New Defender's Study Bible Notes
4:1 try the spirits. Every pastor, teacher, evangelist or other Christian who professes to speak authoritatively and seeks to influence others in spiritual matters should be examined by the elders or other mature Christians before allowing him to speak in the church or other Christian group. True men of God will be led by the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the Scriptures which He inspired. False teachers are influenced by demonic spirits (note I Timothy 4:1), and their teachings—even with respect to the Scriptures—should be rejected.
4:1 false prophets. Even in John’s time, there were many false prophets, false apostles and false teachers plaguing the church (note, e.g., Matthew 24:11; II Corinthians 11:13; II Peter 2:1), and they will get even worse in the last days (e.g., Mark 13:22; II Timothy 3:13; 4:3-4). It is more urgent than even in John’s day to be able to discern the true and false teachers (that is, the Holy Spirit versus the seducing spirits and to recognize which is illuminating the professed teacher).
4:2 come in the flesh. The supreme test of the spirits, and the teachers whom they influence, is their teaching concerning the nature of Jesus Christ. If, in any way, they try to separate Jesus from “the Christ,” denying either the full deity or perfect humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ, they are not from God. Some attempt to make Jesus a mere man upon whom “the Christ-spirit” came. Some argue that everyone can be “a Christ” in the same sense Jesus was. Many deny His miraculous conception, bodily resurrection, or both. “Jesus” means “Jehovah our Savior” and “Christ” means “The Anointed One,” meaning God’s anointed prophet, priest and king. Unless Jesus Christ was perfect man, He could not die for our sins. Unless He was God, He could not defeat death and thus could never save us. Any doctrine less than that of Jesus Christ as the God/Man, God and Man perfectly, united in the hypostatic union, is deadly heresy. Further, since He is the Creator and His Spirit inspired the Holy Scriptures, any dilution of the doctrines of special creation and Biblical inerrancy comes dangerously close to heresy and has often led their proponents into outright apostasy. It is thus extremely important to “try the spirits whether they are of God” (I John 4:1).
4:3 spirit of antichrist. See notes on I John 2:18.