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1 John 4:1-6 Sermon Notes

By November 5, 2023Sermon Notes

John’s purpose in writing his letter is that we would live with certainty.

This certainty should increase our humility, our joy, our purpose, our resilience in hard times.

We are certain because God has revealed himself to us…not because we are good or smart.

This certainty grows as we focus on Christ…who he is.

But as you live your life growing in Christ’s character and love, don’t hold your breath waiting for applause…expect to be sometimes be hated in return.

This can be surprising…so John writes…don’t be surprised.

It is surprising when you show love, try to respect others, and hold to your convictions with kindness…then you are hated or mocked in return.

You won’t be hated for the results of this kind of life: Love, humility, kindness, respect…but for the implications of this kind of life.

It won’t be the morality of Christ, or the love of Christ that you show, that people hate…those are fine.

It will be the truth test, the exclusive claims of Christ that will cause the trouble.

“You actually believe this stuff about Jesus being Lord…then what does that say about my life?”

It says you are wasting your life, your missing life itself…because Jesus is the Christ.

Jesus’ Lordship is a challenge to power and control:  The Soviets feared faith because it was a threat to power.  As did Rome. As does China.

Controlling governments, husbands, wives…you name it. Jesus Lord is a threat to human power.

Inner Rings that maintain their power by outsiders wanting in and keeping them out…If Jesus is Lord, you are threat to these inner rings.

You will love and serve people…but you will not bow and worship anyone or anything other than Christ.

-Daniel was loved and admired when he was excelling in public service when God gave him wisdom and when his faith empowered discipline…but when he refused to bow to anyone but God then he was a threat.

Jesus is Lord…gives lie to all other ways of life.

David Powlison was a brilliant Christian counselor, he had wide impact on the lives of many key leaders and on the church as a whole.

He studied at Harvard in the 60’s… a turbulent time in American history and he dabbled in a number of worldviews as he was running from Christ.

He had several worldview shaking experiences…some involving death up close and the corresponding questioning of life meaning.

I’ll read one of these to you…this was him as young man struggling with the void of meaning in his life.

And I sat at my grandfather’s bedside after he had a serious stroke. He was rummaging through his achievements, relationships, aspirations, and travels. He was searching for something that retained meaning, something he could hold on to, something that he could tell me mattered in life. But everything he mentioned seemed to crumble before his eyes as he spoke. In the end, all he could say was that life is more than money, and all he could do was break down and weep. After saying goodbye, I sat on the steps outside the hospital and wept too.

The story for Powlison doesn’t end there, he came to Christ…and he lived and died with great hope and purpose…unlike his grandfather…whose life and death was empty.

To claim that Jesus is Lord is to make the claim that all other ways of living and dying are empty and without ultimate meaning

People don’t want to hear this, especially when they are living their lives as they want to live them.

It is no wonder that the world apart from Christ will not applaud you when you say Jesus is Lord. 

The primary way that the world will show hate in our culture (as opposed to the places where Christians are persecuted by physical harm) is to mock the faith.

You will be regarded as stupid, naive, outdated, mean spirited, dangerous.

And the way Christians will often be tempted to respond is to “go along to get along.”

To focus on the love of Christ…not the exclusive Lordship claims of Christ….because this tends to be acceptable and non-controversial.

The claims of Christ…the truth test…this is where the controversy is.

“I am the way, the truth and the life…no one comes to the father except through me.”

Jesus the nice guy is fine, Jesus the one and only Lord of heaven and earth is not fine.

Jesus was absolutely exclusive in his claims…he never would have been killed for being a nice guy and preaching love for others.

He was killed because he said, “Before Abraham was born, I am.”

He claimed to be God…and he said, leave everything and follow me.

If we dabble in this, we are no threat…be nice people getting nicer.

If we crown Jesus Lord…and live under his lordship…this is problematic for the world in opposition to God…but this is bottom line for our faith.

Anyone who says that all religions are essentially the same…is ignorant of the claims of most religions…and is dismissive of the beliefs of people in these religions.

They are not the same…what people believe is vastly different…the gospel is not “all roads lead to one”…but there is only one way.  Jesus…all other roads, are dead ends.

Historically some in the church have become embarrassed by the claims of the gospel.

God became human, a baby in manger…I mean you actually believe the one who made the universe wore a diaper?

God in human flesh died to pay for our sins.  Come on that sounds barbaric. Cosmic child abuse.

Christ rose from the dead.  Really, I mean? We have cars and planes and computers.

Theologians and church leaders, Christians of all kinds have sometimes (many have not) but some have become apologetic and embarrassed by the claims of Christ…so they focus on the his lifestyle

“Well, what if we believe that we should be nice like Jesus…and forget all the rest, you know, how about Jesus the nice guy but no Jesus as Lord.”

“I suppose so…but don’t bring that Jesus is lord stuff out here in public again….that’s just crazy.”

Jesus lived as he did…because he is Lord of heaven and earth.

New Member Class:

Raw materials, processes, produce

Belief plus behavior equals who we become.

We train for godliness to become like Christ, we love others as Christ loved us…because we believe that Christ is who he said he is.

It is no wonder that when churches have gutted the truth of Christ from their theology…they are one generation from deleting faith from their kids’ lives altogether.

Why would I try to be holy, when can I do whatever I want?

-What does some 1st century nice guy have to do with me.

Why would I love people I don’t like or who don’t like me?

-That’s dumb.

Why would I sacrifice my own good now…when I’m just going to die anyway?

-No, I’m getting mine now.

The truth of the gospel is not that we are to be “nice people trying to get nicer.”

But that Jesus is the Lord of heaven and earth…he has made you; you are made for him.

And it destined for all men to die and then to face judgment.

You are empty because you have rejected Christ…your search for meaning apart from him has left you devastated.

Without the reality of Jesus Christ as the Lord of our lives, and without the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives…then we will neither have the desire nor the power to live a life like Christ, a life of holiness and sacrificial love.

John’s three tests all hang together.

Truth of who Christ is (foundational)…for the moral and the love test.

Today, again…John circles back to the truth test.

Everything hangs on this one thing…who is Jesus?

Before I read 1 John 4, a quick set up

John’s readers had been confused by the claims of false teachers with their theological innovations.

As we saw last week…John focused over and over on the truth that was revealed through Jesus and preached by the apostles…those with direct contact with Jesus…he had commissioned them.

He is writing with the goal of certainty…so his friends would live a life that corresponds to certainty…faith, hope, joy, resilience, obedience, love.

This certainty depends on the truth of who Christ is, as revealed by Christ himself to the apostles.

Everything depends on getting this truth right.

1 John 4 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.

We have John’s description of the problem:

There are a lot of false prophets teaching what is not true.

In chapter 3 he said that God has given us his Spirit, but now we hear that there are other spirits active in the world.

Don’t believe everything you hear.

And then we have John’s prescription for the solution to the problem:

Test the Spirits to see if they are from God

How do we do this?

He tells us:

2 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, 3 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.

This is the doctrinal test; the truth test: in chapter 5 he will combine all three tests.

But here, in chapter four he is focusing narrowly on the truth test…it is foundational

He is specifically dealing with doctrine or ideas that do not confess accurately who Jesus is.

If we don’t hold fast to the teaching of who Jesus is as taught by the Apostles, John being one of them…then all is lost.

Again, we have the description of the problem:

False teachers (teaching)

And the prescription of the solution:

Test the spirits.

Don’t make this weird…you don’t hold a seance, you don’t say, “Spirit, we test you now in the name of Jesus.”

The test here is the truth test…what are the truth claims being made.

“Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.”

This is not just a factual statement of the deity of Christ…demons recognized who Jesus is.

“And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” Mark 3:11

This is a statement of faith in Jesus as Lord…factually and actually true…he is the Lord; he is my Lord.

The words John uses here matter in our understanding.

“Jesus is the Christ come in the flesh.”

Jesus is the incarnate (in human flesh) Christ (Messiah/Savior/God).

He is the long promised and awaited Savior of the world…the eternal Word of God made flesh.

This is how you know what is from God…and the opposite is also true…every spirit (spokesperson) that does not confess Jesus as the Christ come in the flesh is not of God.

Behind the theological truth claims that every human makes there is a “spirit”.

Again, don’t go weird in your thinking…this is just the fact that John says the world is divided into two camps.

This “two camp” language is not John not being divisive, he is being descriptive…humanity is, in fact, divided.

John is black and white on this…in chapter three he applied this “two camp” approach to the social and the moral test.

By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. 1 John 3:10

People are, often unwitting, living in the realm of the enemy if they are not actively obeying God and loving others.

This lack of ambiguity, this clarity, is again, the reason the world will hate the person who says Jesus is the Christ.

Christ says, absolutely…he is the only way to God and to life…he is the line dividing humanity.

John writes, there two sources of truth claims about Jesus.

One from God, all others, from Satan.

Bill Maher (Mahr)…I hate to give him credibility by mentioning him here, but he is a good example of this.

He is a comedian turned expert on everything.

He is also an immoral man who rejects out of hand anything related to faith in God.

When he speaks against Christ and Christians…he is unaware that he is experiencing what he doesn’t believe in… Satan, the supernatural.

He is speaking for the enemy.

When people hear him wax eloquent against Christians and Christ…they are listening to the spirit of the anti-Christ.

I am not saying he is “the” anti-Christ…he doesn’t deserve that much credit.

Trace preached on what John means by “anti-christs” plural a few weeks ago.

Everyone who doesn’t proclaim Jesus as Lord…but makes him out to be anything else…is “anti” “against” Christ…and they are, whether they know it or not, a mouthpiece for the enemy.

This is not derogatory…this again is descriptive…it is for John, a simple fact.

In the last three verses of this passage, he lays out the three characters in this drama.

You: The Christians he is writing to

They: The false teachers

We: The authoritative apostles, with himself as their representative

1 John 4:4 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. 5 They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

You: Are from God and have overcome them (the false teachers).

-The false teachers have failed to deceive them…the church is hanging in there in the faith.

They: The false teachers were among those he said in chapter two had left because they never actually were one of them.

Look at verses 5,6:

The false teachers (they) formed their own echo chamber…

While the Apostles (We) spoke the authoritative gospel, that they received from Jesus.

This is not pitting “one set of human opinions against another.”

Jesus said in John 5 “If someone comes in his own name you accept him…but I’m the one the Scriptures themselves speak of.”

So, this is the lies of the enemy (spoken through false prophets)


The truth of the Gospel (given to the apostles of Christ)

On Sept. 11, The Israeli military’s chief of staff, gave a speech at a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, he said that Israel must be on its guard, now more than ever.

After his speech he was condemned for causing panic and dissent in the government.

Egypt told Israel, recently, that “something big” was coming. They ignored them.

This has been called “A classic example of a feedback loop that reinforces our prejudices and blinds us to the real threats that we face.”

The world apart from God operates with its own perpetual feedback loop.

John…They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.

The world has its own stories of what is ultimately real, what is our purpose, what is our problem, solution, destiny.

Humans make stuff up…and promote it, believe it, try live it…it fails

Along comes the next and the next.

Over and over in human history (seen in the flow of the Biblical narrative) and in the rise and fall of nations, and families, and people…we see this feedback loop (humans telling other humans what is ultimately real)

And the enemy has used it to his advantage.

John, speaking as a representative of the apostles wrote

We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us.

The gospel as given by the apostles is the truth of God…this truth does not change.

There is no feedback loop here…it’s not humans talking to each other, it is God has revealed himself to us.

Christ, is God become man to bring us peace with God.

This is the truth of the gospel…there will be no innovations in it.

There will always be the need to do the hard work to live IT OUT in our own time and place…but there will never be the need for a new, improved Gospel.


Some are embarrassed by claims of certainty…it feels unkind, or arrogant.

How can we believe we are right and others are wrong?

We should be embarrassed by arrogance…we should repent of a lack of kindness.

But certainty is a gift of God.

We are certain because of God’s grace not our own wisdom or goodness.

Everyone, when it comes down to it is at this moment living with certainty of some kind.

They may believe that you cannot be certain…so they are living out of certain of their uncertainty.

Even if they lay in bed in despair…and say you can know nothing for certain…I will just not decide anything.

To avoid making a decision is a decision.

It is a fact that God exists and that he has revealed himself to us.

It is a fact that Jesus is God incarnate, the Savior of the world.

There are many ways for people to believe, but only one right way regarding Jesus the Messiah…this is not arrogance it is fact; this is what John says.

He wants us to live lives of humble certainty

Do you have growing certainty, and if not why do you think this might be?

A loss of confidence in the gospel is never because of new objective data, it’s not because of some new evidence.

“But what about all the people who believe differently?”

“What about all the suffering out there, or my suffering?”

These are good questions, they are not new…Jesus addressed them in the first century.

You are still left with the choice…is Jesus who he says and shows he is and what will I do about it.

Don’t be afraid of doubts…but you don’t have to believe them…doubts about the gospel are untrue, you should doubt those doubts.

John has given three keys in his letter, 3 ways to grow certainty:

-The truth test: Believe Jesus is the Christ, the Lord of heaven and earth, the rightful Lord of your life…this is factually true, make it actually true.

-The moral test: Train to be godly.  Sin undermines  certainty.  Mess up, fess up, move on.

-The social test: Love others.  Get out there and experience God as you share the gospel, as you lead others to know him better…get out of yourself and into the lives of others.

It all begins with “who is Jesus”?

In John 6, some people skeptical of Jesus asked him “what must we do to do the works God requires?”

What does God want from us

Jesus answered, “The work of God is this, to believe in the one he has sent.”

To believe Jesus is the Christ…the Lord…this is foun