V. The Spirit of Truth and the Love of God (1 John 4:1-19)
V. The Spirit of Truth and the Love of God (4:1-19)
4:1-3 The evil one cannot sever your relationship with God, but he can disrupt your fellowship with him. Thus, John warns, Do not believe every spirit. In other words, be able to discern truth from error. You need to determine which spiritual claims are from God, for the world is full of false prophets. There are those who will deceive you, offering an unbiblical spiritual experience. They may even come in the name of Jesus. So if you watch Christian television, listen to Christian radio, or read Christian books, be discerning. “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14).
How do you test the spirits (4:1)? Well, every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God (4:2). The one who denies this is the spirit of the antichrist (4:3; see 2:18-23). According to early Christian tradition, a heresy circulated in John’s day that distinguished between Jesus (a man) and Christ (a supernatural being). Proponents taught that Christ descended on Jesus at his baptism and departed at the crucifixion.
To this lie John says, “No.” Jesus is the Christ (2:22), and Jesus Christ came “in the flesh” (4:2). He is the unique, eternal Son of God who offers salvation from sin only by grace through faith in him. He is the God-Man. He limited himself because he has a human body, but he is limitless because he’s God. His mother gave birth to him because he’s man, but he created her because he’s God. He went to sleep because he’s a man, but he commanded the wind and waves to go to sleep because he’s God. The truth about the uniqueness of Jesus must be your spiritual foundation.
4:4-6 What resources are available to you? First, you have the Holy Spirit whom God gave you (3:24). The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world (4:4). Do not fear the devil and his false prophets, for you have “the Spirit of truth” (John 16:13).
The tremendous pressure in the ocean’s depths can crush a human diver. But if you descend inside a pressurized diving bell, it exerts pressure outward to protect you from destruction. When Christians go into the world, they will experience extreme pressure—especially as they go deeper. We can’t prevent it. But have no fear. The pressure inside of you is greater than the pressure on you.
Second, John tells his readers, we are from God. Anyone who knows God listens to us (4:6). The apostles were Jesus’s chosen representatives. They witnessed his resurrection, and they composed the New Testament under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Read and know what they wrote. This is how we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deception (4:6). If someone teaches contrary to the objective truth of Scripture, he or she is a false prophet.
4:7-8 John continues through chapter 4 with a dominant theme in his letter. Fellowship with God is demonstrated and attained when Christians love each other. If love is from God, then there is no option. We must love one another (4:7). This is not rocket science. Since God is love, an absence of love in your life reveals an absence of fellowship with God. It indicates that you don’t know him like you claim you do (4:8). As sure as the magnetic pull of the earth causes a compass to point north, the magnetic pull of God’s love at work in your heart will always point you to other brothers and sisters who need love.
4:9-10 In these verses, John gives us one of the clearest definitions of love in the Bible. First, love is visible: God’s love was revealed. Invisible love is no love at all. Second, love is an act of the will: God sent his Son (4:9). To love someone requires a decision to act on his behalf.
Third, love is sacrificial. It cost God his one and only Son. He didn’t throw you his leftovers; he provided his best. Why? So that we might live through him (4:9). He saw our deepest need and gave of himself. If you profess love without also embracing inconvenience and being willing to give up your rights, you don’t understand God’s love.
Fourth, love serves the unlovable. It’s not that we loved God, but that he loved us. We hated him. We were fools, rebelling against the King of the universe. Nevertheless, he set his love on us. You’re going to love people who won’t respond in kind. But they need your love nonetheless.
Fifth, love addresses sin. God sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins (4:10; see 2:2). You can’t ignore sin in the body of Christ. Only Jesus can atone for our sin. But we must, with humility and love, help those caught in it.
4:11-13 Considering the example of God’s love, we must love one another (4:11). No one has ever seen God. But if we love one another, he remains in us and his love is made complete in us—it accomplishes its goal (4:10). You can’t see the wind, but you can see its effects. People can’t see God, but they should see the love of God operating through you. Love God’s children, and he will grant his rich, intimate fellowship to you through his Spirit (4:13).
4:14-16 The Son of God is the Savior of the world (4:14). If you have trusted in him, he has delivered you from sin, Satan, and death. But he wants to use you to communicate that saving love to others. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God participates with God in his delivering activity (4:15). The one who remains in love remains in God (4:16). Remember, to “remain” is to “hang out” (see 2:6). Hang out with love—seek out opportunities to express God’s definition of love (see 4:9-10)—and God will hang out with you. Living in the atmosphere of love means you are living in the atmosphere of God.
4:17-19 When love is made complete in you in this way, you can have confidence in the day of judgment (4:17). Every believer will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Don’t think of it as a trial to determine your salvation but as the Judge’s opportunity to evaluate the Christian life you lived (see 2 Cor 5:10). In spite of your sins and failures, if you actively sought to minister in love to members of God’s family, you will be able to stand with confidence on that day because “love covers a multitude of” offenses (1 Pet 4:8). You will have no reason to fear. Mature, perfect love drives out fear (4:18). Our capacity for love is only possible because he first loved us (4:19).