Standing in Truth: “Identity Check” – 1 John 4

We live in a world where, for many people, deception has become a normal tool of daily life. Companies make promises about products their developers know they cannot deliver. Ordinary people present a life of extraordinary happiness on Instagram that few of them actually have. In fact, if you want a fascinating rendering of how far online deception has gone, you need to read an article by Curtis Wallen from July 2014 in The Atlantic Magazine called: “How to Invent a Person Online.” It opens this way:

On April 8, 2013, I received an envelope in the mail from a nonexistent return address in Toledo, Ohio. Inside was a blank thank-you note and an Ohio state driver’s license. The ID belonged to a 28-year-old man called Aaron Brown—6 feet tall and 160 pounds with a round face, scruffy brown hair, a thin beard, and green eyes. His most defining feature, however, was that he didn’t exist. I know that because I created him.

The author then described how he created an identity for someone who was never born and will never die – but they appear as one who is very much alive. They can travel, shop, protest and in some places even vote as a citizen – but they aren’t real.

It isn’t really a secret that people fake identities. Parents constantly warn their children to be careful when engaging someone on the web, for fear they are not the person they claim to be. You don’t have to look far to understand the scope of the problem today:

Take a moment and check “Google” under “fake identification” and you will find the Florida state constitution section 322.212 (5) (a) stating: “It is unlawful for any person to use a false or fictitious name in any application for a driver license or identification card or knowingly to make a false identification”…

Yet, immediately below that link is another link on the list called:

“GreatFakeID: Scannable Fake ID Cards where you can “Buy scannable fake id cards with UV holograms from GreatFakeID. Best IDs with all security features replicated and made from the best updated id templates.”

Yes, we live in a world that is hard to fathom. The criminals don’t even seem to work as hard as they used to in order to violate the law. At the same time, this isn’t a new phenomenon. For those who study the history of faking identification papers and the forging craft, the name “Adolfo Kaminsky” is almost always included among the best known historical forgers. Listen to a bit of his story and you will know why.

Born in 1925, Kaminsky worked during WWII as a member of the French Resistance, specializing in the creation of high quality forgeries of identity documents. He is credited with saving more than 14,000 Jews. In Israel’s modern history, he is also noted to have assisted scores of Jewish immigration fleeing to the British Mandate for Palestine. After the Nazi invasion of France in 1940, Kaminsky’s family was moved and his mother was killed. Still a teen, Adolfo Kaminsky entered the Resistance. He was charged to watch a railway station and sent messages to London about trains. By 1943, Adolfo worked in an underground laboratory in Paris forging identity papers for Jews and people sought by the Nazis. The Kaminsky Lab became the main producer of false IDs for northern France and Benelux. He was quoted as saying: “Keep awake. The longer possible. Struggle against sleep. The calculation is easy. In one hour, I make 30 false papers. If I sleep one hour, 30 people will die.” After the Liberation of Paris in August 1944, he joined the French Army and marched to Germany. He was engaged by the French military secret services, where his fake IDs were given to some spies sent to detect the location of concentration camps while the war was still ongoing. Kaminsky was awarded the Médaille de la Résistance for his live-saving work.

What made Kaminsky famous was his work with chemicals to wipe old ID cards and repurpose them. The Nazi’s struggled to keep new identification markers valid with such excellent forgers working behind the scenes.

It is important to note that forgery, fake identification and falsely misleading people concerning your identity is actually an ancient problem. Biblically speaking, it was a long-standing problem for the church, as Jesus followers were often confused by fakes who infiltrated their ranks and were accepted by naïve and hopeful Christians. Even in the first century, false followers abounded. People gave them food and shelter. People embraced them and cared for their needs. Some people were bound to take advantage. As a result, John took the time to pen out some of the basic markers that help us identify a believer. Essentially, 1 John 4 was given to teach a key truth…

Key Principle: There are four primary characteristics that identify a true Jesus follower. These were instructed to help us discern authenticity.

Look closely at the opening verse where John set out the basic issue he wanted to address.

The Problem (4:1)

He couldn’t be clearer as to the difficulty they faced. He wrote:

1 John 4:1 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.

It may not have been comfortable for them, but the people were called upon to test the spirits behind the words and actions of the teachers who traveled about, claiming they offered truth from God. Since some of the Word was not yet written and most of it was not yet disseminated widely, the verbal prophets were very much a part of the “ground game” of the church in the early years. Some were truly sent by God, but others were seeded into the mix by the enemy of Christ. As awkward as it sounded in practice, John was forced to instruct them to test for authenticity. If the text stopped there, the obvious problem would have been: “How?”

John offered traits that could be scrutinized under examination. They were markers of authenticity, and they were to be carefully observed BEFORE the person was accepted as a teacher for God.

At the same time, these markers can also be good self-inspection tools to help us add to our faith the marks that will make our commitment to follow Jesus obvious. John offered four marks, so let’s take the time to look at each as he presented them.

Our Certainty of the Truth (4:2-6)

The opening verses that revealed the marks of a Jesus follower are thoroughly immersed in the subject of truth. He noted, there are essential truths that must be affirmed to be considered an authentic follower of the faith. Look at some of them in verses two and three:

First, the teachers needed to demonstrate they knew Jesus as He was presented by the Apostles. He wrote:

1 John 4:2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 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.

It appears clear enough: God’s Spirit is at work through those who acknowledge that Jesus the Messiah has come to the earth, that He came from the Father in Heaven, and that He came as a man. In the time of John, the fake followers could be identified by teachings outside of those claims. Regardless of how well they put words together, they were fakes if they didn’t believe and wholeheartedly teach that Jesus came in the flesh, from the Father, as the Savior.

Second, though fakes may have abounded (then, as now) the believers were to remember the power of God in the Gospel and not be discouraged. He reminded them:

1 John 4:4 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.

How discouraging it can be to see the many false varieties of our message that float around. There is the Jesus plus some strange conspiracy theory version of the faith. There is the Jesus came, but not as a real man version. Variations are literally all over the internet. Some of them came because Bible teaching has been sloppy and haphazard. Some came because people who didn’t know the Savior wanted to be part of the church anyway. Some came because the enemy placed bad seed among the good. In any case, believers need to remember that God isn’t losing, and His power isn’t really under a challenge. He is patient, not impotent.

Third, the confidence believers have for the truth of our message won’t be reflected in the world at large. We should be wary of one who easily has the ear of the world – for it is hard to speak the truth and keep it. He wrote:

1 John 4:5 They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 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.

Look at the emphatic way John notes that we can KNOW the truth and reckon the errors. He made clear that some teachers will light up the world’s audience, because they speak the language of the world as one of them. He also clarified that our message will not necessarily find a popular hearing, but that has nothing to do with its veracity. The world outside of Jesus doesn’t naturally warm to our message, because it lives in rebellion to the God Who created them. Any presentation that demands surrender to Him will be rebuffed by a world that doesn’t want to follow God.

Tim Patrick wrote: “There used to be a television game show entitled “Truth or Consequences.” Most people who are old enough to remember will associate that show with Bob Barker. He was the game show host for approximately twenty years. The contestants on the show were given the responsibility of determining the truth about people, places, events or things by answering questions. At the conclusion of each show they would reveal the truth about the topic of discussion. You and I have been given the task of discovering truth or facing the consequences. In I John, John teaches us the importance of knowing the truth. “My dear friends don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. Not everyone who talks about God comes from God. There are a lot of lying preachers loose in the world. Here’s how you test for the genuine Spirit of God.”

In the end, a primary mark of the believer is their commitment to the truths presented to us in the Gospel. Jesus came from God as our Savior, and put on human skin as a man. There will be resistance to that message. There will be popular innovation to that message. A mark of the follower of Jesus is allegiance to the truths passed to us in the Word, and a steadiness to continue to proclaim those truths regardless of their popularity at any particular time.

Our Care for One Another (4:7-13, 20-21)

John offered a second marker of identification for the purpose of authentication. We aren’t just a truth organization; we are a people organization. He wrote:

1 John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

Note how clearly he presented the truth that love is a marker of authenticity. John both called for love between brothers and sisters in the family of God, and made the point that such a love becomes a marker that separates those of us who know Him from those who do not. That love is expressed in giving, just as our Savior did. Someone wrote a few words that showed how distinctive love is in our world:

There once was a builder who didn’t overcharge for his work.
Once there was a physician who healed the sick for free.
Once there was a man who prepared lunch and fed people at no charge.
And you know what they did to Him?
They crucified Him!

Don’t get cynical – that isn’t the point. We must recognize that our love follows a pattern, and is commanded for a purpose. God expressed love with purpose to us, and we should be purposed in our love as well. John wrote:

1 John 4:9 By this the love of God was manifested in us; that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Read very carefully verses nine and ten and you will immediately discover how the love of God was made clear. God sent His precious Son to us. It is repeated twice in the two verses. God’s love is found in God’s gift. This wasn’t sentimental feeling; the Son was given with a mission. He satisfied the debt for our sins, and God offers new life through Him.

The term “manifested” simply means “made plain to see.” God’s love was made clear in God giving what was needed, though it was dear to Him and cost Him greatly. True love is not some delightful feeling or dream of togetherness – it is acting to meet and need because there is a need, expecting nothing in return. God doesn’t love us because He will benefit from our response. He loves us because He chooses to do so.

Our love is supposed to be “plain to see” like Gods love.

There’s a story of a young American engineer who was sent to Ireland by his company. It was a two-year assignment. He had accepted it because it would enable him to earn enough to marry his long-time girlfriend. She had a job near her home in Tennessee. Their plan was to put their money together and put a down payment on a house when he returned. They wrote often, but as the lonely weeks went by, the girlfriend began expressing doubts about his being true, exposed as he was to the beautiful Irish lasses. The young engineer wrote back. He declared with some passion that he was paying absolutely no attention to the local girls. “I admit,” he wrote, “that sometimes I’m tempted. But I fight it. I’m keeping myself for you.” In the next mail, the engineer received a package. It contained a note from his girl and a harmonica. “I’m sending this to you,” she wrote, “so you can learn to play it and have something to take your mind off those girls.” The engineer replied, “Thanks for the harmonica. I’m practicing on it every night and thinking of you.” At the end of the two years, the engineer was transferred back to company headquarters. He took the first plane to Tennessee to be reunited with his girl. Her whole family was with her, but as he rushed forward to embrace her, she held up a restraining hand and said sternly “Just hold on there a minute, Billy Bob. Before any serious kissin’ and huggin’ gets started here, let me hear you play that harmonica!” (Bits & Pieces, October 15, 1992, pp. 17-18. Contriibuted by: SermonCentral PRO)

The love we show is supposed to follow the pattern God set in sending Jesus. It should be a giving love, a practiced love. John wrote:

1 John 4:11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

• If God’s love required giving that which was precious – so must our love do so.
• If God’s love cared for our needs – so must our love do for others.
• If God’s love was made plain in action – so we must act to show love.

When God’s Word challenges us to “love one another” it isn’t a call to like on another and spend a few minutes in a weekly meeting catching up with a hug. Love is about sizing up the need of another and acting deliberately to meet that need – even if it comes at a cost to you. That is the love we are called to have. That is the love that makes clear we are authentically part of the family. There is an old Jewish legend that speaks to this:

In the time before time, when the world was young, two brothers shared a field and a mill, each night dividing the grain they had ground together during the day. One brother lived alone; the other had a wife and a large family. Now, the single brother thought to himself one day, “It isn’t fair that we divide the grain evenly. I have only myself to care for, but my brother has children to feed.” So each night he secretly took some of his grain to his brother’s granary to see that he was never without. But the married brother said to himself one day, “It isn’t really fair that we divide the grain evenly, because I have children to provide for me in my old age, but my brother has no one. What will he do when he’s old?” So every night he secretly took some of his grain to his brother’s granary. As a result, both of them always found their supply of grain mysteriously replenished each morning. Then one night they met each other halfway between their two houses. They suddenly realized what had been happening and embraced each other in love. The legend is that God witnessed their meeting and proclaimed, “This is a holy place—a place of love—and here it is that my temple shall be built.” So it was. The First Temple is said to have been constructed on that very site.

Time and again, John echoed the words “love one another” to the followers of Jesus. It is as if when called upon, John would answer “Agapomen Allelus” or “Practice God’s love to one another.” This is the call to the believer. This is a grand mark of identity. What do you say about this love?

• When some drink wine while others abstain–what do you say? (Let us love one another)
• When some young leaders press forward with new ideas while others want to preserve our traditions–what do you say? (Let us love one another)
• When a marriage is in trouble and people are taking sides–what do you say? (Let us love one another).
• When people come with expectations but no support: what should we say? (Let us love one another).
• When someone hurts me and I want to hurt them back–what must I say? (Let us love one another).

Don’t forget, even when you feel you have no love of your own to give them – we have God’s love to offer them.

We got it for free, and we can pass it to them for the same price. When you share God’s love, you offer a portrait of God to another who travels in a world where His face isn’t always easy to see. John said:

1 John 4:12 No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.

Author David Ward explained the verses this way:

Think of Christmas lights wired in series. First the electricity comes into the wire, then to the bulb and through its filament. Finally it goes back into the line, on to the next bulb, and so on through the entire chain of lights. As it flows out not only into each of those lights but out of each of those lights, the entire circuit is completed, and the string of lights is bright. If there’s a light that’s loose, or a filament that’s broken, then it receives the electricity but doesn’t pass it on to others. In a sense, God has wired us like these Christmas lights. He has wired us to receive His love, and He has also wired us to pass it along to others. We have God’s love to give.

Can you see how practicing God’s brand of love becomes a grand identifier of the believer? It is so practical, it may seem to elementary. John continued a little later in the chapter…

1 John 4:20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.

The simple but profound truth is that as much as a commitment to the truth identifies the people of God – so loving acts in the Savior’s name do as well.

Our Confession of the Savior (4:14-15)

The third marker John pointed out was that of the “confession” of His people. Earlier John made the point that truth marked the life of an authentic follower. Here he noted the “confession” or the WORDS of the believer are an identifier. We don’t follow vague ideals and sentimental notions – we have specific expressed beliefs. John pressed believers: Listen to our words and you will hear a constant confession of our belief:

First, we openly testify that God truly sent His Son to save us:

1 John 4:14 We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.

God entered human history to save us in His sending of Jesus – that is a deliberate theme of our teaching that cannot be missed. If we offer any other basis for an intimate relationship with God but the completed work of Jesus at Calvary – we are not authentically Christian. If we promise an eternity with God based on anything by Jesus’ payment for our sin – we are not speaking truth. The first part of our confession is the God sent His Son to save us.

Second, we repeatedly state without apology that Jesus is no other than God’s Son. John reminded:

1 John 4:15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.

John seems transfixed on proclaiming the identity and work of Jesus – because that is the enduring mark of the believer. We believe man is born estranged from God and without the ability to earn a way to God without the work of Jesus. Our belief isn’t some mere theological exercise. John makes clear there is an objective set of truths that were a part of the true confession. Look back over history and it will become very clear that not everyone who holds a Bible and quotes from it, speaks with its intent.

In November 1978 US Representative Leo J. Ryan of California visited the People’s Temple (a California-based cult) in Guyana. His group went to investigate reports that some of the people there were being held against their will. The congressman and his party were ambushed and killed. A few days later, at Jonestown, Guyana, soldiers were horrified to find hundreds of bodies of cult members who had been shot or committed suicide by drinking cyanide based Kool-Aid. Rev. Jones, 47, lay near the altar with a bullet wound in his head. The death count was 780. Here is a brief report of what happened in those final moments: “As Jones talked over the loudspeaker on the beauty of death and the certainty that everyone would meet again, several hundred cult members gathered around the pavillion. They were surrounded by armed guards, and a vat of Kool-aid mixed with cyanide was brought out. Most cult members drank it willingly—others were forced to. They started with the babies. At least 80 infants and children were fed the deadly potion, and then the adults took it. Everything was calm for a few minutes and then, as the cyanide-induced convulsions began, it got all out of the order. Children were screaming and there was mass confusion. Shortly afterward, everyone was dead.” (Illustration 1552 in Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations, by Paul Lee Tan)

We have a faith that can be expressed in these simple terms. God made man without sin. Man rebelled, separating himself from God. After a time, God sent His Son to model life with God, and then pay for our sin on the Cross at Calvary. We have received that payment, declaring it as our basis for a personal relationship with God. All these ideas come from the Bible, and we believe, with apology, they are all true. That is our confession.

Our Confidence in the Future (4:16-19)

John offered one more marker…

• With absolute allegiance to the truths passed by our fathers to us in the Word;
• With authentic and costly love to our brothers and sisters in Christ;
• With constant confession of the person and work of Jesus on our lips – believers have yet one more identifying mark.

That identification marker is OPTIMISM. We are incredibly confident about the future. John put it this way:

1 John 4:16 We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. 19 We love, because He first loved us.

Christianity teaches both coming judgment and a positive outlook for the future! That seems counterintuitive, but it isn’t. Bathed in the love of God, and living out the truth of God with the people of God, we do not fear meeting God. In fact, most of us can’t wait to be with Him!

John wanted you to know how to spot the fakes and how to recognize the real followers of Jesus…

There are four characteristics that identify a true Jesus follower. These were instructed to help us discern authenticity.

Jack Kelley, foreign affairs editor for USA Today, tells this story: We were in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, during a famine. It was so bad we walked into one village and everybody was dead. There is a stench of death that gets into your hair, gets onto your skin, gets onto your clothes, and you can’t wash it off. We saw this little boy. You could tell he had worms and was malnourished; his stomach was protruding. When a child is extremely malnourished, the hair turns a reddish color, and the skin becomes crinkled as though he’s 100 years old. Our photographer had a grapefruit, which he gave to the boy. The boy was so weak he didn’t have the strength to hold the grapefruit, so we cut it in half and gave it to him. He picked it up, looked at us as if to say thanks, and began to walk back towards his village. We walked behind him in a way that he couldn’t see us. When he entered the village, there on the ground was a little boy who I thought was dead. His eyes were completely glazed over. It turned out that this was his younger brother. The older brother kneeled down next to his younger brother, bit off a piece of the grapefruit, and chewed it. Then he opened up his younger brother’s mouth, put the grapefruit in, and worked his brother’s jaw up and down. We learned that the older brother had been doing that for the younger brother for two weeks. A couple days later the older brother died of malnutrition, and the younger brother lived. I remember driving home that night thinking what Jesus meant when he said, “There is no greater love than to lay down our life for somebody else.”