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Sermon #32 — 1st John Series
Title: Who speaks for God?
Text: 1 John 4:1-13
Subject: Discerning Who Speaks for God
Date: Tuesday Evening — April 16, 2013
Tape# 1st John #32
Readings: Bobbie Estes and Larry Brown
It is my great joy to preach the gospel of Christ. I have no greater desire and ambition in life than to preach Christ unto men. Never am I happier than when I am in my pulpit, declaring the unsearchable riches of Christ. But this is also my greatest concern, my heaviest burden, my most sobering responsibility. How shall I, a broken piece of clay, a man of sinful flesh stand before you as God’s spokesman? It is my awesome task to speak to you at this hour in God’s stead! And I must do so with the full awareness that each of you has an undying soul. In measure, you will all be judged by what I now say; you will be either saved or damned according to the gospel that I now preach to you. And what is more, I must stand before the infinite God to give an account of my ministry. I know something about how the prophets of old must have felt when they cried, “The burden of the Word of the Lord is upon me.” I know something of that awesome weight of responsibility expressed by the Apostle when he said, “the care of all the churches is upon me.” Never did a man have a more awesome task than that man who now speaks to you. I must speak to you the Word of God! Where shall I find the words to speak? Where shall I find the wisdom and the strength to speak? I am but a man. God help me!
The Apostle Paul expressed this same great anxiety in the book of 2 Corinthians, chapter two. Read verses 15-17. — “We are unto God a sweet savor of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: to the one we are the savor of death unto death; and to the other the savor of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not as many which corrupt the Word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.”
E. W. Johnson
Bro. E. W. Johnson once went to visit with one of the members of his congregation in Pine Bluff, Arkansas who was dying. After talking with the man for a while, he asked, “My friend, is everything well with your soul?” The old man looked him squarely in the eye and replied, “If you have told me the truth, all is well.” “If you have told me the truth, all is well!” Again, I say, “Who is sufficient for these things?”
This great weight of responsibility I carry with me always. It presses mightily upon my heart at home, in my study, and in this pulpit. I have neither the desire nor the ability to free myself of it.
But you who hear me also have a great responsibility. As I am responsible for what I say, you are responsible for what you hear. When you go to the house of worship, you must seek out a place where there is a man who preaches the gospel of God’s grace. You must not hear any man other than one who declares, “thus saith the Lord.” If you value your soul, you will refuse to hear any man who does not declare the Word of God to you. You will not sit under any ministry except that which exalts Christ in all the glory of his person, the efficacy of his substitutionary work, and the majesty of his mediatorial offices. It is this responsibility which John addresses in our text.
Illustration: Jeffrey Barretta — Fayetteville, NC
The title of my message tonight is — Who speaks for God? My text will be 1st John 4:1-13. — 1st John 4:1-13. Preachers abound on every side. There are men preaching somewhere, literally all the time. Not only do they preach in the churches of our town, but they are to be heard on radio, television, tapes, CDs, DVDs, and through the vast medium of the Internet. You name a doctrine, any doctrine that has ever been imagined, and I dare say there is someone declaring it tonight. Turn your radio dial from one station to another, and you will hear different men claiming fervently that they are sent from God, declaring two exactly opposite propositions. And this question naturally arises — “Who shall we hear?” — “Who is telling the truth?” — “Who speaks for God?” Two men, declaring two opposite doctrines, cannot be the representatives of the same God. Which man should I listen to? This terribly important question is answered by John in our text.
Proposition: Here John teaches us that in a day when false prophets abound, the children of God must discern between those men who are of God and those who are not of God.
Divisions: In these thirteen verses the Apostle gives us three things.
In the first place John tenderly sets before us a very solemn warning (vv. 1-3).
1 John 4:1-3 1 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. 2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: 3 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.
The warning is this: There are many deceiving false prophets who come in the name of God who utterly deny the gospel of Christ by the doctrine they preach. — “Try the spirits!” — Prove every preacher!
Here the Apostle returns to the doctrine he had just touched upon in chapter two.
1 John 2:18 Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.
The beloved pastor knew that his beloved congregation would face many grievous wolves who would come in sheep’s clothing. And he desired to protect them and us against those who would pervert the gospel of Christ. Therefore, he gives us these words of instruction and warning.
We must not believe every man who comes preaching in the name of God. — Since the time that the gospel began to be preached, false prophets have been present to pervert the gospel and preach another gospel. Therefore, John warns us that the people of God will be wise not to receive any doctrine thoughtlessly and without discernment, just because a preacher has taught it. No man is to be heard indiscriminately.
It is our responsibility to try and prove every man who claims to be sent of God. — “Try the spirits!” It is customary for men never to say anything negative or disrespectful of any man who carries a Bible and claims to be a preacher. But John tells us that it is not enough to receive a man who claims to speak by the Spirit of God just because he quotes the Bible, leads a moral life, and speaks in sincere tones. We must try a man by the message he declares. It matters not if the whole world follows him, we must try him by what he says. But where do we find discernment for this task?
To be sure, history alone is not sufficient. Every heresy now present has been held by some fool at some point in history. But we do want to know whether or not the people of God have, on the whole, believed what is being preached. Any doctrine that is new, or that has been commonly rejected by the servants of God in the past ought to be held in suspect. But still, our faith must stand in the Word of God. If a doctrine is found in the Word of God, we must receive it, no matter who denies it. — If a man is of God, he will speak according to God’s word.
The reason for this admonition is clearly stated: —“Because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” Even in the days of the Apostles, false prophets were abundant on every side. Indeed, it appears that there were more false apostles than there were true ones. But when a false prophet comes, he does not come declaring himself to be such. Satan transforms his ministers into angels of light. This is the danger.
But the god they preach is not the God of the Bible, though they call him Jehovah. Though they use the Bible for their proof texts, they refuse to faithfully give forth “the sense” of the Word, they refuse to faithfully expound and proclaim the message of Holy Scripture. Though they use biblical phrases, they give them new meanings. Their doctrine is an amalgamation without continuity. Though they may perform miracles, their miraculous powers are not of God. Though they speak by a spirit, it is not by the Spirit of God.
Here God the Holy Spirit gives us an unmistakable test, by which we must try the spirits and discern who speaks for God. There are many points of error and truth. And since we are fallible men, we cannot and do not claim to hold every point of divine revelation infallibly. Our doctrines, at a given point, may be erroneous. And a false prophet’s doctrines may, at a given point, be true.
A false prophet does not necessarily deny what we commonly call the fundamentals of the faith.
But there is one point where you may infallibly distinguish between those men who are sent of God and those who are false prophets. The acid test of every man’s ministry is this: — “What think ye of Christ?” — “Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the Word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed” (1 Peter 2:7-8). The glorious Person and the efficacious work of Christ as our Substitute is the point where every false prophet falls and every true messenger of God stands firm. Concerning the Person and work of Christ, there can be no debate.
Every man who speaks by the Spirit of God believes and proclaims the efficacious accomplishments of the Lord Jesus Christ.
1 John 4:2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
Our Threefold Confession
This confession of Christ is threefold. It speaks of his divinity, his manhood, and his work.
1. To confess that Jesus Christ came is to confess that he was before. If he came into the world, he had to exist beforehand. This is to confess that he is God the eternal Son.
2. To confess that Jesus Christ came in the flesh is to confess that he is really and truly a man.
This is the doctrine of the incarnation. God the eternal Son took our nature into union with himself. He is as truly God as though he were not man, and as truly man as though her were not God. He is the God-man, our Savior.
3. And the confession that Christ came is to confess that he accomplished all that the Scriptures of the Old Testament said he would accomplish.
He was sent of God into the world. But he was not sent for nothing. He came with a definite purpose and work to accomplish. Thus, there is a confession of Christ in all his mediatorial offices and the efficacy and merits of his work. — “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15).
I say it without apology; any man who denies that the Son of God has effectually accomplished what he came to do, or has failed to fulfill any of his covenant offices has denied the gospel.
· He accomplished our righteousness as our representative upon the earth.
· He died as our Substitute, satisfying the demands of God’s holy law and justice.
· He reconciled us to God, as our Mediator, having put away our sin.
· He intercedes for us in heaven as a High Priest, effectually securing for his redeemed all the blessings of the covenant, promised by God and secured by his shed blood.
When he was coming into the world, he said, “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God.” And he has done it, by the which will we are sanctified. The angel said, “Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.” And blessed be God, he has done it (Hebrews 9-14).
Hebrews 10:9-14 9 Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. 10 By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: 12 But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; 13 From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. 14 For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.
He is the Messiah. Hear what I say, Jesus Christ is Lord! He is Lord by divine right. He is Lord by his effectual redemptive work. He is Lord by sovereign appointment. He is Lord by glorious exaltation. Christ was King when he was born. He entered his kingdom by the cross. He sits upon the throne of glory; and he shall rule forever. And all of his people delight to worship him as King! We gladly sing, Reign forever, O glorious King!
This is the confession of every true believer and the confession of every man who speaks for God. — Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. It is not the mere confession of historical facts. But it is the glad confession of our inmost souls. In our hearts, from our hearts, and with our hearts we confess Christ the Lord.
Every man who denies this confession of Christ is antichrist. He is the adversary of Christ. We all know that those who deny the eternal Godhead or perfect manhood of Christ are false prophets; but I want you to see that all who deny the merits and efficacy of Christ’s offices and work are antichrists, denying his eternal deity. Beware, dear friends, antichrists are prevalent throughout this world. You find antichrists everywhere, in every form of religion, in every sect and denomination.
We should not be duped into the modern tendency of setting up some phantom antichrist that is to terrorize and try the church in some future time. The modern dispensational concept of antichrist is little more than a remnant of medieval popery. Nothing is more suitable to the papists than to point to some future individual and say, “That will be antichrist.” But we should not be deceived by the superstitions of Rome, nor by the fanciful dreams of modern fundamentalism. John says, “Ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.”
The Apostles of our Lord (Paul, Peter, and Jude), writing by divine inspiration, told us plainly that there would be a religious apostasy in this last day, which would thoroughly permeate the outward visible church that it will be universally received as the truth of God. Listen to the awful warning of the Apostle Paul. — That wicked thing shall be revealed “whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power, and signs, and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they receive not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause, God shall send them a strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believe not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12).
Here, in 1 John 4, God the Holy Spirit tells us by the pen of his servant John, that the age of apostasy and antichrist had already begun then in John’s day! The deceiving doctrines of antichrist are so universally received that were it possible, the very elect of God would be deceived! Those who proclaim the truth of God are denounced as heretics, while those who despise his truth are hailed as great religious leaders. Those faithful men who uphold and insist upon the doctrines of divine sovereignty, effectual redemption, and irresistible grace are decried, while those who ridicule sovereignty, proclaim free-will, and make the blood of Christ of no effect are upheld as men of God.
I do not wish to be critical or severe. But I must be honest. This religious generation is sliding into hell. I must raise a clarion voice of warning. This is the generation of antichrist! I am bold to say that modern freewill/works religion is the greatest deception the world has ever known. While claiming to preach Christ, men are everywhere denying him. Like the liberals who went before them, the fundamentalists of our day use evangelical language and give it heretical meanings. They talk of a god who is at the beck and call of sinners, a salvation that does not save, and of a redemption that does not redeem. They sweetly speak of a lord who is not sovereign, a king who does not rule, and a master who is not served.
Never was John’s warning more desperately needed than it is today. — “Beloved, believe not ever spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” False prophets, antichrists, always exalt man and abase God. — Faithful gospel preachers, those men who speak for God and by whom God speaks always exalt God and abase man.
Shall the elect of God be deceived? How can we hope to be preserved against such a masterful deceiver as Satan and those false prophets by who he deceives immortal souls? These are questions John knew would perplex his dear brethren. Therefore, in the second place, he gives us a comforting word of assurance.
The Apostle John tenderly assures those who are the people of God, pointing out the distinction between false prophets and the apostles of Christ and between mere religious professors who shall fall by the carnal doctrines of antichrists, and the true believer who shall be preserved by the power of God (vv. 4-6).
1 John 4:4-6 4 Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. 5 They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. 6 We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.
First, John assures us of our own preservation. — “Ye are of God, little children” (v. 6). Are we followers of Christ? Do we abide in the faith of the gospel? Have our hearts been renewed by the Spirit of God? Then, we have no reason to fear. We shall not be drawn aside by these false prophets. No, not even the strong delusion by which the world shall perish can snatch us from the arms of our Good Shepherd, or the Almighty hands of our heavenly Father. We belong to God, and he will not allow us to fall by the craftiness of Satan. — “Ye are of God, little children.”
What is more, in Christ Jesus we have already triumphed over Satan, and he cannot prevail against those by whom he is conquered. — We “have overcome them.” Satan and his multitudes of antichrists are already defeated.
Once more, it is not possible for God’s elect to be deceived and perish by the doctrines of antichrist, because “greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.”
Then John assures us that those false prophets who deny the gospel of Christ are of the world (v. 5).
1 John 4:5 They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.
Though they speak pious sounding words, all preachers of freewill/works religion are of the world. They are guilty, corrupt, cursed men of this wicked world. Being of the world, they seek after the things of this world. To them, godliness is gain. Their principles, practices, and goals are worldly. And they speak of the world. Their doctrines are formed by the wisdom of men and represent those things that are pleasing to men.
Therefore, we need not be surprised to see the world in great masses following them. — “And the world heareth them.”
Let any man preach any doctrine, no matter how foolish and absurd, except the doctrine of substitution, and the world will give him a hearing.
And John assures us that the apostles of Christ were of God and that all who are of God hear their message (v.6).
1 John 4:6 We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.
The Apostles, those men inspired of God to write the New Testament, spoke not of themselves, nor of what they had done. But they spoke according to the direct inspiration of God the Holy Spirit. And those who are God’s children hear their words. True gospel speak according to their words; whereas, false prophets and false preachers proclaim the vain dreams of their own depraved hearts and minds.
In the face of this great, massive deception, what are the children of God to do? John tells us plainly. He gives us, in the third place, a tender exhortation (vv. 7-13).
He does not tell us to take up arms against the antichrists. He does not even tell us to spend our time fighting them. But he does give a tender word of exhortation to the church of God. While the world is divided by secular and religious quarrels, let the people of God be united in love for one another.
1 John 4:7-13 7 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. 9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. 10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. 12 No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13 Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.
Here again we see John’s twofold purpose in this epistle. This is an epistle designed to confirm us in the doctrine of faith and encourage us to brotherly love. He constantly intermingles these two themes, faith and love; because they can never be divided. Here John enforces his admonition to brotherly love in three ways.
We ought to love one another, because love is of God (vv. 7-8). It is not merely the commandment of God; it is the nature of God. And everyone who has been born-again is a partaker of the divine nature, has this nature of love implanted in his soul. This love is not a work which man produces. It is the fruit of the operation of God.
We ought to love one another, because God loves us and he has demonstrated his love to us (vv. 9-11).
We ought to love one another, because his love is perfected in us (vv. 12-13). The only way by which we know God is by the revelation of his love in the sacrifice of his darling Son at Calvary; and the only way can we know God is is by the Spirit of God dwelling in us, shedding abroad in our hearts the love of God for us.
1 John 4:12-13 12 No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13 Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.
· Here is a warning (vv. 1-3) — Antichrists abound. — Those men who speak for God, those faithful gospel preachers God has given to his church preach free grace (T.U.L.I.P.). All others are antichrists!
· Here is our assurance (vv. 4-6) — We belong to God! If you are not deceived by will-worship antichrists, it is because God has chosen you to salvation; and he will not lose you!
· Here is an exhortation (vv. 7-13) — Love one another. — Constantly seek ways to prove the sincerity of your love to Christ and to one another, as he has proved and constantly proves his love to us. If we love Christ, if we love one another, it is because the love of God has reached its end in us, it is because the love of God is perfected in us, it is because the love of God in our crucified Redeemer has been shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost in almighty, efficacious, saving grace!
Jude 1:24-25 24 Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, 25 To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.