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. 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, 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.
Reading these few short verses, I can’t help but think of another portion of Scripture that celebrates the supremacy of Christ. Here are a few of its lines:
“For by him all things were created; … all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together … he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him …” (Colossians 1:17-19).
That hymn, written by the Apostle Paul, makes it clear that Jesus is the centre of everything – he’s the centre of “all.” Indeed, Paul uses that little word “all” eight times in just six verses. He’s making the strong point that Jesus is supreme over everything; that everything is meant to find its purpose in him.
Jesus Christ is the centre. And so, when the Apostle John tells us to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God,” this is the issue we’re to look for. Putting it negatively, he gives us this guideline: “every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.” Of course! The Father was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Christ – therefore, any teaching that is truly from God himself will have Jesus right at the very centre.
But the false prophets of John’s day were teaching a diminished view of Christ. They likely held to a “dualistic” point of view, seeing a great divide between the material world, which was evil, and the spiritual world, which was good. Therefore, according to this false perspective, Christ, being spiritual, could not have become human and could not have suffered for our sins. Salvation, in this view, came from gaining special knowledge (“gnosis”) rather than through the sacrifice of Jesus. In essence, these false teachers were side-lining Christ.
So, listen to John’s positive guideline for testing the spirits. It’s a brief statement. It’s not a full-blown theology. But it speaks directly to the false teaching of his day. Notice how he puts Jesus firmly at the centre. See how he specifically affirms his humanity. And realize that in so doing he effectively embraces the whole of Jesus’ life, teaching, death, and resurrection.
Here it is:
“Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.”
The false perspectives of John’s day are not necessarily the ones we encounter now. But the issue is the same. Will we “acknowledge Jesus”? Will we keep him firmly at the centre? Will we celebrate the fact that he has “come in the flesh”? Will we rejoice in the full implications of that truth, embracing the salvation that comes from his sacrificial death?
For us, there are so many perspectives and distractions – both spiritual and material – that might divert us from the simplicity of focus on Jesus. So, test the spirits. See whether they are from God. And hold fast to the one in whom “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell.”
Dear Lord Jesus: Gladly I acknowledge you. Gladly I affirm that you have come in the flesh. Gratefully I receive your salvation. Expectantly I receive your Spirit. Guard my heart against false perspectives, against spiritual teachings that would distract me from the centre – that would distract me from you. I choose to keep my eyes on you. For your glory. Amen.
What does it mean for you to live this day with Jesus at the centre? What might distract you? Give it all to him. Ask his Spirit to strengthen you in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your heart through faith.
Photo by Myriam Zilles on Unsplash