“This is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.” – 1 John 4:3
According to St. John, the spirit of the Antichrist is already among us. It roams about the world seeking to devour the saints of God. It is cunning and selective in its attacks. It doesn’t have to look evil or dangerous or ugly. In fact, it will most likely feel pleasant, look attractive and even righteous. There seems to be profound truth to Baudelaire’s verse, “The devil’s finest trick is to persuade you that he does not exist.” For then your guard is down, your senses are dulled, and the Antichrist enters the sacred and holy spaces to do his work.
And what is his work? To separate you from the Gospel, to bring doubt and confusion to the free and sure gifts of Christ. The spirit of the Antichrist is just that, it is anti-Christ, against Christ, against His gifts, His work, His blessings. Where there is conviction and assurance, he plagues your conscience with doubt and despair.
And where this work is done most is not out in the wild unknowns of the world where the dark things thrive in the shadows. No, the work of the Antichrist thrives where the targets are plentiful; it thrives within the church itself.
The Apology of the Augsburg Confession puts it this way:
We confess that hypocrites and evil people are mixed together in the church and that the sacraments are efficacious even though they may be dispensed by evil ministers, because the ministers act in the place of Christ and so do not represent their own person. This accords with that passage [Luke 10:16], ‘Whoever listens to you listens to me.’ The ungodly teachers must be avoided because they no longer act in the person of Christ but are Antichrists. Christ says [Matt. 7:15], ‘Beware of false prophets,’ and Paul says [Gal. 1:9], ‘If anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!’”
The visible church on earth is a co-mingling of saints and hypocrites. Even the ministers are sinners and may even be scoundrels, but as long as they represent Christ, if they follow the pattern of St. Paul by handing on that which they’ve received, then the gifts of Christ are still given. But there remain those out there who do not act in the person of Christ. There are those who act against Him though they may very well look like His servants.
These are the Antichrists, the ones who proclaim a different gospel. They continually plague the consciences of mankind, driving them over and again into their own hearts for hope and assurance. They would have God’s children abandon the sufficiency of the cross and look towards their own thoughts, words, and deeds for the assurance of eternal life. In this way, mankind is eternally busy and never content. They may even be regarded and holy and righteous not by confidence in Christ but by the quality of their own work. Yet they themselves are never done, never assured, never confident in their own salvation.
The spirit of the Antichrist is real, and if we focus on what we see rather than on what we hear, it will only get worse. The church must remain diligent. We must stand firm upon the Word and proclaim the truth against such falsehood.
There is no other name under heaven by which we may be saved. Not wisdom, not morality, not beauty, not tradition or innovation. Christ alone saves; everything else is of the Antichrist.