A Work of the Spirit

1 John 4:1, Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world

JP: 5 Part series from 1 John 4 by John MacArthur.

Intro:

How can a true work of the Holy Spirit be distinguished from a false one?

From a careful study of 1 John 4, the great theologian and pastor Jonathan Edwards was able to identify five distinguishing characteristics of the Holy Spirit’s work. In short, a true work of the Holy Spirit: (1) Exalts the true Christ, (2) Opposes Satan’s interests, (3) Points people to the Scriptures, (4) Elevates truth, and (5) Results in love for God and others.

The following material is condensed, adapted and excerpted from Jonathan Edwards’s The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God.

A Work of the Spirit (Part 1)

It Exalts the True Christ.

“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.” (John 4:2-3)

When a ministry raises people’s esteem of the one true Jesus Christ, who was born of a virgin and was crucified — if it confirms and establishes their minds in the truth that He is the Son of God and the Savior of men — then it is a sure sign that it is from the Spirit of God. If the spirit at work among a people convinces them of Christ and leads them to Him; if it confirms their minds in the belief of the history of Christ as He appeared in the flesh; if it teaches them that He is the Son of God to save sinners; if it reveals that He is the only Savior, and that they stand in great need of Him; and if it begets in them higher and more honorable thoughts of Christ than they used to have; if it inclines their affections more to Him — that is a sure sign that it is the true and right Spirit. This is true even though we are ultimately incapable of determining whether anyone’s conviction or affections reflect real saving faith.

A Work of the Spirit (Part 2)

It Opposes Satan’s Interests

“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.” (1 John 4:4-5)

When the spirit that is at work operates against the interests of Satan’s kingdom, against sin, and against worldly lusts — this is a sure sign that it is a true, and not a false spirit.

Here is a plain antithesis. The apostle is comparing those who are influenced by two opposite spirits, the true and the false. The difference is plain: the one is of God, and overcomes the spirit of the world; the other is of the world, and is obsessed with the things of the world. The devil is called “he who is in the world.”

A Work of the Spirit (Part 3)

It Points People to the Scriptures

“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 4:6)

The spirit that causes people to have a greater regard for the Holy Scriptures and establishes them more in the truth and divinity of God’s Word is certainly the Spirit of God.

The devil never would attempt to beget in persons a regard to the divine Word. A spirit of delusion will not incline persons to seek direction at the mouth of God. “To the law and to the testimony!” (Isa. 8:20) is never the cry of evil spirits who have no light in them. On the contrary, it is God’s own direction to discover their delusions.

A Work of the Spirit (Part 4)

It Elevates Truth

“We know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (v. 6).

Another rule by which to judge spirits is that whatever operates as a spirit of truth, leading people to truth, convincing them of those things that are true — we may safely determine that it is a right and true spirit.

For instance, if the spirit at work makes men more aware than they used to be of the central gospel truths: that there is a God; that He is a great and sin-hating God; that life is short and very uncertain; that there is another world; that they have immortal souls; that they must give account of themselves to God; that they are exceeding sinful by nature and practice; that they are helpless in themselves — then that spirit operates as a spirit of truth. He represents things as they truly are. He brings men to the light.

A Work of the Spirit (Part 5)

It Results in Love for God and Others

“The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love” [v. 8].

If the spirit that is at work among a people operates as a spirit of love to God and man, it is a sure sign that it is the Spirit of God. This last mark which the apostle gives of the true Sprit, he seems to speak of as the most eminent. He devotes more space to it and so insists much more largely on it than all the rest.

When the spirit that is at work among the people brings many of them to high and exalting thoughts of the Divine Being and His glorious perfections; when it works in them an admiring, delightful sense of the excellency of Jesus Christ, representing Him as the chief among ten thousand and altogether lovely; when it makes Him precious to the soul, winning and drawing the heart with those motives and incitements to free love of God and the wonderful dying love of Christ — it must be the Spirit of God.

“We love, because He first loved us,” verse 19 says. The spirit that makes the soul long after God and Christ must be the Spirit of God. When we desire the presence and communion of the Savior, acquaintance with Him, conformity to Him, a life that pleases and honors Him, we must be under the influence of His Spirit.

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