1 John 4:1-6

What an amazing journey our loving Father is taking us on through this precious love-letter, written with us in mind. Two thousand years ago, He knew how tough it would be to live in the frantic, stressful, disturbing twenty-first century, so He had John write all these encouraging words to show His great love for us, at the same time as showing us how to trust Him for protection in dark times. In Study Eight, we looked into "warnings against the antichrist", signs of "the end times" and the imminent return of Jesus Christ. We were also challenged as to whether we are ready to face up to meeting Jesus if He should come today.

John now reinforces his previous point (in chapter two) and shows us how we can be protected from being deceived or led astray by using the gift of discernment that God has given us through the Holy Spirit. It is not wise to have a gift but not to use it, especially since we are warned that this is the very time that we need it. Our enemy has so many different ways to deceive us. There are people all over the world who undermine the truth of God's word by raising questions about it that leave new followers of Jesus uncertain as to its truth. There are people in elevated positions in Christian circles who live lifestyles that do not match up to His word. Many of us know (or have heard of) Christian leaders who have twisted the truth or come out publicly to say that they no longer believe some part of the Christian faith. We cannot afford to pay attention to every persuasive speaker that comes along. This all serves to undermine the body of Christ and to fulfil the enemy's plan to try and destroy churches.

Milk or solid food

One of the greatest problems in Western churches today is that there are so many media streams available (CDs, DVDs, Christian TV and radio stations) that compete for our attention. We can constantly be listening to teaching and preaching, but rarely take time to check out what we are being taught. It only takes news of a few miracles for us to be totally hooked on the sensational and spectacular, to the point that we follow blindly. When babies are brand new, we don’t question them being fed by their mothers, as and when they need it. However, if ten year olds still need their mothers to feed them, we recognise that there may be a problem. Simlarly, as Christians, we have to grow up and learn to feed ourselves by receiving our teaching directly from the Holy Spirit. (1 John 2:27) If we do not do so, we open ourselves up to being led astray by the "junk food" of emotional hype, rather than the "still, small voice" of the Holy Spirit. The first encourages us to live our lives on our feelings, whilst the second teaches us to live by the Spirit. (Galatians 5:16)

Signs and wonders

In Acts 8:9-25, when Philip had been proclaiming Jesus in Samaria and many miraculous signs had happened, a character known as "Simon the Sorcerer" was greatly impressed. Previously, he had boasted to all and sundry that he was someone special because he had amazed people for a long time with his ability to perform magic. They had even called him, "The Great Power of God". But, when people listened to Philip and saw the miraculous signs that accompanied his teaching, they believed in the name of Jesus Christ and were baptised. Simon was so amazed when he saw the genuine power of God at work, that he himself did the same and followed Philip closely. Peter and John came to Samaria and prayed for the followers of Jesus to receive the Holy Spirit because they had "only been baptised into the Name of Jesus". Simon saw what happened when people received the Holy Spirit and thought that having access to such power might be very profitable for his own future, so he asked Peter if he could buy this gift for himself. Peter responded immediately with a very sharp rebuke: "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps He will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin." (Acts 8:20-23)

A need for discernment

This is a very powerful illustration for us of Peter "testing the spirits". He used the Holy Spirit's gift of discernment to see right through Simon and his selfish motivation. At the same time, Peter didn't reject Simon himself. He wasn't seeking to "cancel" him because of their disagreement. Instead, Peter tells Simon very firmly what he needs to do to be right with God. Simon then had the opportunity to be delivered of his sinful thinking, humbled by the truth, put right with God and filled with the Holy Spirit. He recognised his need to turn away from his past, give up his position in society and turn to Jesus. How many people today love the excitement of a church full of spectacular things happening every week, but do not have a personal relationship with the living God. They are fascinated by what they see happening but, for all sorts of reasons, cannot bring themselves to experience the presence and power of God's love in their own hearts because it might mean giving up some status or position to which they have grown very attached.

The truth is that, from an eternal point of view, we cannot afford to live in the world of today unless we maintain a clean conscience. We need an "open line to heaven" to hear the still, small voice of God, moment by moment. This is not simply to boost our own confidence or prestige but so that our lives are lived "for the praise of His glory". (Ephesians 1:12)

When Jesus was alive, John told Him that he had prevented someone from casting out demons because that person had not been "one of us". How jealous we can be for the reputation of our particular "ministry team", our own church or denomination! Jesus said to John that anyone who was bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth by working miracles was hardly going to be working against Jesus or His disciples. (Mark 9:38-41; Luke 9:49-50) Does this ring a bell? When we look at other Christian groups, organisations or churches, we need to exercise discernment before openly criticising their methods or motives. Yes, we need to apply some tests to avoid being deceived, but one of the main things to look for, said Jesus, is the fruit. (Matthew 7:20) If we are not sure, then it's better to keep our mouths shut and to pray for them. We do not need to follow them until we have reassurance from God that they are not working against Jesus. Remember no one person has a monopoly on truth, so we need to be discerning.

1 John 4:2

Recognising the Spirit of God

The importance of testing what we hear and see is as vital today as it's ever been. The "antichrist" (about whom John was warning us) is actively working against Jesus and those in the kingdom of God. How can we recognise when someone has "the Spirit of God"? Well, it all hinges on Jesus Himself and who people understand Him to be. John's message (like that of all the apostles and leaders in the early church) was that Jesus Christ is God Himself who has come in the flesh, born of a virgin. He is both human and God. He is not simply a spirit that entered a human being for a time before returning to heaven. He is Almighty God, made fully human, who was born two thousand years ago. He was crucified but then raised to life again and then taken up into heaven. This glorified man, Jesus Christ, is now alive and sits at the right hand of God in heaven. (Hebrews 1:3) When Jesus became human He continued to be divine. He was God in the flesh – that is, God in human form - and so He remains God today. (John 1:14; Philippians 2:3-8) All who acknowledge this have the true Spirit of God. (Romans 8:11)

1 Thessalonians 5:21

Testing the spirits

There are two basic tests to apply when seeking to know if someone is a genine Christian.

  1. Ask the person what s/he thinks of Jesus Christ. Those who understand Jesus to be both fully human and fully God will have the Spirit of God within. Of course, not all people tell the truth. If in doubt, apply the second test as well.
  2. How does this person live? Belief and behaviour are inextricably linked, so we can tell who is the focus of peoples' lives by their actions and their talk. (2 Corinthians 3:2-3)


Those who neglect their families (parents, partners or children and other relations) are clearly not honouring the fifth commandment. (Exodus 20:12) Those who are arrogant, self-centred, constantly critical or negative and lacking in love and compassion are plainly not putting to death what belongs to their earthly nature. (Colossians 3:5-9)


Do people encourage others to worship God and obey Him when they speak? Are they teaching things that go against what is taught in God's word?

We have been warned that these deceptions will increase in the "last days". Just as there were false prophets and "antichrists" turning up in churches from the very earliest days after Jesus was taken up into heaven, so today there are many people whose actions and words serve only to cause trouble and heartache throughout the body of Christ on earth. We cannot rely on our leaders to discern for us. We all have to know for ourselves whether a particular word, sermon or teaching is true. (Proverbs 14:15)

Using discernment

Discernment is a gift of the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:10) It is vitally important today as we test all the spirits around us, both in churches and in the world outside of God's kingdom. We cannot afford to be moved by the outward appearance of any person or organisation because many churches have fallen apart after following a misleading personality. The ability to discern God’s will, to see the movement of His Spirit and to know what is from God can save our spiritual lives. Discernment is the ability to know right from wrong and good from evil, especially in a spiritual sense. (Proverbs 8:12-14) It is also very useful when making decisions for which we need divine guidance. (Philippians 1:10) Discernment helps in being an effective leader because it can reveal what is going on in secret.

With this gift comes also a responsibility to use wisely the information that the Holy Spirit has given. If we recognise that there is a problem, the next step is to discern what God is telling us to do about it. Before doing anything else, we need to pray, asking God to confirm through His word if our conclusions are correct. We need to give Him time! Then we should ask God to show us if there is anything that He wants us to do with the information. Do we need to approach the person concerned? We cannot do this unless we know for sure that we are walking in love with that person and only want their best. We must never do this from a desire to "sort someone out". That is God’s job, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Usually God expects us to pray for some time, using the information that we have. Most likely, God will bring about the needed change without us having to say anything to that person. (1 Corinthians 4:3-5)

At the heart of discernment we must want what God wants, not caring about our own reputation. We must train our senses and spirit to recognise temptation before it traps either ourselves or others. It is vital that we can tell the difference between the correct use of Scripture and a mistaken one. As our spiritual life grows, we begin to know God more deeply and He is able to give us this gift more readily, knowing that He can trust us to use it for His glory not for our own. Developing a judgmental attitude, that tears people apart (usually behind their backs) in order to build ourselves up, usually comes from our own insecurities. We are called to be discerning not negative. This gift consolidates and strengthens our prayer life as we ask God how we should pray and His Spirit directs us. When we are baby Christians, we just ask for what we want but, as we mature, we see more of our Father’s love and know His will is best, so we begin to listen more for His instructions. Try looking for discernment in some area of your life where you sense there is a problem and see what God says to you... then obey.

1 John 4:4-6

Who are we living with?

John now changes the subject and encourages his readers to focus on the fact that they are indeed from God and have His Spirit to prove it. He does not leave them in any doubt spiritually, nor does he leave them insecure in their faith. John lets them know that they can face any opposition with real confidence by focusing on the victory that they have in Christ. If we have the Holy Spirit, we are drawn to people who also have the Holy Spirit and we listen to them. (Romans 10:9; 1 John 4:15) People outside the kingdom of God prefer to listen to the opinions of those who think like them, rather than Christians, filled with the Holy Spirit, who make them feel uncomfortable.

But the same can also be true of believers who have been "born-again" but are still following their old nature instead of listening to the Holy Spirit within them. (The New Testament writers described this as "walking in the flesh".) Such people can also feel very uncomfortable in the presence of an on-fire, Spirit-filled Christian. If we feel like this around Christians who are excited about Jesus and clearly make Him the focus of their lives, we need to ask ourselves some questions, such as:

  • "What area of my life is not surrendered to Jesus?"
  • "Am I a real Christian or just religious?"
  • "Am I just doing good works... being a good girl to get to heaven?"
  • "Am I a counterfeit Christian, fooling everyone except the One who matters - God Himself?"

While we are on earth we have the opportunity to do something about it. Repent, believe in Jesus Christ and receive His Holy Spirit!

We have an anchor

In John's day, the "antichrists" didn't like the good news about Jesus: the message of God's love and grace that, through faith in the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus, it was possible to be "born again" of the Spirit of God and adopted directly into God's family. Some wanted to stick with their traditional misunderstanding of the law of Moses (which they saw as being about keeping laws and traditions) whilst others had their own ideas about spirituality which they thought could be separated entirely from any moral restrictions on physical life.

Today, there are still many people whose thinking is very different from a Christian understanding of the existence of God as creator, with the world and all its many forms of life under His control. Some follow other religions with their own ideas about who "God" is and how to relate to Him (or perhaps to the idea or concept of "God" rather than a personal deity). Some hold firmly to the idea that no such deity exists but that humans need morals and values and it is up to every society to forge its own, changing and adapting them as necessary to accommodate changing ideas.

Perhaps the more dangerous people are those who want to keep a "foot in both camps". They still consider themselves as "christians" and want to belong to churches but, at the same time, they want to entertain those aspects of contemporary thinking that they find most attractive and encourage the church to adapt its doctrine and practice accordingly. It is this "danger within" that is often most difficult to counter.

What is John's message in the face of this veritable storm of opinions, blowing back and forth? He makes two important points:

  1. "Little children, you are of God [you belong to Him] and have [already] defeated and overcome them [the agents of the Antichrist], because He who lives in you is greater (mightier) than he who is in the world". (1 John 4:4 Amplified version)
  2. "We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us." (1 John 4:6)

Together, these two truths form an anchor that holds us firm. Real Christians have no need to fear or be in doubt, because the God of the universe lives in us, giving us all the power and resources we need to live life to the full and to have victory over every demonic deception. If we really trust in, cling to and rely on this word from God, we will be experiencing the life that Jesus paid for us to have. (John 10:10) Not only does God's Spirit guide us (as we listen to Him) but John says that other believers will recognise the Spirit of God in us and recognise that we are speaking the truth. In this way, we shall be able to identify each other as genuine believers and find support and comfort in our "fellowship" with them.

Here are some additional verses that reinforce what John is saying to us:

"If the Spirit of Him Who raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you, [then] He who raised up Christ Jesus from the dead will also restore to life your mortal [short-lived, perishable] bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you." (Romans 8:11 Amplified version)

"When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in My Father, and you are in Me and I am in you." (John 14:20)

"I am in them and You are in Me." (John 17:23)

"It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." (Galatians 2:20)

"So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith... that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3:17-19)

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