What does it mean that greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4)?
The phrase, "for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world" is from 1 John 4:4. In the broader context, John writes, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for 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, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error" (1 John 4:1–6). John is encouraging his readers to be discerning and also not to fear. They have the indwelling Holy Spirit, who is far greater than the enemy and his deceptions. He who is in them (the Holy Spirit) is greater than he who is the world (Satan, his minions, and those who follow them).
John affirms this point a bit later when he says, "For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 John 1:4–5). Though the world is riddled with sin and the devastating realities of the fall, and though "the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers" (2 Corinthians 4:4), God remains sovereign and His children are overcomers. The world does not defeat God, and neither does it defeat us because we belong to Him.
John made a similar point earlier. He warned his readers against loving the world, "for all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world" (1 John 2:16). He then encouraged, "the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:17). God is everlasting and His kingdom is eternal. He is the creator of the earth and will one day judge the fallen world (1 Peter 3:8–15). For now, He is patient, drawing many to repentance and faith in Him (2 Peter 3:8), giving new life and entrusting to us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17–21). All who are in Him are granted eternity with Him (John 3:16–18). Jesus is the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10). When we abide in Him, we are confident about judgment, knowing He has born it for us (1 John 4:15–18). Thus we need not fear either the things of this world or the afterlife.
In his letter, John tells his readers some characteristics of those who follow God. Primarily, we are to "love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love" (1 John 4:7–8). This love is enabled by God and it is certainly different from the world system. John also warns against false teachers, telling his readers that the mark of truth is whether a person rightly understands who Jesus is. Too, John encourages his readers to abide in God. He writes, "By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit" (1 John 4:13; see also Ephesians 1:3–14). The Holy Spirit is in us, and it is Him who is greater than the sinful world system and the enemy. It is by the Spirit's enabling that we need not fear false teachers; He helps us discern truth from error (1 John 4:6; Hebrews 5:14). It is also by His enabling that we need not fear opening our hearts to love others with the same love that God has loved us.
When we understand that He who is in us—the Holy Spirit—is greater than he who is the world—Satan—we can live in confident trust in the Lord and faithful obedience. We can recognize and dismiss the teachings of false prophets and we can freely love others. We need not fear the enemy of our souls because he has already been defeated by Christ at Calvary (Colossians 2:8–15). The same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead now dwells in us (Romans 8:11). Our confidence is in the God who created the universe and who called us to be His own (2 Timothy 1:8–14; Romans 8:28–30). Indeed, He who is in us is far greater than he who is the in world.
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