by Mike Ratliff
1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because 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, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. 4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world hears them. 6 We are from God. The one who knows God hears us; the one who is not from God does not hear us. From this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.1 John 4:1-6 (LSB)
It is one thing to confess Christ or profess to be a Christian and quite another to live and walk before the face of God within that confession or profession in obedience to God and His Word. There are so many in our time who claim to be Christians, but whose lives are marked by them speaking and living according to the world and its ways. I, like many of you, have become very perplexed when certain Christian leaders who profess all the right things are then seen to fellowship with those who are obvious apostates. If we are not careful and properly focused in our devotion, which is the definition of godliness, we can become discouraged because we are looking to men rather than our Saviour for the proper way to walk, minister, and confront false doctrine.
1 Τὸ δὲ πνεῦμα ῥητῶς λέγει ὅτι ἐν ὑστέροις καιροῖς ἀποστήσονταί τινες τῆς πίστεως προσέχοντες πνεύμασιν πλάνοις καὶ διδασκαλίαις δαιμονίων, 2 ἐν ὑποκρίσει ψευδολόγων, κεκαυστηριασμένων τὴν ἰδίαν συνείδησιν, 3 κωλυόντων γαμεῖν, ἀπέχεσθαι βρωμάτων, ἃ ὁ θεὸς ἔκτισεν εἰς μετάλημψιν μετὰ εὐχαριστίας τοῖς πιστοῖς καὶ ἐπεγνωκόσιν τὴν ἀλήθειαν. 4 ὅτι πᾶν κτίσμα θεοῦ καλὸν καὶ οὐδὲν ἀπόβλητον μετὰ εὐχαριστίας λαμβανόμενον· 5 ἁγιάζεται γὰρ διὰ λόγου θεοῦ καὶ ἐντεύξεως. (1 Timothy 4:1-5 NA28)
1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith giving heed to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 in hypocrisy of liars whose consciences have been seared, 3 forbidding to marry, commanding the abstinence from foods, which God created for partaking with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 Because every creation of god is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it being sanctified through word of God and intercession. (1 Timothy 4:1-5 translated from the NA28 Greek text)
Think of what is being taught in the visible church in our time about tolerance for everyone’s “religion.” That is, everyone’s religion except that of those who have not compromised the faith while holding fast to Jesus Christ as our only propitiation for our sins. These same hypocrites hold to a form of Christianity that is focused on the man rather than God. These are in unbelief when it comes to the sovereignty of God over all of creation. They exalt the Free Will of man over God’s sovereignty. Through this they conform to the world’s teaching of relativism and pragmatism which are the deceitful teachings of demons. When we preach and teach the exclusivity of the Biblical Gospel, they proclaim that we are bigots and Pharisees.
These are the ones who will “depart from the faith,’ ἀποστήσονταί τινες τῆς πίστεως. What this means is that these professing Christians are holding to teachings that are outside the bounds of true Christianity. Their teachings may indeed include some truth, but it is contaminated with error. These false teachings are from demons. It can be quite disturbing when very visible and popular Christian leaders are revealed to have compromised here. However, in v1 we are told that God is not surprised and we should not panic, but should remain faithful.
6 Ταῦτα ὑποτιθέμενος τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς καλὸς ἔσῃ διάκονος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ, ἐντρεφόμενος τοῖς λόγοις τῆς πίστεως καὶ τῆς καλῆς διδασκαλίας ᾗ παρηκολούθηκας· 7 τοὺς δὲ βεβήλους καὶ γραώδεις μύθους παραιτοῦ. Γύμναζε δὲ σεαυτὸν πρὸς εὐσέβειαν· 8 ἡ γὰρ σωματικὴ γυμνασία πρὸς ὀλίγον ἐστὶν ὠφέλιμος, ἡ δὲ εὐσέβεια πρὸς πάντα ὠφέλιμός ἐστιν ἐπαγγελίαν ἔχουσα ζωῆς τῆς νῦν καὶ τῆς μελλούσης. 9 πιστὸς ὁ λόγος καὶ πάσης ἀποδοχῆς ἄξιος· 10 εἰς τοῦτο γὰρ κοπιῶμεν καὶ ἀγωνιζόμεθα, ὅτι ἠλπίκαμεν ἐπὶ θεῷ ζῶντι, ὅς ἐστιν σωτὴρ πάντων ἀνθρώπων μάλιστα πιστῶν. 11 Παράγγελλε ταῦτα καὶ δίδασκε. (1 Timothy 4:6-11 NA28)
6 In placing these things before the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being nourished in the words of faith, and the good instruction which you have followed closely. 7 But refuse the profane and old wives fables! But exercise yourself to godliness! 8 For the bodily exercise for a little is beneficial, but godliness is beneficial for all things, having promise of life – of the present, and of the coming one. 9 Trustworthy is the word, and worthy of all acceptance. 10 For in this also we tire in labor, and are berated, because we have hope upon a living God, who is deliverer of all men, especially of believers. 11 Command and teach these things! (1 Timothy 4:6-11 translated from the NA28 Greek text)
George Swinnock, English Puritan (1627 – November 10, 1673) and contemporary of John Bunyan, was a worthy minister of the gospel. He was ejected from his pulpit in 1662 for nonconformity like Bunyan, although he was able to preach again briefly before his death after the 1672 Indulgence. The following quote is from a sermon of his based on v7 from the passage above.
There are several things which may help to make the life fair in the eyes of men, but nothing will make it amiable in the eyes of God, unless the heart be changed and renewed. Indeed, all the medicines that can be applied, without the sanctifying work of the Spirit, though they may cover, they can never cure the corruptions and diseases of the soul… Such civil persons go to hell without much disturbance, being asleep in sin, yet not snoring to the disquieting of others; they are so far from being awaked that they are many times praised and commended. Example, custom, and education, may also help a man to make a fair show in the flesh, but not to walk after the Spirit. They may prune and lop sin, but never stub it up by the roots. All that those can do, is to make a man like a grace, green and flourishing on the surface and outside, when within there is nothing but noisomeness and corruption. – George Swinnock1
Swinnock is right. We must make sure that we are a καλὸς ἔσῃ διάκονος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ, a good servant of Christ Jesus. How do we do that? We must be ἐντρεφόμενος τοῖς λόγοις τῆς πίστεως καὶ τῆς καλῆς διδασκαλίας, nourished in the words of faith, and the good instruction, which are found in God’s Word and are not contaminated by the world and deception of demons. This is why when apostates like Brian McLaren, for example, attempt to change the focus of the Church from these good doctrines to that which is nebulous and tolerant and open to other “religions,” we must confront them and use all the means open to us to warn the Body of Christ about him. Contrary to the teaching of our time that says that everything is relative and there is no such thing as absolute truth, we cannot buy into that at all. Yes, we should be Christlike in how we do this, but we must stand firm and obey our Lord in all things.
1George Swinnock, “Do You Worship God,” a sermon from the Puritan era on 1 Timothy 4:7, reprinted in Free Grace Broadcaster, Issue 177, (Summer 2001), 21-22.
Soli Deo Gloria!