Bold Belief Constantly Searches for Truth
What is truth? Join Dr. Marty Baker as he takes us through 1 John 4:1-6 and helps us understand how bold belief constantly searches to get at the heart of what is true.
Prior to Judah’s final fall as a nation in 586 B.C., the people were divided into two camps. Politicians, priests, and prophets, who told the people what they wanted to hear in order to secure their power and enhance their wealth, composed the first camp. Of course, this represented the very vocal and mean-spirited majority. Jeremiah, and other lone prophets, formed the second camp. These brave men were maligned, mocked, and physically attacked because they dared to tell the people the truth about their degenerated, devious, and highly decadent society.
Foremost on the minds of godly men like Jeremiah was calling fellow citizens to wake up and walk away from the lying voices situated in high positions in their culture. With divine judgment on the near horizon because they had abandoned God’s Law and truth, these devious communicators argued they could not possibly be attacked because God’s Holy temple resided in Jerusalem. You get a sense of this twisted line or reasoning in Jeremiah’s initial warning:
3 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, "Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. 4 "Do not trust in deceptive words, saying, 'This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.' 5 For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly practice justice between a man and his neighbor, 6 if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, nor walk after other gods to your own ruin, 7then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever. 8 Behold, you are trusting in deceptive words to no avail (Jer. 7).
False teachers and prophets promised peace and prosperity because of the temple’s presence despite the sinful compromises plaguing the nation, while Jeremiah gave them a hard dose of reality. Repentance, not revelry, not vacuous, vain ritual was in order or God would bring catastrophic judgment upon them.
Historically, we know the leaders and their feckless followers shunned truth and paid dearly for it when the ruthless Babylonian army entered their land. Jeremiah had, conversely, fulfilled his divine calling by speaking truth and resisting the plethora of lies that permeated everything from politics to religion. Had the people only listened to him and embraced truth and not error spiritual and nation health and wholeness would have been theirs.
Some 676 years later, around 90 A.D., John used Jeremiah’s divinely appointed method to build up the seven churches he pastored which had been decimated by “spiritual” people pushing false theology about Jesus, sin, and salvation. Like Jeremiah, John courageously spoke spiritual truth to error to accomplish this worthy goal. We can, and should, do no less for truth is what keeps saints and churches healthy and powerful as they engage the devious and destructive lies of a Christless culture that tend to seep into their lives and fellowships.
John develops this timeless truth and method within 1 John 2:28 through 4:19 where he basically answers the following question:
What Does Bold Belief Look Like In Trying Times? (1 John 2:28-4:19)
To help move his seven churches toward spiritual health after they encountered internal disease brought on by false teachers disguised as ardent saints, John methodically shares concepts to strengthen the beleaguered believers.
- Bold Belief Strives For Consistent Obedience (1 John 2:28)
- Bold Belief Lives In Light Of Who Jesus’s Character (1 John 2:29)
- Bold Belief Lives In Light of Who You Are (1 John 3:1)
- Bold Belief Lives In Light Of Who You Will Be (1 John 3:2-3
- Bold Belief Understands Sin’s Nature (1 John 3:4)
- Bold Belief Understands Sin’s Solution (1 John 3:5)
- Bold Belief Understands The Power Of Intimacy (1 John 3:6, 9)
- Bold Belief Steers Clear Of Falsity (1 John 3:7-8)
- Bold Belief Lives For Brotherly Love (1 John 3:10-15)
- Bold Belief Is Naturally Sacrificial (1 John 3:16-20)
- Bold Belief Is Powerful In Prayer (1 John 3:21-24)
With chapter four, verse one, John turns to give us a most important command regarding how to live when trying times consist of the rise of theological untruths masquerading as truth.
Bold Belief Constantly Searches For Truth Not Error (1 John 4:1-6)
Our relativistic culture challenges us to accept all forms of truth, even if they are logically and factually contrary to each other. No longer is there Truth in an absolute sense, but truths in a relative, highly personal and, at times, emotional sense. This position is, in and of itself, a lie for it is, as I’ve said many times before, self-defeating for it assumes what it denies: absolute truth. Daily we watch what destruction this philosophical wicked world-view brings to our culture. It negatively breeds chaos in every area of life from science and mathematics to politics and sexuality. On the one hand, we are told to accept any and all positions (despite their logical and factual incongruities) and always exhibit the virtue of tolerance, while on the other hand, those viewpoints which defy factual evidence build power bases in order to silence those, like Jeremiah, who tenaciously believe absolute truth exists and it matters greatly, especially when it concerns the theological doctrine of Christology. After all, Jesus did claim to be “the way, the truth, and the life” which leads to an eternal faith relationship with the Holy Father (John 14:6). If He is all three of these concepts, this truth challenges and changes everything, doesn’t it?
John’s quest to bring spiritual triage to these churches which smarted from the insidious presence of false theology dressed up as true theology can be divided in these six verses into three movements.
Christians Have Rules (1 John 4:1). The rule takes the form of two divine commands; one negative and the other positive, regarding how to move through life on a daily basis:
1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God;
The present tense command (Αγαπητοί, μὴ παντὶ πνεύματι πιστεύετε) wedded to the negative particle in the opening clause serves to forbid an action in progress. Pragmatically, this means Christians were being duped by false teachers in their various churches. Is this possible? Yes. Just read the book of Galatians to see how clever and articulate Judaizers coerced some saints to believe saving faith consisted of faith in Jesus plus a perpetual adherence to the observance of Mosaic Law (Gal. 5:1-6). As we have seen before, John’s letters to these seven churches later in the book of Revelation (chapters 2-3), reveal how some of them, unfortunately, embraced false teachers and their evil and erroneous teaching(s).
On the contrary, as John asserts for Christians of all time, our “faith must be discriminating, discerning, distinguishing faith.” Is this your way of living for Christ or has culture made you fearful to judge between truth and error? According to John, we should not readily believe every spirit. What does this mean? The word spirit, pneuma(πνεῦμα), can denote the eternal spirit which resides in man. In this sense, John warns saints against listening to and embracing every person who attends church and claims to supposedly speak for God. The word is also flexible insofar as it can also denote spiritual beings like angels or demons (Acts 23:8; Heb. 1:7). Taken in this lexical vein John states that behind false teachers are demons who negatively influence certain people to lead other people astray, especially Christians, for a variety of sinister, selfish, and sordid reasons, I’m sure. Behind those who teach biblical truth, no doubt, is the Holy Spirit of truth who educates and empowers them (John 14:26; 16:13). Wise believers, therefore, are to understand and employ this truth constantly.
Are you perpetually cognizant of this spiritual reality? In his book Angels: Elect and Evil, C. Fred Dickson systematically classifies the activity of demonic spirits:
- Since the Devil is not omnipresent, demons never cease promoting his lies in every area of life (1 Pet. 5:8; Mat. 12:26, 45; Luke 8:30). Whether it is to individuals or governments, they push the Devil’s false teachings and sinful agenda.
- Demons along with the Devil promote rebellion against God, truth, and morality whenever and wherever they can (2 Thess. 2:3-4; Rev. 9:20-21).
- Demons along with the Devil live to slander God and His saints (Job 1:9; Rev. 12:10), and they don’t mind motivating their earthly “troops” to follow lockstep behind them.
- Demons along with the Devil promote idolatry (Lev. 17:7; Deut. 32:17; Isa. 65:11).
- Demons along with the Devil reject God’s grace as found in Christ and dupe their followers to oppose it as well (1 Tim. 4:1-8; 2 Peter. 2:1-2).
- Demons along with the Devil promise false religions to confuse and mislead people (Matt. 13:24-30).
- Demons along with the Devil distract people, believers and unbelievers, from spiritual truth (2 Cor. 4:3-4; 1 Tim. 4:1-4).
They do much more, but this list gives you a good working idea of how they operate. Their reality and presence are why you should always have your spiritual radar up, especially when you are with other Christians for these spirits love to send their lackeys into churches in order to create mayhem and chaos.
Moving from the negative to the positive command, John states:
1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God;
The present tense command can be grammatically classified as an iterative, meaning we are to continually be about testing what we hear from others.
The Greek word for test, dokimazo (δοκιμάζω), speaks of proving something to be true by carefully testing it. Years ago, I joined my father, Al, at the Reno airport to seize bags full of counterfeit Dooney & Bourke purses Custom agents had taken from a hair salon in Reno. Looking at the beautiful purses, they looked fine to my untrained eye. When I asked an agent, “Say, how do you know these are fakes?” He answered my question by walking me into a room where all the earmarks of counterfeit bags like this were affixed to wooden planks for agents to consider. Within a few seconds, I could readily see how the Dooney & Bourke emblem was glued on the purses instead of being sewn on and so forth. How educational. The counterfeits couldn’t stand the scrutiny of being compared to genuine Dooney and Bourke purses, nor could they pass muster when fake components were identified. This is an apt description of the meaning of the Greek word “test.” We will get into the test in a moment, but for now simply understand the continual need to analyze what people are teaching, especially if it is spiritual and religious in nature.
The reason we should be all about testing what we hear is given by John in precise terms:
because many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 4:1b).
What is a false prophet? It is a person who claims to speak for God, but who doesn’t hold to sound, biblical theology. According to John, many of them “have gone out into the world.” The verb here is a perfect tense ( ἐξέρχομαι ) denoting a past act with an abiding, uninterrupted result. Grammatically and theologically, this means these types of people will be with us until the Lord deals with them at His glorious return at the end of the Tribulation (Matt. 13:24-30, the Parable of the Weeds).
Here’s some practical counsel in light of these two commands. One, don’t readily believe everything you hear, but test it against the truth of God’s Word. Two, don’t be gullible, believing everyone at church loves Jesus and truth. Such is not the case. Three, don’t just think the size of a given crowd means the teacher/preacher in question must be teaching truth. Such is not always the case. Don’t let degrees after a person’s name cause you to think they are the purveyors of truth. The Devil does send his minions to motivate some devious people to attend seminary so they can, in turn, push false teaching. Don’t permit a speaker’s looks or excellent vocabulary and articulation to dupe you into thinking he/she must be a fountainhead of biblical truth. Do wise up because there are many false prophets and teachers in our world, and sometimes they infiltrate the local church to lead saints away from God’s Word and sound, biblical teaching.
So, what about it? Have you been too naïve in your Christian walk? Have you permitted the culture to disarm you with its relativism from searching constantly for truth, as opposed to error? Is someone speaking into your life right now needs some testing? You know who they are. They are the person you like and you enjoy listening to, but, if you are honest, there is just something in your mind and heart that stands as a check, something which just seems off. Testing is in order, my friend. It is a rule, or a command from the Holy Spirit, not a suggestion.
In addition to these important life rules, John wisely tells us how to test between truth and error in verses 2 through 3. I label this section with this appropriate header:
Christians Have A Regimen (1 John 4:2-3). What is our regimen? It is to constantly test teachers in relation to what they say about Jesus Christ. There are many more doctrinal litmus tests, but this one is at the forefront, because if they are off regarding Jesus, they are going to be off in many other areas of biblical doctrine. So, how do you tell theological truth from error? Here is the test:
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; and this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.
I like what Swindoll says about these verses:
Genuine teachers must hold to the right Jesus, not a different Jesus. They must accept Him as the incarnate God-man, sent by God the Father in the power of God the Holy Spirit. They must believe in His virgin birth, His sinless life, His atoning death, and His glorious resurrection from the dead. This means accepting Him as the only Savior and Lord, and it means hoping for His future coming as King.
The Gnostics of John’s day believed in the man Jesus if you asked them. So far so good. However, if you pushed them further, you discovered they did not believe He was the God-man as prophesied (Isa. 7:14; 9:6-7; Mic. 5:1-2). On the contrary, they erroneously believed the diluted but “divine” Christ spirit being descended on Jesus at His baptism, but conveniently departed back to heaven before His crucifixion and death.
This Christology is not what the Apostles taught. John’s opening words to this letter present us with sound thinking about the person of Jesus:
1 What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life-- 2 and the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us-- 3 what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1).
Clearly, the Apostles, like John, taught that Jesus Christ was the eternal God who became a man. John said this much in his opening words of his gospel:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being (John 1).
Contrary to the false teaching of Jehovah’s Witness who wrongly mistranslate this verse to read that Jesus, the Word, was merely “a god,” He was, in fact, God in the flesh (John 8:58). Later Paul told the Colossians this truth:
9 For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form, (Col. 2).
Jesus was and is fully God and fully man. He had to be in order to bear our sin on the cross so we, at the moment of faith, have the option to be redeemed (Gal. 4:4-5; Heb. 2;17; 1 Tim. 2:5; 1 John 2:1-2).
The unknown author of Hebrews drives this truth home as well with this jaw-dropping statement:
3 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Heb. 1).
The phrase “exact representation” is one word in Greek, charakter ( χαρακτὴρ). Concerning this pivotal and instructive word, Arndt’s Greek and English Lexicon states:
χαρακτήρ, ῆρος, ὁ (fr. χαράσσω ‘engrave’ via χάραγμα; Aeschyl., Hdt.+; ins, pap, LXX; TestSol 11:6; TestSim 5:4 [‘copy’, of the Book of Enoch]; ApcSed 7:4; EpArist; Philo; Jos., Ant. 13, 322; Just.; Tat. 17, 2 [in the two last, of letters of the alphabet]; loanw. in rabb.).
① a mark or impression placed on an object
ⓐ of coinage impress, reproduction, representation (Eur., El. 559; Aristot., Pol. 1, 6, Oec. 2; Diod S 17, 66, 2; OGI 339, 45; in imagery Polyb. 18, 34, 7; Philo, Plant. 18) in imagery IMg 5:2ab.
ⓑ of a distinguishing mark trademark τὸ κεφαλοδέσμιον … χαρακτῆρα ἔχει βασιλικόν the headpiece bears a royal trademark (i.e. the logo of a manufacturer for the imperial establishment; s. deStrycker ad loc. and AJohnson, Roman Egypt to the Reign of Diocletian ’36, 332–33; 626–27) GJs 2:2. S. 3 below.
② someth. produced as a representation, reproduction, representation, fig., of God ἄνθρωπον ἔπλασεν τῆς ἑαυτοῦ εἰκόνος χαρακτῆρα (God) formed a human being as reproduction of his own identity/reality (s. εἰκών 2) 1 Cl 33:4 (cp. OGI 383, 60 of a picture χ. μορφῆς ἐμῆς; 404, 25; Philo, Det. Pot. Ins. 83 calls the soul τύπον τινὰ καὶ χαρακτῆρα θείας δυνάμεως). Christ is χαρ. τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ an exact representation of (God’s) real being Hb 1:3 (ὑπόστασις 1a).
③ characteristic trait or manner, distinctive mark (Hdt. et al.; Diod S 1, 91, 7; Dionys. Hal., Ad Pomp. 3, 16; 2 Macc 4:10) ἐν ἀποστολικῷ χαρακτῆρι in apostolic fashion of an epistolary greeting ITr ins; cp. 1b above.
④ an impression that is made, outward aspect, outward appearance, form (ApcSed 7:4 ὁ δὲ ἥλιος καὶ Ἀδάμ, μίαν χαρακτῆρα ἦσαν perh. read without the comma: ‘Now, the sun and Adam were alike in appearance’, in contrast to Eve who was more brightly beautiful than the moon) εὐειδέσταται τῷ χαρακτῆρι exceptionally beautiful in appearance Hs 9, 9, 5.—JGeffcken, Character: ET 21, 1910, 426f; AKörte, Her 64, 1929, 69–86 (semantic history).—DELG s.v. χαράσσω II 4. M-M. TW. Sv.
Why the detailed lexical quote? Because this word is so important to the identification of Jesus Christ. Concerning this usual word, which only occurs once in the NT (hapaxlegomena), Homer Kent correctly concludes: “As the imprint of the die perfectly represents the original design, so in Christ there is the display for those who have eyes to see of God’s very essence.”
Jesus Christ was/is the perfect God-man. To confess this truth is to be of the truth which saves the sinner. To deny it in any form is to be lost in error. Where do you stand in relation to this test? Are you listening to teachers who deny this fundamental biblical truth? If you listen to Mormon teaching you will learn that Jesus was literally born as the first spirit-child of the Heavenly Father, who had sexual relations with one of his unnamed wives. He later became a man after the Father had sexual relations with Mary, and he eventually rose to the status of God. If you listen to Islamic teaching, you learn that Jesus was supposedly not the Son of God nor part of the Trinity (Sura 5:17, 116; 19:35). These observations point out where two world religions go awry concerning the person of Jesus Christ.
But what about infiltration inside the Church, which is what John addresses? According to The State of Theology Survey, given by Ligonier Ministries in 2021, there are stats worth knowing:
- 30% of evangelicals believe Christ was just a great teacher, not God.
- 42% of evangelicals believe God accepts the worship of all religions including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
This, of course, is not what the Scriptures teach. The exact identify of Jesus is very important to sound doctrine, and how sinners can approach a holy God is narrow as opposed to broad, specific as opposed to flexible. As Dr. Luke concludes in Acts 4:
10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead-- by this name this man stands here before you in good health. 11 "He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the very corner stone.
12 "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved" (Acts 4).
So, it does matter what a person teaches and thinks about Jesus’s person for eternity hangs in the balance. Where do you stand in relation to how you think about Jesus? Is He the God-man as disclosed in the Scriptures, or has someone tainted your thinking so you have not embraced this timeless truth? To deny His God-man status is so pivotal to sound, truthful teaching is to be, according to John, of the spirit of the Anti-christ, who most certainly opposes the God-man, Jesus, the Christ. This is serious business. Hence, I ask you again, “Is the God-man Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior or not?” This is the truth, and anything less than this is error in the first order.
John’s closing counsel about being diligent to discern the difference between truth and error, especially concerning the person of Jesus Christ, is showcased in this third statement:
Christians Have A Reassurance (1 John 4:4-6). First, let’s read John’s words and then come back and analyze them:
4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error (1 John 4).
In case you are fearful of being completely duped by a false teacher, John reassures you here that the Spirit who resides in you (1 Cor. 12:13; 1 John 2:20) is greater than the Devil, his demonic minions, and all of their false mouthpieces. He will be there to protect, deliver and guide you as you lean on Him in tough times, so avail yourself of His presence. Stay in the Word. Study Jesus well. Read systematic theologies and pay attention to what they say about Jesus. Yet, at the end of the day, rest in the fact that the Lord and His Spirit are with you as you walk through a world of false teachers and teachings.
John also encourages you insofar as he states how easy it really is to tell the difference between true and false teachers. The world will flock en masse to false teachers. Why?
- They are not judgmental.
- They don’t take a hard line on truth.
- They are squishy and shifty regarding what constitutes truth.
- They don’t offend people.
- They make you feel good.
- They are always so positive and uplifting.
- They entertain you and make you laugh, but there is no spiritual substance.
- They tell you what you want to hear so you are not bothered and can go on living as you see fit.
- They, well, I’m sure you can add a few more points because you’ve probably seen them in action.
No wonder people gather around them.
True teachers, on the other hand, support what the Apostles who walked and lived with Christ said and wrote about Him by way of divine inspiration. Do you listen to what the Apostles of old write and teach about Jesus? Do you accept their witness? If so, you are on the side of spiritual truth which not only saves but leads to maturity. If not, if you are listening to the wrong person or nodding your head in agreement with a progressive theological book that calls the teaching of the Apostles into question, then it’s high time to walk away from error toward truth. While some are making that commitment to walk away from error right now, why not commit yourself to be on guard each day for truth as opposed to error?
 H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Toronto: The Macmillan Company, 1955), 302.
 Charles Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary: 1, 2, & 3 John, Jude (Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2018), 100.
 Gingrich, New Testament Lexicon: πνεῦμα, ατος, τό—1. blowing, breathing—a. wind J 3:8a; Hb 1:7.—b. the breathing out of air, breath 2 Th 2:8.—2. breath, (life-)spirit, soul, that which gives life to the body Mt 27:50; Lk 8:55; 23:46; J 19:30; Ac 7:59; Js 2:26; Hb 12:23; 1 Pt 3:19; Rv 11:11.—3. spirit as part of the human personality—a. the immaterial part 1 Cor 5:3–5; 7:34; 2 Cor 7:1; Col 2:5; 1 Th 5:23; Hb 4:12.—b. the representative part of the inner life Mt 5:3; 26:41; Mk 2:8; 8:12; Lk 1:47; J 4:23; 11:33; 13:21; Ro 1:9; 2 Cor 2:13. One's very self Ro 8:16; Phil 4:23.—c. spiritual state, state of mind, disposition 1 Cor 4:21; Gal 6:1; Eph 4:23; 1 Pt 3:4.—4. a spirit as an independent being that cannot be perceived by the physical senses—a. as a description of God J 4:24a.—b. lesser good spirits or spirit-beings Ac 23:8f; Hb 1:14; 12:9; Rv 1:4; 5:6.—Ghost Lk 24:37, 39.—c. evil spirits Mk 1:23, 26f; Lk 11:24, 26; Ac 5:16; 16:18; 19:15f; Rv 18:2.—5. the Spirit as that which differentiates God from everything that is not God—a. the Spirit of God or Christ Mt 3:16; Lk 4:18; Ac 5:9; 16:7; Ro 8:9f; 1 Cor 2:11b, 12b, 14; Gal 4:6; Eph 3:16; 1 Pt 1:11.—b. (the Holy) Spirit Mt 3:11; 12:32; Mk 1:8, 10, 12; 3:29; Lk 2:26; 10:21; 12:10; J 1:32f; 3:34; 14:17; 16:13; Ac 1:8, 16; 8:15, 17, 19; 19:2; Ro 5:5; 1 Cor 3:16; 6:19; Eph 4:30; Col 1:8; 1 Th 1:6; Hb 10:15; 2 Pt 1:21.—Clearly with independent identity Mt 28:19; cf. 2 Cor 13:13.—c. of a spirit that is not from God 1 Cor 12:10; 2 Cor 11:4; 2 Th 2:2; 1 J 4:1–3. [pneumatology] [pg 162]
 C. Fred Dickason, Angels: Elect and Evil (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 169-181.
 Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary: 1, 2, & 3 John, Jude, 103.
 William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1077–1078.
 Ron Rhodes, Reasoning From The Scriptures With The Mormons (Eugene: Harvest House, 1995), 267-272.