A Weekday Devotional from Central Presbyterian Church. Find another day here.
Tuesday May 26, 2020
1 John 4:1-3
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 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.
In his preface to The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis wrote, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased with both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.” First century Christians did not have much difficulty believing in the existence of devils. Not only was polytheistic Rome at the height of its mystical cultic practices, but the gospels show that devils and demons made frequent occurrences throughout Jerusalem and Judea. Mark chapter 5 presents a possessed man living in a cemetery, who called himself Legion, with so many demons inside of him that when Jesus cast them out they left his body and entered 2000 nearby pigs who subsequently threw themselves in the sea; Luke 8 mentions that Mary Magdalene, a disciple of Jesus and the first-eyewitness of the resurrection, was healed of seven demons; and in Mark 9 an exasperated father shares that his possessed son has for years been controlled by a spirit that attempts to harm him by throwing himself into the fire or the sea. Men, women, and even young children were oppressed and possessed by demonic evil spirits that sought to isolate, mutilate, and ultimately exterminate their hosts.
Perhaps even more dangerous than the physical harm caused by demonic possession is the damage done by those who falsely present themselves as teachers and ministers of the word of God. John warns the church that they are not to believe every spirit, or teaching, presented to them. Why? From the beginning, in the Garden the serpent deceived Adam and Eve into believing that God didn’t really have their best interests in mind, the devil has been the father of lies. Jesus’ most vocal detractors were religious leaders who accused Jesus of being possessed by demons, and even Jesus’ own family at first thought that He was out of his mind. Because the enemy loves nothing more than to sow confusion and division among the people of God, one of the responsibilities of the church is to make sure that what is being taught lines up with the Word of God, and the true test of any teaching or message is how it handles Jesus.
The gnostics of John’s day believed that Jesus was not really human, he only looked like one. In our modern, perhaps more accurately post-modern, world, with the denial of all things supernatural, it is widely accepted that Jesus was certainly a real man, and likely even a good one, but to claim that He is anything more than that is impossible. Along with these most obvious denials of the person and deity of Jesus, there are many far more subtle false ideas about faith that we are tempted to believe. The one that we struggle with most often is the idea of our role in salvation. According to a 2016 Lifeway Research poll, over 77% of evangelical Christians agreed with the statement that “An individual must contribute his or her own effort for personal salvation.” Christians never seem to escape the belief that we must produce or perform in order to preserve our place with God. The heart of the gospel is that, because we are powerless, Jesus paid it all. Ephesians 2:8 puts it this way, “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing.” Salvation is not just mostly based upon grace, it is entirely dependent upon it. Similarly, because we have been blinded and corrupted by the ways of the world and the deceitfulness of our own sin, Jesus states with crystal clarity in John 6:65, “No one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”
If our position before God is in any way shaped or influenced by our own thoughts or actions, we would be left in a precarious state of constant uncertainty. The good news of the gospel is that Christianity is not a matter of performance but a matter of profession that Jesus is God in human flesh. By His work, motivated by His love, based on His grace, the only thing we can do is respond to His call upon our hearts. We can’t add to it or subtract from it. Because we didn’t earn it, we can’t lose it. Any message to the contrary is not a message from God.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, we live in the midst of a world that does not and can not know You apart from Your intervention. We pray that You would help us to hold fast to Your Word of Truth and grant us the gift of discernment. Help us to reject any notion that we are responsible for that which You have done for us. You alone get the credit and You alone receive the glory. Put Your Word in our hearts and upon our lips and allow us to be Your humble messengers of peace and reconciliation in our broken world. In the all-sufficient name of Jesus we pray, Amen.