What would it be like if all we ever got were compliments? You’re such a great dad! Wow, your contributions at work are outstanding! You sure can cook a mean mac and cheese! What would it be like if everyone simply loved each other and looked after one another’s best interest? This would be a world of little danger and of perfect contentment- Shiny happy people holding hands. That is not the world we live in. It is a broken and unrealistic imagination on this side of heaven. On the heels of missile tests by N. Korea, a terrorist attack in London, and local murders, kidnappings, and the inevitable break down of bodies that once served us well, what we see is a world with serious and grave issues.

I see this same concept in scripture, even as our church continues its study in 1 John. Often John focuses on the love of God in Christ; the love of the Father for His children. John encourages his readers in the love of God, both in believing God’s passionate affection for them, and in reaching each other with that same passionate love that flows through believers as they trust in Him. But John also gives several distinct warnings in his letter. In chapter 4 John John draws a line in the sand between the Spirit of God and the spirit of the world; in a more focused way between the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

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. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 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. 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. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 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. [1]

Let me say this at the outset, I don’t think John is suggesting that we label each and every voice out there as either being from the world or from God- at least not in a public and outward way. John is first warning his fellow faithful followers of Christ not to believe everything they hear. Even those who are seeking the truth and walking after the Way may find themselves in a position of being influenced in ways that are contrary to the message of the One who has “come in the flesh”. Personally I am a bit weary of some of the voices I hear out there in the world- whether in the social world, political, or even sometimes in the church. It can be frightening. We can get so engrossed in the narrative that we’re fed by the talking heads, or the compelling authors, that we lose sight of our foundation. Some of us go to bed after watching hours of news cycle that repeat an impending war against Christians or the destruction of our nation. Some of us are right on the precipice of losing our faith altogether asking questions- but looking for answers in the wisdom of the world rather than in prayer and in the grace of God’s Word. The line between the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error has become wide and grey for most of us. We’ve lost our ability to discern. We’ve acquiesced to simply gathering the worldly narrative about us and carrying that story on the back of our watered down gospel. John warns otherwise. “Test the spirits to see if they are from God”.

The music we hear, the news we read, the shows we watch, the activities in which we engage, they all have something to tell us about the truth of life, but they often tell very different stories. How many different worldviews are there out there? John says there are only two, and he gives us a means of testing the voices and parsing truth from error. Does the worldview being offered, or the voice speaking it, reflect the Savior Jesus Christ? Here is another sticking point. When I say “reflection of Jesus Christ”, I don’t mean the baggage that comes alongside the political, social, and church-eese etiquette of our modern American experience. I simply mean the grace and peace of Jesus in his living, dying, and resurrection. The reality is that we are all walking contradictions and full of double standards in our convictions, thoughts, actions, and passions. This is what it means to live as sinful people in a sinful world. There was only one who lived with no contradiction. And when I read his words in the gospels I am cut to the core of my own failings.

Jesus becomes for me the voice, the way, the test of whether what I’m hearing, seeing, or reading is from God or from the world. Jesus is the parsing line of politics and morality, of social gatherings or true fellowship, of information or edification. We hold it up to the light when we compare what we’re hearing alongside the Savior. I can say this with confidence about myself and I’m pretty sure I speak for vast swaths of our American church culture; most of what we’re consuming is not from God. But rather than switching off the radio, tv, or slamming the laptop or the book in fear, anger, frustration, and exasperation, we need to simply realize that we stand among a multitude with a unique charge of being a counter voice. The testing of the spirits then becomes one in which we administer on our own thoughts and opinions. This is not just about what we’re consuming; it is about what we’re producing with our posture and position. Are we walking, talking, and typing in the Spirit of truth? Let us be faithful in proclaiming the reality of the Creator who came in the flesh to teach, and show us the truth, as a reflection of His love and grace. We may not receive many compliments with this approach, but alas, who lives there anyway?

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Jn 4:1–6). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.