“Beloved, don’t believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit who doesn’t confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God, and this is the spirit of the Antichrist, of whom you have heard that it comes. Now it is in the world already” (1 John 4:1-3; WEB).
“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that [spirit] of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world” (1 John 4:1-3; KJV).
John Calvin on 1 John 4:2 (all underlining mine):
“[John] lays down a special mark by which they might more easily distinguish between true and false prophets. Yet he only repeats here what we have met with before, that as Christ is the object at which faith aims, so he is the stone at which all heretics stumble. As long then as we abide in Christ, there is safety; but when we depart from him, faith is lost, and all truth is rendered void.”
[John Calvin is, in my estimate, the most helpful among the clearer-thinking and perspicacious unbelievers.]
1 John 4:1-3 sets forth the simplicity of the good news — the gospel of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. He appeared in the flesh to do what? What is the identity of the Person who appeared in the flesh? What did He accomplish? He accomplished, by His propitiating blood and imputed righteousness, expiation of sin, reconciliation for iniquity, and a bringing in of an everlasting righteousness (Daniel 9:24). By His penal and preceptive fulfillment of the Law (Romans 10:1-5; Galatians 3:10-14), He demanded and ensured the salvation of all whom He represented — all to His own redemptive glory.
“But let us consider what this confession includes; for when the Apostle says that Christ came, we hence conclude that he was before with the Father; by which his eternal divinity is proved. By saying that he came in the flesh, he means that by putting on flesh, he became a real man, of the same nature with us, that he might become our brother, except that he was free from every sin and corruption. And lastly, by saying that he came, the cause of his coming must be noticed, for he was not sent by the Father for nothing. Hence on this depend the office and merits of Christ.”
Essential gospel doctrines are nested beautifully within this compendious sentence, “Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.” It is a sad and sobering truth that most who name the name of “Christian” are indifferent or overtly hostile to this sort of “doctrinal perfectionism” that the apostle John endorses. The true Christ of Scripture is, indeed, the Stone at which damnable heretics stumble.
“As, then, the ancient heretics departed from the faith, in one instance, by denying the divine, and in another by denying the human nature of Christ; so do the Papists at this day: though they confess Christ to be God and man, yet they by no means retain the confession which the Apostle requires, because they rob Christ of his own merit; for where freewill, merits of works, fictitious modes of worship, satisfactions, the advocacy of saints, are set up, how very little remains for Christ!“
How very little remains, indeed. As the Papists rob Jesus Christ of His own redemptive merit and glory, so do genuine Reformed persons such as John Calvin, R.L. Dabney, and Charles Hodge. These men in the Reformed Tradition by no means retain the confession which the Apostle requires.
“The Apostle then meant this, that since the knowledge of Christ includes the sum and substance of the doctrine respecting true religion, our eyes ought to be directed to and fixed on that, so that we may not be deceived. And doubtless Christ is the end of the law and the prophets; nor do we learn anything else from the gospel but his power and grace.”
There is a 4-part sermon series on Romans 10:1-4 that unpacks the compendious confession concerning who Christ is and what He came in the flesh to accomplish. [Click here]