The Gospel Standard, Part 1
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. 1 John 4:1-3
Judges evaluate legal cases according to the law; editors evaluate writing according to a style book that sets out grammar and usage standards. These kinds of professionals have an objective standard to make sure they are making the right choices. They don’t have to depend on their own opinions or try to create their own rules.
Christians have a standard, too, for “testing the spirits” and evaluating spiritual teachings. John tells us that this standard is the Gospel. The real Spirit of God always testifies that “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.” A false teacher won’t confess Jesus.
Confessing that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is a compact summary of the Gospel, but John squeezes a lot of truth into this short statement. Let’s unpack some of the important points John makes.
First, the name John chose to use is important. There are lots of names he could have used, like “Son of God,” or “the Messiah,” or “our Lord,” or either “Jesus” or “Christ” on their own. “Jesus” is the name Mary, his mother, and Joseph, his adoptive Father, gave to Jesus. It’s a human name and would have been pretty common for a Jewish boy at the time. It tells us that Jesus was a real person who lived a real, human life. It also means “God saves,” telling us about the purpose of Jesus’ life.
The second name “Christ” means “Chosen One” or “Anointed” and is related to the Hebrew word “Messiah.” This is the word used by Old Testament prophets to describe the savior who would come from God to save His people. It communicates that Jesus was sent by God to fulfil God’s plan.
John’s choice to use both names emphasizes that Jesus was God and man. He wasn’t a spirit or an illusion or just a really good person. This is part of the gospel that the real Spirit of God will confess.
Questions for reflection and discussion
1. What is the standard we hold teachers to?
2. Why is it important to confess that Jesus was fully God and fully man?
Dear God, thank you for giving us the standard to judge spiritual teachings. Help us use it diligently. In Jesus’ name, amen.