4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5 They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.
(1 John 4:4-6 NIV)
John continues his teaching on discernment, picking up where we left off in the previous passage (vv. 1-3). John has shared a simple test to see if someone is teaching the Gospel or is a false teacher.
The test? Simply answering the question, “Who is Jesus?”. Either we acknowledge Jesus as Messiah, fully God and fully human, or we don’t.
In the previous passage, John went on to say that either the spirit of God (the Holy Spirit) is in a person, or the spirit of the world is in a person. Considering the mess of the world in John’s day (and the mess we find ourselves in today), where the vast majority of the people are not followers of Christ, this could be overwhelming to those that follow Christ.
John begins today’s passage with a familiar term of endearment – “dear children”. John uses the Greek word “teknion” (“young learner”, as in elementary school) to address his readers (and us).
John uses this term of endearment to let us know that as Christ-followers who believe that Jesus was and is fully God and fully human, we are counted as part of God’s family. And as part of God’s family, we have overcome the spirit of the world.
In the same breath, John says that we are overcomers not because of something we said or did, but because God is greater than the evil one (v. 4). We have nothing to boast or brag about in and of ourselves; we can only boast or brag about what God has done on our behalf.
It’s easy to get into an “us vs. them” mentality, to see the overwhelming odds as only the quantity of people who follow Christ compared to those who don’t. John is writing this to remind us that despite these odds, God is still greater than any comparison we might try to make on the human level. Even one person with God is a majority. The battle is not ours to ultimately win or lose – it is a battle that is between God and satan. But we still have a part to play.
John finishes this passage by laying out two “world views” – two ways of looking at life and our existence on this earth. John says that either we listen to and speak from the viewpoint of the world, or we listen to and speak from the viewpoint of God. Yes, there are many variations to these two worldviews, but ultimately, it boils down to these two perspectives.
With these two viewpoints in mind, we can go back to John’s teaching in verse 1 – to test the spirit of the person who teaches. Do we teach from the Bible (God’s Word), and do we believe that Jesus was Messiah, fully God and fully human? If so, then God counts us as His children.
Remember that John is not teaching us how to win a philosophical argument, nor is he teaching us to have a “feel good” session to recite our theology and beliefs. John is reminding us that God gives us His truth that we can live by, despite the circumstances that may come our way.
This same truth is also the light that God offers to a lost and dying world, the same truth that someone once shared with us. May we be Christ’s light and hope to the little corner of the world where God has placed us.
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