By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.1 John 4:1–6
Sunday’s Bible reading is 1 John 4–5. 1 John is a letter that women need to study, because so many women in the church are enamored of a mysticism that is another form of the false teaching John repudiates. We must understand what John is telling us, know why the incarnation is crucial to the Christian faith, and understand how current mystical practices lead to its denial.
Last week I only touched on the existence of the false teachers that John refutes in this letter. I want to go back and look at some verses from chapter 2.
Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.1 John 2:22–24
Leon Morris writes:
The false teachers clearly denied the reality of the incarnation. We know that some false teachers in early days held that there was a divine Christ who came down on the man Jesus at the baptism, but left him before the crucifixion. John was not necessarily opposed by men holding just this belief, but it was something like it.1
They denied that Jesus actually became a man. I. H. Marshall explains:
They were forerunners of the later heretics generally known as ‘Gnostics’ (from Gk. gnōsis, meaning ‘knowledge’) and claimed a special knowledge of God and of theology [see 2 Peter: God’s Precious & Magnificent Promises]….they appear to have denied that Jesus was the Christ (ii.22), the pre-existent (i.1) Son of God (iv.15, v. 5, 10) come in the flesh (iv. 2; 2 Jn. 7) to provide salvation for men (iv. 9f., 14).2
In 2 John: Walk & Watch, I discuss the crucial importance of the incarnation, but I want to repeat this from J. I. Packer. Take the time to read through what he is saying.
The apostolic writers clearly see that both the deity and the manhood of Jesus are fundamental to His saving work. They see that it is just because Jesus is God the Son that they are to regard His disclosure of the Father’s mind and heart as perfect and final (cf. Jn. i. 18, xiv. 7–10; Heb. i. 1f.), and His death as supreme evidence of God’s love for sinners and His will to bless believers (cf. Jn. iii. 16; Rom. v. 5–10, viii. 32; 1 Jn. iv. 8–10).
They realize that it is Jesus’ divine Sonship that guarantees the endless duration, sinless perfection, and limitless efficacy, of His High-Priestly service (Heb. vii. 3, 16, 24–28). They are aware that it was in virtue of His deity that He was able to defeat and dispossess the devil, the ‘strong man armed’ who kept sinners in a state of helpless thraldom (Heb. ii. 14. f.; Rev. xx. 1 f.; cf. Mk. iii. 27; Lk. x. 17 f; Jn. xii. 31 f., xvi. 11).
Equally, they see that it was necessary for the Son of God to ‘become flesh’, for only so could He take His place as the ‘second man’ through whom God deals with the race (1 Cor. xv. 21 f., 47 ff.; Rom. v. 15–19); only so could He mediate between God and men (1 Tim. ii. 5); and only so could He die for sins, for only flesh can die.3
Do you understand why John made belief in the incarnation of Jesus Christ the test? Our English word, incarnation, comes from the Latin word, carn, flesh. Leon Morris has these comments about the opening verses of 1 John 4:
The test is the attitude to Jesus Christ. If the spirit of God is in a man he will confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. More exactly he ‘confesses Jesus Christ come in the flesh’, i.e. the emphasis is on the Person not the proposition. The reference to the flesh puts emphasis on the incarnation. It is not simply that Jesus took human nature but flesh (cf. Jn. 1:14; 2 Jn. 7). . . . The spirit which refuses this confession is not of God, i.e. it is the antithesis of the spirit mentioned in the previous verse. In fact it is the spirit of antichrist.4
As Packer wrote, “it was necessary for the Son of God to ‘become flesh’, for only so could He take His place as the ‘second man’ through whom God deals with the race…only so could He mediate between God and men…and only so could He die for sins, for only flesh can die.3
What does this all have to do with mysticism? How is it connected to any teachings and practices of today? What are they? Go back for a minute to the Gnostics—remember the false teachers of 1 John were their forerunners. A. F. Walls writes:
The Gnostic keynote was knowledge: the possession of secrets which would ultimately serve the soul’s union with God.5
Contemplative prayer, centering prayer, lectio divina, ‘listening’ to God’s ‘voice’ all purport a special revelation and knowledge of God that is subjective and at the very least on a par with the authority of Scripture, and eventually becomes placed above the authority of Scripture. These are not prayers as the Scripture defines prayer nor is their goal or practice outlined in Scripture as part of the Christian life. Their purpose is seeking to experience ‘oneness’ with God. In other words, denying the incarnation of Christ by turning it on its head and claiming that we as humans can all share His essence—His deity. This is not the believer’s union with Christ as the Scriptures teach, but a mystical concept of union with the very essence of God. This is the claim that we can all be a god (sound familiar?), each of us a god-man or god-woman. In The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back, Peter Jones writes:
…what Birger Pearson calls “the heart and core of the Gnostic religion.”—the consubstantiality of the self with God.6
Many women have been drawn into these practices through wanting to love God more or to be assured of His love. These practices have been taught and recommended by popular and well-known teachers and preachers, yet they are not taught in the Scriptures—indeed, meaningless repetitions such as those used in contemplative prayer were explicitly forbidden by Christ—and upon closer examination of their writings those who have gone further into their practice have denied the authority of the Bible and the atonement.
When Jesus told Phillip, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father,’’ John Gerstner made the point that Jesus meant He was in union with God.
Well, what else can He mean except that, in uttering those words, He is in union with God? In other words, we have here Christ’s own reference to the Christian doctrine of the incarnation.
Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ alone is, “truly man, truly God; fully man and fully God. His human nature was fully human, and his divine nature always and everywhere was fully divine.”
John closes his letter by writing:
We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.Little children, guard yourselves from idols.1 John 5:18–21
Leon Morris tells us:
For the last time John uses the affectionate diminutive, little children. In view of the whole preceding discussion it is unlikely that idols should be taken to mean images used in worship. The term means ‘false gods’. John’s readers have been given many gifts by God, including ‘understanding’ (v. 20). Let them keep themselves then from every false god.8
R. C. Sproul, How Could Jesus Be Both Divine and Human?
This article includes a brief summary of the the Council of Chalcedon.
Isaiah 42 Photograph: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications
1,4,8Leon Morris, “1 John,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds. (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 1264, 1267, 1270.
2I. H. Marshall, “John, Epistles of,” New Bible Dictionary, J. D. Douglas, organizing ed., F. F. Bruce, J. I. Packer, R. V. G. Tasker, D. J. Wiseman, consulting eds. (Wm. E. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids MI: 1962) 642.
3J. I. Packer, “Incarnation,” New Bible Dictionary, J. D. Douglas, organizing ed., F. F. Bruce, J. I. Packer, R. V. G. Tasker, D. J. Wiseman, consulting eds. (Wm. E. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids MI: 1962) 559. I divided the quote into paragraphs for easier reading.
5A. F. Walls, “Gnosticism,” New Bible Dictionary, J. D. Douglas, organizing ed., F. F. Bruce, J. I. Packer, R. V. G. Tasker, D. J. Wiseman, consulting eds. (Eerdmans 1962) 473.
6Peter Jones, The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, Phillipsburg NJ: 1992) 24.
7John Gerstner, “The Deity of Christ (pt. 2),” Ligonier Ministries. http://www.ligonier.org/
Original content: Copyright ©2011–2013 Iwana Carpenter