1 John 4
1Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world. 2This is the way to find out if they have the Spirit of God: If a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ became a human being, that person has the Spirit of God. 3If a prophet does not acknowledge Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist. You have heard that he is going to come into the world, and he is already here.
4But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won your fight with these false prophets, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world. 5These people belong to this world, so they speak from the world’s viewpoint, and the world listens to them. 6But we belong to God; that is why those who know God listen to us. If they do not belong to God, they do not listen to us. That is how we know if someone has the Spirit of truth or the spirit of deception. (1 John 4:1-6, NLT)
The Daily DAVEotional
Does your theological understanding of Jesus really matter? Isn’t it enough to just believe that Jesus saves us?
With so many different religions and world views giving us countless versions and understandings of Jesus, perhaps you’ve heard this line of reasoning before.
If you read the New Testament, you’ll find that many of the letters addressed variant teachings regarding the person of Jesus. 1 John is one of those letters that deals with a teaching regarding the nature of Jesus that John refers to as “deception.” In this passage, John gives a litmus test to his readers to know whether a religious teacher is actually from God or whether they are a false teacher. John’s test involves examining the religious teacher’s view of Jesus against what he and the other apostles had taught.
The false teaching that was being floated around at the time was a concept that has come to be known as Docetism. That’s a big word but it basically means “to seem”. The idea was that the person we think of when we talk about Jesus was not a “normal” human being, at least not as we would normally think about it. Jesus “seemed” to be a person of flesh, but he really wasn’t.
This particular view said that Jesus and Christ were not the same person, but two different beings. Jesus was a normal human and Christ was the spiritual entity who was sent from above.
At Jesus’ baptism, the spiritual being known as “Christ” descended upon Jesus and occupied His physical body up until the point when Jesus was crucified. Hence, all the miracles and teachings were attributed to “Christ”, not Jesus.
So when you see all the miracles being done by this religious wise man, you can’t say that it was Jesus doing them. It was really “the Christ”, who was in control of the physical body of Jesus. Whereas traditional teaching on the nature of Christ taught that Jesus had a dual nature, being both divine and human, this teaching denied the humanity of Jesus. John staunchly refutes this view, even going so far as to calling it “antichrist”.
John counters this teaching in many ways throughout his letter but in this passage, he states that if a “prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ became a human being, that person has the Spirit of God.”
Notice in verse 2 that John considers Jesus Christ to be one person. He doesn’t separate Jesus and Christ into two separate beings as the false teachers did. John’s view is that Jesus was divine and he became flesh. Therefore, the view that John and the other apostles taught concerning Jesus is that he was both divine and human at the same time.
In the beginning the Word already existed. He was with God, and he was God … So the Word became human and lived here on earth among us. (John 1:1, 14)
John then says that if a prophet does not acknowledge Jesus, that person is not from God. To acknowledge Jesus means that all of the miracles and teachings in the gospels are attributed to the person of Jesus who is the Christ (the anointed one). Remember, these false teachers attributed all of the miracles and great works to “the Christ” but not the person of Jesus, whom they viewed as a sort of bodily shell that the spiritual being known as “Christ” was occupying.
In short, this invasion of the body snatchers scenario, where Jesus’ body was invaded and occupied by some supernatural spiritual being known as “Christ”, was utterly false according to John.
According to John, denying Jesus’ humanity would put you in a category of false teacher and even “antichrist”. Similarly, denying the deity of Christ would be equally egregious in terms of contradicting the apostles’ clear teaching. Therefore, denying that Jesus was divine would also be false, deceptive and “antichrist.”
Hence, according to John and the other apostles, your understanding and view of the nature and person of Jesus is vitally important, regardless of what others might say today.
If you still doubt that our understanding of Jesus’ nature is crucial, remember that Jesus himself asked His disciples the all important question of “Who do you say that I am?” I wrote here about how it was important to Jesus that His followers understand His true identity and nature. He is not just a prophet or a good moral teacher. He is the Christ, the Messiah. He is God in the flesh, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!
What has been your understanding concerning the nature of Jesus?
Why do you think the New Testament authors spent so much time refuting these variant views of the nature of Jesus?
What would you say to someone who said that it doesn’t matter what you believe about Jesus’ nature, the important thing is to believe that only Jesus can save?
Jesus asks the most important question of those who would follow Him when he asks, “Who do you say that I am?” How would you answer that question?
Photo by Jason Betz on Unsplash