The apostle John wrote: “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” (I John 4:1-3).
Just what does this scripture mean? Does it mean that anyone who says that Jesus Christ came in human flesh about 2,000 years ago is of God?
If this is what John meant, then we might conclude that most, if not all, professing Christians through the ages were “of God,” because they said Christ came in the flesh, even if they continually broke all His commandments. We might also conclude that other religions that reject the Bible, or reject the New Testament but still believe that there was such a person as Jesus of Nazareth who lived “in the flesh,” were also “of God.”
Obviously, this must not be what John meant. Even though he was addressing a specific problem of his day, which may or may not be as prevalent now in exactly the same way, his statement is just as true today as it was then. How then should we understand it?
Let us note that John is talking about “false prophets” (v. 1). Such prophets do not receive their inspiration from God or the Holy Spirit. They receive the “inspiration” directly or indirectly from a different spirit – from Satan the devil or his demons. Their teachings are sometimes completely false. Other times they may be very near the truth, but nevertheless still not correct.
This verse is telling us how to distinguish the false from the true. When we hear from a “prophet” or “minister” we may measure him by the principles given her and elsewhere in the Bible to know if he is of God and inspired by His Spirit, or led by a contrary and false spirit.
The key to understanding this verse is found in the words “is come in the flesh,” which occur in both verses two and three. What does this phrase mean?
It is commonly believed that these words say “came in the flesh,” not is or has come in the flesh. If John meant “came” instead of “is come” then many professing Christians, Jews and Mohammedans might be considered to be “of God.” Many of them believe that Jesus Christ did live in the flesh and that He was a good rabbi, or that He was a prophet or a religious leader of His time.
“Came in the flesh” implies that He came and then left, and is no longer here “in the flesh.” But the words say that He “is come.” This implies more than just “came”; rather, it implies that He came and is still here “in flesh.” This is a present, continuing condition. (The word the in the phrase “in the flesh” was added in the English translation, as a Greek text or interlinear Greek-English text will show.)
How can it be that Jesus Christ could still today be “in flesh,” since He went to heaven almost 2,000 years ago and now sits at the right hand of God in heaven?
The next verse begins to reveal the answer. “Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (v.4).Who is in you, if you are a real Christian?
Some might say that the Holy Spirit is in us, if we’re true Christians. They would be right (v. 13), but there is more. “Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us” (v. 13).Who is the He in this verse? The answer is that “God dwells in us (v. 12).Does this refer to God the Father or the Son, Jesus Christ?
“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
Jesus Christ, who has come in flesh, is still “in flesh” today. He is living His life in His servants who make up the spiritual “body of Christ” to this very day! This truth is also mentioned in I John 3:24: “And he that keeps his commandments dwells in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.” Jesus Christ lives “in flesh” of those who keep the commandments. It is only logical to expect that as Jesus Christ kept His Father’s commandments (John 15:10), those true Christians He lives in will also keep the Father’s commandments, following Christ’s example (I John 2:3-6).
Notice also I John 5:20: ”And we know that the Son of God is come and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.”
II John 7 makes another statement about false prophets and deceivers: “For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.” There is a slight variation in the Greek text from which the English word is come are translated in this verse. The words here literally mean “is coming.” Here it is again apparent that Jesus Christ not only came in the flesh, but that He still “is coming” in flesh, living His life in true Christians today.
If Jesus Christ is really living in us, we will live the same kind of life Christ lived. Christ will not live his life in us in a contrary manner to the way He lived in the flesh. We already saw that Jesus Christ kept His Father’s commandments. If Christ is living in us, we will be living that way too! When we fail to live up to that standard perfectly, as a result of a sin, we will repent and quit living in that sin. Our overall way of life will be that of commandment-keeping, not commandment breaking.
A person in whom Christ is living will know the true doctrines of His Church, as they are revealed in the Bible. “If any many will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God” (John 7:17). A true Christian will also have love and not hatred for other true Christians, brethren in God’s Church (John 13:34-35).
Down through the ages God has sent servants to carry out His Work and His will, but most people reject them. This was true of the prophets and of Jesus Christ Himself and all His apostles and ministers down to and including the present time. But those who have Jesus living His life in them will not make this mistake. They recognize and accept those Jesus Christ sends. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receives whomsoever I send receives me; and he that receives me receives him that sent me” (John 13:20).
Going one step further, such people will also accept the rule of those Christ sends. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (Heb. 13:17).
Some who have left God’s Church loudly proclaim their loyalty to Christ while they reject His rule in His true Church! Such people will not “hear” the ones God sends (I John 4:6) because Christ is no longer living in them, or else never did!
Since Jesus Christ lives in His people, in His Church, those people will keep the Sabbath holy, the same day He kept holy each week. They further will keep the same Holy Days that Christ kept and commanded to be kept forever (Lev. 23:21, 331, 41). Jesus Christ is the God who was with Israel in the wilderness. He gave the Ten Commandments and the Holy Days to His people during the time of Moses.
Since God’s people collectively, the Church, are the modern “body of Christ,” they will be doing His Work instead of “doing their own thing.” Just as Jesus said He did the Work that the Father sent Him to do (John 4:34), so His servants today, since He lives in them today, will be doing that same Work.
The true servants of Christ will not be speaking against God’s law or the testimony of Christ. Most ministers today preach against the law of God and many say you are under a curse if you try to obey that law, not understanding the scriptures on this subject. “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:20).
There are many false prophets and ministers in the world today. Examine those who claim to be the true ministers of God by these Bible principles, and then you can know whether they are led by and inspired by the Holy Spirit of God, or by some other spirit.