This week’s passage for memorization, 1 John 3:23-4:3, includes the end of one train of thought and the beginning of another. By now you may have noticed that the weekly passages aren’t arranged into tidy little segments of a single theological concept. Instead, they are tidy little segments that fit onto the pages of our moleskine journals. That said, they are still in the order which the Holy Spirit inspired John to write, and once memorized as a whole, the page segments will fade into the background and the units of thought will come to the fore.
Our first two verses this week wrap up the flow of thought which began in 3:11: John’s elaboration of the social test that we should love one another. In verse 23, John shows how loving one another goes hand-in-hand with believing in Jesus (the doctrine test), and both fulfill the keeping of God’s commandments (the moral test). In fact, loving one another and believing in Jesus are so mutually dependent that they are essentially a single commandment. John then states that “whoever keeps [these] commandments abides in God and God in him” (3:24). The way that we know that God abides in us is “by the Holy Spirit, whom [God] has given to us.”
From that point we take hold of “Spirit” and swing into John’s discussion of “the spirits” which we must test, “to see whether they are from God,” since “many false prophets have gone out into the world” (4:1). The word “spirit” then shows up twice in each of the verses from 4:1-3. John gives us the secret to decoding whether the spirits we are listening to are the Spirit of God or the spirit of the antichrist: what do they claim about Jesus? If we hear confession of the truth that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, we know this is the Spirit of God. If, however, the spirits are not confessing Jesus, we may confidently identify this as the spirit of the antichrist. There is no third option.
And now, the memory aids:
23 And this is his commandment, that we believe
in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one
another, just as he has commanded us.
Last week ended with “keep his commandments and do what pleases him.” What are the commandments that we keep, the doing of which pleases God?
And this is his commandment (singular), that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ (the substance of our belief) and love one another (the objects of our love), just as he has commanded us.
24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in
God, and God in him. And by this we know that he
abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
Absolute statement followed by the proof of abiding:
Whoever keeps (w/o distinction) his commandments abides in God, and God in him (this mutual abiding is the blessing of obedience). And by this we know ( how do we know) that he abides in us (? —>), by the Spirit whom he has given us.
4:1 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.
Swinging into testing the spirits with reason upon reason upon reason:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit (why?), but test the spirits (why?) to see whether they are from God (WHY?), for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit
that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the
flesh is from God,
Here’s how the spirits pass the test:
By this (the confession) you know the Spirit of God: every spirit (w/o exception) that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (<— the whole confession) is from God,
3 and 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
And here’s how they fail the test:
and every spirit (w/o exception) that does not confess Jesus is not from God (don’t be fooled!). This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming (you were warned) and now is in the world already (so be alert!).
Jesus warned us to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, because we are sent out as sheep among wolves (Matt. 10:16). John is giving us the same warning, with the key to unlocking the distinction between the sheep and the wolves: the confession of Jesus Christ, who has come in the flesh from God. Those who make this confession are among the sheep, and we are therefore to love them as our brothers and sisters in the faith, even if we disagree over secondary issues of the faith. Those, however, who do not confess Jesus—a primary article of the faith—are not our brothers and sisters, but are confessing the lie of the spirit of the antichrist. Do not be fooled into following these, but continue speaking the truth to them with conviction and love. Who knows, but that the Lord may bring them into his sheepfold in the beloved?