1 John 4:1-11

Do not believe every spirit. The person who does not love does not know God.

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1Dear 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. 2This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. (1 John 4:1-2)

During the writing of this summary, I became aware of a detail that I had overlooked during the Sunday School hour. “This is how,” John wrote at the start of verse 2, before comparing two spirits: the Spirit of God and other spirits. This implies that false prophets are inspired by other spirits.

However, I believe that the condition in which the true spirit “acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” is insufficient.

Because it says in James 2:19:

“You believe that God is one; well and good. Even the demons believe that – and tremble with fear.”

There is also a similar account in Acts:

17Now as we were going to the place of prayer, a slave girl met us who had a spirit that enabled her to foretell the future by supernatural means. She brought her owners a great profit by fortune-telling. 17She followed behind Paul and us and kept crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation. 18She continued to do this for many days. But Paul became greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!” And it came out of her at once.” (Acts 16:16-18)

Even though everything the girl said was true, she was inspired by other spirits.

In the remaining verses from 3 to 6, John provided us with additional indicators to identify other spirits, such as “every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus” and “whoever knows God listens to us.”

These conditions, in my opinion, are insufficient for us to identify the other spirits. Furthermore, the “listens to us” criterion has a problem in that there may be many reasons why even some Christians do not want to listen to us, such as differences in viewpoints on baptism, end-of-the-world events, worship styles, and other points of contention.


7 Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been fathered by God and knows God. 8The person who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9By this the love of God is revealed in us: that God has sent his one and only Son into the world so that we may live through him. 10In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Dear friends, if God so loved us, then we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:7-11)

From verses 7 to 11, John wrote exclusively about love, but verse 8 in particular caught my attention: “Whoever does not love does not know God.” According to Jesus in John 17:3, knowing God is having eternal life. So, how does one go about objectively determining whether or not he loves? Can his love be sufficiently qualified to give him assurance of salvation? It’s a slippery definition of salvation.

Love, according to Galatians 5:22, is a fruit of the Spirit and thus cannot be compelled by any law (Galatians 5:23). If a commandment can forcefully produce love, then it is a fruit of the law, but we all know that this is false. Only the Spirit can produce love. As a result, using love as a criterion for salvation contradicts the gospel, which states that you are saved by grace through faith in the Son of God. Verse 8 is may be presenting “another gospel” (Galatians 1:8).

Nghi Nguyen

- Scripture quoted by permission. All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer: This is my own opinion on the topic, which does not necessarily reflect the church's theology, or beliefs of the individuals in it — Nghi Nguyen

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