In addition to these failures, John also exposes the source of their evil teachings – demonic spirits. Just as believers have been given the Holy Spirit of God to assist them in following God’s ways, the false teachers were also being directed by a spirit; however, this spirit was not from God but from the devil. In order to protect his readers from believing the lies of these teachers, John warned them not to “believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (4:1). Every man who claims authority from God does not necessarily teach His ways. For this reason John demands that his readers be skeptical of anyone who supposedly represents God and to “test the spirits.” How does a person distinguish between true and false teachings? John reveals the easiest way to judge the validity of someone’s teachings, “By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God” (4:2-3a). If an individual believes that Jesus, as God, came to this earth in human flesh, His teachings are of God; however, those who deny Jesus’ deity or humanity prove that they are false teachers.
John did not want his readers to feel threatened or confused by these teachers of deceit, but rather remember that “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (4:4). These teachers were obviously trying to convince genuine believers that their faith was insincere, but John reminded them that the Holy Spirit is more powerful than any other spirit and if these teachers were truly of God, they would have followed the teachings of the apostles (4:5-6).
As he has done many times before in this letter, John uses the power of contrast to uncover the true character of those who follow Christ and in 1 John 4:7-21 he reveals the most important characteristic of the genuine believer – love. John has already provided his readers with the definition of love through the actions of Jesus, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (3:16). Love is willingly placing the needs of others over your own – it is selfless and self-sacrificing. John then lists four reasons why believers love: love is the natural result of those who believe (4:7-8, 13-16), love was first demonstrated to us by God (4:9-11), love for others allows them to see God (4:12), and love removes fear of judgment (4:17-19). Realizing that he has given much detail about why believers love, John writes this summary statement, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also” (4:20-21). Those who love God, love others also. One cannot exist without the other.
Dear God, teach me what it means to love others in the way that You have loved me.