Post Series on 1 John 4:1-6:
- Testing the Spirits in a World of Twitter (1 John 4:1)
- Confessing This Jesus-Christ-Come-In-Flesh Jesus (1 John 4:2-3)
- On The Discernment of the Saints (1 John 4:4-6)
After John urges his beloved readers to “test the spirits” in 1 John 4:1, he reveals the specific truth he wishes them to embrace, and the specific error to avoid:
2By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3and 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. (1 John 4:2-3)
At stake are three major issues. First, John is concerned about the doctrine of the incarnation: “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.” Two major heresies in John’s day denied the incarnation. One, called docetism, believed that Jesus only seemed (the name of this heresy comes from the Greek word for “seem”) to be human, but that, in fact, he was not. The other, called adoptionism, believed that the Divine Christ descended on the human Jesus from Jesus’ baptism to just before the cross, so that the Divine Christ never actually suffered. Both of these heresies stem from the belief that spirit is good, but that matter is bad, and that therefore the Divine Spirit would never willingly unite himself to human matter.
In 1 John 2:18-27, John wrote against those who question the full divinity of Jesus (that is, his status as the only begotten Son of the Father), but here, John turns his attention to those who question the humanity of Jesus, his “having come in the flesh.”
But the incarnation is the foundation on which the entire Christian gospel rests. If Jesus were not fully human, than he could in no way become the Second Adam, because he would not have been able to take upon himself the punishment incurred by the sin of the First Adam. And, if Jesus were not fully God, he would not be able to save, since only God saves.
Any spirit that rejects, distorts, or mocks the doctrine of the incarnation is the spirit of error. The incarnation is not a debatable point on which Christians may agree to disagree–the incarnation is a hinge between heaven and hell.
Second, John has more in mind than our mere rubber-stamping of the doctrine of the incarnation. This isn’t something that we sign off on in order to check off that particular prerequisite for entering the Kingdom. Listen to Donald Burdick, who argues that v. 2 should be translated very literally as “every spirit that confesses Jesus-Christ-come-in-flesh”:
The KJV, NASB, and NIV all translate this confession as follows: “that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.” [Ed. note: the ESV, published in 2001, does the same thing.] The weakness of this rendering is that the Greek text does not have the word hoti “that,” and it is doubtful that it should be supplied in the English translation. Actually, to supply the word hoti is not an incidental matter, for it alters the vary nature of the confession. With hoti the confession is propositional in nature. It is a declaration about what Jesus Christ did; without hoti the text contains a confession of Jesus as a person rather than a confession of a proposition about the Person. Brooke puts it aptly when he declares, “It is a confession not of the fact of the incarnation, but of the Incarnate Christ.” (Donald Burdick, The Letters of John the Apostle: An In-Depth Commentary [Chicago: Moody Press, 1985], p. 295.)
Make no mistake: Truth is a Person. We do not believe in the incarnation as a theory–we believe in the Person of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate God.
Third, John goes one step further to hammer home the reality of Jesus-Christ-come-in-flesh. Donald Burdick is helpful once again concerning the phrase, “every spirit that does not confess Jesus [ton Iesoun] is not from God”:
Many commentators fail to take into consideration the significance of the article ton before the name Iesoun….Although it was common in Greek to use the article before proper names, there is good reason for understanding the article in ton Iesoun as indicating previous reference. John insists that it is “this Jesus” who must be confessed—the Jesus of verse 2 who came in flesh (en sarki eleluthota). (Burdick, The Letters of John the Apostle, p. 298.)
This Jesus is the one whom the Spirit of God will confess, and This Jesus is the one we must confess. This Jesus is the Redeemer God who came to save his people by becoming one of them–by having-come-in-flesh!–and This Jesus is the Lion of Judah, the Lamb who was slain. This Jesus is worthy of all worship, praise, adoration, glory, and honor.
And any spirit who denies This Jesus (even by suggesting to you another jesus) is a devil who means to drag you to hell by every deceit necessary.