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.
1 John 4:1-3
Three times John gives us a threefold test to verify that we are in the kingdom of God: mutual love, obedience to God’s commands, and confession of Jesus Christ as Son of God. I talked about the first two and now I want to highlight the importance of the last criterion. All three parts of the test put together show that we must have the right beliefs and put them into practice. Being doctrinally sound but unkind is no better than being kind but confused about the gospel. Doctrine matters.
As an aside, many are not aware that the antichrist is anyone who denies that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, come in the flesh. It is not just the Antichrist of Revelation whom many people spend a lot of time trying to predict. I think we can say that every unbeliever is an antichrist, based on this passage.
I believe it is important to keep in mind what Jesus taught about the wheat and the tares as you read through John’s epistles. Churches are made up of believers and unbelievers, some of whom having sinister intent. John is writing to reassure Christians who are dealing with wolves in sheep’s clothing making their way through the flock. There were many frauds bringing a different gospel as there are today. They are very eloquent and persuasive and can lead people to believe that they are authentic. With a little scrutiny, though, we can expose their true nature.
Many cults and heresies are based on a false teaching of the identity of Jesus. That is why it is so important to understand who Jesus really is. He is both fully human and fully God. He is the Son of God. He came in the flesh and lived among men. He preached repentance and the coming of the kingdom of God as He led by example with a sinless life. He is the fulfillment of hundreds of prophecies in the Old Testament. He is the only savior for man and atoned for our sins on the cross. He was raised on the third day to everlasting life and sits at the right hand of God. By putting our faith in Him we too can have eternal life and escape the condemnation of God.
No matter how appealing and attractive a person is we have to listen carefully to what they teach or else we will be deceived. Do not underestimate the power of persuasion. Many of my friends and even family have given too much attention to false prophets and heretics. I have listened to people try to make excuses and defend such people even after I explained where such teachers err in doctrine. In these existential times there is not much of an appetite for truth but a greater desire for emotional connection. But those who adhere to the gospel and endure will be saved.