Truth and Error

Christ Covenant Church
Marq Toombs
Text – 1 John 4:1-6
Joy for the World: Life, Light, Love

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May God fill you with his life, light, and love in Jesus Christ and make your joy complete.

Our sermon text for today is 1 John 4:1-6. If you are able and willing, please stand for the reading of God’s Holy Word.

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. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 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 already. 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. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 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 word of the Lord. May God bless the reading, preaching, and hearing of his word. And all the church says, ‘Amen!’

1st John is a Defense Against the Dark Arts textbook.


Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.

According to John spirit is the power at work in teachers. In this text, there are only two spirits — the Spirit of God and spirit of antichrist. One has its origin and source in God; the other has its origin and source in the world. What’s interesting to me is this: all teachers are spirit-led — some are led by the Spirit of God, and some by the spirit of antichrist.

I point this out because so many people refer to conference speakers, worship leaders, and celebrity pastors as being spirit-led and spirit-filled. No doubt that is true. But the question we must ask is, “Led and filled by which spirit?” Not all spirits are the Holy Spirit.

Do you know how to tell the difference? Test them. The Greek word for test was often used for testing the quality of metals.

We need to test teachers and the spirit that move them the way a craftsman test metals. Apply heat, pressure, and force. Scrutinize them and find out what they are really made of.

This is what Eve should have done with the serpent in the tree.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. (Genesis 3:1-7)

What is the test? How can we know if a spirit or teacher is from God or not?

Above all else, we know if a spirit and teacher are from God or not by whether they confess Jesus Christ, and by what they confess about him.

Everyone has an opinion, a confession, about Jesus. The main way you know if a spirit if true or false, from God, man or the devil, is by asking what the spirit says about Jesus.

Now, John is not saying that if a spirit or teacher believes Jesus was a real, historical man, then it is from God. Almost everyone believes Jesus was a real man. But John’s point is more profound. He is saying that unless a spirit or teacher believes that Jesus Christ came in the flesh it/he is not from God.

As Francis Schaeffer said, “The Spirits and prophets are to be tested by whether they confess that Jesus “is come in the flesh,” a confession that has two elements of content: (1) Jesus’ eternal pre-existence and (2) his incarnation in space-time history.” (based on Francis A. Schaeffer, *No Little People,* A Christian View of Spirituality, Vol. 3, p. 179)

That brings us to the next point.



John is echoing Jesus’ words about the Spirit of God. In the Gospel of John, the night before he was crucified, Jesus said,

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:15-17)

If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:23-26)

When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. (John 15:26-27)

And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged…When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:8-14)

According to Jesus, the Holy Spirit is our comforter and counselor. He is the Spirit of truth, whose mission is to point sinners to Jesus Christ. The Spirit is radically Christ-centered.

The Spirit says Jesus is the God-man, the eternal God who became temporal flesh. (Who, by the way, still dwells in the flesh in a glorified state.)

Sadly, not everyone believes that Jesus Christ came in the flesh.


Again, John was writing to help his community protect herself from antichrists.

Antichrists can be found anywhere — inside and outside the church. Antichrists outside the church are easier to spot because they openly reject and ridicule Jesus. Antichrists inside the church are harder to spot. Why? They openly claim to receive Jesus, yet they secretly reject in their heart and renounce him in their mind.

Outwardly, they resemble true Christians. They do works in Jesus’ name. They promote a similar gospel. They participate in the life of the church. They use gospel-based words, language, and ideas. They perform acts of worship.

Yet inwardly they do not confess the truth about Jesus Christ. To confess mean to acknowledge and agree, to say the same thing about something. They are against Jesus in their hearts. They are opposed to Christ in their minds. They contradict, reject, or disown the truth of Jesus with their doctrine and with their life. They are anti-Christs who live, move, and exist in the world-spirit of antichrist.

There were many antichrists who bothered the church at the end of John’s life, and beyond, well into the second century. They believed flesh was evil and spirit was good, so they rejected the apostles’ teaching that Jesus Christ existed as God before he came into world as man.

Why does that matter so much?

Why are there so many false prophets and fake spirits in the world?

“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deuteronomy 13:1-3)

As John says, “They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us.”

This is a test: will you listen to God through his prophets and apostles, or not?

One thing we have learned from our study of church history is that the more things change the more they remain the same.

Here at the start of the 21st century many antichrists are still at work in the world. In our day, most religions believe Jesus came in the flesh in space-time history, but not all believe Jesus existed as God from all eternity before he became a man in history. That’s the critical issue, the heart of the matter.

Here’s what some antichrists look like in our time.

They look like nicely-dressed, well-groomed young missionaries who knock on your door and tell you that Jesus was a good man, a good teacher, and a good example, but he was not the God-man. Rather, he was the spirit-brother of Lucifer, the first creature God ever made. (LDS)

They look like devout men and women who walk through your neighborhoods and talk about a future world peace and tell you that Jesus was not God and not really man. Rather, he was an Archangel posing as a man. (JW)

They look like charismatic mega-church bishops who preach that Jesus is just one mode of God, one manifestation of Godhead, not the second person of the Trinity. (Oneness Pentecostal)

They look like metrosexual hipsters who make cool, high-quality videos and write sleek hi-tech books to promote their post-evangelical spirituality. (Bell)

They look like high octane talk show hosts who promote their own brand of spirituality and belief through high definition TV series, book clubs, magazines, and interviews. (Oprah)

Like the serpent, these religious anti-christs are crafty and clever. That is why the Spirit of God led John to write this a defense against the dark arts manual.


It’s been a few weeks, but you might recall that I said, “There is a time and place to boast and brag about your children and to be brave for them.”

Well, that’s what the apostle John is doing in this letter. He is boasting and bragging on his little children. Why? Not only for what they have done, but for what the Spirit of God has done for them:

John wants our joy to be complete. One way John boosts our joy is to tell us that he recognizes God’s work of grace in our life.

We are his little children because we are born of God — not born of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but born of God. (John 1:13)

Our sins are forgiven because God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse them from all unrighteousness with the blood of Jesus (1 John 1:7,9; 2:2)

We know the Father because Jesus made him known to us, and we have fellowship with him, and we keep his commandments, and walk as Jesus walked (John 1:18; 1 John 1:4; 2:5-6).

We were strong; the word of God dwells in us; and we overcome the evil one by faith in Jesus Christ.

We are from God and overcome the antichrists and false prophets, for the Spirit who is in us is greater than the spirit who is in the world.

We defended ourselves against the dark arts because of what God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit does for them. “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.”

The word for overcome is νικάω (nikaō). Our word nike comes from this work. The idea is that people who wear Nike are conquerors and overcomers, right? Sorta, but not really. According to John, we are over-comers and conquerors. Why? Because we are people who trust in Jesus Christ, live by the Spirit, and know the truth.


Earlier in the letter John said we have an anointing from the Holy One and we all know the truth. We know the truth about the Father and the Son because the Holy Spirit reveals the truth to us through his word and his word is all about Jesus.

The Holy Spirit guided human authors to write things that point us to Jesus. The OT writings points us to Jesus by use of shadows and figures. The NT writings points us to Jesus by use of substance and reality.

As John wrote in his Gospel, ‘there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’ (John 20:30-31; 21:25)

This is a test: will you listen to God’s Spirit through his prophets and apostles, or not? Will you confess and believe Jesus Christ has come in the flesh as the Savior of the world?


* These notes are only sketches of the actual sermon which was fleshed out more fully.


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