Menu Close

True or False?

True or False?
10th September 2017

True or False?

Passage: 1 John 4:1 - 6

Bible Text: 1 John 4:1 – 6 | Speaker: Clayton Fopp | Series: 1 John – Life in the Light | 1 John 4:1 – 6
True or False

Who’s who?

Those of you who have been around our church for a while, will have picked up that there are 2 groups of people here at TMB, with a particular dress code for Sunday mornings.
And I don’t mean people who come in a suit and tie, or people coming in their dressing gown, or anything like that!

I’m talking about accessories that identify them.
And if you think, yes, those people’s earrings really set them apart,
Or their glasses really are in a category all of their own, I don’t mean that either,
I’m talking about the lanyards that some ministry teams wear around their necks, when they’re here on Sunday mornings;
Our Welcome Teams wear green lanyards,
And our Kids’ Ministry teams wear yellow lanyards.
And it’s not that they think those accessories really make all the difference to their outfits, or bring out the colour of their eyes or anything like that!
They do it to be helpful!

So our service leaders can say “If you’ve got kids, see one of the team with the yellow lanyards,
And if you’re looking for the toilets, or you want a Bible, or you need a glass of water, look for someone in a green lanyard, and they’ll be able to help you out.”
One of the churches we spent time in while we were away, in fact, James and Samantha’s home church in Singapore, they’re such a large church, many hundreds of people there across the weekend, they’re so big that their Welcome Team have 2-way radios and ear-pieces in their ear, just to be able to stay on top of things.

And that’s another way that people can identify the people you’re looking for.
But for us, for now at least! we just have lanyards!

And it’s just all about knowing who’s who, and who does what.

And lots of churches do it, but you know, I’ve never heard of a single church that hands out lanyards that say “False Prophet”
I’ve seen church lanyards,
Church uniforms,
Church hats,
Church name tags,
Churches identify staff,
Welcome Teams,
Kids’ Ministry leaders,
Car-parking attendants,
But I’ve never seen someone wearing the distinctive attire or label of a false prophet!
And in the greeting time in the service, when we turn to each other and say hi, and keep a special lookout for people who are new among us, remember that’s what we do in that welcome time! no one then introduces themselves to a new person, “Hi, I’m Fred, I’m a false prophet.”
And in the Ministry Matters, or community news, I’ve never sat in a church and heard someone say, “If you’re here this morning and you want some false teaching, go and see that person.”

It just doesn’t happen!
Christians around the world think it’s a good idea for our Kids’ church leaders to be publicly identified, why not the false prophets?!

They just get around without anyone knowing who they are!
You get the point I’m trying to make, don’t you?
Nobody stands up and says, “I’m a false prophet.”

There are many false prophets (v 1)

We saw in chapter 2 of 1 John a few weeks ago that there are people, there will be people, who try to lead Christians astray, away from true knowledge of God, and when they do that, they do it in secret.
That’s why they’re dangerous!

If they had lanyards that said, “I’m a false prophet, I’ve come to lead you astray” we’d all be automatically on our guard wouldn’t we?!
Our friends at Trinity Hills church are looking for a new senior pastor. If the applicants said on their resumes, “I intend to lead people away from the truth and down the path to destruction”, I suspect they wouldn’t make it through to the interview stage!
But think of the situation of John’s original readers.
Verse 1, many false prophets have gone out into the world, including a number from among their own church, their own network of churches.
And so now they’re hearing competing and conflicting messages about who Jesus is,
They’re being told to believe this about Jesus,
And then on the other hand they’re being told this is who Jesus,
And what he’s accomplished,
And what he wants from you.
And last time we were in this letter, remember that John reminded them of the part that the Spirit of God plays in assuring them that they are on the right track,
They have believed the right things,
They are in fellowship with God.
But, these other people also claim to have the Spirit of God.

They also claim to be spiritual Christians.

There are others who claim to speak by the Spirit of God, or on behalf of, the Spirit of God.
How do you work out, who’s speaking the truth?

Because you can’t, verse 1, believe every spirit, that is to say that behind messages, there are spiritual powers, seeking to propagate that message.
And of course it’s not just a problem for John’s original readers is it?

Competing claims about faith, .

People claiming to speak for God.

People claiming to have new revelation,
People claiming to a new message from the Spirit of God.
That’s our context, isn’t it?
How do we know who to believe?
Probably most of us have encountered people who want to tell us, what they believe God has told them, we need to know.

On 2 separate occasions people have spoken to me and said, I have a message, a prophecy from God, that he has told me to give to you.
I know a young woman who was once approached by a man who said God had revealed to him, that she was to marry him. The problem was, only a week earlier another man had let her know that God said she was to marry him!
How do we know who to believe?
Everywhere we turn, there are messages that claim to be the true message from,
There are leaders who insist that their teaching is the truth.
This week I was reading some information about a pastor who was stood down by the leaders of his denomination, but he’s started a new church, which has the slightly preposterous mission statement, The Friendliest, Trendiest, Most Radically Inclusive Faith Consciousness!
The catchphrase of this, “church” is this: Whatever separation there is between man and the benefits of God’s grace, is subjective in nature and exists only in man’s mind.
That is, whatever separates you from God, it’s all in your head.
Or a website I was reading this, saying, the message of Jesus is, and I quote “love, joy, happiness and freedom. That’s it! There’s nothing more!” Endquote.

Nothing more you need to know about Jesus!

No incarnation,
No cross,
No resurrection!
They go on to say that the Holy Spirit is, what, you, are.
That website is for a group called “Gorgeous for God.” I promise you I did not go looking for that website!
It came up in a book review I was reading!

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
How do we know who to believe?
Not long after we started this church, I got an email from one of the other pastors in the region. And in it he said, the reason that Jesus came into the world, was so that we would imitate him, in doing nice things for other people, and specifically he meant, washing people’s cars and windows.
That’s why Jesus came.
How do we know, who to believe?
Well John’s told us, hasn’t he?
We don’t believe everyone.
Rather we are to test the spirits that are at work when people claim to speak for God 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.
Like I was saying with the lanyard thing, false prophets look like real prophets!

People who claim to speak for God, but don’t, they sound very similar to people who really do speak God’s Word into our lives, and in fact, at one point, they may have even done that!
And so to test the spirits means to determine, are someone’s words, the product of God’s Spirit at work,
Or are their words from some other source.
The verb translated “test” in our Bibles, is the word being used to describe a coin being examined and checked to see if it’s genuine,
To see if it has the characteristics of the real thing.

Travelling though Asia my passport was examined so carefully, so many times,
The officials scrutinize it, to see if it’s genuine.
So we’re not talking about some kind of ethereal, other worldly, distinguishing between spirits, that you’re only going to be able to do if you have a finely tuned spiritual radar that can kind of peer into the spiritual realm.

All you need for this testing, is a pair of these. Ears.
It’s to ask, “What spiritual source is behind the message that I’m hearing?”

So while it’s a spiritual test that John urges here,
It’s a very practical test,
Very ordinary and unimpressive.
Test the spirits, by considering the message about Jesus (v 2 – 3)
The way to test the spirits is to examine what we hear people saying.
Verse 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.
Just because someone is convinced that their message is from God, doesn’t mean that it is!

People can be convinced, and wrong, can’t they?!
So this past week, . Every West Coast supporter, and every Port Adelaide supporter that I spoke to, was convinced that their team was going to win last night.

Exactly half of them were convinced, and wrong.
Just because someone is convinced that they’re right, doesn’t mean they are, and just because someone’s convinced that they are speaking for God, doesn’t mean they are!
Just because I’m convinced that I’m faithfully speaking God’s revealed Word into this community, doesn’t mean I am!
And we’re not just talking about people who are, maybe seeking to honour Christ, really convinced that they’re doing the right thing, but are just mistaken,
There are also people, in the world of 1 John, and the world of 21st Century Adelaide, people who deliberately speak falsehood, for popularity, or financial benefit, or to try and make the gospel more appealing, or whatever.
The way we distinguish the misguided, the deliberately misleading from the truth, is by examining what we hear, and specifically, we examine what is being said about Jesus Christ. 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
It’s a positive and negative statement on the same point. Like when you play a trick on a kid and flip a coin, and say, “heads I win, tails you lose”, if you’re that sort of person!

Here’s a positive and a negative statement of the same point, how to tell that the spirit behind what you’re hearing is from God,
And how to tell when it’s not from God.
To acknowledge Jesus, or that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, is not just to say, “yes, I believe Jesus existed”, as if that’s enough.

This is John’s shorthand way of pointing to the apostolic message about Jesus;,
The eye-witness experience that he and others had, and that Jesus had commissioned them to take into all the world.
Think of my passport again. They compare with what they know to be genuine, to see if mine is real, or if it’s a fake.

So what’s the standard we’re comparing against?

Well how did John begin his letter? Chapter 1 verse 1, That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life
That is, the eternal God has come into the world,
In the person of Jesus Christ, God became flesh.
But these false prophets, these ones who are moved along by spiritual forces opposed to God, they tend not to deny the existence of Jesus, do they?
In fact, hardly anyone today, or back here in John’s day, denies the existence of Jesus.

John Dickson who’s a pastor and academic in Sydney, known to some here, he wrote an opinion piece for the ABC once which began, “I will eat a page of my Bible if someone can find me just one, Professor of Ancient History, Classics, or New Testament, who thinks” Jesus never existed.
People tend not to deny the existence of Jesus, but they deny his identity, his work and his ministry.

Some other Jesus is put in the place of the Jesus of the Bible.

Jesus, the Son of God is replaced with Jesus, the wise man.

Jesus, God, come in the flesh, is replaced with Jesus, the great teacher.

Jesus who died for the forgiveness of our sin, is replaced with Jesus the example, who shows the kind of life we could live, or who came so we can wash people’s cars.
Jesus, who was raised from the dead as a vindication of his claims and his work, is replaced with Jesus, who rose only “in the hearts” of his followers, as some leaders in the Anglican church like to say.
And so the test for discerning the truth, is what people say about Jesus.
So even the ancient Roman historians recorded that Jesus lived and died.

While the eye-witness testimony that Jesus commissioned, includes the message that he is the Christ, God’s king,
That he’s the Son of God,
That he came in real human flesh,
That he lived the perfect life that we couldn’t live,
And he died the death that we should have died for our rebellion against God,
So that we could be forgiven and reconciled to God,
That he was raised bodily, as he said he would be, etc, etc.
That’s what acknowledging Jesus stands for. Acknowledging Jesus as he made himself known.
And so a spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus verse 3, will give rise to a message says Jesus isn’t the Christ, God’s king, who has the right to rule over you and me,
That he isn’t really God,
That he wasn’t actually a human,
That he didn’t die,
That he didn’t atone for our sin and rebellion,
That he didn’t rise physically from the dead, and so on.

Rather than repeat that statement of doctrine at every point, John uses this abbreviation to say, we test the spirits, by examining what we hear and asking, does what is being said line up with the apostolic message about Jesus?
But why?

Why is the way to test the spirits, by examining what we hear about Jesus?
Well, every now and then I buy a book based purely on the fact that I like the title!

The Thermodynamics of Pizza sounded just too interesting to pass up,
The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook sounded like what I need to be prepared for any eventuality; how to land a plane if the pilot is incapacitated, that kind of thing,
Or Flattened Fauna: A Field Guide To Common Animals Of Roads, Streets And Highways
I bought a book on preaching once called The Word Became Fresh, a little play on John 1 verse 14!

But a number of years ago I bought a book called The Consequences of Ideas. Just that title speaks volumes, doesn’t it?
Ideas have consequences!
And if someone’s “idea” of Jesus is not the Jesus of the apostolic and eye-witness testimony, then there are consequences!
And so for a moment, I want us to have a think about the consequences of the two main ideas revealed by this testing of the spirits.
Firstly, the consequences of denying Jesus’ humanity, saying that Jesus didn’t really appear in flesh as a man,
And then the consequences of denying Jesus’ deity, saying “sure, maybe Jesus existed, but he certainly wasn’t, God become flesh. He wasn’t ‘he who was from the beginning’”, to use John’s words from chapter 1.
What are the consequences of Jesus as human?
So why is it important for us that Jesus came as a man, real flesh.
There was a man named Ignatius who was a leader in the church in Antioch in what is now Turkey, around the turn of the first century. In 108 AD he was on his way to Rome to be martyred. He’d been sentenced to death for his faith in Jesus, and so he was going to be thrown to the lions.
As he travelled to Rome, knowing that he was about to die, he wrote a series of letters churches in the region. Not a bad way to spend your last hours, is it?  And in these letters, he reminded people of the supreme importance of the true humanity of Jesus Christ,
The fact that he suffered a real death on the cross,
And that he rose physically from the dead.
So he wrote this, he suffered all these things for us, that we might attain salvation, and he truly suffered, even as he truly raised himself, not, as some unbelievers say, that his Passion was merely in semblance,
Sort of, peel away the 2000 year old language.
Our salvation depends on Jesus’ suffering,
And Jesus suffering depends on Jesus’ humanity
If Jesus wasn’t truly human, he couldn’t have truly suffered and died, and we therefore cannot be saved from the due penalty of our sin and rebellion against God.
Only a human can stand in the place of a human.

That was the limitation of the Old Testament sacrificial system. It was only ever supposed to be a step in the right direction. The blood of animals can never take away sin.

We need a human substitute to stand in our place, otherwise we’re left with the burden of our sin and the penalty it deserves.
Jesus took on a human body in order to save our bodies,
He took on a human will so that he could redeem our wills,
As another ancient church leader said, Gregory of Nazianzus, in the 4th century, “That which he has not taken up, he has not healed.”

If Jesus suffered only in “semblance”, that is, if he only appeared to suffer, then you could say we only appear to be saved.
If Jesus’ humanity is denied, then our salvation is denied.
Ideas have consequences.
If we replace the fact of Jesus, come in the flesh with the idea of “Jesus just kind of appeared”,
Some kind of spiritual experience,
A manifestation of God but not really a man,
Well Ignatius says in one of his other letters, if that’s the case, I am dying in vain.

If Jesus didn’t really come in human flesh, Ignatius went to the lions for nothing.
There are other consequences of this idea, of saying that Jesus didn’t really come in the flesh,
If Jesus is a man, that means God is not totally transcendent. He is not entirely out there. He is not, a world away from us,  God could actually live among humanity, as a human, for the span of a lifetime, and in fact Jesus is still a human now in heaven. He didn’t give up his humanity at his ascension.
Do you get a sense of the value that God places on humanity, that his Son would become one of us, forever?!
That Jesus took on real human flesh shows us what humanity can be, and what humanity will one day be.
If Jesus is a man, it means he can truly sympathise with us,
He understands our needs,
He has experienced everything that we might face.
The letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament is one of the places where the Jesus coming in the flesh is, if you like fleshed out quite a bit.
And in that letter, the author says that Jesus is therefore the very best person to intercede before God for us. And because Jesus took on flesh, Hebrews 4:16, Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need
Since Jesus came in human flesh, he can be the descendant of King David whom God promised would shepherd his people,
He can be the Messiah, who would deliver God’s people.
I heard someone say this week that there are only 15 more Mondays until Christmas!
And so to get us in the mood, practically all our Christmas Carols celebrate this truth that Jesus is God, come in human flesh.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,

And open wide our heavenly home;,
For He is our childhood’s pattern,

Day by day like us He grew;,
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail the incarnate Deity.
Word of the Father,
now in flesh appearing
And so on, and so on.

This is not some obscure doctrine at the edges of the Christian message. This is front and centre, John says.
If Jesus were not truly human, we’re still waiting for the Messiah,
We’re still waiting for the king from David’s line,
We’re still dead in our sins,
We don’t have anyone who can intercede for us before the Father.
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.
Ideas have consequences.
What are the consequences of Jesus as God?
So what about the flipside?

Why is it important that Jesus is God come in the flesh, the one who was from the beginning, to use John’s introductory words, and not just some man wandering the earth?
Well, I’ve already quoted 1 John 1:1 haven’t I, That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life
If Jesus is God, then we can know God.

Jesus says to his friends in John chapter 14, anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.

If we want to know what God is like, we look at Jesus.

If we want to know what God’s love is like, we look at how Jesus demonstrates his love, by laying down his life on the cross, which is exactly what John goes on to say in the rest of this chapter.
If you’re here this morning and you’re not a Christian but you just wish that you kind of knew something about God,
About what God’s like,
And can we be sure he exists,
And what does God want from you?,
What would God want to say to you?
Then all I need to say to you is, “Look at Jesus.”
So an encounter with Jesus, which for us happens as the Spirit of God takes this apostolic testimony about Jesus and shines it into our lives, that is the ultimate experience of the reality of God.
We’re not left with “God is out there”

“God is whatever you imagine him to be.”

Which is all very popular, but terribly vague,
In those moments of life when you want certainty,
When you need to cling to something,
When you’re faced with death, or crisis, or relational turmoil, or catastrophic disappointment, trying to get any certainty from a God who can’t really be defined very clearly,
Who you can’t really know, well, what do they say? It’s like trying to nail jelly to the wall!
But we’re not fumbling around in the dark trying to find out about God. God turned up, specifically so we could find out about him.

From time to time, I look at

Just to see if there’s anything there I need!

And you may know that at Amazon, people can write reviews of all the things that are there for sale.
And I saw a CD for sale.  A boxed set of Tchaikovsky’s ballets, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.

You had no idea I had any culture, did you?!
But I was reading the reviews, and one person said this:

I haven’t bought this CD, in fact I’ve never listened to this CD.
I’ve never heard the London Symphony Orchestra play any of Tchaikovsky’s ballets,
But let me tell you why I don’t like this recording!

People have told me that Andre Previn isn’t a very exciting conductor, and that he can hardly ever get the required amount of Russian passion out of the orchestra to do justice, etc etc etc.
I’ve never heard this, I’ve never heard anything like it, but let me tell you what I think about it!

And if you were interested in finding out about that CD, why would you pay any attention to that review, when there are half a dozen reviews by people who have actually listened to the recording!
You’d have to have rocks in your head.

But anyone who chooses to ignore the testimony of the eye-witnesses of Jesus’ life and ministry, when God broke into human existence, and instead come up with their own concept of God, they’re guilty of the exact same error.
I won’t listen to the people who have seen, and touched, and heard, but let me give you my idea!

To me, God is like, dot dot dot,
You’d have to have rocks in your head.
But the idea, or we probably should say the fact, of Jesus being God, also means, not just knowledge, but reconciliation.

God and humanity have been reunited.
God come in the flesh doesn’t just teach us about God,
It means we can be drawn to God.
The Bible pictures a huge, chasm between us and God.
It’s the consequence of our sin.

It’s the separation from God created by our rebellion against him.

But in coming in human flesh, God himself bridges the chasm and defeats sin.

We’re no longer separated from God, but brought into his family.
We couldn’t bridge the chasm. The Apostle Paul talks about us being dead in our sins. Dead people can’t do anything for themselves!

Many of you know, I used to cut up dead people for university research!

Not once did they ever complain!
To be dead means you can’t do anything yourself.

But God bridges the chasm,
God initiates reconciliation.
To have assurance that we are in God’s family, requires that in Jesus, God came in the flesh.

And if Jesus wasn’t truly God, then in claiming to speak for God, and act for God, he is a liar and a blasphemer, and is unable to fulfil those promises in the Old Testament that can only be fulfilled by the eternal God,
So if Jesus isn’t God come in the flesh, we’re still left hanging, waiting for God to turn up and do something about keeping his promises!

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.
It’s a sad reality that we will encounter men and women who deny the truth about Jesus. And those 2 aspects we’ve just considered are really just 2 of many examples.
Some will be outside the church, some will be inside the church. But, in those infamous words of the TV advertisement from a few years ago, John wants us to be alert, but not alarmed. Look at verse 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.
You can be confident, assured of your salvation, because of how much you know or how clever you are. No!
Our spiritual security comes from God, on his Spirit whom he has placed within us.

We’re not left on our own,
We need not be anxious about people who distort the truth. But we do need to be prepared.

And I think it is most disconcerting for us, when these false prophets arise within the church.
In 2006, the movie “When a Stranger Calls” was released. It was a remake actually just the opening scene of a 1979 film, It’s a pretty creepy movie. Jill Johnson is a high school student who’s exceeded her mobile phone allowance, obviously that’s an update from the 1979 version, and so Jill is babysitting to pay off the debt to her parents.
She’s in a huge house, off the beaten track, she’s all alone, without her mobile phone, with no car, the kids are in bed, and she starts getting these, frightening phone calls:

Hello Jill, Have you checked the children?,
Hello Jill, What are you wearing?

It becomes obvious that this creepy person can see Jill, knows, exactly what she’s doing.
So Jill closes all the curtains,
Locks the doors, and huddles down, petrified, in the middle of the lounge room,
The calls continue, and Jill calls the police who say they’ll trace the calls, while Jills cowers down, trying to stay away from the windows.
A moment later, the phone rings, it’s the police, “Jill,” says the officer, “we’ve traced the calls, They’re coming from inside the house!”
Jill screams!

The power goes off,
The house is plunged into darkness.

It’s not really my sort of movie.
But inside the house is supposed to be safe!

Inside the house you’re supposed to secure.

What happens inside the house is supposed to be trustworthy.
Friends, inside the church is supposed to be safe.

Inside the church you’re supposed to be secure.

What happens inside the church is supposed to be trustworthy.
But there will be false prophets.

There will come those who oppose the truth,
Even inside the church, we will find those who are moved by the spirit of antichrist, or the spirit of falsehood.
Friends, here is our warning.

And here is out defence.