In our study of the General Epistles this year, we have tried to keep in mind the original context in which the letters were written in order that we might be faithful to the intent of the writer. As we have mentioned several times already, several of these letters deal with the rise of false teaching and the impact of false teachers upon the original audience. In the case of 1 John, these teachers espoused a proto-Gnostic heresy that denied the reality of the incarnation as well as the importance of love for the brethren and personal holiness.
The original audience of 1 John, however, did not follow these teachers but successfully resisted them. We know that their resistance was successful from places like today’s passage, which tells us that the audience had overcome the spirit of the antichrist lying behind any denial of the incarnation (4:4; see vv. 2–3).
Though the audience had resisted these teachers, the disruption they caused had resulted in many of the orthodox doubting their salvation. However, the fact they had overcome this false teaching should have assured them of the reality of their redemption. For they were only able to resist this false teaching because of the One in them who is greater than the one in the world (v. 4).
This One is the Holy Spirit who dwells within all believers (3:24; 1 Cor. 6:19–20). As Christians we enjoy the subjective testimony of His presence as He moves our own spirit to cry out “Abba, Father!” (Gal. 4:6). Yet the presence of the Spirit, we have seen, manifests itself in objective ways, particularly by having us hold firmly to the orthodox teachings of the apostles. He gives us faith to confess the incarnation (1 John 4:2) as well as every other essential doctrine, and by making this confession we prove that we have the Spirit and are enabled to resist falsehood just as John’s original audience did.
False teaching is overcome by the truth, and we will only know the truth if we submit ourselves to the Spirit of truth Himself. Therefore, we must surrender ourselves daily to Him, asking Him to illumine the Word of God and empower us for service. Without His guidance, we will not overcome the world (Gal. 5:16–26).
Many of the greatest Reformed theologians in history, including John Calvin and John Owen, are well-known for their understanding of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, the Spirit today is sometimes called the forgotten person of the Trinity. Do you treasure the work of the Spirit in your life? Do you ask Him to guide your study of Scripture and inflame you with passion for God and His people? Ask Him to do these things today.