Does 1 John 4:1-3 mean that any person, church, or group, regardless of standards, that claims Jesus Christ is God and came in the flesh is “of God” like it says in verse 2? And follow up question, if that is true, then why is it that we criticize those who are “different” if we both believe Jesus is the Messiah?
Thank you for your discerning questions. Let’s first consider the text:
1 John 4:1-3
“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.”
This passage provides a test for discerning the true from the false regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ. Confesseth (the same word used in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins…”) means to say the same thing or to agree. Here, it implies a previously communicated truth must be embraced, specifically, that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. The first element of this twofold truth is that Jesus is in fact the Christ, the Messiah, the one anointed to be the Savior of the world. The second is that Jesus actually came into the world as a man to be the Savior of men. The tense of the verb “is come” indicates a past event with continuing effects, and being tied to the term flesh, it implies His death for mankind for Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Those who confess this truth are said to be of God. Those who thus agree with this truth are believers in Jesus. Believers embrace the evangelical message of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone. This is the bond believers have in Christ regardless of variations they may have in lesser doctrines and practices.
While it is appropriate for each one to be persuaded over lesser matters and it is fair to debate these issues, exhibiting a condemning and critical attitude is out of place. Doing such promotes sectarianism which Paul exposes as carnal in 1 Corinthians 3. Carnality or fleshliness is the result of walking after the flesh instead of walking in the Spirit. Without the Spirit, we can tend toward an “us four, no more” mentality. In fact, Jesus addressed such small-mindedness with His disciples:
“And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us. But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part” (Mark 9:38-40).
Those who are “of God” have a bond in Jesus though they may be different in lesser matters. To recognize this truth does not imply that one embraces the details of another’s doctrines and practices. It means that one recognizes and rejoices in the bond believers have in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
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