A Question On 1 John

Q. 1 John 4:1-3 admonishes us to “not believe every spirit… but to test the spirits.” Further, “every spirit” is of God if it confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.

What are those “spirits” we are to test? Am I correct in assuming that the “spirits” we are to test are the message a speaker or writer promulgates? That a speaker/writer who denies the divinity of Jesus is not of God?

What does it mean to deny that Christ has “come in the flesh”? Surely it’s not something so simplistic as to deny the existence of the historical Jesus — a position that very few scholars espouse today. If not, however, what does it mean?

In a chance encounter, or even in a theological discussion, somehow I can’t imagine asking another person, “Has Jesus Christ come in the flesh?” What “modern” question can one use to “test a spirit” in a speaker or writer?

A. 1 John is directed specifically against a false teaching that would become known as the Gnostic Error. Their main contention was that divinity (being pure) and humanity (being sinful) could not possibly co-exist in the same body. Therefore if Jesus was human He couldn’t have been God and couldn’t have died for us.

I think the phrase “come in the flesh” is an abbreviation John used referring to the fact that God became man and dwelt among us in order to die for our sins, and whoever believes this is given the authority to become a child of God and will have eternal life. He said those who deny this are not of God, and of course the Gnostic teachers denied this (and still do).

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