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Recognizing False Teachers - Part 5

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6


1 John, chapter 4. You know, as I thought about this passage that we're studying, really giving us what Jonathan Edwards called the distinguishing marks of a work of the Spirit of God. I My mind went to something that's been in the news the last few weeks. Perhaps you have heard about or read about the Asbury Revival, as it's been called, at Asbury University in Kentucky. I've had several of you ask me, and the right question is to say, “Is this a genuine work of the Spirit of God?” Let me just say that only time will tell that for sure. I think it's, at the same time, right for us to acknowledge that it's likely that some of the students involved have heard the biblical gospel, have been saved, and I rejoice in that.

But as we're learning in 1 John, Scripture calls us not to believe every spirit, but to test the spirits–not to be naïve, but to be discerning, not skeptical, not cynical, but discerning. And there are serious reasons for concern with what's been called the Asbury Revival. For example, here's just a few things to keep in mind. In the original chapel message that began this revival, there was no clear gospel, there was no mention of sin, there was no mention of the cross, and there was no mention of repentance; just a call, a simple call to love others. Nothing wrong with that message, but it was certainly not a full and complete one that you would expect a revival to be initiated by.

A second concern is that some students who are leading the worship, and this is posted by students, by fellow students, some of the students leading the worship are members of the LGBTQ community, and don't appear to have repented of that sin, but rather continued to embrace that as acceptable before God and yet to lead this revival in worship.

Thirdly, this revival is accompanied by supposed miraculous gifts such as prophesying, speaking in tongues, casting out demons, faith-healing, and so forth by some, in contradiction to the clear teaching of Scripture as we have studied it previously.

But I think in some ways, the gravest concern to me is that the many days these meetings were being held, they were not primarily marked by the teaching of God's Word, but by singing, singing emotional songs that are born out of a group in California with bad theology, Bethel, and that in and of itself is not completely indicting, but certainly a concern. But certainly, the Word of God not being a major factor is a concern.

As we're learning in 1 John 4, there are tests to identify a true work of the Spirit of God. And these tests can be applied to situations like Asbury. Let me just say this, if what's going on there is a genuine work of the Spirit, then, at some point there's going to be a clear biblical gospel, there's going to be repentance of sin, there's going to be a desire for personal holiness, and there's going to be a group of people who are centered in the Scripture. Today, we'll learn that wherever the Holy Spirit is truly at work, He will always draw people to and exalt His own Word.

We continue our study of the third and final test of eternal life here in the second movement of this letter in 1 John. And this third test is the doctrinal test; it's the test of “Faith in the Biblical Jesus and the Biblical Gospel.” Let's read again these verses, 1 John 4, verses 1 to 6; you follow along in your copy of God's Word. This is the Apostle John, but ultimately, this is the Holy Spirit of God, who has given us these words:

Beloved, 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. 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, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. 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. They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. 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.

In this passage, John the Apostle, and ultimately our Lord Himself, is demanding that each of us diligently apply several biblical tests to every spiritual idea, every spiritual message, in order to distinguish genuine teachers who teach God's saving truth from false teachers who teach damning error.

Now, as I've noted for you, and as we've seen it unfold, in these verses, we've discovered two crucial details about false teachers. First of all, in verse 1, “The Continual Danger of False Teachers.” John writes, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit.” Don't be spiritually naïve; don't believe everybody who says they love Jesus, and they love the Bible, and they love God, actually does. “But test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Test the spirit that's behind a teacher; we noted that behind every human teacher who claims to speak for God, there's either the Holy Spirit in the case of the genuine, or the spirit of demons in the case of those who are false teachers, ultimately tracing back to Satan himself. So, beware, there's this constant danger. It was true even in the first century when John served in Asia Minor, and it's still very, very true today.

The second crucial detail that we've learned here is in verses 2 through 6, and that has to do with “The Chief Tests for False Teachers.” He says, “…test the spirits” in verse 1. How? Verses 2 to 6 provide the answer to that question. Now, John lays out here several specific doctrinal tests that equip us to recognize false teachers. So far, we've learned that to test the human teacher and the spirit behind that teacher, you have to investigate, “Do They Have a Different God?” It doesn't matter that they talk like they have the same God on the surface and want you to believe they have the same God; you need to be careful and investigate. Do they, in fact, worship the same God that we do? And as I pointed out when we were there, many of the cults do not have the same God. Their god is not the God of the Bible.

Secondly, “Do They Have a Different Jesus?” Have they placed their faith in a Jesus that's different from the Jesus of Scripture? You know, there are a lot of people in our world who say they love Jesus; don't buy that! Ask yourself, “Is it the same Jesus that's on the pages of Scripture?” In the case of the Mormon Jesus, it's not the same Jesus. In the case of the Jehovah's Witness’ Jesus, it's not the same Jesus, and down the list. I gave you a list of heresies concerning Jesus Christ, beware!

And then last week, we considered, “Do They Have a Different Gospel?” How do they teach is a man or woman made right with God? If it's anything other than Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, then it's a false gospel. Be careful! They'll talk about faith, they'll talk about Jesus, they'll talk about the cross, but if their hope, their confidence, is anywhere but Jesus alone, salvation that comes to them through the grace of God alone, and received by faith alone, then it's a false gospel.

Now today, we come to the fourth and final test, and that is, “Do They Have a Different Authority,” a different authority? That's the message of verses 4 through 6. Do they have a source of authority that directs their beliefs and practice either instead of the Bible, or in addition to the Bible? And if they say, “No, we don't have some other book, we claim to the Bible alone.” If they claim the Bible alone as their authority, do they believe and teach only the meaning of the Scripture that is based on the original intention of the author, based on what the author intended, interpreted in its context, using a normal reading, a normal grammatical historical method of interpretation in keeping with the historic interpretation of the evangelical church, through 2000 years of church history? In other words, understand that there are a lot of false teachers who use the Bible and say they use only the Bible.

But what do they do with the Bible? They twist its meaning. Listen, the meaning of the Scripture is the Scripture. You can use the words of the Scripture and not be teaching the Scripture. The meaning of the Scripture is what the original author intended to communicate, and if they're using the words of Scripture to communicate their own ideas, then beware, you may very well be dealing either with an unfaithful minister, or possibly a false teacher.

We could put it this way, “Do they replace the Scripture? Do they add to the Scripture? Do they subtract from the Scripture? Or do they pervert the meaning of Scripture by wrenching it from its context or against the overall teaching of the Scripture?” Be careful! Not everybody who uses the Bible is a true teacher. In fact, most false teachers will at least claim to use the Bible. Be on your guard!

So, let's start then by working our way through verses 4 through 6. and considering “The Biblical Test,” the biblical test. Lord willing, next week, we'll look at what the Scripture teaches about itself, and we'll look at the heresies about the Scripture. We're not going to get there today; we're just going to look at the biblical test itself, these verses that unfold here in verses 4 through 6. Now, the structure of these three verses is relatively easy to follow; you can see it in English; it's even more obvious in Greek, the way Greek works. Greek is an inflected language, so if you want, the pronoun is included in the ending on the end of the verb; you don't have to use a separate pronoun. But if in Greek you want to emphasize something, you do include the pronoun separately; and if you put it first, then you're really making a point, you're making and stressing, “This is important.” And that's exactly what John does here.

So let me show you what this looks like. Look at verse 4, our English text and the Greek text begins with the word ‘You.’ ‘You’ is plural and it's emphatic because it's a separate pronoun and it comes first. And it's referring to true believers; he's contrasting true believers with the world back in verse 3. Then in verse 5, you'll notice it begins with the pronoun ‘they,’ again, in Greek it's plural, it's emphatic, it’s first, and it's referring to false teachers. And then verse 6 begins with ‘We,’ it's also plural and emphatic, and it's referring to John and the Apostles, and as we'll see, by extension, all of the authors of Scripture.

So, ‘you,’ verse 4, true believers; ‘they,’ verse 5, false teachers; and ‘We,’ verse 6, John, the Apostles and all the authors of Scripture. So, these three verses then provide us three key insights into how true and false believers and faithful and false teachers respond to and are affected by the authority of the Scripture. Your nature, as a believer, or if you claim to be a believer, your nature, as a true or false believer, can be distinguished by your response to Scripture. The same thing is true with a teacher. So, let's look at it together.

The first insight that we discover in these three verses is this, “The True Believer’s Victory over False Teachers,” the true believer’s victory over false teachers, in verse 4. You see, true believers are protected from the damning error of false teachers by God's Word and by God's Spirit.

First of all, “We're Protected by God's Word.” How do I know that? Well, that's the theme of this section., these three verses. It's explicitly stated in verse 6, “…he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us.” This is about the Scripture, and the Scripture is what the Spirit uses to protect us. In fact, he's already said this. Go back to chapter 2; you remember, beginning in verse 12, he describes the various stages of spiritual maturity. There are spiritual infants, there are, spiritual young people or young men, and there are spiritual fathers. Notice what he says at the end of verse 14, he says, “…I have written to you, young men.” So here are those who are maturing in their faith, men as well as women. The point is, if you're growing and developing, you are strong. How does that happen? How do you become spiritually strong? Here it is, “…the word of God abides (is remaining) in you.” And through that remaining word, you understand it, you are living by it, you have overcome the evil one. We are protected by the Word of God. It is what the Spirit uses to preserve and protect us. We are victorious through the Word.

But it's not just the Word that protects us; “We Are Protected by the Holy Spirit.” Go back to our text again. The Holy Spirit and He initiated our protection from false teachers in the new birth itself. Notice how verse 4 begins, “You are from God, little children.” ‘Little children’ of course means that all of us who are true believers are God's true children. And we are, he says, “from God.” Literally, the Greek text says, “out of God.” We, you believers, are out of God. That's the equivalent of a sort of shortcut version, a shorthand version of having been born out of God. The phrase he used back in chapter 2, verse 29, go back there and look. He says, the second half of the verse, “…everyone also who practices righteousness (literally) is (having been) born of Him.” The reason believers are concerned about righteous living and holiness is because we were first “born out of God.” He's the source of our life. So, the Holy Spirit, then at regeneration, secured our adoption, and we came under the Spirit's protection by virtue of the new birth.

He continues our protection through His indwelling presence. Look at verse 4, “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them.” Now, the pronoun ‘them’ is not the same gender as ‘spirits’ throughout this text, but as the same gender as the false prophets back in verse 1. In addition, it's clear in verse 5, he's talking about false teachers. He's not now talking about the spirits behind false teachers, but the human false teachers themselves. So ‘them’ refers to the many false teachers who have gone out into the world. He says, “You…have overcome.” This is a familiar Greek word; it's the Greek word ‘nikao’ from which the brand Nike gets its name. The word means ‘to overcome someone, to prevail against, to conquer, to be victorious over.’ So, look at verse 4, John says, “You (meaning all true believers) …have overcome,” you have conquered, you have prevailed against, you have been victorious over false teachers. What he means by that is we have overcome, or we have been victorious over false teachers by doing exactly what this text talks about. We have tested them, and we have decisively rejected them and their false teaching.

Now, don't misunderstand. He's not saying that a believer can't be influenced by false teaching. Clearly, that's true. But what he is saying, and he's already said this back in chapter 2, is that no true believer will be so influenced by false teaching as to believe damning lies. He's not going to believe something different about Jesus, something different about God, something different about the gospel. So how does that happen? How do we overcome false teachers?

Well, he goes on in verse 4, “You…have overcome them, (false teachers) because (for this reason) greater is He who is in you.” You have overcome because of He who is in you.

Now, you'll notice there are two people in this verse, “He who is in you” and “he who is in the world.” In the original, the masculine definite articles make it clear that these are two personal beings. That's why we have the pronoun ‘he’ in both cases.

But whom does John mean by “He who is in you?” Believe it or not, there's a lot of debate about this in the commentaries. Some say it's God, some say it's God and Christ. But in the immediate context and the overall context of Scripture, it's best to take this as referring to the Holy Spirit. Go back to chapter 3, verse 24, second half of the verse, “…We know by this that He (God) abides in us, (How?) by the Spirit whom He has given us.” It’s the Spirit, who is in us. And of course, in chapter 4, verse 2, he talks about the “Spirit of God” and contrasts the Holy Spirit with “the spirit of antichrist.” And Jesus, in John's Gospel in John 14:17 says, “…the Spirit of truth…will be in you.”

This is the theme of Scripture. Romans 5:5, “…the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” 2 Corinthians 1:22. He “…gave us the Spirit in our hearts.” Galatians 4:6, “…God…sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts.” If you're a believer, the Holy Spirit indwells you; He is the One who is in you. Real Christians overcome the damning error of false teachers through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

But how does the spirit protect us from believing damning error? He protects us through something we've already discovered in this book called, ‘The Anointing.’ Go back to 1 John 2, verse 20, and if you missed the message on this passage, go back and listen, I'm just going to touch on it now. But1 John 2:20:

But you (all true believers) have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. (Verse 27,) As for you, the anointing which you received from Him (God) abides (is remaining) in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His Anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide (remain) in Him.

Now don't misunderstand. He's not saying, as believers, we know everything and don't need any teacher. It doesn't mean that we can't be ignorant and need to grow in our knowledge. What he is saying is this, when the Holy Spirit saved you, He saved you through what? Through the basic understanding of the gospel; you knew the basic truths about God, you knew the basic truths about Jesus, you knew the basic truths about the gospel, and if you're a true believer, you're never going to give up on those, you're never going to turn away from those truths because of “The Anointing.” You're going to hang to those truths. You see, at salvation, in regeneration, we received ‘The Anointing.’ ‘The Anointing,’ by the way, is just the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit implanted in us a heart that can understand and love spiritual truth. That happened at salvation; and after salvation, the Holy Spirit continues to illuminate the Scripture so that we understand and are spiritually changed by the Scripture. The teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit, His illumination of the Scriptures, is what we're talking about.

By the way, that's not the imparting of new information. It's not like the anointing means the Holy Spirit's whispering in your ear every day, “Let me tell you something new about God.” No! The Anointing is the capacity the Spirit gives us to understand the Word He's already given to us. He gave us this Book; He gave us this so that we can know, and He opens our understanding of it through illumination, a spiritual understanding of inspired Scripture. That's why in 1 Corinthians 2, He's talking about the natural man doesn't get it. He doesn't have the Holy Spirit; he doesn't have that illumination the Spirit brings to really spiritually grasp it. But he who is spiritual, that is he who has the Spirit, appraises all things, has the capacity to understand the truth. So, the Word is important in discerning error and avoiding error.

But the Holy Spirit has to be there as well. That's why John Calvin said, “Unless the Spirit of Wisdom is present, there is little or no profit in having God's Word in our hands.” Listen, if you're not a Christian, if you haven't been changed, if the Holy Spirit hasn't given you new life, that Book you hold in your hand is a closed Book to you. Even if you understand some of its basic concepts, you don't understand them in a spiritually apprehended life-changing way because you don't have the Holy Spirit. You just don't get it. Maybe you're here as an unbeliever, and you just don't have any interest at all. That's because you don't have the Holy Spirit. The Spirit protects us from damning error by illuminating the Word and enabling us to comprehend it spiritually.

Now, verse 4 continues, “You…have overcome them.” All believers have overcome, have conquered false teachers through this growing understanding of the Word based on the work of the Spirit, and “…because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” Now, let's take that backwards. Let's start with the word ‘world.’ ‘World’ here is not used of all human beings; it's used here as John has used it back in chapter 2:15, for example, “Love not the world.” He's using it of an organized system created and ruled by Satan that dominates fallen humanity and is alienated from and hostile to God. It's the mindset of the age, it's the philosophies, it's all unbelievers together with their thoughts and their attitudes, their purposes and their desires. It's everything opposed to God in the world. In fact, that's how John Calvin put it, “Whatever is opposed to the spiritual kingdom of Christ is the world.” If it's opposed to the spiritual kingdom of Christ, it falls under this category of ‘the world.’

So, notice he says, “…he who is in the world.” That is clearly the devil because in John 12:31, Jesus called Satan, “…the ruler of this world.” He doesn't mean the planet; he means of this system of rebellion, the systematized rebellion against God. Satan rules it. Make no mistake, Satan is great. He's the greatest of all created beings. In fact, read Ezekiel 28, he was once the prime minister of heaven; he was the cherub who covers, he was in the Garden of God. He is far greater than any human being, and he is not to be trifled with, but the Holy Spirit is greater!

And notice, ‘greater than’ here doesn't mean the Spirit is slightly stronger than Satan. You see the battle between the Spirit and Satan is not like a Marvel Movie. In other words, it's not like when two nearly equal powers collide and are locked in this titanic battle to the death. And at any given moment, it looks like one of them may win and the other may lose, and it goes back and forth. That's not how this is; John is no dualist. The Spirit is greater than Satan in the way that the ocean is greater than a solitary drop of water. The Spirit is greater than Satan in the same way that the sun is greater than a flashlight. The Spirit is greater than Satan in the same way that the universe is greater than your backyard. “Greater is He who is in you (The Holy Spirit) than he who is in the world,” Satan. That's why we're protected. That's why we can have victory over false teachers. So, the true believer’s victory over false teachers is that we are protected from the damning error of false teachers by God's Word and God's Spirit. That's the message of verse 4.

Secondly, in verse 5, we see another insight, “The False Teacher’s Deadly Substitute for Scripture,” the false teacher’s deadly substitute for Scripture. You see, false teachers suddenly substitute fallen human desires and values for the truth of Scripture. Let's start as we look at this verse by considering “The Cause.” Why is it they do this? It's because they are themselves unbelievers, dominated by the world, the flesh, and the devil. Notice verse 5, “They are from the world.” ‘They’ is emphatic; it refers to the false teachers they are out of, or they have their origin in the world system in rebellion against God. In verse 3, the spirits behind false teachers are not of God. In verse 5, the teachers are not of God but are of the world. The world defines their essential character, they are in rebellion against God just like the rebellious system. It shows their spiritual condition, they are dead, alienated from God, and it shows where their allegiance lies–it's to the world. Let me put it to you this way. False teachers belong to the godless world system that Satan rules. They are at his disposal; they are directed by his demons. You see, false teachers, because they're unbelievers, are just like all unbelievers, and they're just like you and I were before our conversion.

Look at Ephesians, chapter 2. This not only describes who we were; or if you're an unbeliever here this morning, it describes you, but it describes all false teachers. They are “…dead in their trespasses and sins,” and they are enslaved to the “course of this world.” That is, the spirit of the age in which we live. They are just enslaved to the spirit of the age, and they're enslaved to Satan himself, “…according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.” That's two ways to describe Satan. He is the “prince of the power of the air,” that's his demonic realm that that he runs. And he is the prince of the spirit, that is of the sort of mindset that is “…now working in the sons of disobedience.” In other words, he is the prince of all false religion, all pagan philosophy, every idea that's contrary to God, and unbelievers are enslaved to that, and false teachers are enslaved to that.

And verse 3, they're enslaved to their flesh. “Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh (body) and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” That is a description of every unbeliever, and it is a description of every false teacher. This is why they are who they are. If a teacher claims to speak for God, but worships a different God, believes in a different Jesus, rests in a different gospel, or has a different authority than Scripture, he's an unbeliever. And I don't care how much you dress up a pig, a pig is still a pig. He can put on a robe and look spiritual and try to sell you he is spiritual, and he can look pious, and pray and cross his hands and cross the world. He can do whatever he wants; he's an unbeliever and he's dead, he's enslaved to his sins, he's captivated by Satan, and he's bound by his lust, and he's a child of wrath. So don't believe the facade. “False teachers are unbelievers, dominated by the world, the flesh, and the devil.”

And “The Result” of that, in verse 5, is that “Their message always reflects and appeals to fallen human values.” That's all they've got; they don't have anything spiritual to offer. So, it's always going to be fallen human values. Verse 5 says, “…therefore they speak as from the world.” Therefore, because they belong to the world, they speak from the world. Literally, the Greek text says, “on account of this out of the world they are speaking.” I like the way D. Edmond Hiebert puts it in his commentary.

They draw the substance of their teaching from the philosophy of the godless world, while the issues of eternity are left unmentioned or are perverted through the restatement of them. The things they speak belong to the world. In adjusting and formulating their message to conform to the spirit and interests of the world, they distort and deform the message of God.

Let me put it to you this way, the message of false teachers will consistently not be a message about human depravity and salvation. It will not be a message about holiness and humility. It will not be a message about sanctification and service, trials and troubles, carrying your cross, denying yourself, and following Jesus Christ. Instead, their message will focus on things that all humans want. So, they'll center their message on things like the promise of health and wealth and prosperity. Or, if they're not willing to go quite that far, it'll be the promise of good marriages and good sex and good relationships, a sense of self-worth, of self-importance. And they'll promise what Satan promised Eve in the garden, “You can be little gods, you can be partly divine.” And if they talk about salvation at all, they'll always play to human sinfulness. They'll always play to boastful human pride by making the means of salvation, at least in part, based on human merit and human effort.

This is the nature of falling humanity. No unbeliever wants to say, “I have nothing God wants, and my only hope is to beg Him to redeem me.” No unbeliever wants to say that in and of himself. And so, it's going to be a sales job for something less than that. As Spurgeon said it so beautifully, “Such is the pride of the human heart, that if we can't earn our entire way to heaven, we're happy to have a small part in the last mile” And false religion will always offer you, either you get to buy your entire way to heaven, or you get a small part in the last mile, but it'll never be, “You are a beggar and nothing you are and nothing you can do will ever make you right with God. Your only hope is the work of Jesus Christ, throw yourself on His mercy.”

If they use the Bible, and many of them do, they distort its meaning to come back always to these fallen human desires. Some will exclusively use the Bible and just twist and wrench its meaning. Others will add other revelation, other ‘inspired’ books, or they'll subtract from biblical revelation. And sadly, in our day, and this is to me the most shocking of all, some will have no authority but themselves. They'll just stand up and pontificate about what they have to say and what they've learned, and how they can help you. The Bible is largely ignored, maybe some passing reference, and then they proceed to tell you how you can help yourself.

In fact, on the plane on the way home from Shepherd's Conference, I was talking to a man who told me that a church here in the larger metroplex he attended, and I have visited once, the pastor got up, and he read three verses from the Bible as the beginning of his message. And this man said, “You know, I had some hope; maybe we were going to actually like, study the Bible.” But he finished reading those three verses, and (This was, I thought, metaphoric.) he walked to the dark corner of the stage, some 30-40 feet to the back corner of the stage, after he read those verses, and he plopped his Bible on a stand that was back there, walked back to the center of the stage, and the rest of his message, he never commented on those verses that he read. They speak from “out of the world,” that’s all they’ve got.

Notice “Their Audience” in verse 5, their primary audience will be other unbelievers, driven by the same human or fallen desires. Verse 5 says, “…and the world listens to them.” That explains so much doesn't it? Does it ever trouble you to watch, you know, like on television and see this huge arena, filled with people, some of whom I have to assume are somewhat intelligent, watching this guy that's not believable. I'm thinking, “How does that happen?” Here it is, this is why false teachers have massive followings, “The world listens to them.” The world, again here, refers to fallen humanity and rebellion against God. And the world is listening to them; they're receptive to the message of false teachers; it arouses their interest; it appeals to their desires.

Jackman, in a commentary, writes this, “The world of mankind in rebellion against God is attracted by the false prophets and their cults because, fundamentally, they have the same desires and inclinations.” This explains, by the way, why there are such huge numbers across the world believing the prosperity gospel. The huge numbers don't mean it's right; the huge numbers mean those teachers are appealing to the base, fallen human values that excite unbelievers. Same thing would be true with the huge size of the Roman Catholic Church with its false gospel. It's selling self-merit and the human heart, the fallen human heart responds to that in its pride; “I get a part.”

By the way, verse 5 alludes to another test of false teachers, these six verses are the doctrinal test, but verse 5 alludes to the fact that you can identify false teachers by looking at their followers. You can tell a lot about the true nature of a teacher by examining the lives of those who follow him. Jesus said, in in Luke 6:40, “…everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.” So, look at the students, look at the followers, does their teaching and example produce biblical holiness and godly fruit in the lives of their followers?

So, we've seen in verse 4, “The True Believers Victory over False Teachers.” In verse five, “The False Teachers Deadly Substitute for Scripture.” A third key insight comes in verse 6, “The Scriptures Authority over True Believers.” The authors of Scripture wrote the very words of God, and true believers who have the Holy Spirit, understand that and put themselves under its authority.

Let's take verse 6 apart. A first clear point here about this authority is that “True believers accept the Scripture as given by God.” Verse 6, “We are from God.” Again, in Greek, the pronoun ‘we’ is emphatic; by ‘we’ John means himself and his fellow Apostles, and by extension, the other writers of Scripture. He says, “We are from (or literally, we are out of) God,” in contrast to the false teachers in verse 5. You see, true believers acknowledge that the Scripture comes from God, from those who spoke for God, that it contains the very words of God.

In John 8:47, Jesus said, “He who is of God (who is out of God) hears the words of God.” If you're born of God, you hear God's Word, it attracts you, you want to understand it, you want to know it. Look at John 10. John 10 is primarily about the gospel in its context here, but by implication, it expands to all of Scripture in addition to the Gospel. John 10, verse 4, the Good Shepherd, “When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” It’s not talking about some audible voice of Jesus or some book called Jesus Calling. It's talking about Jesus’ voice in the truth of the gospel in the Scripture. They hear His voice, and they know it's Him; they respond. Look down to verse 8, “All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them.” Verse 16, talking here about Gentile believers, “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.” They'll hear the Gospel from my representatives, and they'll follow Me. Verse 26:

You do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.

That's primarily stressing the gospel, but in John 17, verse 17, Jesus expands that to include all of Scripture, he says, “…Your word (God) is truth.” Look at John 18:37, this is Jesus before Pilate, and He says, “…For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. (Listen to this.) Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” In other words, if you're a true believer, you know that Jesus speaks for God. You know that the Apostles that He sent speak for God in their writings, you know that the Old Testament is God's Word because Jesus and the Apostles affirmed it as being God's Word. You accept the Word of God for what it is?

Secondly, “True believers ‘listen’ to the Scripture.” Verse 6 says, “…he who knows God listens to us.” He who knows, is knowing God, an obvious reference to believers; they have a relationship with God; they are listening; that that's more than merely hearing with your ears. It implies a desire, a receptivity and a desire to know the content of Scripture, to understand its meaning. “He who knows God listens to us,” ‘us’ referring here to John and the Apostles and by extension, to all the authors of Scripture. Do you follow John's logic? He's saying, “Since believers are from God, and the writers of Scripture are from God, and appointed by God to write, believers listen to the writers of Scripture.” This is the syllogism, essentially, in his argument.

John Stott writes:

We can recognize God's people because they listen to God's Word. Those who do not listen to the Apostolic Teaching but prefer to absorb the teaching of the world not only pass judgment on themselves, but thereby also on the message which they give attention.

Listen, if if this Book and what it teaches means nothing to you. If you're bored by the Scripture, both now and through the week, you have no interest in it. It's because you don't know God. If you had the Holy Spirit, your heart would resonate with the truth. You would love the Scripture.

True believers love the Scripture, Psalm 119:97, “O how I love Your law!” And five other times in Psalm 119, the Psalmist says that. We want to know the Scripture. 1 Peter 2:1 and 2, he says, “…like newborn babies, we long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it (we) may grow in respect to salvation.” There's an appetite for the Scripture just like babies have for their mother's milk. We want to understand the Scripture, Psalm 1:2, we meditate in it “day and night.” We want to, as Luther said, “We want to beat on the Scripture until we understand what God said.” We're committed to obey the Scripture, James 1, we're not just hearers but “doers of the word.” Hiebert, again, writes this, “Only one who has been born of God has ears that are habitually attentive to the Word of God.”

And that brings us to the next point in verse 6, “False believers don't desire to know, understand, and (That's the key word.) obey the Scripture.” Oh, maybe they're curious, maybe they want some Bible study, but they don't want to know, understand, and obey the Scripture. Notice verse 6, “…he who is not from God does not listen to us.” He who is not from or out of God, describing all those who haven't been born again, they don't listen to us; they don't receive the Word of God. Listen to John 8:47 again, “He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you're not of God,” Jesus said. Listen, if you have no appetite for the Word of God, it's because you are an unbeliever, you're dead in your sin, you've never been changed by the Holy Spirit.

John finishes these verses with a summary statement, and here we learn, “The way teachers treat the Bible is one accurate test of whether they're true or false.” Notice verse 6, “By this,” that points back to the tests in the earlier verses and forward to the summary in verse 6. So, really all the tests in this passage, “…By this we know,” all true believers are able to use these tests to discern the difference between, first of all, the spirit of truth. Now, the NAS doesn't capitalize spirit. They don't think it's the Holy Spirit; they think it's the atmosphere or the spirit of error. That's possible, but I don't think so because John uses this expression, “the Spirit of truth” specifically for the Holy Spirit. Jot these references down if you want, John 14:17; 15:26; and 16:13. In all three of those places, he refers to the Spirit of truth as the Holy Spirit, and I think it's best to understand it that way here. The Holy Spirit is the author and source of the truth of Scripture, and those who teach the truth of Scripture do so under the influence of the Spirit of truth.

On the other hand, there's the spirit of error. This phrase occurs only here in the New Testament. But here's the point, he's making a comparison, listen carefully. This is what John is saying. The point is, “Just as the Spirit is the author or source of truth, Satan is ultimately the spirit behind all deceiving and damning error.” Lying is His very nature, as Jesus said, “He was a liar from the beginning.” And he uses his demons to promote his lies, his errors, his deceptions. And his demons are relentless in their efforts to deceive all mankind, and even believers if possible. How do the demons do it?

Don't miss this, they use human teachers who show up on Christian television, who show up on YouTube channels, who have robes, or academic credentials, and they are satanically inspired by Satan himself, to deceive you and turn you away from the “faith once for all delivered to the saints.” But we can identify them by using these tests, including their response to Scripture.

In fact, let me make this more personal. Your response to Scripture says who you are and what path you're on. Turn to Psalm 1. The authority in your life confirms the path you're on and ultimately, your eternal destiny. The theme of Psalm 1 is there only two paths in life, verses 1 to 3, there's the way of the righteous; verses 4 and 5, there's the way of the wicked. And verse 6 talks about the end of those two ways. Listen, it's simple. There are only two paths in life, and they're ending up in different places. There is the way of the righteous, and you know what the way of the righteous is? It's the way of the Bible. Look at verse 2, “…his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night.” That's a true believer.

If your life is marked by a love for, a desire to know, to understand, and obey the Scripture, then you are one of the righteous, you've been truly redeemed, you've been changed by the Holy Spirit. But if that isn't true, then in verse 4, you're one of the wicked and your destiny, verse 6, “…the way of the wicked will perish.”

You see, the way of the righteous is the way of the Bible; and the way of the wicked is everything else. I don't care what authority you have, if it's not the Bible, it's the way of the wicked, and you will perish. And so, in the end, your response to the Bible is a perfect test, a perfect mirror into which you can look to discern your true spiritual condition.

Let's pray together. Father, thank You for our time together this morning. Thank You for Your truth. Lord, help us who know and love You to love Your truth, to be in it, to meditate in it, to desire to understand its content, to understand its meaning, to obey it. Father, help us to be like the Psalmist, “O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.”

And, Father, for those here this morning who have no real appetite for the Bible, Lord, help them to see the truth. Maybe they've lied to themselves for years, convincing themselves they're Christians. May Your Spirit be gracious enough to show them the truth of their condition this morning, and may they cry out like a beggar for the salvation that only You can bring? We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.


Recognizing False Teachers - Part 4

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6

Recognizing False Teachers - Part 5

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6

Recognizing False Teachers - Part 6

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6

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1 John


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This Is Love - Part 1

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