Light Reveals the Truth (God is Light - Part 4)
Scripture: 1 John 4:1–5:5
God is Light Part 4: Light Reveals the Truth (1 John 4:1-5:5)
What is truth?
Among many people today, there is a growing opinion that truth is not absolute. That is, no one can really know for sure what truth is. Yet, God says that He is the only God and Jesus says He is God’s only Son. You cannot believe in Jesus without claiming exclusive truth.
In Abu Dhabi, there are many different kinds of Christians. In this very neighborhood there is the Catholic church, the Anglican, the Evangelical, the Indian Orthodox, and many others. Among them, who is right and who is wrong? Can we even know? For the most part, we all have the same core beliefs, but there are things we disagree on. Among the Christian groups throughout this city, some are true Christians, but others have fallen into false teaching. What is the truth? When you become immersed in the sea of different teaching, how can you tell what is true and what is false?
John’s answer is that God is light and light reveals the truth. When John wrote his first letter to the churches, there was a problem he needed to address. As we touched on in a previous sermon, false teachers had gone out among the churches and were leading many people astray. He dealt with this issue using the core truth that God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all.
In the previous chapters, John has shown how this truth means that there is no evil in God’s goodness, there is no sin in His righteousness, and there is no hate in His fellowship, and there is no lie in His truth. In chapter four, he expands on that last point and applies it to discerning between true and false teaching in the church. From this, we will look at four instructions that arise from the text and can save us from false teaching and help us stick to the truth.
The first of these instructions is that we need to be discerning.
1. Be Discerning
I have a gps built into my phone. It is usually very useful. I tell it to find a place, and it usually gives me good directions to my destination, but not always. Once coming back from Ruais, I was on the highway and the gps instructed me to turn right. The problem was that turning right would have led me straight into the dunes! There was no road there! Naturally, I did not follow that instruction because it was obviously wrong.
Apparently, incorrect gps directions have given rise to something called ‘death by gps.’ That happens when people follow the instructions the little voice gives them even if it leads them into the woods, into a lake, or off a cliff. I suspect that in a lot of cases, if the people would have used some discernment instead of blindly following what the machine told them, they would not have gotten into trouble.
This is essentially the instruction that John gives us in verse 1:
1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
In the same way that you should not blindly follow the instructions of a gps, you also should not blindly believe every spiritual sounding teaching that you hear. We need to be discerning because there are many false teachers, and false teaching does not come from God. Remember, God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all.
Notice the way John put this sentence together. He said test the spirits to see If they are from God because there are many false prophets. At the time that John wrote this letter, one of the false teachings that he wrote against was the idea that all spiritual things are inherently good. John says, “No. Not every spirit is from God, nor is every prophet.”
What he did then, is point us toward the source of the teaching. You see, a prophet’s teaching, whether true or false, has a spiritual source. The source of a true prophet is the word of God. The source of a false prophet is also spiritual, but it is not from God. Which leaves only one other option: False teaching is from the Devil. Whether the false prophet knows it or not, his lies come from the father of lies.
If you are listening to a false prophet, it will have dire consequences for you. Just look at what Jesus said in Matthew 7:7-23:
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
The point of Jesus’ words here is that there are people who claim his name and yet do not know him. People who say they are Christian, people who claim to teach God’s word, people who claim to do amazing things in his name that Jesus will disown on the day of judgment. Being disowned by Jesus is no small matter, because it means they don’t belong to him. He has not paid for their sins and they must face judgment alone. Even worse, all who followed them will be in the same situation.
The stakes are so high. You cannot afford to be led astray. Even if you hear the teaching in a church or other Christian fellowship, you must not blindly follow. You must discern what is true and what is false. John says you do that by testing the spirits.
The second through the fourth instructions we have in this passage teach us how to test the spirits. Following in a logical pattern, he brought up the fact that all prophets have a spiritual source, therefore he shows us how to test the source.
2. Test the source
Where did it come from? Often, the origin of something can tell you a lot about whether it is real or not. The problem is though, you can’t always tell by glancing at the surface.
I used to do a lot of shopping on ebay, the popular auction site. I learned early on that it was important to know where the item came from. At one time in particular, I bought a camera that was advertised as brand new. The price was very good and I didn’t check the sellers ratings carefully. The camera broke on the first day I had it. I tried to contact the seller, but they would not respond to me inquiries. So I contacted the manufacturer and found out that it was not new at all, but already out of warranty.
Later, on going back and checking out that sellers ratings, I found a lot of people who had had the same thing happen to them. If I had investigated the seller, tested the source, I could have avoided a bad situation.
That is what John instructs us to do in order to avoid false teaching, because there is only One source of truth. The question to keep in mind as we read verses 2-6 is, “Did this teaching come from God or did it come from somewhere else?” If it came from God, it is true. If it did not come from God, it is false.
2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
The premise here is the same one that we keep running into: God’s values and the world’s values are not compatible. This incompatibility helps us discern truth from error.
Spirit of God
-confesses that Jesus came in the flesh
-Godly values and listens to the apostles
-Overcomes the world
Spirit of error/world/Devil
-Does not confess that Jesus came in the flesh
-worldly values and follows the world
-accepted by the world
We need to look at these specific evidences and others that the bible provides us with and discern what the source of a particular teaching or philosophy actually is. If the source is God, you will be led to walk in his light. If it is not, you will stumble in the darkness.
This brings us to our third instruction that arises from the text in front of us. That is to test the doctrine.
3. Test the doctrine
I know that doctrine is not a popular word today. A lot of people, when they hear this word, imagine a stuck up, snobbish sort of person who is hung up on splitting the hairs of theology. It’s too bad that the word has this baggage because it really just means a set of principles or teachings. What is usually meant by Christian doctrine is the way of organizing the truths of scripture into a clear and concise form that is suitable for teaching and laying out the basic points of our faith.
That is essentially what John did in the following verses. He organized the truth of scripture along with his own experience of Jesus into clear, teachable doctrine. Now, this is not meant to be a complete statement of faith, but rather things to look for in discerning a true teacher from a false one.
In the following verses, 6 points of good doctrine arise from the text. I’m going to move through theses very quickly. Let’s start in verse 9:
9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.
1. Jesus is God’s only Son whom he sent into the world so that we might live.
This is the core of the gospel, that Jesus is God in the flesh. Totally God and fully man. He entered into the world meaning that he existed before he came. He is God’s only Son. That is, he is unique. There is no other Son of God.
Any teacher who denies these truths about Jesus, or who claims that there are other Sons of God is a false teacher. Any teacher who claims especially that he/she is Jesus is also a false teacher.
10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
2. We are saved because of God’s love.
God saves sinners because of His love, not our merit. Our merit is useless since all we do is tainted by sin. Any teacher who contradicts this saying that we must do good in order to earn God’s favor has not understood the gospel.
3. Jesus is the propitiation for our sins
Propitiation means to cause someone to be favorable. For example, if you drive too fast and your picture is taken by the speed camera, you are now at enmity with the law. In order to make the police favorable to you again, you must pay the fine. We have all offended against God by doing wrong and justly deserve punishment from Him. That punishment is eternal death. The great truth of the gospel is that God Himself came into the world, took on humanity, paid what we owed by dying on the cross, in order to make Himself favorable toward us.
A teacher who denies human sin, eternal punishment, Jesus’ propitiating death, and the resulting eternal life is not teaching true doctrine.
14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
4. We must rely primarily on the testimony of the apostles.
All that is required for teaching about salvation and Godly living is found in the bible. Any teaching that contradicts that testimony is not from God. Any teacher who claims special authority apart from and over the bible is a false teacher.
17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
5. Obedience to God is not out of fear, but out of love.
Abiding in the light means abiding in the love of God. Obedience to Him is therefore not something imposed through fear, but expressed with joy and love for our Father. A teacher who tries to force obedience to God on other people has not understood sanctification and is not helping you.
16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
19 We love because he first loved us.
6. We must love others because of God’s sacrificial love for us.
While we were yet his enemies, God loved us and sent Jesus to die for us. That is why we must love our enemies, neighbors, and brethren in the same sacrificial way that God loves us. Any teacher that teaches you to hate other people does not have the love of God abiding in him, and has not understood the gospel.
Watch what you are being taught. Compare it to scripture. If anyone, including me, teaches other than sound doctrine, don’t listen. If it is me, come and tell me so that I can be a true teacher. All of that being said, there are some teachers out there who are spot on with their doctrine and theology, but whose lives do not reflect it.
Speaking on the same topic, Jesus said in Matthew 15-17:
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. Thus you shall know them by their fruit.
The final instruction that arises from John’s letter today is that in order to discern a true prophet from a false one, look at his life. Does his life bear witness to fellowship with God?
4. Test the fruit
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
Skip to verse 20
20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
A true Christian teacher’s life must abound with love for God, faith in Jesus, and the fruit of the Holy Spirit. John relates love for God and faith in Jesus directly to obeying God’s commands and loving other people.
Now, on the presence of God’s Spirit, the truth is, I cannot look at anyone and say, “There is God’s Spirit.” What I can see are the effects of God’s Spirit in a person’s life. Paul, in the letter to the Galatian church, said that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” These are the things we should see in the life of a true prophet or teacher.
On the other hand, a teacher who does not display the love of God in daily life, who does not trust in Jesus, who does not love Christians, neighbors, and enemies, and does not display the fruit of God’s Spirit is not worthy of following. A teacher who claims to be from God, yet is obsessed with worldly things, is not a true teacher. Neither is a true teacher’s life characterized by disobedience to God. You shall know them by their fruit.
There are a lot of teachers, a lot of prophets who claim to teach the truth. We must not blindly follow every one that comes along. Instead, we need the light of God to reveal the truth. It is not enough to throw up our hands and say “nobody has it right.” That way of thinking is from the world. There is truth. God has revealed Himself. While there are some things that we can disagree on as Christians, the bible is very clear on most things.
We need to test the source of every prophet’s and every spirit’s teaching. They are either from God or from the enemy. We need to test their doctrine. It is either based on the law, prophecy, and apostolic witness in the bible, or it is not Christian. We need to test their fruit. They are either demonstrating the gospel in their deeds, or they are false teachers.
These tests are also very helpful to apply to ourselves because the enemy not only tries to influence us through false teaching, but also tries to lead us astray more directly. In order to protect ourselves, we need to be in the Word of God, letting his light reveal the truth about us too. The first question we need to ask is if we are born of God. We can test this by whether or not we love God and trust Jesus. The second question we need to ask is about our doctrine. Is what I believe as a Christian actually based on the Word of God, or does it come from some other source like my culture or subjective experiences? Finally, we need to look at our own lives and see if our faith compels us to action. If not, it is not real faith.