The following sermon was prepared by Ps Lucas Stoltz. Click here: 1 John 4:1-6, to download or stream the audio sermon, or click here: 1 John 4:1-6. for the video version. Alternatively, you can read the notes below, or follow along as you watch or listen.
1 John 4:1-6, The Assurance of Discernment:
- So we’re back in 1 John, and Lord willing our momentum will continue as we study each section together. Now 1 John is a letter full of Christian assurances. It is full of the certainties that we need to be aware of if we want any comfort concerning our salvation. This morning we continue by actually looking at the assurance of discernment. What’s that?
- Well, discernment is the ability to properly distinguish, to separate out by diligent search, or to examine. King Solomon was known for his power of discernment, making many wise decisions and moral judgments. Sadly, he didn’t always walk in his discerning abilities.
- You see, a discerning person will acknowledge the worth of God’s Word, as Solomon wrote; “All the words of my mouth are just; none of them is crooked or perverse. To the discerning all of them are right; they are faultless to those who have knowledge” (Proverbs 8:8-9).
- Why is this important for us? Romans 12:9 commands us as believers to “hate what is evil and to cling to what is good.” But, unless we have true discernment, how can we determine what is “evil” and what is “good”? How can we test the spirits to be sure who is a wolf in sheep’s clothing or a true teacher?
- In order to maintain the purity of the gospel, the church must distinguish truth from heresy. This brings us to the reality if discernment. So this morning we’ll look at how the Christian can have the assurance of their salvation through discernment. This starts with the…
1. Commanded to Discern:
- Text – 1 John 4:1
- Explanation – John wants his readers to be aware of the fact that not every spiritual teacher is a credible teacher. There are spiritual deceivers and liars out there, and they work hard to earn our trust, our allegiance. So John says, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God.”
- Both “believe” and “test” are commands calling for continuous action and vigilance. Our goal is to determine if these prophets are from God or if their origin is to be found in another source, in a different kind of spirit.
- Illustration – John’s point is straightforward: Behind every prophet, every proclamation, there is an energizing spirit. Their message will inform us as to the origin and source of their message. They are not all from God. False prophets are not new to John’s readers. They have been around for a very long time.
- It even dates back to Deuteronomy. Chapter 13:1-5, ‘If a prophet or someone who has dreams arises among you and proclaims a sign or wonder to you, and that sign or wonder he has promised you comes about, but he says, “Let us follow other gods,” which you have not known, “and let us worship them,” do not listen to that prophet’s words or to that dreamer.
- For the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul. You must follow the Lord your God and fear Him. You must keep His commands and listen to His voice; you must worship Him and remain faithful to Him.
- That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he has urged rebellion against the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the place of slavery, to turn you from the way the Lord your God has commanded you to walk. You must purge the evil from you.’
- Application – In Deuteronomy the test is laid down to determine whether a prophet is truly a spokesman of God or not: even if the word which the prophet speaks comes true, yet if he tries to lead his hearers astray to serve other gods, he is a false prophet. Which brings me to the reason for the command.
- There is a tendency, where we ascribe any unusual phenomenon to God. If something supernatural or unexplainable happens, we prone to say it is God’s hand. Such a lack of discernment opens the door for false teaching and provides an opportunity for demonic activity to invade the church.
- Conclusion – Remember: spiritual or religious activity is not necessarily godly activity! Evaluate the message and the messenger by the Word of God. False prophets are deceptive in their message. And they have their own Great Commission, having been sent out “into the world.”
- You cannot say, “I was never warned.” Jesus warned us (Matt 7:15; 24:11, 14; Mark 13:21–23). Paul warned us (Acts 20:28–30). Peter warned us (2 Pet 2:1–22). Jude warned us (Jude 4–19). Where there is truth, error will be lurking in the background.
- Bridge – Listen, calling out and identifying false teachers is neither fun nor popular. It is, however, both biblical and necessary. Bringing us to our second point, we’re…
2. Chosen to Discern:
- Text – 1 John 4:2-3
- Explanation – I believe we’ve been here before, and I’m unpopular for having expressed this; not all truth is true. What’s true for an atheist is not true for the Christian. What’s true for the Buddhist is not true for the Christian. What’s true for one religion, is not true for another.
- Therefore, John points us to the concern we should firstly address in order to establish truth. Let me pose it as a question, ‘what is the single most important truth concerning salvation?’ What is the one truth in Christianity that leads to salvation? The one truth held only in Biblical Christianity and nowhere else? It is to acknowledge that Jesus Christ who has come in the flesh is from God, and to believe on Him for salvation alone.
- Illustration – So what do you believe about Jesus? If He is just another enlightened religious teacher, He is permitted and tolerated as one opinion, one option, among many. But if He is the very incarnation of God, then the gospel and only the gospel is true and He is the only viable option for salvation amid the multitude of imposters.
- Therefore, as believers we’re chosen to discern and here’s how we discern. John gives us the basis or standard for how to discern. “This is how you know,” recognize, come to understand, “the Spirit of God” and those who bear His gospel message.
- Application – It is by the confession of who Christ is. Such a confession is not mere words. It is heartfelt, mind-engaged, and soul-committed. It is on this truth that Christianity stands or falls. Now how can we know this for sure?
- For one, the Spirit of God always honors Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus said in John 16:14 concerning the Spirit, “He will glorify Me, because He will take from what is Mine and declare it to you.” If there is no glorifying of Jesus as God incarnate then there is no Spirit of God present.
- Secondly, and this is scary as it concerns those who actually know Jesus. Even the demons recognized the deity of Jesus while He walked on earth, and while they don’t worship Him for it (Mark 1:24; 3:4; 5:7–8), they certainly didn’t deny it. Listen, demons have a better theology than some professing Christians, pastors, teachers, and theologians.
- Conclusion – And although they are part of the false spirits making up contradicting theologies, they do not deny this confession as the single truth. And I believe, because they know this is the single truth, have they gone out and twisted it in order to deny the reality of the Christian truth.
- Which bring us to verse 3, those who deny the truth of the incarnation of the Son of God (1) are not of God and (2) are of the antichrist. This isn’t new to the church. In the early church, Docetists said Jesus was a phantom or ghostly spirit who only appeared to be human. And Cerinthus said the Spirit of God’s Christ empowered the human Jesus at His baptism but left Him at the crucifixion.
- Bridge – One commentator says, “If a person claims to believe in Jesus, it is good to ask, ‘Is your Jesus the real Jesus?’” What one discerns about Jesus determines everything! Tell me what you think about Jesus, and I will tell you 95 percent of the rest of your theology.
- The aim of the antichrist is to deceive people by denying the truth about Jesus Christ, and in particular, within the context of 1 John, by denying the true humanity of Christ. Therefore, it is your responsibility to discern the Spirits, the truth and false teaching, as our Christian assurance depends on the realities of truth. This brings us to where we should be with our ability to discern…
3. Conquering Discernment:
- Text – 1 John 4:4-6
- Explanation – I love this! This is a great affirmation, and this is our assurance. John says tenderly, “You, yourselves, and no one else, are of God, little children. And you have conquered them (the world, the false prophets, those who are of the spirit of antichrist) in an abiding and settled fashion.”
- How are you overcoming them? The Greater Spirit, the Holy Spirit who is in you, and He is greater than he who is in the world. And I think we underestimate this statement. Is the world strong? Are false prophets wise? Is Satan powerful? Yes, yes and yes. But our God is infinitely stronger! God is infinitely wiser! And our God is infinitely greater!
- Illustration – And so what sets me up for conquering or overcoming discernment? Through our confession of Christ, we declare that we are God’s possession. In response, God gives Himself to me through His Spirit who takes up residence in me.
- Now through this, salvation then provides a devotion to the truth, an understanding of the truth. The natural man understands not the things of God. They’re foolishness to him. He can’t discern them. He can’t know them. You understand because you have the mind of Christ. You can still be led astray on some issues, but not concerning the truth of the gospel. You possess God’s life. You possess God’s Spirit.
- Application – That’s the reality of discernment. So those who are from the Devil’s domain speak out of that worldview and with that spirit’s inspiration. They speak satanic sermons. They deliver demonic discourses, and those who belong to that worldview listen to and embrace their teachings.
- We should never be surprised when the lost think like lost people and live like lost people. This is true even for those who once claimed to believe in and follow Christ. Those enslaved to the world cannot help but listen to those who speak their own language. And they will preach a different Christ, a different salvation, and a different truth.
- Conclusion – However, verse paints a different picture. Those who know God through confessing Jesus as the incarnate Christ and Savior (cf. 4:10) listen to those who were with Him, who were commissioned by Him. They depend on His unchanging holy truth and refuse to move away from this trustworthy source!
- In John 8:47 Jesus says, “The one who is from God listens to God’s words.” Listen, there is no “Jesus-plus” or “the Bible-plus” theology. And there is no “Jesus-minus” or “the Bible-minus” theology either. This is standard for how you can measure the difference between “the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deception.”
- Bridge – So how can we still trust a single source that was compiled almost 2,000 years ago? False prophets and those who listen to their teachings hang around the truth for a while, but they don’t stay. They wander away.
- Here’s the answer, the Bible says He is God, but they wander away and deny His eternal deity. The Bible says He is sinless, but they wander away and say He sinned or at least committed error. The Bible says He did miracles, but they wander away and say these are myths.
- The Bible says He is the only Savior, but they wander away and say He is only a savior. The Bible says He died on the cross for our sins, but they wander away and deny penal substitution, calling it cosmic child abuse. The Bible says He rose bodily from the dead, but they wander away and say the disciples imagined that He did.
- The Bible says He ascended into heaven as Lord, but they wander away and say this is just another myth. The Bible says He is coming again, but they wander away and say it’s pop-Christian fiction. And finally, the Bible says He will judge us all, but they wander away and say God is love and eventually all will be saved.
- In the end, they say, “Love Wins.” Friends, test the spirits, confess Christ as Lord, trust the Holy Spirit who is within, and stay latched to the Word as you faithfully discern the truth from such error.