1Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
Beloved children of God, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed it, but our world today is so dispirited so full of anger and fear and pessimism! Emotions are running on a ragged wire and our culture is continually lashing out in anger and fear. Everyone knows that they are to be open and tolerant, but they also know that some things are just no longer tolerated. People are afraid that what they accept today will cause them to be ostracized tomorrow when the winds change. People may want to make a difference, but they dare not ever be different, or they will suffer for it. And so they are desperate to believe any and every spirit of change that comes along because … well because it is better than being left behind or cast out!
This spirit of our age shouldn’t surprise us, though. When people stop believing in God they are constrained to believe anything and everything else instead. Yet, believing everybody can be just as dangerous as believing nobody. There is no lack of people who are quick to speak for God, or speak in the place of God, who is no longer allowed a voice. Christians dare not accept uncritically any and all spirits, no matter how emotionally moving they may be. There is the constant need for critical assessment of all theological claims, all ideologies, and all societal movements. So how is a child of God to know what is worth listening to and living by.
John tells us: 2By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 5They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them.
There is no way to test a teacher’s heart, or a movement’s intentions but we don’t need to. All we need to test is their confession. We children of God can know and do recognize the Spirit of God at work. And it really isn’t that hard. Do they confess openly and boldly that Jesus the man is the Christ and the Son of God come into the flesh? Do they acknowledge Jesus as the incarnate Son of the Divine Father? Do they profess Jesus Christ as God and Man, human and divine? Do they leave any room for Jesus at all, or is He relegated to an historical footnote at best or disreputable myth at worst? Those who deny the Son do not have the Father nor do they possess the Spirit.
And it shows in how they choose to treat His brothers and sisters. Do ideas come before people? Is human life no longer sanctified, or valued as Jesus values it? Will they consort with the enemy (eat with the tax collector and sinner) or merely seek to entrap them? Do they do what they do out of a spirit of anger and fear, or genuine love for those who are different, wrong, and unlovable?
For this is the spirit of true love: 9In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Knowing this truth changes everything! Living in this love grants us a spirit this world will never understand. Knowing what God’s love for us has done in Jesus removes once and for all the spirit of anger and fear and pessimism. If God loves us this much, what do we have to be angry about? If God went to these lengths for those of us who don’t deserve it, what is there to be afraid of, now that we are His? If God is willing to give us so much in Christ, what in heaven or on earth could we possibly find to be pessimistic about? If God is willing to send us so much of His own love, what can we hold back even from those under the sway of a different spirit?
4Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 6We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Notice the tense of the verbs here. We are from God and have ALREADY overcome false teachers and ideas. We don’t believe everybody. Not because of any special quality of our own, but because the Spirit of truth is at work in us. And that one at work in us is far greater than all that are at work in the world. George Orwell once aptly stated: In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act. The Spirit of Truth has defeated the father of lies time and time again. He will do so wherever the two stand opposed to one another. Lies always crumble in the face of the truth. What a world of comfort for weary children of God, broken sinners worn by weakness, by warring with satan and his lies. The Holy Spirit, who speaks in the Word, by that same Word dwells in us and thus we too are greater than the world.
7Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 11Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 18There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19We love because he first loved us.
As a Child of God the Holy Spirit grafts you into Jesus by means of the Word and Sacraments and you abide in Him. Through the gifts of the Word and Sacraments God fills you with a Spirit this world can never have. A spirit of confidence, patience, compassion, wisdom, and truth. A spirit that is not easily cast about by every wind and wave of change. A spirit that stands firm, and joyful in the grace of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. In the Word and the Sacraments we not only have the knowledge necessary to examine and test the spirits, but also the ability, and the power to withstand their allurements, to conquer them. The efforts of false teachers and false spirits only leave your spirit firmer than ever.
As a child of God you are truly spirited, and that spirit produces much fruit … the fruit of love! 13By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.