WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XXXII) 03/01/22

4:4 Since you belong to God, my dear children, you have already won a victory over those worldly people because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world. 

Clement Clemance (1845-1886) makes it clear that the Apostle John knows nothing of any neutral position from which the spirit of error can be criticized “with absolute impartiality.” Jesus boldly stated that “He that is not with Me is against Me.”[1] Any presumed neutral position is already within the domain of error. One’s position on the spirit of error influences their acceptance of its defeat. John says here in verse four, “You have overcome them.” But in what sense have John’s “little children” overcome them? He writes with the confidence of the victory as an accomplished fact.[2] But it is better to take the statement literally. The sheep have conquered them by refusing to listen to the false teachers:[3] the seducers have “gone out,”[4] unable to gain a voice in the fold. Unfortunately, one side now has God with them, [5] the other Satan. Clemance ends this way: “as God is in believers and they in God, so the world is in the devil, and he in them.”[6] [7]

Albert Barnes (1872-1951) says that what the Apostle John implies here about overcoming the world means they have triumphed over their arts and temptations, their endeavors to draw them into error and sin. This seems to refer to the false prophets or teachers who collectively constituted antichrists. The meaning is that believers had frustrated or thwarted all their attempts to turn them away from the truth. Because He that dwelled in their hearts was greater than whatever was in these false prophets. It was by His strength and grace alone that enabled them to achieve this victory. That’s because God is mightier than Satan, who rules in the hearts of the people of this world, and whose seductive arts are seen in the efforts of these false teachers. John meant to say that it was by no power of their own that they achieved this victory, but it was to be traced solely to the fact that God dwelled among them and had preserved them by His grace. What was true then is true now. He who dwells in the hearts of Christians by His Spirit is infinitely mightier than Satan, “the ruler of the darkness of this world.”[8] Victory, therefore, overall, the devil’s arts and temptations may be sure. Consequently, Christians should never despair in their conflicts with sin, temptation, and error, for their God will ensure victory.[9]

Harry A. Ironside (1872-1951) has an interesting way of illustrating how a person comes to believe and accept the incarnation of the Son of God in the son of man. The difference between the believer in the Deity of our Lord Jesus the Anointed One and an unbeliever can be exemplified this way: Let’s imagine two men sitting on the fence and there comes an earthquake, one tumbled backward and another forward, and neither is to blame. It so happened that one man was a Trinitarian, the other a Unitarian; one happens to believe that Jesus is God, and one happens to deny it. Not at all! No man would ever acknowledge Him as God become flesh except by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, and even though some acknowledge it intellectually, it is because God has illuminated their mind. But when people bow at the feet of Jesus as their Lord and Redeemer, that is the work of the Holy Spirit winning their hearts for Him. Consequently, from that moment on, He dwells in them, who leads them on into fuller and clearer light and enables them to overcome, so the believer takes no credit but gives all the glory to God, enlightening them and saving their soul.[10]

Amos N. Wilder (1895-1993) says that the Church does best when ministers stand together as the firm foundation of its life. The negative response of the world to the message proclaimed by God’s children is because they are not listening. It points out the differences between hearing (KJV) and listening (RSV). That means that worldly people may hear, but they are not listening. How much disappointment have true prophets experienced, and how greatly has the redemptive Cause of God been hindered, precisely because the world refuses to listen? However, this is no excuse for making the message of the Gospel dull or for rationalizing one’s inability to get people’s attention. When they see the difference between truth and error, the Holy Spirit will be able to convict and draw them to the cross.[11]

Unfortunately, today, not only is the world not paying any attention, but the children of Light and Truth aren’t listening either. Many preachers have drawn away from explaining and interpreting the Scriptures. Instead, they take the role of counselor of morals rather than messengers of God. No one’s decision about wanting to go to heaven can be genuine and understandable unless they see the consequences of going to hell. Asking if they want to be saved has no value if they don’t what they are being saved from. Furthermore, living a holy life means very little if the danger of continuing in sin remains unexplained. So, the fault does not always lie on the shoulders of the hearers and listeners but the speakers.

Robert S. Candlish (1806-1873) writes that the victory the Apostle John speaks of here in verse four is a real victory over the false prophets or teachers, who are not of God, whom the spirit of antichrist inspires. And it is a victory over them personally, not over their doctrines and principles merely, but over them. It begins with their resenting and resisting the “coming of Jesus the Anointed One in the flesh” and His triumph over all the sinful tendencies in the flesh.

It is that which Satan, the originator of the spirit of antichrist, would dare project to insert himself to hinder the Anointed One’s mission, declares Candlish. He invoked Herod to slay Jesus in His childhood and Judas to betray Him in His manhood, tempting Jesus to make a shipwreck of His integrity. Furthermore, being in union with Him and participating with Him in His suffering as “Jesus in the flesh” it bears the fruit of the spirit to His honor and glory. So, as far as you are concerned, by seeking to frustrate you, they are attacking Him. In realizing that, you get the best of them; confessing thus Jesus the Anointed One is come in the flesh, and through Him, you have overcome them.[12]

F. F. Bruce (1910-1990) notes that the Apostle John’s readers were not more educated, more skilled in philosophical debating than the false teachers, yet by refusing to be persuaded by the false teachers, they overcame them. They were able to do this because of the indwelling Holy Spirit, whose anointing had imparted to them the true knowledge – a “built-in spiritual instinct,” enabling them to hold tightly to the truth and reject error. If “He that is in you” is the Holy Spirit, “He that is in the world” is the spirit of falsehood, called “the spirit of antichrist” in verse three and “the spirit of error” in verse six.[13] [14]

Rudolf Schnackenburg (1914-2000) says that it is clear from what the Apostle John says about the victory over the opponents as a practical aim lies close to John’s heart. First, he seeks to calm and encourage his readers with deliberate emphasis by assuring them that they have gained the upper hand over their opponents.[15] Then secondly, more clearly than he did before, John points to the reason for their victory and the source of their power to assure them that they are strong and that God’s word abides in them.[16]

But here, in verse four, says Schnackenburg, the elderly apostle gives a clear reason for their victory: “He who is in you” is greater than “he who is of the world.” Precisely because of the close connection between these two references, the second phrase refers to the evil one, Satan himself. It is theologically important. First, it affirms that the spirit of the antichrist comes from the ruler of this world, who is at war with God.[17] It is no accident that “He who is in them” is omitted in the phrase “he who is of the world” required to read as a parallel to “He who is in you.” John does not dare to credit Satan with direct influence or the same kind of actual indwelling as God has, despite his conviction about the awful power Satan wields in this world.[18] This word is one of the finest testimonies to the sense of power and confidence in a victory that Christians enjoy with what John has said and will say.[19] It was an attitude that cannot be explained merely from the surviving youthful idealism or the verbal incentives of the original leaders. Nor was it born in the fires of battle. Rather, it comes from the depth of one’s theological conviction.[20]

Raymond E. Brown (1928-1998) notes that the Apostle John is shifting from talking about the spirits and about the people who operate by those spirits. In verse two, John told everyone that they heard of “the Spirit which belongs to God;” now they are hearing about themselves as “belonging to God.” They will be contrasted in verse three with those who “belong to the world.” When John was contrasting two spirits, he was contrasting people who live by the respective spirits and who now suddenly appear as “you” and “them.” The “them” references the false prophets of verse one. Also, their conquering includes the Evil One, the Antichrists, and the world.[21] So, while the Holy Spirit within them could defeat the evil spirit in the worldly people, He did not do it on His own but used them to fight and win the battle.

John R. W. Stott (1921-2011) says that “overcoming” is not so much moral (as in 2:13–14, where the same word occurs) as intellectual. The false teachers have not succeeded in deceiving you. Not only have you tested them and found them wanting, but you have conquered them by decisively repudiating their teaching. You have not yielded to their flattery or believed their lies. Hence, no doubt, they had every reason to depart as traitors.[22]


[1] Matthew 12:30; Luke 11:23

[2] Cf. John 16:33

[3] John 10:8

[4] See 1 John 2:19

[5] Luke 12:31

[6] 1 John 5:19

[7] Clemance, Clement: First Epistle of John, Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22, Exposition, pp. 102-103

[8] Cf. Acts of the Apostles 26:18; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2; 6:12

[9] Barnes, Albert: New Testament Notes, op. cit., p. 4861

[10] Ironside, Harry A., The Epistles of John and Jude, op. cit., p. 130

[11] Wilder, Amos N., The Interpreter’s Bible, op. cit.,1 John, Exposition, p. 277

[12] Candlish, Robert S., The Biblical Illustrator, 1 John, Homiletics, p. 5

[13] Cf. Ephesians 2:2

[14] Bruce, F. F., The Epistles of John: A Verse-by-Verse Exposition. Kingsley Books, Inc. Kindle Edition

[15] Cf. 1 John 2:13-14

[16] Ibid. 4:14

[17] Cf. John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11

[18] See 1 John 5:19

[19] Cf. 1: John 2:13ff and 5:4ff

[20] Schnackenburg, Rudolf: The Johannine Epistles, op. cit., pp. 203-204

[21] Brown, Raymond E., The Anchor Bible, op. cit., Vol. 30, p. 497

[22] Stott, John. The Letters of John (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries) (p. 157). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition


About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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