Fifth Sunday in Easter
1 John 4:1-11
[4:1] 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.  Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.  They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them.  We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.  In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:1-11 (ESV)
Beloved, do not believe every spirit but test the sprits 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 Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God… We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God.
There is a lot to chew on in these verses from Johns first epistle. Testing the spirits is an important topic for our society today, as we and our children are bombarded on every side with different religions. Just this last week I read a newspaper account of a Lutheran girl who converted to Islam. Her reason? It felt right. Reading between the lines I think there might have been some amorous hopes for marriage playing a part. But I still find it peculiar, its all about feelings. “Test the spirits,” John says. “Many false prophets have gone out into the world.” John gives us two criteria by which to test these spirits, neither one to do anything with feelings. Do they confess that Jesus has come in the flesh? Do they listen to us?
Do they confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh? If they do they are from God. So lets parse this this out. What does it mean that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh? When John writes this he is dealing with Gnostics, and other heretics. Some say Jesus was nothing but a spirit. Others say he was nothing but a man. That there was a man named Jesus who was crucified, is really beyond dispute. You can find many even secular historians outside of the Bible that will testify that there was a man named Jesus who was crucified. There is however no good reason to doubt the historical documents we have the eye witness accounts of the disciples themselves found in the Gospels and epistles of the New Testament as far as that goes.
They are perfectly reliable historical documents. It has been shown by many that they are more reliable than any other account of history that we have from the classical era. For instance despite the fact that 1300 years separate the life of Plato from the earliest manuscripts containing his philosophy, no one doubts that when you pick up Plato’s Republic you are reading what Plato wrote. Yet people want to claim we can’t be sure of the New Testament gospels because the earliest full manuscripts we have are somewhere between 250 to 300 years from when they were originally written? And that is not even taking into count that these same gospels are quoted in other letters by the Apostolic Fathers, Clement of Rome, Justin Martyr etc. writing within 50 years of when they were first written. Or that we have countless other partial manuscripts that agree with them, the only discrepancy’s being alternate spellings. As ancient Greek really didn’t have Webster’s dictionary it is hard to say they were spelling mistakes. What we have is what the apostles wrote.
And they write of Jesus Christ coming in the flesh. I find that phrase peculiar? It is to say that he came from somewhere. The implication is that He was more than a mere man. Many religions have man becoming god. The Near East was rife with this thought, the prime candidates being the secular leaders, the Caesar’s were considered to have become gods. Pharaohs became gods. Christianity is different. It isn’t that man becomes God. But God became man. This is what it means that Jesus cam in the flesh. As John writes in his Gospel.
[1:1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1 (ESV)
 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 (ESV)
And so this is the first test by which we test the spirits. Do they believe that Jesus Christ came in the flesh? That Jesus Christ came in the flesh is to say that God became man, and as a man He lived a perfect life for us, to be our sacrifice, or as John says to be the propitiation for our sins. That is the pacification for our sins. And he did this, so that “we might live through him.” You see if Jesus Christ did not come in the flesh, then He could not be the propitiation for our sins. If He wasn’t fully God and fully man, then his death was meaningless. It was nothing. To say that He came in the flesh is to say that He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried on our behalf, as our propitiation. And yet it is even more than that, it is also that not only did He come in the flesh, but that He came back in the flesh! The disciples did not see a ghost at the resurrection. They saw Jesus Christ in the flesh, a sure and certain testimony that we who are flesh and bone may live on account of his death, because He too lives! If He was resurrected in the flesh, so too will we! We were created soul and body, so we live soul and body, because Christ died for us soul and body, and was resurrected for our assurance soul and body! Everything hinges on this, that Jesus came in the flesh to be a propitiation for our sins, that is the Gospel the Good News. This is what we as Christians believe. Not believing this is the same as not being a Christian. Believing that the Gospel is something different than this is the same as not being a Christian. The cross is central. Without the cross, without Christ’s propitiation for our sin, nothing else matters, nothing Christ said, and nothing you do.
The second test then is do they listen to us, for we are from God. No, this isn’t do they listen to you, necessarily. Feel free to spout off on political and social topics all you want, no one is bound to listen to you in these matters. When John says “We are from God, Whoever knows God listens to us.” That is they listen to the Apostles, the ones sent from God, Peter, John, Paul, and Matthew being the most famous of them, those who have left us their words to which we should listen in written form. Though one ignored Nathaniel and Thomas to their own peril. “Whoever knows God listens to us.”
To listen to the apostles is more than to give them a hearing as the Athenians did at Mars Hill and go on with life as if nothing has changed. It means to heed what they have to say. It means to take seriously what they have to say about who Jesus is, and what He has done for us with His propitiation, His death on the cross in our place. Do they listen to us? John asks in this statement. Test the spirits. See if they conform to what we have said. If they don’t, let them be anathema, (let them go to hell) be they even an angel from heaven itself Paul tells the Galatians. Any other Gospel, any Gospel other than the one the apostles have handed down to us in their writing, is of the devil. The Bible and the Bible alone becomes the sole source and norm (rule) for faith. That is the Bible as we have it today, the Old Testament, and the writings of the Apostles, becomes not only that from which we may draw our doctrine and formulate them, but it becomes the soul norm or rule by which we can test doctrine. If it isn’t in the Bible, you don’t have to listen to it, nor should you listen to it. If it does not conform with what the apostles have written about Jesus Christ who came in the flesh to die for our sins, then we listen to it to our own peril! It matters not how good it may feel. Christianity doesn’t always feel good. Oh sometimes it does, but even when it doesn’t we have to listen to them, the apostles to whom Christ gave all authority to go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them and teaching them to observe all that he had commanded them. “Whoever knows God, listens to us, whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of Truth, and the spirit of error.”
And what do they tell us? They tell us to love one another, for love is from God… God is love, In this is the love of God is made manifest among us, that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, so that we might live through HIM, In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent His son to be the propitiation for our sins, beloved if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
Now this is where Christianity starts getting a bit uncomfortable if you ask me. All this talk about love. And not only loving our neighbor as ourselves. You see I got around that one once. I started hating myself, sometimes I still hate myself, sinner that I am. There is a lot for us Christians to hate about ourselves. We sin, and badly. It is called repentance. However, hating one’s self never feels right. And perhaps underneath the command to love our neighbor’s as ourselves there is a command to love ourselves. And this we can despite the fact that we are sinners, because we have been loved, with a love that forgives our sins on account of Christ’s death and resurrection, His propitiation for our sin. So we are to love as God has loved us! Not a soul in here ever has. God here gives the bar, the hurdle that needs to be jumped. He loved us and laid down His life for us, as a propitiation for our sins. And yet we sinners who have been forgiven find it hard to forgive others. We can’t even forgive those in our own family, much less our neighbors, and one another. Oh, we ought to love one another, but do we? Do we forgive others their trespasses as God has forgiven us? Or do we hold grudges? I know the answer. We hold grudges, even to those within our own family, especially with those in our own family! Spouses fight and bicker. I see it everyday, families holding on by a thread, because one or the other finds it near impossible to forgive. And sometimes I can’t blame them for not wanting to forgive. I would not want to forgive either. Brothers and sisters won’t talk. Christ was prophetic when He talked of father and son, mother and daughter turning on each other for the sake of his name. Yet, I doubt He is the only reason families don’t get along. Oh families split because of Him. Read a story not too long ago of a Muslim father who killed his daughter after her and her ex-terrorist husband became Christians. Heard a man the other day tell that his wife was divorcing him for leaving Mormonism. Having Christ as your first love is not always easy. But sin has its way of wrecking a family without Christ as a catalyst. I’ve seen families forgive infidelity because of Christ, and break up for nothing more than toothpaste on the mirror.
No we read “love one another” and it sounds nice until you begin to comprehend what all it means. Then we soon learn that we have failed. That we are sinners. And it is not nice hearing that you are a sinner, admitting and confessing failure. “But I did my best,” says the losing quarterback at the homecoming game. The best was not good enough. Neither is our best good enough, not to get us into heaven, not to earn God’s favor. But Christ’s was. God’s best was good enough. His best was His love that sent His only begotten Son to be a propitiation for our sin, our failures to love. And so in him we find life, and we find love.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord Amen.