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1 John 4:1-6

Knowing the Holy Spirit

Notes, Quotes & Discussion Questions

We do teach through books of the Bible here at the Village Chapel. If you want a paper copy, just lift up your hand, and someone will bring one along to you so you can follow along.

This morning, we are continuing our study of the letters of John, and we’re looking most closely at I John chapter 4, 1 through 6. Friends, I don’t know by what means you came here today, what kind of week you might have had, the struggles you faced, the griefs, the joy, the pain. But we believe here at the Village Chapel that the Holy Spirit has something for each of us in this room today. I hope you know that. I hope you came expecting something like that. The Holy Spirit has gone before us already and is here among us and will open up His Word to us as He already has as we’ve sung His Word, as we’ve heard it read, and we give thanks for that today.

So, there was a TV show, I’m going to age myself a little bit, several years ago. See if you know this. It featured two investigators named Scully and Mulder. Anybody know? Okay, a few. All right. There was a baby that started crying as soon as I said that in the first service, not a fan. Apparently, not a fan of Scully and Mulder. Each episode, they set out to try and solve some of the most unusual cases called X-Files. These cases involved the apparently supernatural or the paranormal, if you will. And Scully and Mulder would interview people. They’d scope out the location. They’d look for evidence and try to discern what really happened.

And in the opening sequence of the TV show, it ended with this phrase, “The truth is out there.” The truth is out there. In today’s cultural climate and mood, I think that phrase, “The truth is out there,” would be pretty bold to go as far as to say that there is truth somewhere out there, and it’s not simply located in each of us individually, relativized. That is a striking claim.

So, that was several years ago. But just a few months ago, the New York Times introduced an ad campaign, and that it was titled Life Needs Truth. Life Needs Truth. It was an effort to show how their work at the New York Times could help navigate a time of mass uncertainty. That was their quote, “Navigate a time of mass uncertainty.”

So even from a decidedly secular institution, there even is an acknowledgement of our need, humanity’s need, for something steady to hold onto. Truth matters. We need a firm foundation as we just sang a minute ago. How can we discern truth from error in a world smitten, if you will, with artificial intelligence, virtual reality, deep fakes. How can we know anything? What about spiritual matters? Is there a plumb line that I can measure against when I’m enamored with a new teacher or a new teaching?

There’s an acknowledgement of our need there that we need to bind ourselves to, an anchor that’ll hold fast. So, as we’ve been studying this letter from the Apostle John over the past few weeks, I hope that you’ve heard over and over and over again from the apostle and from us here that we can know something. We can be assured of something. And we’ve used this summary. We’ll put it up here on the screen of the message of I John throughout this study. And it’s at least this: God wants you to rejoice, and there’s joy here. That’s so good. Rejoice in the knowledge or something for us to know. Rejoice in the knowledge of His love for you, which has been displayed vividly in the person and the work of Jesus Christ.

I hope you have heard that over and over again. And we’ll continue to hear that over and over again here at this church and in our study of I John. This is something we can know with what Newbigin calls proper confidence today. The word “know” or knowing is used 36 times in I John. He really emphasizes this. John is an apostle, of course. He’s also a pastor. He’s a writer. He’s a teacher and he wants his people and us this morning to know the love of Christ, to take hold of it, to be assured of it, and to show evidence of it in our own lives when we go back to work tomorrow, Tuesday actually.

And as we’ll see, I think with a little bit more focus this morning, John intends to remind us of the role of the Holy Spirit. It is, in fact, Pentecost Sunday, and you’ve seen us talk about it already this morning. John very much wants us to know what the role of the Holy Spirit is in revealing the knowledge of Christ’s love for us, for you, applying it to our lives, illuminating the Scriptures. It means when I read the Scripture, it is the Spirit that is working so that I understand that truth.  It reveals that knowledge of who Christ is and who I am in Him, to understand and to discern between truth and error and to walk in that truth.

Lewis Allen said this, he’s a pastor over in England, “To know Jesus Christ means to taste, and to want to taste more, the delights of peace with God the Father who cares for and smiles on us, the Son who journeys with us and the Spirit who empowers us.” I hope you walk away with that this morning.

So, I’d like to offer us all real quick before we get started, some scaffolding of our study today. You might want to write these down. It’s a few threads that we’ll try to pull together in our brief time here today, three aspects that I think we see of the Holy Spirit in I John as a whole.

This is not exhaustive, but at least these three things with more focus here in chapter 4:

  • the Person of the Holy Spirit,
  • the Presence of the Holy Spirit,
  • and the Power of the Holy Spirit.

All of these things on offer for us today, deep resources to mine, a person to know, a power to behold. Friends, there is a hope and even a joy available to you this morning. You don’t have to leave this place today chained to the anxieties of a world that celebrates, delights in confusion.

You don’t have to leave this place today chained to that. You’ve come to a place that has a firm foundation. You can find yourself there. The very spirit of Christ has been promised to us, has been given to us this morning and has been working already and is holding us fast to Jesus, guiding us by His Word and gives us hope that one day we will see Jesus face-to-face, and there will be no more anxiety, no more confusion. Amen?

It’s good news. So, I’d encourage you to open up to I John chapter 4. We’re actually going to start just a little bit before towards the end of chapter 3, but let me pray for us, and we’ll get going.

Lord, open Your Word to us and open us to Your Word that we may truly understand, that understanding we may believe, and believing we may follow in all faithfulness and obedience. And in following You, we may come to know You with such intimacy that we are tuned to Your voice. May Your Spirit empower us to seek Your glory in all that we do. In Jesus’ name, we said Amen.

 All right. We are going to study chapter 4, but just a little bit before that, chapter 3 verse 23, is where we begin. I think there’s a little bit of an introduction to this section coming up. “This is his commandment that we believe in the name of his son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us.”

So here, this is a positive command. Believe in Jesus Christ and love one another, and he links those together a positive command. Verse 24, “The one who keeps his commandments abides in him and he in him. We know by this that he abides in us by the spirit [that is the Holy Spirit] whom he has given us.” It is a gift. He is a gift to us this morning, friends.

Chapter 4, verse 1. “Now beloved, do not believe a negative command. Do not believe every spirit but test the spirits, to see whether they are from God.” And you might underline that. I’ll come back to it. “…because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this, you know the spirit of God…” And here it is again. “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. [There it is again.] And every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the anti-Christ.” All that is opposed to God, His ways, His values summarized in the phrase, the world, I think is what we have here. “This is the spirit of the anti-Christ of which you have heard that it is coming. And now, it is already in the world.”

Now, go back to verse 1 of chapter 4 at the very beginning. Let’s sit here for a second. He starts this section off with “beloved,” a term of an endearment. Brothers and sisters, friends, my loved ones, little children, he’ll call them a little bit later. He loves these people. This is a warning with warmth. This is like a father or a grandfather trying to move you in a direction of wisdom and truth.

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit.” Do not believe everything you hear, everything you see is what he’s saying. “But test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” And I asked you to underline “from God.” From God is used eight times just in this chapter alone, and we’ll study a little bit more of chapter 4 next week.

“From God,” indicates a source, an initiator. And so, we’ll be able to examine or look or test is the word he uses here. A teaching or a teacher that perhaps is new or novel doesn’t quite accord with the Gospel. We’re able to see to discern whether it is truth or error. And that word “test,” I think, is really important. There is a word that would’ve been common in that time with metals in particular. I would take this piece of gold that I bought or a piece of silver, and I would test it, I would examine it. I would scrutinize it to see whether there are other metals alloyed to it. Is it genuine or is it not?

“Test the spirits,” John says. Use your mind. Think critically. Think biblically. And I certainly think we need more of that today. If you recall last week, Pastor Jim taught through what we call chapter 3, this letter, the beginning to the end, which John emphasized the love that we ought to show towards one another and evidence, if you will.

We called that a social evidence of the grace of God in our life, of genuine faith in Christ. Here in chapter 4, I think John begins to shift his focus towards a theological evidence for genuine faith in Christ or maybe even a theological evidence for genuine teaching, genuine teachers who have placed their faith in Christ.

So here in this section, I hope you get a sense of the warmth that he has for this church. His tone seems to indicate both a pastoral warning about the dangers of false teaching, of false teachers, but also a comforting promise. It’s both a warning and a promise that by the power of the Spirit of God that indwells us, it’s a gift. It’s said there at the end of chapter 3. We ought to be able to distinguish between truth and error, good, beautiful and true, and those things that are not.

Watch out for sheep that look cuddly but are wolves on the inside. Watch out for teachings that may have some truth in them, but maybe woven throughout with the philosophies of this world. So, I don’t know if this is true or not, but it’s been said that Abraham Lincoln was fond of posing this question to a group of people. He was kind of a cheeky, funny guy from everything I’ve read. He would pose this question to groups of people, and I’m going to try to do my best Abraham Lincoln impression.

If you call a dog’s tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have? And the group would say invariably, “Five.” “No,” he’d politely respond. The correct answer is four. Calling a tail a leg does not make it a leg. I think I would’ve really liked him. The world, the flesh and the devil, that kind of a grouping. John’s used that all throughout this letter already. The world of flesh and the evil one, the devil, are not likely to simply parade around in a devilish red jumpsuit with horns saying, “Follow me,” although we are seeing more of that today.

Now, what usually has happened throughout history, and we see it in Scripture too, throughout human history, it’s far more likely that error and deception and the devices of the evil one will look shiny and new, novel, appealing, desirable, attractive on the outside. The fruit in Genesis 3, do you remember the story? What did it say about the fruit? The fruit was a delight to the eyes and desirable to Adam and Eve. The serpent who twisted the truth seemed wise and authoritative to Adam and Eve. When Jesus, our Lord, battled Satan in the wilderness temptation, do you remember Satan used Scripture like a skilled expository preacher?

Satan knows the scriptures, and he’ll use them to his end. And the Apostle John, of course, knows this. And with warmth he says, “Beloved, my friends, brothers and sisters, do not believe everything you hear, everything you read, everything that you see, but test to see whether they are sourced from God.” What are the spirits that he’s talking about here? And some of your translations will capitalize the S when it’s talking about the Holy Spirit, pronoun, proper name, and use little S when he is talking about the spirits that we need to test. So, I think what he’s doing here in the context of this section, in the broader scope of the whole letter, the spirits he has in mind are shorthand to describe the group of teachers or the age or the teachings that we’re attempting to influence this flock with a different gospel altogether but woven with perhaps some truth just like the evil one normally does.

They weren’t teaching Jesus. It’s likely that forms of Gnosticism and Docetism to competing groups in that day were the likely philosophies. They were infiltrating this community of believers, it seems. Gnosticism was a belief of a special knowledge, and it had an unbiblical view of the material world as completely bad. And, of course that would cut the root off of Jesus come in the flesh, come into the world, and God as creator, the creator of the material world. So that was Gnosticism. Docetism was a belief that Jesus didn’t really appear in the flesh. It just seemed like he appeared in the flesh. And that doesn’t sound all that different from our times, “time of mass uncertainty” as the New York Times said.

Just like the evil one has done from the beginning, and he’s, by the way, often called the father of lies. We see that in the Gospel of John. The evil one from the beginning twists truth to cut at the root of the Gospel of Christ who did indeed come in human flesh who dwelled among us, who really died in His actual body, was raised from the dead, and He ascended the right hand of the Father and reigning right now. Amen. Amen.

That is the truth we can hold to. So, the first question that we must ask to distinguish between true and false teaching is this. What do you make of Jesus? Who do you say that Jesus is? I think that’s what John’s saying here. It’s the same question that our Lord Jesus asked Peter. Do you remember this? Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter in his great confession says, “You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And John says, “That’s the first rubric, the first question.” So, throughout this study, we’ve borrowed from Robert Law’s helpful categories. They’re apparent to us in I John of the evidences of genuine faith or genuine teaching.

Number one, theological evidence, a belief that Jesus is the Christ. Number two, moral evidence, obedience to His commandments. Are we doing what we say? And number three, social evidence, love for one another. And I might even say relational evidence. But here, I think mostly we’re talking about theological evidence. But, of course, they all overlap and link together, don’t they?

But friends, we are not left to fend for ourselves. And I think that’s the hope that we’ll get from this text here today. We’re not left to fend for ourselves in this time of mass uncertainty. We have a plumb line. We have an anchor. We have a firm foundation. God has spoken and is now speaking through His written Word even now as we read it, illuminated by the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit.

You can see it in this verse “By this, you know the Spirit of God; whoever confesses or acknowledges Jesus.” You see that in verse two. And confession here, that word “confess,” this is really important. To confess something is not simply to state a fact.

Even the demons knew who Jesus was, if you remember that from the Gospels. The original word that we translate as confess here today actually means to say the same thing or to agree with something. In other words, when you start a new podcast, when you listen to that new book that everybody’s talking about, when your ears are attuned to a new voice in your life, is what you’re hearing, reading or watching saying the same thing as the Spirit of truth? Is it saying the same thing as the Word of God? Does it accord with it? Pay attention. Be a thinking people.

“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true. The other is to refuse to believe what is true.”

–Soren Kierkegaard

Alistair Begg said something similar. He said,

“There are those who are superstitious, who believe every wind and wave that comes around, but there are also those who are suspicious that don’t believe anything. Both are wrong.”

–Alistair Begg

John does test the spirits. That means we have to be aware. We have to keep our eyes and ears open. Test the spirits to see what’s being said against the plumb line of the old, old story of the Gospel. Well, let’s keep reading at verse 4, if you wouldn’t mind setting your eyes there. He’s going to shift gears here, and there’s going to be three referents here. One is you. He’s talking to the folks that he’s writing to, this group of people, this church perhaps, or to us.

He’s also going to say them or they. And he’s talking about all those in the world, all those that are opposed to the things of God. And he’s also going to say “we.” And when he gets to “we,” what he’s talking about is he, as John the Apostle, and all the other apostles with him, those who have witnessed Jesus and who are inspired to write the New Testament.

So, verse 4. “You are from God.” And this is a promise. He’s telling them, “Remember who you are. You are from God.” You have held fast to the old, old story, little children, and have overcome them, meaning you haven’t gone with the wind and the wave because, this is so important, greater is He, the Spirit of God who is in you, than he who is in the world. That is the evil one.

The Spirit of God is greater than the devil. Verse 5, “They are from the world.” All those who are set against God and opposed to His values and systems and His kingdom, they are from the world. “Therefore, they speak as from the world.” Of course, that’s true. “And the world listens to them.” So now, he takes it one level further. He’s saying don’t just examine the teachers that you see here at the end of verse 5, but also look at those who are following those false teachers. We have to be thinking Christians. We have to think biblically about both the teachers and those who are following those teachers.

I think this is the really important part here, verse 6: “We are from God.” So that is John and, we’ll call them the apostolic circle, all the apostles who witnessed Jesus. “We are from God. He who knows God listens to us [listens to the Gospel that we preached]. He who is not from God does not listen to us. By this, we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” Some translations will say, “The spirit of deceit or deception or a falsehood.”

“By this, we know…” What does that mean? That means does what those teachers are saying align with the truth of the gospel, the old, old story that was preached from Jesus through the Apostles on? Does it accord with that plumb line, if you will? Did you see the really grounded practical hope that John has for us this morning? This isn’t simply a pie-in-the-sky or a mystical experience we’re talking about. Sometimes, when you talk about the Holy Spirit, it can get into that area. No. This is practical boots-on-the-ground, right now.

“Greater is he that is in you than he who is in the world.”

 John 4:4

Put another way, the battle between truth and falsehood is not between two equals. Greater is He. So, this tells us at least, I think, two things: Number one, the weight of defending truth against error does not rest on us alone. Greater is He who is in you than He who’s in the world. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have something to do. Again, he tells us, “Test the spirits.” Look at it, examine it. Use your mind. Think critically. Go back to the plumb line of the Spirit inspired Word of God. But, and I’m speaking to a select group of folks in here and I’m one of them, guard yourself.

If your first impulse is to draw the rhetorical sword anytime you hear something false, when correction is necessary and sometimes it is inappropriate. Paul tells Timothy. Do you remember what he says? Correct with gentleness. To think critically does not mean to think contemptuously. The fruits of the Spirit of love, of patience, of kindness are not simply add-ons, but are marks of maturity in the Christian faith. So, we should get that right. We learned a couple of things here. The weight of defending truth against error does not rely solely on us.

It is on He who is greater. But it also assures us that the very presence of the Spirit of God is with us even right now, not just here when we gather for worship, but also at home and at work, and at play at the mall, while on social media, while reading the latest article that you’ve flagged. He is continually pointing us back to the truth, to the truth of who Jesus is and who we are in Him, the old, old story that we find in the written Word of God.

From the witness of Scripture, the whole council of scripture, the primary role of the Holy Spirit in the new covenant is to shine a bright light on Jesus. J.I. Packer calls it “the floodlight ministry of the Holy Spirit.” I love that. And I think that’s one of the reasons why the Holy Spirit is called the Comforter. Have you heard that before? He’s called the Holy Comforter in a lot of the hymns that we sing. When we encounter the devices of the evil one who tempt us to despair in our present circumstance, our sorrow, our confusion, our anxiety, He, the person of the Holy Spirit, is always leading us back to the reality of the risen Lord Jesus. It’s what He does.

I hope this is what He’s doing for you this morning, the reality of the risen Lord Jesus who conquered death. We have to go back to those fundamentals. Who rose on the third day according to the Scriptures? And now, neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities, not height or depth or any other created thing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

This is the same love that the apostle John is trying to tell us over and over and over again. You can know it today. You can be assured of it today. That is the floodlight ministry. That is the comfort ministry of the Holy Spirit, shining a light and enabling us to know all the treasures and resources that are available to us today. Oh, that’s so good. John Taylor says it this way,

“The chief actor in the historic mission of the Christian Church is the Holy Spirit.”

–John V. Taylor

He is the director of the whole enterprise. The mission consists of the things that He is doing in the world in a special way. It consists of the light that He is focusing upon Jesus Christ, the floodlight ministry of the Holy Spirit.

So, as we pulled together some of the threads that we’ve been doing in our study here today, I think it’d be helpful for us to briefly take a 50,000-foot view of the Apostle John and his principle teaching methods. Did you notice or have you noticed along in this study all along that John loves contrasts just as His Lord and our Lord Jesus did?

Here are some of them. This is not exhaustive, but here are some of them from I John 1 through where we are today: Light and dark, truth and lie, righteousness and sin, new commandment and old commandment, love and hate, Christ and anti-Christ, love of God, love of the world, life and death from God, the source or from the world, the Holy Spirit or the spirit of the world or the spirit of the age, the spirit of truth, the spirit of error.

And I think it’s in these contrasts that John, hopefully, illustrates to us that we so often need to hear because we are forgetful people. Here’s who you are. Remember who you are in Christ. And it is the spirit of truth. That’s just another description, another name for the Holy Spirit. He is actively working in the lives of each and every one of us here this morning, giving us a greater awareness of many of these contrasts in a world that would prefer, that delights in, that celebrates, ambiguity.

And we have a Spirit of truth who indwells us today. So, as we have surveyed this text this morning, I hope you’ve seen those aspects of the Holy Spirit, the person of the Holy Spirit. He’s alive. He’s active even right now abiding in us, illuminating Christ for us. The presence of the Holy Spirit, greater is He who is in you. The power of the Holy Spirit, greater is He that is in you.

He’s helping us to know and to distinguish truth from error. Friends, do you know the Holy Spirit that way? Do you know that He who is in you right now is greater than everything that the world, the flesh and the devil will throw at you as you walk out of this place? Let me get really practical this morning. So, teenagers or college students in the room, you are in many ways on the front lines of a world that celebrates confusion. Hold fast to the old, old story because it’s true, it’s sure, it’s steady. It’s a firm foundation.

Don’t be enamored with all the glitz of the new and novel. Spend time, unhurried, unhindered time in the Scriptures. Ask the Spirit. We don’t often talk about this, but you can pray to Him. He is a person, a part of the Trinity, as we write in our creed. Ask the Spirit to illuminate the Scriptures as you read them. The Apostle Paul, I don’t know if you know this or not, he commends young people, and he tells them, “Set an example for everyone, not just your peers, but for everyone in speech and conduct and in showing genuine love.”

Another group in here, perhaps, you’re retired or you’re nearing the finish line, finishing your course with joy. Your role now is more critical than perhaps it ever has been, at least in a long time. If ever our world needs the wisdom and steady hand of generations of believers who have held fast to the old, old story, it is now. So, get involved in the life of young people here at TVC with your children, with your grandchildren, with your nieces, your nephews, with gentleness and patience. Ask them good questions. Give them resources. Point them back to the truth of Scriptures. Church, TVC, do we know the Holy Spirit like that this morning? Ask Him to reveal Himself to you today. The Holy Spirit is not an impersonal life force, but a person.

Without the spirit of God, there would be no salvation, for He is the one who opens our eyes, our hearts to see who Jesus is. He is the one that applies the work of Jesus on the cross to us. Without the Spirit of God, there would be no growth and maturity as a believer, as it is the spirit’s work to conform us more and more into the image of our Lord Jesus Christ, to make us more into His likeness, having the family resemblance. Without the Spirit of God, the Bible would simply be to us just another historical book. But by His illuminating power, His work, His presence, He opens it up to us afresh that we might taste and see the goodness of our Lord Jesus.

We are a forgetful people. I know I am. And we must continually go back to the old, old story, to cultivate a steady diet of nourishment from His word through a deep and abiding prayer life, a commitment to immerse yourself in the Scriptures, and a commitment to gather with God’s people, which we are doing here this morning, unhindered, unhurried time with the Lord, privately and corporately. It’s the primary means in which the Spirit works in us, a taste for truth.

Eugene Peterson, so why the church?

“Why do we come here on Sunday or Wednesday or whenever you do? The short answer is because the Holy Spirit formed it to be a colony of heaven in the country of death.”

–Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection 

And there, he’s talking about the world and all that is opposed to God, a colony of heaven in the country of death. Church is the core element and the strategy of the Holy Spirit for providing human witness and physical presence to the Jesus inaugurated kingdom of God in the world.

TVC, we are to be a colony of heaven. As we leave this place, as we go to our home, as we go to our work, our play, as we have our home groups, as we meet with our neighbors, be a colony of heaven. Parents, married couples, single students, TVC; you do not have to leave this place chained to the anxieties of a world that delights in confusion. I said that earlier, you do not have to leave this place chained to that.

We have a plumb line. We have a test to see what we hear, what we read, to know whether that is truth or error, the gift of the person, of the presence and the power of the Spirit. Greater is He that is in you than He that is in the world. Do you know Him like that this morning? I pray you do. Let’s pray:

Lord, we confess our need of You and Your Word today. Many of us are famished and need to drink from the depths of Your truth, wisdom, and joy available. Holy Spirit, we pray that You would continue Your work of cultivating Your likeness in each one of us. And as You do that, cultivate in us a taste for truth. Work in us. Cause Your fruit to ripen in us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Remind us, Lord, of who we are and to whom we belong. Holy Spirit, renew us, revive us, restore unto us the joy of Your salvation. And we all said, amen.

(Edited for reading)

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