Lessons from 1 John (Part 5)

Chapter 4

1-6: More on the person, nature, and spirit of the antichrist (see note on 2:18-27) but with one new command and one new insight. The command is to test these spirits. And the new insight is to remember that these spirits are not neutral.

In The Pilgrim’s Progress, the main character, Christian, meets many characters on the path to the Celestial City, and he always would press them with questions about how they came to be on the path and where they were going. He knew that not all who seemed to be going the same way as he were actually going to the Celestial City. Through a series of questions he could always tell whether or not these characters were truly believers, pretenders, or enemies.

By asking these questions he was testing the spirit of each traveller – were they truly of and for God or not. If they were truly believers, he invited them to join him on his pilgrimage. If they were pretenders, he quickly rebuked them, hoping they would repent and join him. However, if they did not repent, he rejected them and continued on his way, so as not to be slowed down to reach his destination. Finally, if they were enemies, he battled them.

While each of these categories represented many different things in the story, Christian’s example of testing the spirits highlights the value in doing so. It also segues nicely into the new insight that John mentions: no neutrality.

By testing the spirits, Christian knew whether or not these characters were for God or against him. Being for God meant obedience at all costs that was birthed out of a love for him. This love, which was evident in all characters who proved to be for God, always came from realizing that they were wicked on their own but Jesus was their beautiful Savior. Being against God, however, took two different forms.

The first form that enmity toward God takes is outright rejection. This is the more obvious form of enmity, that needs no real explanation. The other form is what looks like neutrality. In the book, these would be characters that knew the right language and wanted to talk about God but had no desire to admit they were sinful or that obedience was required – or it looked like people wanting to be moral but have nothing to do with the cross – or it was clergy that took positions for the material gain it would bring.

In the end, Christian and his companions would always reject these “neutral” travelers and warn them that if they are not wholly for God, they are not for him at all. Thus John says, “…every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” At best, this would allow for some to be “neutral” – they may not be for God but, at this point, it doesn’t mean that they’re against him. But then John brings it home with another black and white statement, and says, “This is the spirit [the spirit which does not confess Jesus] of the antichrist…” This removes any neutral ground.

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