Ever since the first untrue words were uttered in the garden by the serpent and his lies infiltrated that sacred space, the need to believe the truth became essential. This is all the more true since sin has affected our natural disposition. We are inclined to “suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18) and exchange “the truth about God for a lie” (Rom. 1:25).

Thankfully, God has worked in Christ to grant us repentance which leads “to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25). We now embrace the truth we once suppressed or exchanged for something else. And we resist the lies the enemy still speaks. With some help from the John MacArthur Study Bible, let’s see what he has to say about the need for us to believe the truth.

MacArthur on 1 John 4:1–6

Overview of 4:1-6. John turns from the importance of love to the importance of belief in God’s truth. He focuses once again on the doctrinal test and emphasizes the need to obey sound teaching (Mt 24:11; 2Pe 2:2, 3; Jude 3). Scripture presents stern warnings against false doctrine. From his temptation of Eve on, Satan has sought to distort and deny God’s Word (Ge 3:1-5). He is the ultimate demonic source behind all false teachers and false doctrine (2Co 11:13, 14). In this section, John gives two doctrinal tests to determine truth from error and false teachers from true teachers.

The Spirits that Speak

Do not believe every spirit (4:1). The mention of the Holy Spirit in 3:24 prompts John to inform his readers that other spirits exist, i.e., demonic spirits, who produce false prophets and false teachers to propagate their false doctrine (see notes on 1Ti 4:1, 2). Christians are to have a healthy skepticism regarding any teaching, unlike some among John’s congregations who were too open minded to anyone claiming a new teaching regarding the faith. Christians are to be like the Bereans who, as students of the Word, examined the Scriptures to determine truth and error (Ac 17:11, 12).

Test. The word “test” is a metallurgist’s term used for assaying metals to determine their purity and value. Christians must test any teaching with a view to approving or disapproving it (see notes on 1Th 5:20-22), rigorously comparing any teaching to the Scripture. the spirits … many false prophets. By juxtaposing “spirits” with “false prophets,” John reminds his readers that behind human teachers who propagate false doctrine and error are demons inspired by Satan (see notes on 1Th 5:20-22; cf. Ac 20:28-30). Human false prophets and teachers are the physical expressions of demonic, spiritual sources (Mt 7:15; Mk 13:22).

The Spirit of God

By this you know the Spirit of God (4:2). John gives a measuring stick to determine whether the propagator of the message is a demon spirit or the Holy Spirit.

Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. This is the first test of a true teacher: they acknowledge and proclaim that Jesus is God incarnate in human flesh. The Gr. construction does not mean that they confess Christ as having come to earth, but that they confess that He came in the flesh to the earth, i.e., His human body was physically real. Both the full humanity and full deity of Jesus must be equally maintained by the teacher who is to be considered genuinely of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit testifies to the true nature of the Son, while Satan and his forces distort and deny that true nature. John accentuates the crucial importance of sound doctrine expressed in God’s Word as the only absolute and trustworthy standard (cf. Is 8:20).

The Spirit of the Antichrist

The spirit of the antichrist (4:3). These false teachers who denied the true nature of the Son (see Introduction: Background and Setting) are to be identified among the antichrists in 2:18, 19 (2Jn 7). The same demonic deception that will work to produce the final world ruler (see notes on Rev 13:1-8) who rules as the false Christ is always actively seeking to distort Jesus Christ’s true nature, perverting the gospel. The final Antichrist will not be something new, but will be the ultimate embodiment of all the antichrist spirits that have perverted truth and propagated satanic lies since the beginning. This is similar to 2Th 2:3-8, where the man of lawlessness (Antichrist) is still to be revealed, but the mystery of lawlessness is already at work.

From God or from the World

Greater is He who is in you (4:4). Believers need to be aware and alert to false teaching, but not afraid. Those who have experienced the new birth with its indwelling of the Holy Spirit have a built-in check against false teaching (cf. 2:20, 27). The Holy Spirit leads into sound doctrine for genuine Christians, evidencing that salvation has actually occurred (cf. Ro 8:17). True believers have nothing to fear. Even Satan’s hosts with their perversions can’t take them out of the Lord’s hand. Here, as in 2:18-27, protection against error or victory over it are guaranteed by sound doctrine and the indwelling Holy Spirit who illumines the mind.

They speak as from the world … he who knows God listens to us (4:5-6). John gives the second test of a true teacher: they speak God’s word, following apostolic doctrine.

By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error (4:6). The OT and NT are the sole standards by which all teaching is to be tested. In contrast, demonically inspired teachers either reject the teaching of God’s Word or add elements to it (2Co 4:2; Rev 22:18, 19).

Learn More about the Truth with the MacArthur Study Bible

A good study Bible can help equip you in discerning truth from error. The MacArthur Study Bible is one such resource. Filled with thousands of comments on the text and lengthy introductions to each book of the Bible. This study Bible is a great place to start. Visit our store at the link below to learn more.

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