Two momentous teachings that result from the resurrection of our Lord and His resurrection life abiding in the baptized are, first, a recognition that the spirit of love and truth is not of this world or unregenerate humanity, but of God, and second, God is love. 1 John 4:1-6 occupy themselves with the former teaching. 1 John 4:7-11 with the latter.

Commentator Bruce G. Schuchard notes the theme of two kinds of spirits and how it is one distinguishes between the Spirit of God and the spirit of antichrist — love and truth. The preceding passage, of course, “...enunciated the twofold instruction of both the Father and the Son to believe in the name of the Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another (3:23).”[1] It was the Spirit of God, that is, the Spirit of love and truth which was given to the baptized. Contrasting spirits are the topic at hand in 4:1-6. There is the Spirit of God and there is the spirit of the world, which is antichrist, meaning “other than Christ.” If Christ is the holiness, righteousness, salvation, truth, grace, resurrection life, eternal life, and perfection of God, then the spirit of the world is the antithesis of all those.

The hallmark of the Spirit of truth is that Jesus Christ, true Son of God, and true Son of Mary, “for us men and for our salvation,” came in the flesh. Contrastingly, it is the hallmark of antichrist to damage, reject, confuse, confusticate, alter, or amend the truth of God incarnate. Consequently, Christians must not believe every spirit. That is, not everything of a spiritual nature can be said to originate with the Spirit of God. Rather, the truth and love of authentic spirituality have boundaries, a definite shape — Immanuel, God with us. Therefore, this is the litmus test by which we are called to “test the spirits” to see “if they are of God.” Christ is one person with two natures. This same Christ lived a perfect life, fulfilled the law of God, and so accomplished everything required of humanity. He was crucified to death, bodily raised from the dead in a transformative resurrection, and ascended into Heaven with a glorified body. Yes, all of that is packed into the confession of Christ. All of it is illuminated by the Spirit of truth as pure unadulterated gospel. None of it can be missing from the spirit which confesses the Christ of God. Any or all of it will be missing or altered by the spirit that confesses something other than the Christ, that is antichrist, which breeds death.

The hallmark of the Spirit of truth is that Jesus Christ, true Son of God, and true Son of Mary, “for us men and for our salvation,” came in the flesh.

It is out there, too. Orthodoxy must be taught and retaught, asserted and defended, catechized, and confessed because, “Many false prophets have gone out into the world.” The way of the Christian synthesizes the way of negation (via negativa) and the way of affirmation (via affirmatus) — assertion and rejection. We believe that, but we also reject this. By way of this confession, it is evident we “are of God” and bask in the status of being His “children.” This confession is how we overcome the world and it constitutes our victory. In fact, it manifests the Church per se. The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church is the assembly in the Spirit of God in which the pure preaching of the Gospel takes place, and the Sacraments are administered according to that Gospel. This overcomes the world of death, darkness, and ignorance, “...because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” The Gospel triumphs. The Church is extant and triumphs by the Gospel. Indeed, “Whoever knows God listens to us [i.e., the ones with the Apostolic Gospel of God]; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (verse 6).

In the second section of this pericope, John’s previous interest in confessing Christ (4:1-6) turns especially to the need of the beloved to respond in kind love for one another (4:7-10). In other words, John gives us an encouragement regarding the implications of the Gospel, not just in word (confession and association of the truth, the epistemic and salvific dimensions), but also in deeds (the ethical and relational) due to the love of God being manifest in human history through Christ, and now in regenerate humanity.

Schuchard ponders, “If one asks why love receives so much stress, the answer is likely to be, at least in part, that John is attempting to amend the wounds in the church caused by the departure of the [erring] secessionists and ‘to get the remaining faithful Christians to redouble their efforts to create true Christian community.’ They must really pull together.”[2]

John does more than offer a mere summons to the endurance of love in the context of the Church. As Schuchard recapitulates it, “He directs all attention to, he powerfully grounds his summon to love in, love’s sole authentic and empowering wellspring. He points, then, to the source and the reason for our living, for our loving, to the Father, to ‘Eternal Love,’ who shows us His love in the sending and the sacrificing of His sole and beloved Son. John points to the one who is alone powerful to enliven, inform, and empower to newness of life and love in our living and our loving of one another. Not as the world loves, but as we have been loved—that is how we love, in Him who loved us first.”[3]

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Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in 1 John 4:1-11.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach 1 John 4:1-11.