A Call For Spiritual Discernment (1 John 4:1-6)

The Fifth Sunday of Easter (May 2, 2021)

The antiphon of our Introit this morning is comprised of the very words our Good Shepherd Jesus Christ spoke to His holy apostles on the night He was betrayed into the hands of His enemies.  In order to prepare them for what was to come, He said, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me”(Jn 16:16).  Obviously, what He meant by His going away was His upcoming , arrest, crucifixion, resurrection and ultimate ascension into heaven.

We can all well imagine how concerning these words were to these men who by now were full of expectations about how Jesus was going “restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6).  They thought they had it all figured out.  They had all personally witnessed Jesus clearly manifest His miraculous power. There was no question in their minds that He was of God and was very capable of freeing Israel from her bondage to Roman rule.  But this talk of Him going away sounded truly counterproductive to such an end.

All this time, three years they had spent with Jesus, and they still seemed oblivious to what sort of kingdom Jesus had come to establish.  They truly lacked in spiritual discernment.  Accordingly, Jesus went on to warn His disciples to get their heads out of the clouds of worldly glory and to come to a clear understanding that the kingdom He was bringing to them was a spiritual kingdom, a kingdom He would establish by His cross of suffering that would win for them true liberation; freedom from everlasting punishment for their sins, freedom from death, and freedom from the wiles of the devil. 

They needed to be wise, however, to what this true freedom would also bring them while in this world.  Far from insuring them worldly peace and happiness, it had the potential of even making their lives more miserable than what they were experiencing living under Roman Rule. 

Jesus went on to warn them:  “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice (that I go away)…I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father…Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone.  Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me.  I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:32,33). 

You and I have been blessed to learn the rest of the story.  By God’s grace we have been made privy to what Jesus was forewarning His chosen apostles. Many of the trials and tribulations they would suffer are recorded in the Book of Acts, as well as explicated in the apostles’ epistles as contained in the New Testament. 

But as we have also been made to know through the apostles’ teaching, just as Jesus’ life and ministry was not the end, in the sense that His ongoing work of bringing people into His kingdom through faith was to continue with the sending of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, so, even as the apostles had through faith in Jesus eternal salvation, their work for the kingdom in bringing the truth of the Gospel to the world needed to continue.  And, still it continues through you and me, baptized believers in Jesus Christ.  As Jesus’ Church in the world, our mission is to continue to make disciples of Jesus Christ by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them all things Jesus has taught us as recorded by the apostles in the Holy Scriptures (Matt. 28:19,20).

This then calls also for true spiritual discernment among us.  Everything in this world is not as it might seem or is portrayed to be.  In fact, it is often nothing more than a façade that portends truth, but actually hides and covers from sight the ugly, frightening misery and falsehood that is the lair of the devil and hell.

Today, the apostle John in this portion of his First Epistle warns us all, saying in essence, “Wise up, O Christian!  The world is not a safe and friendly place for you.  In fact, if you feel at home in this world, you may have already lost your soul!” 

Now, some of you might be thinking, “Oh, come on, Pastor!  You’re just being a bit melodramatic.  The LORD created this world.  It’s a beautiful place.  It can’t be all that bad.  Sure there are some bad things that happen and, yes, there are some bad people you have to watch out for, but don’t try to scare us by characterizing this world as such a wicked and dangerous place.  There is some good here, too!”

I’m afraid, such thinking is exactly the type of thing John is warning us about today.  First of all, the LORD God did not create what John means by the term world (cosmos).  John consistently uses the word “world” (cosmos), not in reference to the created “heavens and earth,” but that inhabitance where mankind lives and the darkness of sin and falsehood reign.  For example, in the first chapter of His Gospel, John writes concerning the coming of the Son of God, the Word, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him” (Jn. 1:9,10).  In Chapter three, John records Jesus saying to Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). 

Although, the term world can at times include physical creation, it references most specifically the realm and existence of sinful humanity.  It is out of His underserved love for this world that God gave His Son.  It’s not for the created order; the physical planet of earth or the stars of the heavens, that Jesus died but He gave His life to redeem the world of sinful humanity.  As St. Paul references in the 8th chapter of Romans, it is this realm of sinful humanity that all of creation is cast in darkness, suffering and decay and from which it longs to be set free (8:20,21). 

All this takes true spiritual insight and discernment.  It is, therefore, prudent and right that we who live in this world heed John’s loving admonition.  In Words taught Him by the Holy Spirit, he says, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone into the world.  By this you know the Spirit of God; every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.  This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.”

There is nothing benign about this world in which we live.  We are being bombarded daily by misleading and outright lies all designed to steal you and me away from Truth and especially Him Who is the Truth, Jesus Christ. We cannot afford to be naive, thinking that all this is just happenstance as if it all has no purpose to it nor any personal actor behind it.  The antichrist is already in the world. He is the servant of Satan to deceive and murder the sheep of the Good Shepherd.

The antichrist was already in the world in the apostles’ day but he is working in unprecedented manner in our days.  Technology and the media have given him true advanced weaponry to seduce, deceive and destroy us.  These powerful mediums have given the enemies of truth and Christ the ability to deceive the whole world in a matter of minutes on almost any topic you can imagine. Couple this with the false God of our age, Scientism, and you have a perfect storm for the antichrist forces to not only counter the Gospel message but silence it altogether.

All that has happened in our world in just this last year ought to have jarred us all out of any stupor of imagining that we have nothing to be concerned about but can just go about our lives and trust that we won’t get swallowed up by this behemoth of antichrist falsehood!  With Big Tech and the mainstream media’s willing assistance, all under the false pretense that by following all their rules we are helping and saving our neighbors, they have usurped the power to tell us how we can live…when and how we can worship our God… when and how we can learn and be educated… where we can shop… who of us can keep our jobs… when and how we can visit and stay in touch with our family and friends… what we have to wear on our face… and what health measures we have to make for our own bodies.  How much longer will it be before these powers now in control are going to prevent us from preaching the truth about morality, the truth about real humanity, the truth about Jesus Christ and His plan of salvation?

We have got to be spiritually discerning! In this world we must constantly test the spirits to see if they are of God. We cannot simply cart blanch trust any preacher, teacher, politician, or leader. They all alike are sinful human beings and can be deceived by the antichrist and this dark world.  None of them are impervious to the devil’s temptations and lying tongue.  Even well-meaning Christian people sometimes get swallowed up by the darkness and become ploys of the evil one.

John says the litmus test for spiritual discernment is this:  “By this you know the Spirit of God:  every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.”

On that same occasion when Jesus was forewarning His apostles that He was going away, Jesus also informed them that in spite of His physical absence from them, He was not going to leave them orphans (John 14:18).  He promised them that He was going to send to them “another Counselor”, “the Spirit of Truth” (Jn 14:16,17).  Jesus promised them that not only would The Spirit of Truth, The Holy Spirit, equip them to be Jesus’ witnesses in the world but He would “convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment…” (Jn. 16:9).

The Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit, then makes it clear that any unacceptance of Jesus as being the Son of God in human flesh cannot be of the truth but is instead of the “father of lies,” the devil. This is spiritual discernment at its heart. 

All this means that we cannot buy into this pervasive propaganda that there are many truths, many gods.  There cannot be competing truths otherwise, by definition, there would be no such thing as truth.  By the same token, there cannot be many competing gods.  If there are then none of them is truly God, Creator and ruler of all things! 

Such discernment also helps to see that God does make distinctions between people and so must we, lest we be deceived and find ourselves opposing truth and God. 

Now, we all have seen of late how Cultural Marxism and Wokism are working overtime to drive a wedge between white people and people of color. They make distinctions between people by setting up false and artificial categories of the oppressors and the oppressed. White people they insist, because of their place of societal privilege, are the oppressors and all other peoples are the oppressed.  Because of this, they insist the oppressors are to be marginalized from the rest of society, denied any rights, persecuted and, even rightly exterminated.

All this is, of course, is totally false and nothing but pure racism and evil. All human beings, no matter what their color or station in life, share the same ancestors, Adam and Eve.  As such all were created in the image of God. Likewise, all suffer from inheriting the same nature corrupted by sin.  And all, were redeemed by the blood of Jesus, the Son of God. 

None-the-less, the discernment given by the Spirit of God also necessitates that we recognize and embrace that there are, in fact, two distinct groups in humanity.  There are those who are of God and there are those who are of the world.  Those of God are guided and led by The Spirit of Truth; that is, the Spirit of God and those of the world  by the spirit of error; that is, the spirit of the antichrist.  These two groups are as distinct as day and night.  Those of God confess Jesus as God and Savior.  Those of the world do not confess Jesus.  Although these two groups by virtue of our humanness live side-by-side in this present world, there can be no reconciling of them.  But when our Good Shepherd returns He will eternally separate them as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  Those of the world will be cast into the outer darkness of eternal damnation and those of God  will be welcomed into the eternal light of Christ’s own presence (Matt. 25:31-ff). 

Making this distinction can sometimes be difficult and quite heartbreaking to us, especially when we all see that there are some among our own families and friends who are of the world and not of God. But it is important that we do not ignore or remain blind to this distinction lest we give up reaching out with the truth to all those in our world who are still of the world.  It is when we ignore or lose sight of this distinction that we truly fail to love our neighbor as God has loved us.  As long as the Lord allows us to continue on this world, it is a time of grace for those who are being led by the spirit of error to hear from us that wonderful Gospel truth that Jesus is their God and Savior too so that they might be won over by the Spirit of Truth to the side of the Way, the Truth and the Life!

One , final, thought of comfort from John. In true encouragement he says, Little children, you are from God and have overcome them ( that is, those false prophets of untruth).  For He who is in you (Jesus Christ) is greater than he who is in the world (the antichrist).  They are from the world, and the world listens to them.  We are from God.  Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us.  By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”

You who have been baptized into Jesus Christ and believe Him to be your Savior and God are thereby assured that you are of God.  You not only have Jesus Christ for you but also in you.  He has already conquered sin, death, and the devil for you. He leads you to listen to the words of John and the other apostles He has empowered with His Spirit to speak you into all truth and to keep you in that truth.  As long as you continue to listen only to them as your source of truth, no false prophet will be able to lead you away from Him Who is the Truth and Your Savior and God!

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