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I John 3:24 - 4:6
Now by this we know that God resides in us: by the Spirit he has given us.
(I John 3:24)
What you don't know can hurt you According to Peter Kendall in the Chicago Tribune, Ruben Brown, age sixty-one, was known on the south and west sides of Chicago, as the friendly neighborhood cockroach exterminator with "the Mississippi stuff." The Mississippi stuff was a pesticide Brown had bought hundreds of gallons of in the South, and it really did the trick on roaches. Brown went from door to door with his hand sprayer, and his business grew as satisfied customers recommended the remarkably effective exterminator to others. In the process, however, Brown is alleged to have single-handedly created an environmental catastrophe. The can-do pesticide-methyl parathion-is outlawed by the EPA for use in homes. Southern farmers use it on boll weevils in their cotton fields, and within days the pesticide chemically breaks down into harmless elements. Not so in the home. There the pesticide persists as a toxic chemical that can harm the human neurological system with effects similar to lead poisoning. The EPA was called into Chicago for the cleanup. Drywall, carpeting, and furniture sprayed with the pesticide had to be torn out and hauled to a hazardous -materials dump. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that the total cost of the cleanup would be some $20 million, ranking this as one of the worst environmental nightmares in Illinois history. Brown was charged with two misdemeanors. He apparently didn't know much about the pesticide he sprayed so liberally. Brown's attorney said, "It's a tragedy. It is one of those situations where he did a lot of harm, but his intention in no way matches the damage he has done. He is a family man and handled it with his own hands. Do you think he knew how toxic it was?" What you don't know can hurt you. That is true both of pesticides and of false teaching.
I John is tough for me to break down. John doesn’t think the way that I think. It’s much easier for me to teach Paul’s writings. Now, Paul… he’s someone I can relate to and understand. He thinks like me. He thinks in outline form. It’s like stair steps. One thought leads to another, building on the thought that came before. But, I John is more like a spiral staircase. It’s not in a straight line, but winds around and around key topics. Just when you think you’ve covered a subject, you find John circling right back to it. In Chapter 2, John talked about love and then gave us a warning about false teachers that he labeled ‘Antichrists.’ Then comes chapter 3 and he talks about the family resemblance and love again. Here we are in Chapter 4 and guess what… another warning about Antichrists. Anybody want to take a stab at what we’ll study next week? That’s right: love. What do you suppose John considers to be the big ideas? I wondered, though, what is the connection between loving one another and false teachers? Why does John find it necessary to follow up an admonition to love with warnings about false teaching. The connection isn’t immediately obvious, but I think there is one. Let’s set the stage as what church life was like at that time. Churches weren’t huge brick buildings with pews, pulpit, and programs. It was simply a handful of people that got together regularly to worship their Lord and learn of Him. There was no educated professional leader. Probably, it was the man who was fortunate enough to be able to read that led them and taught them. He had no formal training and to make matters worse, Christian doctrine hadn’t yet been fully established. For instance: believers had some concept that God was one, yet seemed to be in three separate persons, yet it would take centuries for the full doctrine of the Trinity to be worked out.
Now, factor in John’s stressing loving one another and showing love to everyone, being hospitable. That’s easy to understand on the surface, but when you play it out in your daily lives, questions come up. Then, into the middle of all of that come these people who claim to follow God. They came into the churches and began sharing their thoughts and teachings. So how does love and acceptance play out in this scenario? Do you let them in and fellowship with them? Do you send them packing? How do you determine whether they are brothers in the faith or wolves in sheep’s clothing? The world will tell you, if you practice this love thing to the full extent, you’re opening yourself up to be taken advantage of. That’s not entirely untrue. It can happen. It brings up issues that might never come up otherwise. Love people, but don’t be naïve. Jesus told his disciples: "I am sending you out like sheep surrounded by wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Mat 10:16) In that vein, John tells us to Test the Spirits. Between Johns message of loving one another in Chapter 3 and his warning to test the spirits in Chapter 4, he gives verse 24 as a bridge. “And the person who keeps his commandments resides in God, and God in him. Now by this we know that God resides in us: by the Spirit he has given us.” His point: Believers aren’t left defenseless. We do have a great resource to help us discern what is from God and what isn’t. First and foremost we have the witness of the Holy Spirit, God in us, to testify that we, ourselves belong to the Father. Of course, it’s easy enough to claim to have the Holy Spirit, and, naturally, these false teachers do. But, John wants us to know that the spirit that influences and motivates them is not necessarily the same Spirit that influences and motivates us. It becomes crucial for us to know how to discern the spirits. It’s not a first century issue. We’re bombarded with more false teaching today than ever before. We need to be careful… We need to test the spirits. What we don’t know CAN hurt us.
Test The Spirits:
I. By Their Emphasis (1-3)
When false teachers come along, they usually don‘t show themselves as something far out in left field. They want to claim that they are normal Christians, maybe with just a little twist. After all, Jesus called them wolves in sheep’s clothing. That’s not a hard illustration to understand. From all appearances, they look harmless enough. They look just like us. But, under the costume, they’re deadly. When a Jehovah’s Witness or a Mormon comes to your door, they don’t come off as someone with really divergent beliefs. You have to get deep into the discussion before you get any idea that they have a very different theology. John says the major test is this: What do they say about Jesus? Who do they say He is? Is He the one and only God? Did He come to Earth to live as a man? This is the crux of the matter. Now, Christians down through the centuries have insisted on arguing just about any issue imaginable. That’s what we do. Are you pre-mil, post-mil, or a-mil? Sprinkle or dunk? Transubstantiation, consubstantiation, or memorial? But, none of those are make-or-break issues. The only real dividing issue is ‘who is Jesus’ and ‘what has he done’. This is no minor issue. Jesus is not only the foundation of our faith. In a real sense, he IS our faith. He is our salvation. If you tinker with your view of him, you change the terms of salvation. If Jesus wasn’t God, his was
just another death, without any real effect on our salvation. If he wasn’t fully human, his death had nothing to do with us. While the mission of Jesus is to seek and to save those who were lost, Satan's greatest objective is to prevent this from happening. One tactic that he often uses is deceit, particularly about who Jesus is. If he can cause confusion about the identity of Jesus, he can cause people to doubt that Jesus is the Savior of the world. There are many false teachers out there and they have one thing in common. They hold some deviant view of the person and work of Christ. If you’re able to detect it, you will know proof-positive that you’re dealing with a false teacher, no matter what else he may say. A. The Spirit Within You So Jesus is the issue. But, the Holy Spirit is also involved. ‘So I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus is cursed," and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.’ (1Co 12:3) How do we understand that? Is it true that it’s impossible for a unbeliever to utter the words “Jesus is Lord?” No. They can say it. But, do they mean it? Can they say it (and all that it implies), wholeheartedly? We acknowledge Jesus for who he truly is because of the witness of the Holy Spirit. No one, by his own exploration could discover this truth. No one independently comes to this conclusion by following his own corrupt heart. No one can bring himself to love Jesus by his own determination. It takes a work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts to really see Jesus for who he is. 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. B. The Spirit of Antichrist But, there is another spirit. The spirit of this age, the spirit of antichrist. Who or what is that? It is a spirit not from God, a spirit that does not and will never acknowledge Jesus. That spirit is in this world today. He seeks to influence and motivate men. His purpose and his passion is to prevent people from coming to Christ. He’s a deceiver who will use any means necessary to keep people separated from God. He’s busy today. Look around, you’ll see his work. He’s busy convincing people that God is a myth, that the Christian faith is irrelevant, that going to church is a waste of time, that Christ was only a good moral teacher, that there are many paths to God, or that any faith is good enough as long as you’re sincere. TV and movies really irritate me. Have you ever noticed that the people that really believe what the Bible says are invariably mean and uncaring hypocrites, conmen, or serial killers? Granted, Hollywood doesn’t have a clue to what we’re about and that’s understandable to a degree. But, it’s more than that… it’s the spirit of antichrist that distorts the truth and twists what’s good into something hideous.
II. By Their Viewpoint (4-5)
The Christian message doesn’t make sense to the world. Sometimes, it doesn’t make sense to me… when I try to reason things out in my own fleshly mind. Who would come up with this stuff on their own? God made a man out of dirt? He got ticked off because they ate a piece of fruit? He sent a snot-nosed kid up against a giant with nothing but a slingshot? Who believes that stuff? Or how about this: The ever-living God became a man with the sole purpose of dying to give those dust-creatures life? It doesn’t make sense to the world. They don’t want to hear that stuff. So, these false teachers will oblige. “For there will be a time when people will not tolerate sound teaching. Instead, following their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves, because they have an insatiable curiosity to hear new things.“ (2Ti 4:3)
A. We are Overcomers It‘s a little scary to think that there are so many wolves out there among the sheep. How do you fight against them? Have you ever debated a JW or Mormon before? It can be intimidating. They have their proof texts and they know just how to manipulate the conversation in order to confuse you. John’s point is that we shouldn’t worry. It’s the same message as Deut.18:22, where Moses said about the false prophet: 'Thou shalt not be afraid of him'. John is saying to these believers: 'It doesn't matter what these false teachers have taught you, what they have claimed to spout from the Spirit of God when it has been from the spirit of the evil one himself - don't you be intimidated by their superior knowledge, by their charismatic powers!'. He says that we are overcomers. In what sense? Well, not by our own powers or strength, not because we’re too darn smart to fall for false teaching. But, we do stand against false teaching, because of the Spirit of God within us. We have known the truth. It’s more than having truth, but it’s also having confidence in the truth and in our God. B. Their Worldly Viewpoint Back to Paul‘s statement in 2 Tim. The world doesn’t think the Gospel makes sense. They won’t pay much attention to sound doctrine. It doesn’t fit into their worldview. They don’t want to hear it. The Gospel turns your world upside down and they don’t want any part of that. But, they want a message. They have itching ears. They want to be scratched and comforted and told that they’re really alright, that they can get close to God by fine-tuning the way they live. And above all they don’t want to be offended. But, the Gospel is an offense and Christ is a stumbling block. Every false religion and every false teaching has one thing in common. They tickle ears. The Mormon is tickled to think that He can be like God. The Muslim is tickled that he has a list of dos and don’ts that will let him appease God. And even many who call themselves Christian are tickled that God will accept them if they sit in a church pew regularly. The Gospel doesn’t make sense and it isn’t the message that most people want to hear but it’s the message that all people need. That’s why false teachers are so dangerous and that’s why John seems to harp on the subject. In preaching a message that doesn’t offer salvation, they are agents of eternal death. What could be worse?
III. By their Authority (vs. 6)
Who or what is your authority? Who do you listen to? I would guess it depends on the subject. If I want to know about building construction, I’d ask my dad. If I want to know about cooking, I ask my wife (I just ignore the add garlic part) In my world, they are the experts. Who’s your authority when it comes to religion? Too many people come up with the wrong answer. John says “whoever knows God listens to us. But whoever is not from God does not listen to us.” Who is the ‘us’ that John refers to? He’s talking about the Apostles, the ones who were eye-witnesses to the ministry of the Lord, the ones who were discipled by Jesus and were commissioned by Him to take the Gospel to the world. They were the ones who wrote the New Testament. These are the authorities that we rely on; the ones that we go to to learn about God. Today, our authority is the Bible. In those days, the false teachers were coming into the churches claiming to have supernatural knowledge and enlightenment. They set themselves up as THE authority. “Don’t worry about what John or the other Apostles write to you. Don’t worry about what you’ve heard about Jesus. Listen to us. We have a pipeline to God. Learn from us and we will teach you how to hear from God. Listen to your inner self.” Does that sound strange? Would you think that’s a first century situation?
The 1996 bestseller, Conversations with God has sold over 2.5 million copies. The author, Neale Donald Walsch, says that one day he simply started writing down his direct conversations with God. The following conversation between Walsch and God, reveals the core belief of this spirituality. God: I cannot tell you My Truth until you stop telling Me yours. Walsch: But my truth about God comes from You. God: Who said so? Walsch: Others. God: What others? Walsch: Leaders. Ministers. Rabbis. Priests. Books. The Bible, for heaven's sake! God: Those are not authoritative sources. Walsch: They aren't? God: No. Walsch: Then what is? God: Listen to your feelings. Listen to your Highest Thoughts. Listen to your experience. Whenever any one of these differ from what you've been told by your teachers, or read in your books, forget the words. [Neale Donald Walsch, Conversations with God (Putnam, 1996);] The Jesus Seminar claims that only 18% of what the gospels teach about Jesus is actually true. They, and others like them, make claims such as these: 1) Jesus was illiterate 2) Jesus had no interest in Scripture 3) Jesus had no interest in the end times 4) Jesus did not think of Himself as the Messiah or in any way Divine. In other words they think just about everything of importance affirmed in the New Testament is wrong. [Evans, Fabricating Jesus p.34]
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