NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XIII) 02/02/22
4:1 Dearly loved friends, don’t always believe everything you hear simply because someone says it is a message from God: test it first to see if it actually is, for there are many false teachers all around.
David Legge (1969) looks at what the Apostle John tells us in this great epistle of assurance. For this great Apostle, every faithful Christian ought to be able to discern between truth and error. That does not mean that you have to be an expert in the cults or world faiths. In fact, it doesn’t have to imply that you’re well-read in the great systematic theologies of Christianity. But it does mean that every true child of God should have enough of a grasp of Christian doctrine to discern between truth and error. So right away, John tells us that there is a need for discernment because not every spirit is of God. We ought not to be naïve and gullible to believe that all who claim to speak for Almighty God are genuine and deliver their message on His behalf. So right away, John’s warning the Church, and consequently warning us, that just because a person talks about God, or preaches from the Bible, or even speaks of Jesus as Lord, it does not mean that they are of God nor a herald from God. We must wake up to the fact that there are spiritual forces who seek to deceive God’s children even today.
Legge is not saying that we should avoid reading or learning about the teachings of cults or other world religions, but our priority must be to understand God’s Word. Familiarity with Christian doctrine is a fundamental necessity in order to discern what is right or wrong in their teachings. To put it another way, you would never be qualified to test a student’s knowledge of algebra if you were not an expert in algebra yourself.
Douglas Sean O’Donnell (1972) says that many Christian communities today want to move us beyond the Word to the Spirit. That is a bizarre estrangement and one that is moving in the wrong direction. We are not missing some spirit-filling experience when we read and teach the Bible. But there must be time for singing and praying and then for the Word. To be led by the Spirit in corporate worship or private devotion is directed back to the inspired apostolic testimony. When the apostles received the Holy Spirit, they were the Anointed One’s witnesses to the world via the preached Word and later the written Word. As we together (discernment is a corporate endeavor) resist the antichrist spirits of our age and guard the truth (as the custodian of apostolic Christology) “once for all delivered to the saints,” let us not divide this God-ordained union of the Spirit and the Word.
David Guzik (1984) says that being able to discern the right spirit from the wrong is the responsibility of every Christian, especially congregational leaders. According to the Apostle Paul (let the others judge) and (test all things; hold fast what is good). Trying the spirits is the work of the body of the Anointed One. This job is done using God’s gifts of discernment to Christians in general, especially pastors, elders, and teachers of a congregation.
Guzik then offers the following points: (i) Scriptural standards judge all prophecy. It is never to be received just because it is dramatic or given by a particular person. We trust in the principle that God will never contradict Himself, and we know what He has already said in His Word. (ii) True prophecy is never of any private interpretation. It means that there will be agreement and confirmation from the body of the Anointed One, though perhaps (or probably) not everyone will agree or confirm.
4:2 This is how you can recognize God’s doctrine. Every true doctrine teaches that if I confess that Jesus is the Messiah who came to earth and became a man.’ That doctrine is from God.
The Apostle John may have taken this from what he states in his Gospel, “The Word became a man and lived among us. We saw His divine greatness – the greatness that belongs to the only Son of the Father. The Word was full of grace and truth. John the Baptizer told people about Him. He shouted, ‘This is the one I was talking about when I said, “The one who is coming after me is greater than I am because He was living before, I was even born.’” Yes, the Word was full of grace and truth, and from Him, we all received one blessing after another. God gave the Law to us through Moses, but Grace and Truth came through Jesus the Anointed One. No one has ever seen God. Only the Son is the one who has shown us the likeness of God. He is God and is very close to the Father.”
Verse two contains the main subject of the section. To confess the Incarnation is to prove that one draws their inspiration from God through His Spirit. Therefore, the words, “This is how you can recognize” (NIV) may be either imperative in harmony with “believe” and “test” in verse one, or indicative, in harmony with “we know” in 3:16.
The specific doctrine whereby we test to find whether a teacher is false or true is the doctrine of the Anointed One. If a person denies either the deity or the humanity of the Anointed One, they are a false teacher. Some of John’s readers had become convinced that Jesus did not come in the flesh. Cerinthus, a Gnostic, taught that Jesus did not have true humanity. By denying the physical, historical humanity of the Anointed One, they attacked the fundamental doctrine of Redemption. The death of the body of the Anointed One was necessary to pay for our sins. If this did not happen, then it undermines our salvation.
The word “confesses” means to identify. If anyone does not identify with and acknowledge the humanity of the Anointed One, they are pretenders. Belief in the incarnate Son of God is a touchstone of the Christian faith. Candid acknowledgment that the Messiah came in the flesh to forgive sins is the heart of Christian belief. So, the principle here is that by His incarnation, Jesus took part in our life; by regeneration, we take part in Jesus’ life.
That means Jesus took on humanity that He might die with it. He gave His life that we might have His life. Jesus eternally existed as God but stepped foot on earth and took on humanity at a specific time. In doing this, He did not divest Himself of His deity. Instead, Jesus voluntarily set aside the use of His divinity while living in His humanity. The babe in Bethlehem was far more than a remarkable child; He was God the Son who stepped into a human body. Our Master never ceased to exist as God. He did not begin when He was born. Denial of this is the spirit of the antichrist.
British writer and lay theologian C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) said, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.” Anything less than viewing Jesus as an eternal God who took on humanity simply throws kisses at Him. It does not take His deity seriously. We cannot whittle Him down and still worship Him in all His glory.
One of the earliest Church Fathers, Polycarp (65-155 AD), who was a disciple of the Apostle John, has this to say on what John writes here: “Everyone who does not confess that Jesus the Anointed One has come in the flesh is antichrist. Whoever does not confess the testimony of the cross is of the devil. Whoever perverts the teachings of the Lord to their lusts and says that there is neither resurrection nor judgment, that person is the firstborn of Satan. So let us forsake the vanity of many and their false teachings and turn to the Word which was delivered to us from the beginning.”
Polycarp then goes on to say: “Continuing in prayer, and diligent in fasting; appealing in our requests to the all-seeing God ‘not to lead us into temptation,’ as the Lord has said: ‘The spirit truly is willing, but the flesh is weak.’” If the doctrine that Jesus was either a phantom or that He was a regular human over whom the Holy Spirit took charge so as to appear as a man was already fostering during John’s day, then for sure Polycarp knew about it.
Early Church scholar Andreas Osiander (circa 600-700 AD) points out that if the world can convince believers that Jesus was not God incarnate, but simply a very blessed and inspired prophet, then the heart and soul of Christianity is ripped out. It will die a slow and painful death. It would eliminate any faith in His sacrificial death and resurrection. Also, the notion of His ascension and return would become nothing more than wishful thinking.
Œcumenius (500-600 AD) is not hesitant to say that the confession that the Lord has come in the flesh is not made in words but deeds. The Apostle Paul said we constantly experience the benefits of our Lord Jesus in our bodies, but this is so that the life of Jesus can also be visualized in our bodies. Therefore, whoever has Jesus at work inside them is dead to the world and no longer lives for it, but the Anointed One, who carries Him about in their body – this person is of God. Therefore, saying we are in union with Him is not enough unless that union is also manifested in the same works that He did.
 Legge, David: 1,2,3 John, Preach the Word, op. cit., “Discerning Christianity” Part 12
 Acts of the Apostles 1:8; 1 John 1-3
 Jude 1:3
 O’Donnell, Douglas Sean. 1–3 John (Reformed Expository Commentaries), op. cit., loc. cit. Kindle Edition
 1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 Thessalonians 5:21
 2 Peter 1:20-21
 Guzik, David: Enduring Word, op. cit., loc. cit.
 John 1:14-18
 2 Corinthians 5:18; 1 Timothy 3:16
 Lewis, C. S: Mere Christianity, p. 31
 Polycarp of Smyrna: Letter to the Philippians Ch. 7
 Matthew 6:13
 Mark 14:38
 Polycarp: op. cit
 Andreas: e-Catena
 2 Corinthians 4:10
 Œcumenius: (Bray Ed.), James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, op. cit., loc. cit.