A man was giving his testimony as part of an interview for a ministry opportunity. He explained that he had been in a liberal theological seminary training to be a pastor when he became a Christian.
'I can't believe that no one had explained the gospel to me. In fact, I can't believe that the reformer Martin Luther didn't get the gospel. I did an assignment looking at Luther's Commentary on Galatians and there was nothing about the gospel in it.'
Now Luther's commentary on Galatians is actually full of the gospel. Luther was a man who understood very well that we are saved by grace through the life and death of Jesus. So one of the leaders involved in the interview suggested that the young man go home and read over his copy of Luther's commentary on Galatians.
He did, and he discovered that he had read and underlined statement after statement where Luther clearly explained the gospel of grace.
How had the young student missed this? He missed it because the scriptures teach that the god of this age has blinded the mind of the unbeliever (2 Corinthians 4:4). Remember what was said about Lydia in the book of Acts? 'The Lord opened her heart to respond to the Apostle Paul's message (Acts 16:14).
John is writing to those who believe in the name of the Son of God so that we know that we have eternal life (1 John 5:13). One of the evidences that we have been born again is that we accept what the Bible says about Jesus and his gospel. John writes as one of the apostles uniquely commissioned by Jesus. He says, 'we are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us' (4:6). You are not a Christian if you stubbornly refuse to accept what is written down in the Scriptures.
1. You must see who Jesus really is (1-3)
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.
There were false-prophets who were trying to disturb the church in the first-century, and there are false-prophets who try to disturb the church in the twenty-first century. So be on your guard and don't be gullible. I would be very careful about watching religious television. There is an odious thing called the prosperity-gospel, which encourages the lust for wealth and makes the false-promise of live without pain.
The central test for biblical truth centres on a person's understanding of the person and work of Jesus. 'This is how you can recognise 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 anti-christ, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.'
The particular false-teachers that were troubling John's readers were saying that Jesus only appeared to be human, but he was not really human. We need to be clear that Jesus is fully human and fully God. He is the only mediator between God and humankind. He is the only one who has lived a morally pure life and died a sacrificial death for sin. He is unique and eternal. Without him as your Saviour and Lord you are alienated from God and on course to pay for you sin in hell.
2. You must let the Holy Spirit keep you in the truth (3-6)One thing that really encourages me is to sit down with a young Christian and see how the core truths of the gospel resonate with them. There is a gospel instinct that is given to those who believe. I am not saying that all genuine Christians will agree on everything, but there are certain truths that all genuine Christians know by the Holy Spirit. Indeed the Holy Spirit makes us agreeable to the central truths of the gospel of grace.
John has confidence that his readers will resist the errors of the false-teachers. '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.'
One commentator writes, we ‘children of God have conquered the false prophets ... We still believe in the virgin birth, the atonement and the resurrection. We have conquered them. They could not conquer us.’
The Holy Spirit who opened our eyes to the beauty of the gospel will keep us from falling into error. However, never be complacent, for if you want to be sure that the Holy Spirit is in you then you flee from any who distort the gospel. Our understanding of the gospel is not like a test where if you show an adequate knowledge you pass and are accepted. Instead it is evidence that the Holy Spirit has opened your eyes to see the beauty of Christ and his gospel.
The absolute claims of the gospel are so counter-cultural to our society. It seems shocking to tell people that when you turn to Christ you give up you right to form your own opinions. There are many truths of the Bible that run our society opposes. There are teachings in the Scriptures that our friends find offensive. So pray that the Holy Spirit would open their eyes and change their minds. Pray for each other too, for the culture we live in is always trying to reshape our thinking and only the Holy Spirit can keep us from error.
'Truth is a glorious but hard mistress. She never consults, bargains, or compromises' (Tozer). Luther wrote to one of his opponents and explained that 'the difference between you and me is that you sit above the Bible and judge it, whereas I sit below the Bible and let it judge me.'
What is your attitude to God's revealed truth? That attitude provides evidence of where or not you have been born again.
Notice that John centres this truth on the person and work of Jesus. The gospel is cross-shaped. The apostle Paul told the Corinthians that he preached Christ-crucified and the Galatians that his message clearly portrayed Christ as crucified. How do you know that God is a righteous judge? We see it in the fact that nothing less that the death of his infinitely valuable Son will satisfy his demand that sin should be paid for. How do you know that God is a loving Saviour? We see it in the fact that he gives his only begotten Son to die for wicked people like us. How do we know that racism is a disgusting sin? We know it because God sent his Son to die for people from all nations, that in Christ there is neither black nor white and that one day a great multitude will sing the praises of the lamb who was slain. How do pride is repulsive and humility is glorious? We see it in the humility of the Son of God, who descended from heaven, took the nature of a servant and died a humiliating death for us. How do we know that we must forgive? We know that we must forgive because Christ died that we might be forgiven.
The person and work of Jesus is not one theme among many in the Bible, it is the lens through which we see everything. Our delight in this provides evidence that we have been born again!