1 John 4:2-3 “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.”
Saint Augustine preached on these words from the Apostle John during Easter week about 300 years after they were first written. He recognized almost a dozen dangerous teachings and religious movements that could be identified by asking, “Do they know Jesus? Do they recognize him as God and man? Do the recognize him as the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior?”
The same test is useful today. You probably realize that there are a number of world religions that fail the test on this point: Judaism, Islam, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, to name a few. More Christians are becoming aware that if you attend a college or university, many that are affiliated with Christian denominations, even some with the name Lutheran, and take a course in “New Testament Studies,” “the Gospels,” or some similar course, there is a high likelihood that the “spirit” teaching that class will fail on this point as well. Jesus’ divine nature, his atoning death for our sins, his bodily resurrection from the dead have all been denied in many Christian institutions of higher learning for well over a century now. It is inevitable that this same spirit has found its way into pulpits of Christian churches, too. That is why it is important that we heed John’s words, and test the faith of those who teach us. Regardless of who stands before you to preach or teach, including the man writing this devotion, have this question in the back of your mind: Does he know Jesus? Not “Does he speak warmly about Jesus?” Not “Does he make Jesus sound interesting?” Not “Does he use Jesus name a lot?” But “Does he know the same Jesus and preach the same Jesus that the Apostle John is describing here?”
It is not sinful judging to test our teachers this way. If you were shopping in the produce aisle at the grocery store, you would not put a badly bruised apple or an obviously rotting and moldy cucumber or a brown and mushy banana into your basket. You would “judge” these foods to be unfit for your consumption. Such judging is even more important when it comes to how we feed our souls.
A few verses later John clarifies our picture of what Jesus looks like, the standard for our test. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). To know Jesus is to know God’s love. That starts with Christmas, right? All by itself, sending his Son into this world was an incredible display of God’s love. For many years now we have had great respect for the parents who sent their sons and daughters into enemy territory in Iraq or Afghanistan, with all the dangers involved. God sent his Son into the enemy territory of this world, with far more dangers, far less defenses, and far more certainty of death so that he could give us life. That is love!
God’s love on Good Friday naturally follows. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” God not only knew that this could happen. He willed that it would happen. He sent Jesus to die as the sacrifice that took away the sins that stood between us and God. This sacrifice makes God smile at us, because we don’t look offensive to him anymore. It makes us smile at God, because he isn’t angry with us anymore. He did this, as the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 5, when we, on our part, were still God’s enemies. That is love!
The result, then, is that God’s love for us just solves everything! It takes away our sin. It creates in us the new birth of faith. It shows us what real love looks like, and then it produces that love in our own lives.
Faithfulness to the gospel that tells us God became a man, took our place on a cross, died in payment for our sins, and rose to guarantee our own unending life is still the standard test for those who teach us. Don’t be afraid to administer the test.