Saturday, January 8, 2005

Discerning the Spirits

By this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us. (1 John 3:23).
God has given His Spirit to be a witness to us of God’s presence abiding in us. “By this we know.” In the Bible, knowledge is not merely theoretical, it is experiential. That is, we know something by experiencing. Here, the experience is one of discernment. It requires an awareness of sources.

So what is this witness of the Spirit to which John refers? We discover that in 1 John 4. (There are no chapter divisions in the Bible, those were added later.)
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the antiChrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. (1 John 4:1-3)
The spirits themselves need to be discerned. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul talked about the gift of discerning the spirits. There is the Holy Spirit, who is true and speaks truth. There are also false, demonic spirits. Then there is the human spirit.

You and I are human spirits who have souls and inhabit bodies. Altogether, that is what we are — spirit, soul and body. Now, it is possible for the human spirit to be influenced by the Holy Spirit. God designed us that way. In fact, His purpose is for us to be filled with and indwelt by the Holy Spirit — God Himself present in us.

Unfortunately, since the Fall of Adam, it is also possible for us to be influenced by false, demonic spirits. That is why we need to test the spirits. For there are pseudo-prophets (Greek, pseudoprophetes) who are bringing false messages, influenced by spirits which are not of God.

So how can we tell the difference between the witness of the false spirits and the witness of the Holy Spirit? John lays it out very simply:
  1. Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God.
  2. Every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.
Once again, it is all about Jesus. The role of the Holy Spirit is to take what belongs to Jesus and reveal it us — to show us Jesus. He speaks the truth to us about who Jesus is and who we are in Him.

So this is how you tell the difference. Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God. The Greek word for “confess” is homologeo and means to “speak the same thing,” that is, to speak in agreement.

Now, John was addressing an issue that was becoming very controversial in his day, but it also has serious ramifications for us today. You see, there were teachers and groups who, though they taught that Jesus was divine, they denied that He was truly human. They agreed that He was spirit, but they denied that He was also flesh and blood.

There are groups today who will speak of the “Christ-Spirit within” but who will deny the humanity of Jesus. They affirm a philosophical Christ, an ideal that is vague and ethereal, but deny the concrete reality of the historical Jesus. John says that will not do. Their teaching does not come from God. It does not represent the witness of the Holy Spirit.

Why is this important? Because John writes to give witness to “that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of Life” (1 John 1:1). John was not presenting philosophical ideas but declaring that which he personally experienced, saw, heard and touched — a historical person, Jesus Christ, Son of God, fully human and fully divine.

It is a matter of fellowship. “That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). You cannot fellowship with an idea or a philosophy. You can only have a personal experience with a person. We have fellowship with the Father because have been reconciled to Him by the humanity of Jesus Christ, and the historical event of the Cross and Resurrection.

A philosophical idea may be a fine solution if the problem at hand is philosophical. But our problem is historical — the Fall of Adam, of which every one of us has been a part. Historical problems require historical solutions. Of course, there are those who deny that the problem is historical at all. They deny that there was ever such an event in history known as the Fall. They deny the true nature of the solution because they deny the true nature of the problem. So they deny that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.

John definitively declares that their witness does not come from God. In fact, he identifies it as the spirit of antiChrist. That is, they are coming against Christ. It matters not that they may profess a “Christ-Spirit” within. If they do not confess the humanity and historical reality of Jesus, then they are actually denying Christ.

The Apostle John has given us an important dividing line between what is true and what is false. The witness of God’s indwelling Spirit is that Jesus Christ has indeed come in the flesh, that He is fully man, that He has entered into our time and space existence as a historical human being. It is by this same Spirit that we understand, discern and experience the presence of God abiding in us.