Dear friends, 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. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. –1 John 4:1-3
It’s exam week in college’s across America. Just this morning, I had sixteen students sit through a final as I waited to hand them back their final papers. In all of this, I’m glad that I don’t have to take exams any more.
Today’s verses, John’s test for spirits, would seem to be a rather broad umbrella for spirits we should believe. If the spirit acknowledges that Jesus has come in the flesh, then that spirit is from God. What could be simpler?
In walks Spirit #1. It acknowledges that Jesus did indeed live and breathe and walk upon this earth. That’s about as “in the flesh” as we could hope for, so that spirit must be from God, right? That’s the spirit that informs the Muslim view of Jesus. In their view, Jesus was a great prophet, perhaps the greatest prophet before Mohammad. Does that spirit pass the test? No. That spirit believes in the physical person Jesus, but I had a guy named Jesus (hay-SOOS) serve me pizza recently. Big deal. There’s a difference between Jesus and Jesus Christ.
Next we meet Spirit #2. This spirit refers to Jesus Christ, claiming that he walked on the earth. Therefore, this spirit is from God. Before you agree, let’s be sure that the Jesus Christ being embraced by this spirit, a spirit that seems to inform the Mormons, is the same Jesus Christ. According to the former LDS President, Gordon Hinckley, The traditional Christ of whom they [evangelicals] speak is not the Christ of whom I speak. For the Christ of whom I speak has been revealed in this the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. So what do we make of that? It seems that Hinckley is putting a tougher test on spirits than does John.
Finally, I’d introduce you to Spirit #3. This spirit talks about Jesus, perhaps referring to him as Christ, but it doesn’t act as if the advent of Jesus in any way changes the world. Does that spirit really believe that Jesus Christ, Jesus the Anointed One, Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Fully Human/Fully Divine, walked the earth? That spirit seems alive and well and prowling our churches and sometimes our lives.
Any spirit that winds up saying “So what?” after acknowledging that Jesus walked the earth is not really acknowledging that John’s Jesus walked the earth. As I’ve said before in this space, the appearance of Jesus changes everything. Everything!