit, set forward by Satan and his demons to deceive and lead men to destruction. The false teachers are moved by the spirit of antichrist.
 
This brings us to the second test for discerning the Spirit of Truth from the spirit of error.
This test concerns the way these spirits influence men.
4. Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them:
because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.
5 They are of the world:
therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.
6 We are of God:
he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us.
Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.
These verses deal with three distinct groups of people. (Note the pronoun at the beginning of each verse.)
  • "Ye" are of God, little children {GK=teknion, born ones}...
    God's children have overcome {GK=nikao, conquered, obtained the victory over} the lying spirits which fill the world. This victory was not our doing, but God's work of salvation, accomplished by Jesus Christ. It is He who dwells in us, by His Holy Spirit (1Joh 3:8; 5:4,5; Joh 14:16-23). The Holy Spirit teaches believers to discern and understand the truth (1Cor 2:12; 1Joh 2:20,27).
  • "They" are of the world...
    The false spirits and false teachers proclaim worldly philosophies, which are readily received by unregenerate men, in their churches, universities, and entertainment. 2Tim 4:3,4; 2Pet 2:2,3
  • "We" are of God...
    Usually, in this letter, John uses the pronoun 'we' to include all true children of God (eg., 3:1,2).
    However, in the opening verses, 'we' refers to the apostles (1:1-5). Apparently, this is his intent, here. The apostles received direct revelation from God, and had first hand knowledge of Jesus Christ, and His victory over sin and death. They wrote what they had seen and heard.
         The Bible, consisting of Old and New Testaments (the latter written by the apostles), is the final authority in matters of doctrine and practice. Taught by the Holy Spirit, God's children recognize His Word as Truth (Isa 8:20; Heb 2:1-4; 2Pet 3:1,2; Joh 10:27).
         Those, who reject the testimony of the apostles, will be deceived by the spirit of antichrist (2The 2:9-12; 2Pet 3:1-4; Jude 1:17,18).
...Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.-
'Hereby...' ie., by means of the written Word, and by means of the Holy Spirit.
Having the means, we have a responsibility to discern error, and to defend the Faith (v.1; Jude 1:3,4).
 
Verses 7-10 form a bridge between John's teaching that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth (v.1-6),
and his teaching that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Love (v.11-21).
7. Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God;
and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us,
because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world,
that we might live through him.
10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us,
and sent his Son [to be] the propitiation for our sins.
Beloved, let us love one another for love is of {GK= ek, out from} God... for God is love.
God's children are enabled to love one another, because love comes from God.
Because Love is an essential aspect of God's nature, it will be evident in the lives of those who are born of Him.
...everyone that loveth is born of God... he that loveth not knoweth not God...
God's children are distinguished from the world, by the indwelling Holy Spirit, who enables them to receive God's Truth (v.6), and to reflect God's Love (v.7,8).
In this was manifested the love of God toward us...
God revealed His Love through the Truth, which He revealed concerning the Person and Work of Christ.
In v.9,10, God's revelation refutes the lies put forward by the spirit of antichrist (see the notes, at v.1-3, above).
  • The Revealed Truth - What He did...
    • God sent His only begotten {GK=monogenes, only born} Son into the world...
      God's Son was sent into the world, from His eternal pre-existence with the Father.
      The birth of God's Son was unique. He was fully God and fully man.
      (He was neither an angelic emanation, nor a temporary human host of the 'christ spirit.')
    • God sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
      This propitiation was "in His blood," for Christ took our place in death, to pay the penalty we deserved (Rom 3:24-26).
      (He was a real flesh and blood man. As the God/man, the redeeming value of His life and death was sufficient to cover the sins of the whole world. 2:2)
  • The Revealed Truth - Why He did it...
    • Because 'God is Love...'-
      This statement is a unique revelation, unknown to other religions.
      Only in Jesus Christ is the great love of God revealed to mankind (Joh 3:16).
    • Because 'He loved us... that we might live through Him. Herein is love...'
      There was nothing in us to merit His favor. We were His enemies, cut off from Him, already dead in our sins.
      We had no love for God. We did not seek Him. He came "to seek and to save that which was lost"... and we "received Him not..." but cried out "let him be crucified." (quotes from Luk 19:10; Joh 1:11; Mat 27:22,23)
      Yet, though we were His enemies, He paid a terrible price, "that we might live." This is Love! Rom 5:8-10; Eph 2:4,5; Titus 3:3-5
 
II. God is Love (4:8,16), 2:3-4:21
Therefore, God's children...
H. Love those whom God Loves (A demonstration of God's Spirit within His children.), 4:11-21
11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.
12 No man hath seen God at any time.
If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.
13 Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us,
because he hath given us of his Spirit.
Beloved... we ought also to love one another.
God's great love toward us, ought to be replicated in His children.
His love, toward us, cost Him dearly. It will not be easy for me, to love my brothers with His love, which reaches beyond likes and dislikes, and through conflicting emotions, to willingly sacrifice myself for the benefit of others (eg., 3:16,17; Eph 4:31,32; 5:1,2; Col 3:13).
No man hath seen God...
If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us.
The Lord Jesus Christ came to reveal the unseen God and His great love, to us. Joh 1:18
As His supernatural love is perfected {GK=teleioo, completed, finished, brought to fruition} in us, the nature of God will be revealed to the world. Joh 13:35; 17:23
     God's love 'toward us' is perfect and complete. Our salvation rests upon the love of God, from which nothing can separate us. You need never wonder if He loves you enough. At the beginning of the Upper Room discourse the night before His crucifixion, it is written that our Lord loved His own "unto the end {GK=telos, the uttermost, the completion, the finish}" (Joh 13:1). Before the next evening came, He used a closely related word, when He cried out from the cross, "It is finished" {GK=tetelestai, Joh 19:30}. His love was brought to perfection when He became your propitiation.
     You need never wonder whether you love Him enough. For salvation does not swing on your feelings or emotions. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us..." (v.10). His love is perfected toward us. Nothing can be added to that which is complete. All that remains is to trust Him and to rest in His love for you.
     However, God's kind of love ought to be evident in the interactions of His children.
Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us... He hath given us of His Spirit.- Rom 5:5
The Holy Spirit, who indwells God's children, produces His love within them. Therefore, the demonstration of His love provides further assurance that we are born of Him. 2:3-5; 3:24; Gal 5:22-25
14. And we have seen and do testify
that the Father sent the Son [to be] the Saviour of the world.
15 Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God,
God dwelleth in him, and he in God.
16 And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us.
God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.
we have seen and do testify...
Here again, 'we' may be a reference to the apostolic testimony concerning the Person and Work of Christ (v.6; 1:1-5).
However, it is also a reminder that our witness concerning Christ, must be rooted in love (1Cor 13:1).
whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.-
There is a difference between confessing and professing faith in Christ.
Profession is a statement of belief for the benefit of the hearer. A university 'professor' may or may not believe what he teaches.
Confession is personal agreement and identification with the truth. v.2; Rom 10:9,10
...God dwelleth in him, and he in God... God is love... he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.
The world has twisted "God is love" into "love is God." By 'love' they mean the lusts of the flesh and the things of darkness which men love. The meaning which John intends, in these verses, is completely incomprehensible to those who do not know the love of God, by which His Son redeemed us from all iniquity (Titus 2:14).
     John is telling us that the life of God's children is inseparably bound up in His Life. The things, which characterize Him, are evident in His children. If you have owned the love which God has demonstrated to you in Christ, that love ought to be resident in your heart. v.11-13
17. Herein is our love made perfect,
Alternate reading: Herein hath love been perfected with us...
that we may have boldness in the day of judgment:
because as he is, so are we in this world.
18 There is no fear in love;
but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment.
He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
19 We love him, because he first loved us.
Consider the alternate reading cited above (v.17a)...
  • Through the love of God perfected toward us, we enter into Life and Peace with God (v.9).
  • Through the love of God perfected in us, we display the true God to a Satan blinded world (v.12,13).
  • Through the love of God perfected with us, we have confidence for whatever lies ahead (v.17-19).
...perfect love casteth out fear...-
Do you fear the day of judgment? Even believers must give an account before the Lord (2Cor 5:10,11).
It is not my "perfect love" that will give me confidence when my earthly life is reviewed before Him, for my ability to love will not be perfected, until that Day when I am transformed into the Savior's likeness (3:2).
My confidence rests in...
  • God's provision for me, through His perfect love toward me (v.9,10).
  • God's Presence with me, for in Christ, His perfect love is with me (v.17).
    "Herein hath love been perfected with us... as He is, so are we in the world..."
    As sons of God moving toward maturity, we walk with God's perfect Son, who has promised "...and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age" (Mat 28:20b). He leads us, as we follow Him, through this fallen world to the Father's house (Joh 17:14-18). Our love may waver, but His never does. "As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love" (Joh 15:9). In Him, we are "accepted in the Beloved" (Eph 1:6). Held in that perfect love between the Father and the Son, we have no fear in His Presence.
    But this is not the experience of everyone...
...because fear hath torment.-
Those, who reject God's loving provision, have nothing but fear at the prospect of His Presence. eg., Psa 73:19; Heb 10:26,27
we love Him, because He first loved us. v.10; Titus 3:3-5
Our confidence rests in His love.
Our love for Him, though imperfect, is in response to His perfect love toward us.
20 If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar:
for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen,
how can he love God whom he hath not seen?
21 And this commandment have we from him,
That he who loveth God love his brother also.
If a man say, I love God...
Such a claim is unverifiable, since it relates to One who is invisible.
The words may be empty, unless they are confirmed by overt obedience.
True love for God is evidenced by obedience to His Word, and by love for those whom He loves (cp. Mat 22:37-39; Gal 5:14).
Once again, John brings us back to our Lord's command (Joh 13:34,35).

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