When John wrote his first Epistle, there were certain heretical teachings regarding the Person of Christ. One of these heresies claimed that Jesus was not Christ. This heresy denied the deity of Jesus. Such a heretical teaching nullifies the enjoyment of the Triune God.
Another heresy concerning Christ’s Person claimed that Christ was God, but denied that He became flesh. According to this heresy, Christ was God, but He was not a man. Due to the influence of Gnosticism, those who taught this heresy said that matter is inherently evil. Then these heretics went on to say that Christ as the holy God could not possibly have become flesh. Therefore, they claimed that Christ’s physical body was merely a phantasm. This means that they did not believe that He had an actual material body. This heresy also eliminates the enjoyment of the all-inclusive Christ.
In the second section of this Epistle (2:12-27), John tells the “little children” (2:12) that they have an anointing from the Holy One (2:20) and that this anointing teaches them concerning all things (2:27). John seems to be saying, “The anointing is the moving and saturating of the Triune God within you. This inner anointing teaches you all things concerning the Triune God. Do not listen to Cerinthus and his followers or to the Docetists. They are false prophets.” Moreover, these false prophets were antichrists (2:18, 22; 4:3), for they were anti some aspect of Christ. They have a spirit which does not have its source in God, which is not out of God: “And every spirit which does not confess Jesus, is not out of God; and this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now is already in the world” (4:3).
As we pointed out in foregoing messages, there is more than one antichrist. Antichrist is anyone who is anti something of Christ. To be an antichrist is to be against Christ and to replace Christ with something else.
In the first century Satan in his subtlety used the Cerinthians and the Docetists to frustrate Christians from the enjoyment of the Triune God and even to cut them off from this enjoyment. By the time of the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) doctrine that seemed to be orthodox concerning the Triune God had been established. The Nicene Creed is commonly considered a statement of orthodox doctrine. However, this creed actually is not complete concerning the Person of Christ. This creed does not indicate clearly that the Son came in the name of the Father and with the Father and even is called the eternal Father. Neither does this creed make it clear that the Son in His resurrection became the life-giving Spirit. Moreover, this creed does not say that the Spirit of God eventually consummates in the seven Spirits. In addition, the Nicene Creed does not have a clear statement concerning Christ as the Firstborn of God’s creation. By this we can see that only the Bible is complete. No creed is complete.
In his subtlety Satan, the enemy, tries to cut off certain basic items of what Christ is in His Person. Hence, those who follow the creeds and traditional teaching may emphasize only that Jesus Christ is the Son of God incarnate. They may not see that Christ is also the Father, the Spirit, and the Firstborn of God’s creation. The effect of this subtlety is to present a Christ who is not all-inclusive. But the Christ revealed in the Bible is all-inclusive. He is God, and He is man. He is the Son, the Father, and the Spirit. He is also the Creator and the Firstborn of the creatures. According to the Bible, Christ is still a man, and He has a spiritual body that can be touched (John 20:27). Today the Christ who is on the throne in the heavens still has a human nature (Matt. 26:64; Acts 7:56).
Christ is the first in God’s old creation and also the first in resurrection, that is, in God’s new creation (Col. 1:15, 18). This all-inclusive One is our power, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, redemption, life, life supply, and all our human virtues, including kindness, humility, patience, and meekness. This wonderful One is our enjoyment, our feast, our new moon, our Sabbath, our food, our drink, and our clothing. Truly, the Christ revealed in the Bible is all-inclusive.
Because we minister the all-inclusiveness of Christ as revealed in the Bible, some falsely accuse us of teaching pantheism. They claim that we teach that everything is God. This accusation is utterly false, and we repudiate it. However, we are not fighting for doctrine but for the enjoyment of the all-inclusive Christ.
We have seen that one subtlety of the enemy is to deny certain aspects of Christ and thereby restrict Him and make Him no longer all-inclusive. Another subtlety is to deny that the Triune God is subjective to us for experience and enjoyment and to present the Divine Trinity merely as an objective doctrine for religion. The religion of many Christians is based on the creeds. In certain denominations the Apostles’ Creed is recited in their services every week. Many of those who recite the creed have no experience of the Triune God. To them, the Divine Trinity is merely a belief in doctrine. But the Bible reveals that the Triune God is not merely the object of our faith; He is subjective to us, dwelling in us to be our life and life supply. Daily, even hourly, we need to experience Him and enjoy Him in this way. This is confirmed by the word concerning the enjoyment of the Triune God in 2 Corinthians 13:14.
The Bible reveals clearly that the Triune God, after passing through the process of incarnation, human living, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, has consummated in the all-inclusive Spirit, who has come to dwell in our spirit. Hallelujah for the wonderful all-inclusive Spirit dwelling in our human spirit! Our spirit may be a small organ, but this Spirit nonetheless dwells in it.
A human being can be compared to a transistor radio. Such a radio has a receiving apparatus that enables it to receive radio waves. When the radio is tuned properly, it will play music. We may say that we human beings are like transistor radios, and that the receiving apparatus is our human spirit. When our receiver is properly tuned, we enjoy heavenly music. This is an illustration of the enjoyment of the Triune God, who is now the life-giving Spirit dwelling in our regenerated human spirit. This is the reason we stress the importance of the human spirit. It is by our spirit that we touch, enjoy, and experience the all-inclusive Spirit.
According to the Scriptures, we testify strongly that our Lord today is not merely a part of the Triune God—He is the embodiment of the entire Triune God, the Son with the Father and as the Spirit. In our experience today, He is the Spirit as the reality of the Son with the Father to be our life for our enjoyment. Realizing that He is such a wonderful One, we do not care for dead doctrines, vain religion, or meaningless rituals. Our concern is to have the daily experience and enjoyment of the Triune God.
In 4:1 John says, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but prove the spirits whether they are out of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” This verse tells us clearly to prove, discern, the spirits. We should not think that a particular teaching simply comes from the teaching one himself. No, every teaching, whether right or wrong, comes by a spirit. As there are different teachings, there are also different spirits. Hence, we need to test the spirits to see whether they have their source in God, whether they are out of God. In verse 2 John says that every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is out of God. But in verse 3 he says that every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not out of God, for this is the spirit of the antichrist.
The expressions “every spirit” in verses 2 and 3 and “the spirits” in verse 1 refer either to the spirit of the prophets (1 Cor. 14:32) motivated by the Spirit of truth, or to the spirit of the false prophets actuated by the spirit of deception. Every prophet, whether a real prophet or a false one, has his own spirit. When a real prophet speaks, with his spirit there is the motivating of the Spirit of God. But when a false prophet speaks, his spirit is activated by another spirit, by a spirit of deception. Hence, there is the need to discern the spirits by proving them to see whether they are out of God.
We should not think that teaching is merely a matter of the mind and the mouth. With every kind of speaking, every kind of teaching, the spirit of the speaker either is motivated by the Spirit of God or is actuated by a spirit of deception. This means that the speaking of any kind of doctrine always comes from a certain kind of spirit, either from the spirit of a genuine prophet motivated by the Spirit of God or from the spirit of a false prophet actuated by an evil spirit.
According to 4:2, the discernment of spirits is based upon whether or not a spirit confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. Because the spirit of a genuine prophet is motivated by the Holy Spirit of truth, this spirit will confess the divine conception of Jesus and affirm that He was born as the Son of God. Every such spirit is surely out of God.
The word “flesh” in 4:2 is very important. As human beings, we were all born of flesh to be flesh (John 3:6a). Thus every human being is flesh. To confess Jesus Christ coming in the flesh is to confess that He was divinely conceived to be born as the Son of God (Luke 1:31-35). This is marvelous! Christ is God incarnate to become a man through holy conception. He did not have a human father, for He was conceived of the Holy Spirit. His conception is holy because it was carried out by the Holy Spirit. Although He was conceived of the Holy Spirit, this conception took place in the womb of a virgin. Therefore, He, the very God, became a man in the flesh. Contrary to the false teaching of the Docetists, His body was not a phantasm. Rather, He had a real body, a physical body that was solid in its substance. He was conceived of the Holy Spirit; He became flesh and was born of the virgin Mary. Because He was conceived of the Spirit to be born in the flesh, the Spirit would never deny that He has come in the flesh through divine conception.
Anyone who denies that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh denies that He was conceived of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, anyone who rejects Jesus Christ coming in the flesh rejects His humanity and His human living. Such a one also rejects Christ’s redemption. If Christ had not become a genuine man, He could not have had human blood to shed for the redemption of human beings. If He had not become flesh through the conception of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary, He never could have been our Substitute to be crucified to bear our judgment before God. Therefore, to deny that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is to deny His holy conception, His incarnation, His birth, His humanity, His human living, and also His redemption. The New Testament makes it emphatically clear that Christ’s redemption was accomplished in His human body and by the shedding of His blood.
Anyone who rejects Christ’s incarnation and thereby rejects His redemption also denies Christ’s resurrection. If Christ had never passed through death, it would not have been possible for Him to enter into resurrection.
Denying that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is a great heresy. This heretical teaching makes it impossible to have the enjoyment of the Trinity. According to the revelation of the Trinity in the New Testament, the Son came in the flesh with the Father and in the name of the Father. The Son was crucified, and in resurrection He became the life-giving Spirit. Therefore, we have the Spirit as the reality of the Son with the Father. This includes incarnation, human living, redemption by the shedding of human blood, death in a human body, burial, and resurrection. All these are components, constituents, of our enjoyment of the Triune God. If anyone denies Christ’s incarnation, that one denies Christ’s holy birth, humanity, human living, redemption through crucifixion, and resurrection. This utterly annuls the enjoyment of the genuine Trinity. Knowing the seriousness of this matter, John included 4:1-6 in his Epistle as a warning to the believers concerning the need to prove the spirits.
In 4:4 John continues, “You are out of God, little children, and you have overcome them, because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” The believers are “out of God” because they have been begotten of God (4:7; 2:29; 3:9).
In verse 4 those who have been overcome are the false prophets (v. 1), the antichrists (v. 3), those who taught heresy concerning Christ’s Person. The believers have overcome them by abiding in the truth concerning Christ’s deity and concerning His humanity through divine conception, according to the teaching of the divine anointing (2:27).
In verse 4, John tells the believers that He who is in them is greater than he who is in the world. The One in the believers is the Triune God, who dwells in the believers as the all-inclusive, life-giving, anointing Spirit, and who strengthens us from within with all the rich elements of the Triune God (Eph. 3:16-19). Such a One is much greater and stronger than Satan, the evil spirit.
The words “he who is in the world” refer to Satan, the fallen angel. Satan usurps fallen mankind as the evil spirit and operates in evil persons, who are the components of his world system. Such a one is less than the Triune God and weaker than He is.
In verse 5 John goes on to say, “They are out of the world; therefore they speak out of the world, and the world hears them.” In this verse “they” denotes the false prophets, the antichrists. Both the heretics and the heresies concerning Christ’s Person have their source in the satanic world system. Hence, the people who are the components of this evil system listen to them and follow them.
In verse 6 John concludes, “We are out of God: he who knows God hears us; he who is not out of God does not hear us. From this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deception.” The apostles, the believers, and the truth which they believe and teach concerning Christ have their source in God; they are out of God. Hence, the God-knowing people, who have been begotten of God (v. 7), listen to us and stay with us. The worldlings are not out of God because they have not been begotten of God. Hence, they do not listen to us.
Literally, the Greek words rendered “from this” in verse 6 mean “out of this.” “This” refers to what has been mentioned in verses 5 and 6. From the fact that the heretics and what they speak out from their spirit, actuated by the spirit of deception, are out from the world, and that we and what we speak out from our spirit, motivated by the Spirit of truth, are out from God, we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deception. This implies that the Holy Spirit of truth is one with our truth-speaking spirit, and that the evil spirit of deception is one with the heretics’ deception-speaking spirit.
In verse 6 John speaks of both the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deception. The Spirit of truth is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of reality (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13). The spirit of deception is Satan, the evil spirit, the spirit of falsehood (Eph. 2:2). The word “truth” in 4:6 denotes the divine reality revealed in the New Testament, especially here concerning the divine incarnation of the Lord Jesus, which the Spirit of God testifies (1 John 4:2). This reality is in contrast to the deception of the evil spirit, the spirit of the antichrist that denies the divine incarnation of Jesus (v. 3).