1 John 4:1-6 January 22, 2017
Sermon Series on I John Sermon # 16
Today’s Sermon: “What Difference Does the Holy Spirit Make in Your Life?”
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
Imagine that you are living at the end of the first century, and there’s no New Testament; there’s no seminary-trained, denominational-approved full time pastors; and there’s a lot of itinerant preachers going from congregation to congregation, all declaring that they have a word from the Lord, with some of them performing some impressive signs and wonders. How do you know what to believe in that situation? How do you discern who is speaking the gospel truth, and who might be leading you astray?
Whether you are in the first or 21st century, you have to discern truth from error. You need to see the impact that the preacher is having on his listeners. And most important of all, you need to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide you, to empower you, and to teach you. And the good news that John writes about here in 4:1-6 is that God the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, lives in every believer, and He is the One who gives us victory over false teaching and over false spirits of error and deception. That was true in the first century, and it is still true in the 21st century. What we find here is that the third person of the Holy Trinity, the Spirit of God, makes a big difference in helping us to stay on the right path, and to have wisdom and discernment. Let’s see how that plays out in this passage of Scripture.
There are three things the Holy Spirit does for us:
First: The Spirit of God empowers us to affirm the Incarnation. (vv. 1-2)
The Holy Spirit points us to Christ, and enables us to know and believe Christ’s divine and human nature, which we could not discern on our own. 4:1 “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.”
If your faith is going to be strong, then you need to put your trust in what is reliable and true. Example: All the faith in the world in a broken chair would not hold you up; you need to put your faith in that which is reliable. And so true faith examines the content of its belief before it puts any confidence or trust in it. And here’s the criteria in vv. 1-2: we are to test every spirit according to its Christology; namely, does the spirit behind this teaching hold to the doctrine of the incarnation or not? Do they believe that the Son of God has come in the flesh as the God-man, or not? This may seem basic to us, but it is a key doctrine on which everything else is built, for only the God-Man could be our Savior.
Now, to acknowledge that Jesus has come in the flesh is not merely to recognize who Jesus is, for even the demons who faced Jesus did that. Rather it means that you worship Jesus as the Son of God, that you obey Him and trust Him and bow before Him as the Incarnate God! And that response of faith is what the Spirit of God will empower you to do, bringing honor and glory to the Son of God. (See John 15:26; 16:13-15, and 1 Cor. 12:3)
John Stott writes that “the fundamental Christian doctrine which can never be compromised is the divine-human person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” And this is what the Spirit of God empowers us to do.
So…what difference does the Holy Spirit make in your life, with respect to the truth about Christ?
Second: The indwelling Holy Spirit energizes us to overcome the false teachers. (vv. 3-4)
3 “but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. 4 “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”
In the first century as well as in our 21st century, Christians need to be discerning when it comes to any new teaching. In the first century there were many who were prophesying false doctrines, just as down through the centuries we have had our share of those who have denied the deity of Jesus Christ. But John warns us that to deny the incarnation and the deity of Jesus Christ means that the spirit behind that prophet or teacher is not from God. Therefore the teachers of Islam, Mormonism, Unitarianism, and the Jehovah Witnesses are not from God, for they all fail to meet this criterion of truth. For to deny the Son is to fail to have the Father and the Spirit as well.
Look at this word in v. 4: “Overcome.” John writes that they have triumphed over the false teachers; the spirit of falsehood has not succeeded in deceiving them. They have seen past their deception, and conquered them by repudiating their false teaching. And what was the ultimate cause of their success? “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” This is the Spirit of Truth (v. 6), while who is the one who is in the world is the devil, the spirit of falsehood (v. 6). Therefore how much we need the Holy Spirit to lead us into truth and to keep us there! Do you see the huge difference the Holy Spirit makes in keeping us from falling into error? No wonder that even very learned seminary professors, in liberal seminaries, with PhDs in New Testament, can be blind to the truth of the gospel, even though they handle God’s Word every day; for if they do not have the Spirit of God in them, they cannot overcome the one who is in the world.
So…what difference does the Holy Spirit make in your life, with respect to discerning and overcoming false teachings? Do you realize that the Evil One would crush you, if the Holy Spirit were not living within you?
Third: The Spirit of Truth enables us to believe the gospel. (vv. 5-6)
5 “They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.”
These two verses are complementary and contrasting: the false teachers and those who listen to them are set against true apostles and the true believers who listen to them.
Therefore one of the signs of a teacher is who their listening audience is. If the teacher is from God, then those who are born again and have the Spirit of truth in them will listen to them. But if the preacher is of the world, and is preaching false doctrine, then those who are of the world will listen to him. By their audiences you shall know them. That’s one reason people attend liberal churches: they like to hear messages that are of the world, not of the Holy Spirit, because they themselves are of the world. Charles Spurgeon once said that a time will come when instead of shepherds feeding the sheep, the church will have clowns entertaining the goats! I think we are in that time, in America.
John Stott writes that “There is a certain affinity between God’s Word and God’s people.” Jesus taught that His sheep hear His voice (John 10:4-5ff), and that everyone who is on the side of truth listens to His witness to the truth (John 18:37).
The Spirit who is in us enables us to discern His voice speaking through teachers. We can recognize God’s Word because God’s people accept it, just as we can recognize God’s people because they listen to God’s Word.
So…what difference does the HS make in your life, with respect to believing the gospel?
The Big Lesson about the Holy Spirit
We’ve considered three ways the Holy Spirit should make a big difference in our lives, but now I want us to step back and see the bigger picture of what these verses are telling us.
So the big lesson here is that none of us would have ever listened to the message of gospel unless the Holy Spirit overcame our resistance and gave us ears to hear God’s truth. Only the Holy Spirit can make sinners really listen and really confess the truth of Jesus.
None of us can confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh unless the Spirit of God humbles us to accept the Lordship of Jesus.
The truth of these verses is that hearing the gospel with openness and confessing Christ with submission is the work and the gift of the Holy Spirit. As John Piper puts it, “If this listening and this confessing could be explained in any other way, they would not be a sure sign of the Spirit’s presence and power. But they are a sign of his power. For John knows that no one hears and no one confesses apart from the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit.”
Think of it this way: How can you and I possibly overcome the one who is in the world, Satan himself, the god of this age, who empowers the false prophets, and through his deceptive powers hold billions of people in darkness and slavery? What is the only way we could possibly overcome and conquer this Evil One? Not by our intelligence, not by our own strength. No. We have conquered and overcome because He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world. We conquered by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is more powerful than the satanic forces of deception and blindness. And each of us owes our correct understanding of the Bible to the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. If we stand with Christ, if we listen receptively and if we confess Christ loyally, it is because the Holy Spirit is greater than all other forces in the world. It is because the Holy Spirit has empowered us to conquer the blindness and hardness of our own hearts and the deception of the enemy.
There are two lessons for the believer and one for the unbeliever here:
First, do not take credit for your confessing heart or your correct view of Christ. Give credit to the Spirit who is in you, and give God the glory.
Second, when you are threatened by any deception of the evil one—any temptation, or discouragement, or anxiety, or cowardice—remind yourself that “he who is in you is greater than he that is in the world.” Almighty God abides within you. Trust him. For this is the victory that overcomes the world, your faith (5:4) in the sovereign indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.
And for unbelievers the lesson is this: Seek the power of the Holy Spirit. Admit that without him your ears will stay shut, your heart will remain hard, and you will not be able to confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. Pray that the Spirit of God would open your eyes. Plead with him to take away the hardness of your heart. And ask him to put within you the joyful confession that Jesus Christ is the Son of God—your Savior and your Lord.
May each one of us give thanks and praise for the huge difference the Holy Spirit makes in your life!