Friday, March 28, 2008

Preaching Like the Antichrist

Spirit-driven Preaching. Most people speak of it, but few understand what it looks like. One man will say it is found in highly emotional preaching. Another man will claim it manifests itself when the preacher abandons any notes or outlines and simply shares what comes to him. Still another man will claim Spirit-driven preaching is revealed by unusual insight from the text. And though there may be diversity on how to explain it, each man will claim it as essential.

But what if someone claimed it is impossible to preach "spiritless?" Ultimately, a person's preaching cannot be devoid of spirit influence. Consider:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 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.--1 John 4:1-3

John reminds us that every message comes with a Spirit influence. Therefore, it is critical that we filter each message we hear. Like the Bereans (Acts 17:10-12), we should be listening carefully and testing the spirits.

But the preacher must ask, "With what spirit do I preach?"

Few would aspire to preach in the spirit of the Antichrist, but many do. There is no "middle ground" in a message. Either we preach a message from God, or one from the Antichrist. The requirements for a God commissioned message are pretty must confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.

The earthly name given by Joseph in obedience to the angelic vision. His name literally declares "Jehovah Saves!" First criteria is to understand a message that originates from God is going to proclaim Jesus. The other elements of the confession simply describe Who this Jesus is.

Christ is the greek rendering of Messiah. It is a statement that Jesus is the Anointed One. The Chosen One Whom all the Scriptures speak. Though second temple period understanding of the Messiah may be clouded, the Scriptures clearly enforce that a proper understanding of the Christ, is to understand His Sonship. (Cruise through these 488 mentions of Christ in the New Testament and notice how many are directly related to Jesus being the Son of God.)

Has Come
But in case a person continues to deny the emphasis on Jesus' eternality, John provides this glimpse. We simply do not speak this way of others. When we assess the life of all great leaders in history, we speak of two factors, their date of death and their date of birth. We speak of the day they were born, but we do not state it as the day they "have come in the flesh." John is making it clear to his readers that our understanding is that Jesus always existed eternally, yet at a determined point He clothed Himself with flesh. To say He has come is to say He was somewhere else before arriving on earth.

In the flesh
Though uncommon today, there still remain some who deny that Jesus literally came as man. This became pervasive in the gnostic teachings, which were just beginning to develop at the time of John's writing. In the early church period, some would actually claim that Jesus appeared to have come, but had not literally done so. Or, they claimed that His divine nature hovered over an earthly body, but was never truly united.

While this sort of teaching is not very popular today (It appears often today that the opposite is the attack. Acknowledging that Jesus came in the flesh but denying His divinity. Again, however, John addresses this matter earlier in Jesus' description.), some of its outworking remains. The reason people were tempted to deny the literal flesh of Jesus was that they believed all that was material was evil. Therefore, our calling to escape from the material issues of this world is seen as a form of sanctification. People are told that the physical world around them is either illusion or evil. Therefore our liberation from sin is found in escape from the material world. This, however, is a false hope. For the Word of God says we will one day receive literal, physical (though incorruptible) bodies. Jesus Christ came not to eliminate the physical world, but to restore it to its proper order.

This message must be at the center if we want to preach from the Spirit of God. It must be the message which we confess. But is that the standard we hold people to? Do we require a confession that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, or are we willing to settle for far less. Consider what is involved in the word "confession."

Confession is not denial. When we are told a spirit must confess Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, we can easily spot a denial. If a person were to deny any element of the message (regardless of their location or reputation) we know that message is not from God. For if their message denies these truths about Jesus, their message is inconsistent with the Scriptures and God is not double-minded. A denial is usually pretty easy to spot.

Confession is not silence. But John does not tell us to listen closely for a denial. He calls us to listen closely to for a confession. Therefore, if a person is silent regarding the message that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, it is not a message from God. God is not pleased simply with a message that avoids error, but God is glorified by a message that exalts His Son. Any message (whether written or spoken, art or argument) that does not confess Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not consistent with God's desire to bring glory to Himself through His Son. God will seek every opportunity to lift up Jesus Christ, therefore, if the message does not confess Christ, the message is not from God.

Confessing is not the same as admitting. Because silence is usually the most prevalent form of false messages, many listeners are inclined to ask the speaker/author/singer if they will affirm that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. Backed into a corner and asked the right questions, the person responds with an affirmation that "Yes, I will agree that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh." Does this constitute a confession?

Consider an example from parenting. If I walk through the house and notice magic marker on the wall around the front door, I immediately go on a hunt to find the guilty party. As I turn the corner and enter the hallway, I immediately see my son standing near the bathroom, shirt and hands covered with the the stains of magic marker with the graffiti device laying at his feet. My question, "Did you mark the wall?" becomes almost rhetorical. He is caught red handed (quite literally). If he has any brains about him, he knows he is caught and his only hope of pardon is to admit to his sin. Tears may even come, but what do they indicate? Is he repentant? Does he see his error? Is he simply upset that his fun is being cut short? Is he afraid of the discipline to come? I have no indication of the purpose of his admittance.

However, if you have had the privilege of receiving a confession from your child, you know it is an entirely different experience. When the child believes their sin is hidden and yet they come and confess their sin to you, you know repentance has happened. The child is simply coming to desire forgiveness and restoration. The parent doesn't have to question if genuine repentance is necessary, nor do you have to wonder if the child sees his error. He has taken the initiative and it generates a confidence in the child's authenticity.

Bottom Line: To Consider the Message from God, It Must be about Christ

It's amazing how many preachers today wish to call themselves Christian, yet they neglect to preach Christ. They may preach good morals, or even precepts that can maximize potential, but they neglect to preach Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. Their books fly off the shelves of local bookstores, and the reader is left to assume the gospel message. When questioned, possibly they will admit that they believe in Christ, but even then, it is usually vague at best. But if the message does not exalt Jesus Christ, then how can we claim it is of God?

Some will argue that proper exegesis of the Old Testament requires a preaching in the "spirit of the Antichrist." While many preachers will acknowledge that Messianic prophecies speak of Christ, they will claim that the historic narratives ignore Jesus, and thus, our exposition should too. Therefore, it could appear that John's challenge to examine the spirit runs in contradiction to much of the Bible. However, Jesus proved this could not be the case. Referring to the Old Testament, Jesus stated:
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me--John 5:39
He does not say that portions speak of Him, or even that they "prepare the way for Him." He says that they testify about Him. They witness to who He is. Jesus modeled this for us in Luke 24:26-27:
"Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?" Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.
Jesus uses the Old Testament to unpack what His mission has always been. He walks these men through the Scriptures to point to this plan. Paul understood this concept, for he told the Galatians, "Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith" (3:24). There should be no portion of the Scriptures from which we cannot preach Christ.

But this is not simply a problem in Old Testament exposition. Sinclair Ferguson states, "Most evangelical preachers don't preach Christ. Not only don't they preach Christ from the Old Testament, they don't preach Christ from the New Testament." And this becomes the crux of the problem. Whether parables, gospel narratives or epistles, much of the New Testament is simply treated as object lessons for moral living. The church becomes very good at sharing what we are to do, but can often neglect the how and why. It is even possible to preach a passage that contains Jesus' actions and words (for instance, the healing in John 9), and yet be so quick to look for "ourselves" that we forget to preach Him!

Every sermon ever preached comes from a spirit. But only the messages that preach Jesus Christ has come in the flesh are from the Spirit of God. Anything that neglects this message is of the spirit of the Antichrist. And just like he will sound good, and be so convincing that he will fool the entire world, a "good" message preached in the spirit of the Antichrist will probably contain a lot of passages and exhort people toward high just won't preach Christ. And just like his "ministry" will end in destruction, so will the preaching ministry of the man who neglects Christ. He may raise up moral, Bible minded people, but he will not raise up people who savor Christ.

Genuine Biblical exposition should result in glorious Christ exaltation.

And the preacher speaking from the spirit of God wouldn't want it any other way.


Brad said...

I don't see how John's exhortation to test every spirit means that every message comes with some Spirit influence. Could you explain?

danny2 said...

john says if a message proclaims "Jesus Christ has come in the is from God. if it does not, then it is of the spirit of the Antichrist.

i take "from God" contrasted with the spirit of the Antichrist, to mean it has the Holy Spirit as its origin.

and every message either proclaims Jesus Christ has come in the flesh or it doesn't.

therefore, every message either comes from God or is of the spirit of the Antichrist.

Brad said...

Was the book of III John from God or from the Antichrist?

danny2 said...

1, 2 and 3 john were all written by the apostle john and by the Holy Spirit.

even 1 john 4:1-3

Brad said...

But 3 John is a message that doesn't say that Christ came in the flesh. In fact, it doesn't mention Christ at all.

danny2 said...

so, who failed?

The Holy Spirit as Divine Author

John as the human agent

me, as the one who reads it.

i can tell you which one i'm more comfortable with blaming.

Brad said...

Perhaps we could avoid failure altogether with a different interpretation of I John 4:1-3?

John does not say that "if a message proclaims Jesus Christ has come in the is from God." He says "Every spirit..." You're using spirit and message interchangeably, but I don't think the text warrants your doing so.

danny2 said...

i understand why you may feel this is an unfair connection...and certainly don't want to say what the text does not.

however, notice in verse 1 that the by-product of these spirits can result in false teachers.

by the nature of a confession (verse 2) it suggests we must assess the message which is given, for this is how we discern from God or antichrist.

therefore, john's point is that we can know what Spirit by the message.

i do see a distinction between the two...but i also believe you are underestimating the correlation in the text.

Brad said...

How are you able tell whether a message confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh?

danny2 said...


Brad said...

lol. Yes, really.

danny2 said...

perhaps some long needed humility should be expressed at this point:

i have not always succeeded at this task. for much of my "preaching life" it was not even my aim to declare Christ...and though i am not the antichrist, i can see how that preaching was influenced by the desires of the distract from Christ with moralism and religiosity.

and even today, as my aim is to declare "Jesus Christ has come in the flesh," i still fail much more often than i would like. either in my own reflection after the sermon, or in someone else pointing out the absence, i realize i neglected Christ in the text.

so in my preaching, i would sadly admit that individual sermons have exposed my flesh and would be sermons the antichrist would be pleased with, though i pray the scope of my entire preaching has come from God and declares His Son.

therefore, i do believe we should extend grace and understand that flesh can get in the way for all of us, but it should not be an issue of my aim being something other than Christ, but that i just fell short of the mark to preach Christ.


now, as for 3 john and how it coincides with this passage...

i can only conclude a couple of things:

a) i pray that in the fall (08), when i preach through 3 john, "Jesus Christ has come in the flesh" will be declared each week, while still preaching the present text. i believe this is the preacher's call, and will make it my pursuit.

b) i am willing to acknowledge an inexplicable disconnect (at least in some details) between my ministry as a preacher of inspired texts and an apostle and author of those inspired texts. john is giving them instruction on how to test the messages they are to hear from men who are not apostles...therefore, he is in essence preparing them for ministry after his death (which was probably the death of the last Apostle).

therefore, i am willing to accept that the Holy Spirit's function as Divine Author of 3 John somehow "trumps" His own instruction about testing the Spirits. (though i believe i am more than likely just missing the confession that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh as i read 3 john). therefore, it may be hard to see, but i will keep looking for it, and will continue to trust that 3 John is the Word of God.

however, i do not have this same ability. if challenged "where was Christ in your sermon?" by a congregant, i do not have the ability to say, "don't challenge's inspired!" therefore, i will hold (and believe every pastor should) that every preacher should strive to declare "Jesus Christ has come in the flesh" every single week!

c) i also believe this becomes a case of the exception proving the rule. 3 John can be problematic for us...but not the other books from John. nor do the letters from Paul present a problem with this perspective. Nor does the sermon of Hebrews or the gospel accounts. In fact, you and i agree (i think) that even the books of Exodus and Leviticus declare Jesus Christ has come in the flesh in some of the most beautiful foreshadowing ways.

so, as you and i may struggle to see it in 3 john, the grand overriding majority of Scripture is consistent with declaring "Jesus Christ has come in the flesh."

Zach Doppelt said...


Hello again. Hope all is well.

I believe the issue at the heart of the discussion lies in the difference between theological systems of interpretation, and the questions therein. Do we 1.)systematically understand doctrine as a whole, taking into account progressive revealed truth and the ages in which they are given, or, do we 2.)interpret doctrine strictly in the historical context in which it is given.

I believe Jesus' testimony in Jn 5:39 and Lk 24 support the former, not the latter. Thus, even when dealing with OT passages, I try to eventually get to Christ in every sermon I preach, because without the cross nothing else makes sense!

Danny. I appreciate your work. Keep it up!