In writing to his “dear children” in the Lord, the apostle John tells them that “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). The contrast here is between the Spirit of Christ and the spirit of antichrist; in short, God is greater than Satan.
First John 4 begins with an exhortation for believers to test the spirits of prophets or teachers: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). What a prophet or teacher proclaims reveals whether he is of God or a false prophet of the world. John tells us how to recognize a false prophet: “Every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist” (verse 3). Anyone who teaches or proclaims falsehood about Jesus, such as denying His divinity, is a false prophet. These false prophets are actually speaking in the spirit of the antichrist on behalf of “the one who is in the world,” Satan.
The word antichrist means “against Christ.” Satan is the ultimate spirit against Christ. He is the father of lies and is against truth (John 8:44). He is called “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) and “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). He is “the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Ephesians 2:2). Satan uses false prophets to lead people away from Christ by deceiving them with a false view of Jesus. Twisting who Jesus is perverts the gospel. It keeps people in the bondage of sin and in darkness. Yet Satan is not as powerful as God, and John reminds the believers in 1 John 4:4 that greater is He that is in believers than he that is in the world.
The bodies of believers are the temples of the Holy Spirit who dwells within them (1 Corinthians 6:19). John encourages those in whom God lives: “You are from God” (1 John 4:4, ESV). They are not of the world. John reassures them that they have “overcome” those who teach false doctrine and who can rightly be called “antichrists.”
John uses the concept of “overcoming” five other times in 1 John: believers have overcome the evil one (1 John 2:13, 14) and have overcome the world (three times in 1 John 5:4–5). The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead now indwells believers in Christ (Romans 8:11). The Holy Spirit is far stronger than Satan or any of his minions, the Spirit’s wisdom is greater than any of Satan’s schemes, and the Spirit’s protection is more than enough to thwart any of Satan’s attacks. Because he who is in us is greater than he who is in the world, we have confidence in God and at the same time put no confidence in the flesh. The power is not ours but the Holy Spirit’s.
By these encouragements believers can have peace and rejoice because Jesus has “overcome the world” (John 16:33). Believers need not fear Satan; rather, they trust in the Lord and obey Him. By the living Spirit of God within them, believers can overcome the lies and temptations of the powers of darkness. Those who are of God can boldly say, “Greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world.”