SERIES: 1 John
SERMON: Defeating Deception
TEXT: 1 John 4:1-6 (ESV)
Watch the sermon here
Take notes here
As always it’s a joy to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And there’s one thing I want you to know — and this is true if you’re worshiping with us for the first time or are joining us at our North Main Campus — I want you to know that God loves you and that I love you too.
If you have your Bibles — please turn with me to First John chapter four — we’ll be looking at verses one through six today. And — while you’re finding First John chapter four — let me remind you that the apostle John wrote this letter so that Those who believe in God can know that they have eternal life.
In First John chapter five — verse thirteen — we read, I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. - 1 John 5:13 (ESV)
John’s goal — for the audience he’s writing to — is that they would know with certainty whether or not they have eternal life — whether or not they’re a true believer — a true follower of Jesus or not. And — each week in this series — we’ve discovered another test for us — a passable test — so we too can know if we believe the gospel and have eternal life.
And here are the words found in First John chapter four — beginning in verse one — where we find another way to confirm whether or not we truly believe in Jesus.
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. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 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. 4 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. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 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. - 1 John 4:1-6 (ESV)
Have you ever wondered if you’ve been deceived into believing something that isn't true? Now I’m not talking about if Coke tastes better than Pepsi or if Macs are really better than PCs — I mean topics of a bit more eternal importance.
For instance, have you ever asked yourself, “How do I know if I’m believing the right doctrines about God?” Or “How do I know I’m not believing false doctrines about God?”
For example, I’m sure some of you believe that Jesus is the only way to eternal life. Yet — it wouldn’t surprise me if there are others who believe that all religions lead to eternal life. Two very different beliefs about eternal life. And — my point — is to ask you — regardless of which group you’re part of, “Have you ever questioned why you believe what you do?”
A person can believe that Jesus is the only way to eternal life — which I happen to agree with — but have no idea why they believe this or why someone else should believe it. And another person may believe that all religions lead to eternal life and have no idea why they believe what they do. And — honestly — believing something — without knowing why you believe it — is nearly as bad as not believing it in the first place. I mean, how can you say, “This is what I believe” when you don’t even know why you believe it? And when it comes to things of significant importance — like eternal life — shouldn’t what you believe be based on something more than a hunch or a guess or a feeling or an “I hope so”? Shouldn’t we know why we believe what we believe?
As I mentioned earlier, our author John wrote this letter so that those who believe in God can know that they have eternal life. And the congregation John’s writing to has a serious problem: There are people in the church who have influence yet — what they’ve been teaching — particularly doctrines they’ve been teaching people in this church to believe — have been false. These teachers have been deceiving others and it appears as if the people in the church didn’t even know they were being duped.
Now here’s the subtle thing about false teaching: Often, it’s almost the truth. It looks good — it feels good — it may even be what you or I hope is true. False teachers rarely teach something so radical that no one would ever believe them — they gain influence by taking a truth and slightly altering it so that it appeals to those who either don’t know the truth or don’t know why they believe the truth in the first place. For all it takes is a slight twist on the truth — with just a hint of deception — and suddenly you’re believing things that are false and you don’t even know it.
And — for many people — these “slightly twisted with a hint of deception” beliefs they hold are damnable. In other words, they think what they believe leads to eternal life — all while they’re beliefs are leading them to eternal destruction.
Listen to this quote by Irenaus of Lyons. Irenaus was born in 130 AD and his Bible teacher was Polycarp and Polycarp was trained by the apostle John — the author of our letter. That’s pretty cool, right? The guy who taught Ireanaus’ teacher was the apostle John. Well Irenaus said, Error never shows itself in its naked reality, in order not to be discovered. On the contrary, it dresses elegantly, so that the unwary may be led to believe that it is more truthful than truth itself. - Irenaus of Lyons
And here we are — nearly nineteen hundred years later — and nothing’s really changed. Error shows itself in such a way that it appears attractive — it even appears truthful — but only to those who don’t know the truth or know why they believe the truth. Which leads us to our big idea for today.
Since deception is possible, we must test what we believe. Since deception is possible, we must test what we believe. Or — as John says it — we must test the spirit of our beliefs to see if they’re from God or not.
Now we’re going to apply this principle — of testing what we believe — to three teachers in our lives. And this first one might surprise you.
TEST WHAT THE CHURCH TEACHES YOU
Since deception is possible, we must test what we’re taught in the church. Test what the church teaches. In verse one John writes, Beloved, do not (do what? Don’t…) believe every spirit, but (instead) test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. - 1 John 4:1 (ESV)
Since deception is possible, we must test what we’re taught in the church.
Now — if you’re not a Christian — you may be confused because you didn’t think you’d agree with anything you’d hear me say today — and here I’ve just told everyone to test what they’re taught in the church. So now that I’ve got your attention — let's make sure we understand this principle.
You should absolutely test what you’re taught in the church — even here at Gateway Church — even what I, Pastor Josh, teach you — but you should do so without being overly suspicious or untrusting of the leaders God’s appointed in the church. Meaning — you can test what you’re taught in the church without having a superiority complex — you’ll see why in our next point — but test what you’re taught — and do so with a humble posture.
But what’s the reason for testing what you’re taught in church?
We test what we believe because false prophets are present in the church. We see this in John’s statement, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. - 1 John 4:1b (ESV)
Jesus said something similar in his words, Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves…And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray…For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. - Matthew 7:15; 24:11, 24; Mark 13:22 (ESV)
Similarly, Peter warned a group of Christians that false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. - 2 Peter 2:1 (ESV)
Now it appears — in our letter — that these false prophets and teachers have already left the church — but at one time they had influence in the church. And — being false prophets and teachers — their desire was to lead people away from the truth. And — as Jesus warned and as Peter made very specific — we’d be naive to think that false teachers are not trying to lead people towards error in our day and age from within the church — for this is how our Enemy works.
He uses false teachers to deceive people into believing that a lie is the truth — resulting in them either causing division in a local church — by spreading deception as truth — or by leaving the church — causing disruption and confusion in the church.
And on a global scale, false teachers write books, preach sermons, and are popular on YouTube even as they deceive people into believing lies. And these public personalities can cause division in a local church as some in the congregation will say that “so and so’s” new book is a must read, while others say to stay away from the book because it’s teaching a lie.
But before we go on a witch hunt trying to figure out who the false teachers are, our big idea reminds us that we won’t ever know who they are if we don’t know the truth for ourselves.
So how do we test what’s being taught in the church and how do we do so in a way that’s not rooted in an unhealthy suspicion towards leaders in the church?
First, we test what we believe by knowing God’s Word in community. Look with me again in verse one. John begins with Beloved (which is actually plural — meaning John’s writing to the congregation as a whole…) 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. - 1 John 4:1 (ESV)
Don’t believe every spirit — there’s the command in our passage. Don’t be gullible by believing everything that’s on YouTube or is written by someone claiming to be a Christian — instead — we’re to test the spirits — test the truthfulness of what you hear or read — including what you’re taught here at Gateway.
And the fact that John’s writing to the congregation as a whole tells us that this testing is to be done in community — meaning with fellow Christians. And the best resource we have — for testing whether or not something being taught is from God or not — is God’s Word — the Bible.
So like the Berean community of Acts chapter seventeen, we’d be wise to receive the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things (the things taught by the church leaders) were so (or were truths from God). - Acts 17:11b (ESV)
One of my goals — when I preach — is to show you how to understand the Bible — so that when you read your Bible — you start to notice what it’s teaching in a way similar to how I help you notice what God’s Word teaches as we look at a text together. You’ve probably noticed that most of what I say is simply the same Bible verses from our passage over and over and over again. It’s simple, but it works. And it works because God’s Word is truth.
And when I stick to God’s Word — and simply slow you down so you see the truth in his Word — and hear it over and over again — all so you understand and believe his Word — I trust that the Spirit of God will change you by his Word. And wonderful things happen in our spirit when God’s Spirit uses God’s preached Word to reveal to you his truth.
Now obviously there’s much more to preaching than just saying Bible verses over and over again — but I promise if you’re here week after week on a regular basis — you’ll pick up on what I’m doing and be able to do it yourself. And you’ll be able to test what you hear me preach — by God’s Word — and find what’s taught here at Gateway to be truthful and accurate according to God’s Word.
And — as you do this — God’s Word will become alive to you. Suddenly truths from God’s Word will start leaping off the pages of the Bible. You’ll find that you have much more to share about what God is teaching you when you meet with your Life Group. And you’ll be able to use God’s Word to help others grow in their faith or get through a difficult situation because you’ll have God’s Word of truth at your fingertips.
But there’s a danger here that we need to be aware of — and the danger is this: In our personal search for truth, we can become so confident in our own understanding that we become unteachable. Let me say it another way: You should test everything you hear taught in the church with the Word of God, but you shouldn’t allow yourself to come to a place where you’re unteachable because you think you’re the only person who perfectly grasps God’s Word.
That’s why if you’re not a Christian, you should give Christian teachers a fair shake by testing what they teach according to the Bible and not according to what you believe about the Bible. Disagree with me all you like, but disagree with me because I’m teaching the Bible accurately, not because I don’t teach what you believe. The way to judge the integrity of a Christian teacher is to judge their teaching with the Bible. So listen to what I’m saying today — for instance — and go study the Bible for yourself. And at the end of your study, if you say, “You know, I don’t believe what Josh believes, but I must say he did teach what the Bible says,” then at least you’re being fair.
And — if you’re a Christian — the best way for you to grow in understanding God’s truth and in testing what you’re taught in church — is to be in community. Where you and other Christians — together — test what you’ve been taught and — together — test what you believe. Where everyone in the group is equally teachable because none of us have everything figured out. This is why humility is key — for without humility — a person is unteachable. And an unteachable person is usually a person who’s believed the biggest deception of all — that they’re the only person who doesn’t need other Christians to help them understand the truth — because they’ve fallen for the biggest deception of our day that’s referred to as “my truth.” You and I don’t have any such thing as “my truth.” The only One who can claim to have “my truth” is the One who is the way, the truth, and the life. And that’s not you or me.
Here at Gateway, we call groups of community — Life Groups. These groups are where God’s Word is opened so that what we believe to be true can be tested with God’s Word. This results in us all growing in the accuracy of what we believe so we more purely love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And — if you’re a Christian — I can’t encourage you enough to get into a Life Group so you’re testing what you believe in community with God’s Word — because deception is possible — so we must test what we’re taught in the church.
TEST WHAT YOU TEACH YOURSELF
Now the second teacher — we’re to test — has already been mentioned. What teacher am I talking about? Well…Since deception is possible, we must test our beliefs. We must test what we teach ourselves. In verses two and three John writes, By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 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 4:2-3 (ESV)
Now — since this point’s been mentioned already — I’ll be brief. The most important belief that you must be sure of is what you believe about Jesus. Now — in our text — it appears that John’s trying to refute a specific false teaching about Jesus that had to do with him not coming in the flesh — that Jesus wasn’t really human. So John has a very specific error that he’s trying to correct in this church. The slight twist of the truth here appears to be a belief that the spiritual world was a more holy or perfect realm — while the realm of the flesh — or physical world — was evil. So they created a false teaching that said Jesus never became human — and John refutes them.
Throughout church history there’s been false teaching after false teaching after false teaching about Christ. Many of the big heresies in church history are about Christ. I don’t have time to highlight them — that he wasn’t an actual human is just one of the heresies — but my point is that you should know what you believe about Jesus and why you believe what you do — for this will keep you from falling prey to false teachings about Jesus which are still around today. And God’s Word — being examined in the context of Christian community — should be the primary means by which you grow in your understanding about Christ.
Finally, the last teacher.
TEST WHAT THE WORLD TEACHES YOU
Since deception is possible, we must test what we’re taught by the world. In verse four John writes, 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. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 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. - 1 John 4:4-6 (ESV)
Since deception is possible, we must test what we’re taught by the world.
I’m often amazed at how quickly we judge others for not thinking through their beliefs — accusing those who believe differently than us to be ignorant or lazy in their pursuit of truth — all while it seems like both sides — Christians and non-Christians — both sides have very smart and intelligent people who know what they believe and why they believe it — and both sides — Christians and non-Christians — have people who are quite ignorant of what they believe and why they believe it.
But what John makes clear is that there are two very distinct people groups in our world. People of the world and people of God. People who listen to the world — and what it says is true — and people who listen to God and what he says is true. And the people of the world do not listen to God or his people — so it shouldn’t surprise those of us who are Christians that the world doesn’t listen to us today. Our hope isn’t in getting the world to listen to us anyway — our hope is in Christ. And our desire for the people of the world should be for them to find the joy, peace, and hope that’s found solely in Jesus.
But listen friends — Christians are not to listen to the lies of the world — we’re to be listening to God. This is how we know we’re of the truth and not of error — this is how we know that we’ve listened to God’s Spirit and not the spirit of the antichrist.
As Pastor John MacArthur has said, the world “causes people to doubt what God said, (it) causes people to distort what God said, (it) causes people to flatly deny what God said…that’s the strategy. God speaks, he speaks clearly, he speaks in his Word, he speaks unambiguously, and Satan comes along creating doubt, distortion and outright denial. These are the strategies that he uses and you can take doubt, distortion, and denial and they all add up to deceit. This is what Satan does.”
And those who listen to God — the apostle John says — listen to those who speak on God’s behalf. Yes, they test what they’re taught in the church — but they do listen. They hear God’s Word being preached by imperfect vessels who’ve been called to point you to the truth of Jesus and the joy that’s found in him.
And these verses teach us that we must be diligent in testing what we’re taught by the world. For — as bad of a reputation as Christians have for believing in something without really thinking it through — the same can be said of non-Christians and what they’ve been taught by the world. Just listen to some quotes.
“There doesn't need to be a God for me. There's something in people that's spiritual, that's godlike. I don't feel like doing things just because people say things, but I also don't really know if it's better to just not believe in anything, either.” - Angelina Jolie
“There doesn’t need to be a God for me.” Says who? Based on what? Angelina Jolie? Who gave her such authority?
Here’s another quote.
“I think we all have a little voice inside us that will guide us. It may be God, I don't know. But I think that if we shut out all the noise and clutter from our lives and listen to that voice, it will tell us the right thing to do. The Unitarian believes that God is good, and believes that God believes that man is good inherently. The Unitarian God is not a God of vengeance. And that is something I can appreciate.” - Christopher Reeve
Since when does our appreciation make something true or not about God? Christopher Reeve played a decent Superman — but he plays a terrible spiritual teacher.
One last quote. “Technically, I'm an agnostic, but I definitely believe in hell — especially after [seeing] the fall TV schedule.” - Matt Groening
That one’s just funny — which fits since it was said by the creator of the Simpsons.
But how about we make this real — real uncomfortable for some of us.
You say you believe in so called same-sex marriage. Do you know why you do? How do you know that what you believe is true and that you haven’t believed a lie? And why are you so easily offended that I would even question your beliefs when my beliefs — regarding what God’s Word says about marriage — are questioned all of the time?
Or maybe you say you believe in the woman’s right to choose when it comes to pregnancy and abortion. Do you know when life begins? If so, what do you base your belief on because doctors can’t seem to agree on this? And if doctors aren’t in agreement, how do you know that you’re not believing a lie? Maybe abortion is the murder of human beings made in God’s image and you just don’t want to admit it?
And — for the hat trick — let’s talk about racism. At one point in history our country believed that blacks were not of equal value to whites. No one could question this so-called “truth” at the time. Our country had laws that enforced this so-called “truth”. And if you questioned racism — you were viewed the same way as you are today if you question so called same-sex marriage or abortion. Yet — as we look back — the majority of us would agree that our country bought into a lie that said blacks were of lesser value than whites. A lie that was believed by many in the church. Yet — when you compare the lie of racism with the truth of God’s Word — which states that all humans are made in the image of God — thus all people have equal value — we see that God’s Word teaches a truth that’s counter to the lie of racism.
And if both Christians and non-Christians could believe the lie of racism — what else might you be deceived into believing today? Which means we must test what we’re being taught — even what we’re taught by the world — so we’re not deceived into believing lies that we think are truths.
In a world full of lies — and when we have to be warned that even churches can be infiltrated by deception — where are we to find truth — especially the most important truth we should be seeking to know with certainty — whether or not we have eternal life — where do we find truth?
We turn to Jesus and his Word to us. One day Jesus was teaching his disciples about eternity and he said, In my Father’s house are many rooms (Jesus is talking about Heaven here). If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the (what? Jesus says he is the…) truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. - John 14:2-6 (ESV)
Here Jesus teaches us that all truth is ultimately found in him. True life is found in him — truth is found in him — including the most important truth of all — how a person finds eternal life. This is why knowing who Jesus is and knowing what God’s Word says about him should be the highest priority on all of our to-do lists. And — since deception is possible — we must be diligent in testing what we believe — including what we’ve been taught to believe by the church — what we’ve been taught to believe by the world — and let’s not forget to test what we’ve taught ourselves.
And when each of us tests what we believe — especially what we believe about Jesus — regardless of where you are right now in your beliefs about him — I promise you that in testing what you believe about Jesus with God’s Word — I promise that you’ll discover truths about Jesus that will change you for the rest of your life. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, help us to be wise in knowing what we believe and why we believe it. Help us to be discerning as to what is true and what is false. Lead each of us into a deeper understanding of who you are, who we are, and how we can know with certainty that we have eternal life.
Spirit of God, help us to not be deceived into believing that we don’t need others to help us understand what we believe. You’ve created us for community and we need each other to help us in our pursuit of truth. I pray against the lies of the world — especially those lies that contain a hint of truth that’s been twisted into something evil in your sight.
But most importantly — I pray that each person hearing my voice would pursue the truth that’s found in Jesus Christ. That we’d all grow in our understanding of who Jesus is, what he’s done, what it means to believe in him, and what it means to follow him. All so that you — Jesus — would be glorified as we grow as people who know what we believe and why we believe it. In your name we pray. Amen.
May you go knowing what you believe and why — because you believe in Jesus Christ who is the way, the truth, and the life. Amen.
God loves you. I love you. You are sent.