Test The Spirits
TEST THE SPIRITS
1 John 4: 1-6
“Test, test, test.” You are probably thinking, “This preacher is losing it. Surely he can tell that the sound system is on.”
- Yes, I know the sound system is on. But what I am doing is, very briefly, telling you what the apostle John is saying in these verses that were read.
Look at vs. 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.
I think it is interesting that people “test” almost everything.
- You don’t buy a car unless you “test” drive it.
- You don’t get in the bath tub unless you “test” the water.
- Mothers test the temperature of a baby’s bottle.
- We also have our eyes tested and our blood tested.
- People test almost everything!
But when it comes to our eternal salvation, where knowing the truth is so important because the truth will set us free, most people fail to test what they have been told or what they hear.
- And that is what was happening when John writes this letter.
When John writes this letter he writes to Christians who were dealing with the influence of some people who claimed to be “in the know” on spiritual matters…he is writing due to the influence of the Gnostics.
- These Gnostics, and there were many varieties of Gnostics (Cerenthians, Docetist, Libertines, Denialist, Monastics, Essenes, Ascetics, and Ebionites) and they were perverting God’s sound doctrine teaching all sorts of convoluted ideas and philosophies and as a result many of the Christians were being led astray…especially the new, immature in Christ.
- So out of a deep concern for the purity of the Christian doctrine and God’s plan of salvation, and to refute the Gnostics, John writes this.
And, even though this letter was written toward the end of the 1st century the Gnostic teachings are alive and well today.
- People teaching doctrines that counter the word of God…that dispute God’s plan of salvation…teachings that express man made views rather than God’s.
- So what John says here in these verses is something that we must learn in order to not be deceived by some of the teachings that we encounter in our lives.
So look at what John says starting in verse 1:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit…
- The Gnostics claimed to be “spirit people.”
- Some claimed that what they taught they got from God through some spiritual experience or through enlightenment.
- Others claimed that what they taught they got through some other esoteric or outside spiritual experience…
And it is much the same today
- There are so many teachers out there all claiming that what they are teaching has come from God or from some “spiritual experience.”
- Others say they received their knowledge when God spoke to them…or as the result of a dream…or a vision…or as a result of something that touched their heart.
- And what John says here in verse 1 applies to us…”Do not believe every spirit…”
- They may sound so good…they may sound so right…they may even give the appearance of being very spiritual speaking using all the “Thee’s and Thou’s” and “God bless you” and “Peace to You”…but John says, “They can be wrong!”
So, how do you know which spirit to believe?
- Look what John says next.
1 John 4:1 …but test (this word in the Greek literally means “to put them on trial) the spirits to see whether they are from God;
- When some one comes to you and teaches you something claiming that their teaching is from God…put them and what they teach on trial!
- Don’t just take what they say for the truth…check it out…examine it…question it.
- It may be a very popular teaching and a lot of people may be embracing it…but that doesn’t make it true.
- John says, “Test it!
“Test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
So how do you test them…how can you tell if they are a “false prophet?”
“By this you know the spirit of God: every spirit that confesses (acknowledges – that says the same thing that God says) that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is from God;
…and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.”
- This verse eliminates over half of all the religions in the world as being from God.
- It eliminates Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Shintoism, Spiritualism, Zoroastronism, Paganism, New Age, Scientology, Jehovah Witness, and all these other forms of Gnosticism.
- And here is why.
John says, “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is from God.”
- “Jesus” is the name that was given to Him because “He will save His people from their sins”; Matthew 1:21
- This name indicates “Savior”: it was a name specifically given to Him by God.
The name “Christ” means “Messiah”…”the One sent from God!”
And then John says, “is come in the flesh”… He was human!
- Every spirit that confesses that Jesus is the Savior…that confesses that He is God’s Messiah…and that confesses that He came in the flesh…that spirit is from God.
But any spirit that denies that He is the Savior…or that denies that He is the Messiah (they want to separate Him from the God of the O.T.)…or that denies that He came in human form…that spirit is of the antichrist.
- In short, the first thing to do when testing the spirits is to see what they say about Jesus.
- That is the reason why over half of all the religions of the world are eliminated from being from God…they deny that Jesus is the Savior, the Messiah, or that He came in human form.
When it came to the different groups of Gnostics, the Docetist were teaching that Jesus only seemed to exist in the flesh because in their minds if Jesus was Deity then He could not possibly have anything to do with the flesh so He only appeared to have a fleshly body.
The Cerenthians believed that Jesus was a plain, ordinary man and lived that way until His baptism at which point the Messiah took up abode in the body of Jesus and stayed there until He was nailed to the cross at which point the Messiah left and the human Jesus died on the cross, a plain, ordinary man.
The Ebionites denied the deity of Christ altogether; that he was just a man.
The Denialists taught that Jesus could never be viewed as being equal to the Father.
The Essenes and Judaizers said that Jesus wasn’t enough; that you needed more.
Now, what about these groups that exist today (Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Shintoism, Spiritualism, Zoroastronism, Paganism, New Age, Scientology, Jehovah Witness); what do they say about Jesus?
- Do they say the samething about Jesus that God says about Him?
Now look at verse 5. John says:
5 They (false prophets) are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them.
- Their knowledge is human speculation…it is worldly wisdom…and the world loves this kind of doctrine.
- It allows you to believe and do those things that are worldly…things that tickle the ears and satisfies the flesh.
- This is the reason why some doctrines and teachings are so popular…the world loves it and the world speaks of a lot of people.
- But just because a lot of people like it doesn’t mean it is from God.
So John says: They (false prophets) are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them.
Now vs. 6: We (the apostles) 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.
- If some one comes along and teaches you something that does not agree with what the apostles taught…if they reject apostolic testimony…they are not from God…they are instead “the spirit of error.”
- If what they teach does not agree with the Bible…don’t listen to them.
This is not talking about a man who sincerely seeks the truth of God’s word and because of a wrong understanding teaches in error.
- I know of instances where people have approached a teacher after he spoke and hatefully accuse him of being a “false prophet.”
This passage is not talking about that…there are many difficult passages in the Bible and every one of us who teaches and have taught will, from time to time, teach something that may not be right.
- This passage is talking about someone who refuses to listen to what the apostles say and who continues to teach the wisdom and doctrines of the world.…that endear him to men instead of to God.
And they will tell you all kinds of things some of which sound so good…so right…so pleasing.
- But they can be so wrong.
- John says, “Test them…put them on trial.”
- Because failure to do so could lead you “through the wide gate that leads to destruction. “
We have all of these different religions and religious groups in the world today…something that God never intended…but knew would happen.
- He also knew that many people would come along and claim to be His prophets…and claim that their teachings were from God.
- And He also knew that people would be confused and perhaps pulled away by the false teachers and doctrines.
- Because He knew these things would take place…He gave us these guidelines on how to determine who we should and shouldn’t listen to.
With these guidelines comes great responsibility…because the only way you can follow these guidelines that God has given…they only way you can keep from being deceived…is you have to have a firm, confident, knowledge of what the Word of God says.
What does the word say about Jesus Christ who came in human form?
- Anyone who denies that He is the Savior, the Messiah, or that He came in the flesh…they are false prophets.
- And if what they teach does not agree with what the apostles say…if it does not agree with what this says (Bible) then they have a spirit of error.
- For the sake of our own salvation and to keep from being led astray we each one must dedicate ourselves to a greater, faithful knowledge of the Bible.
And because there are many false prophets that have gone out into the world.
- Do not just blindly believe what they say…instead…”test ,test, test” the spirits to see if they are from God.
© Sunset Ridge Church of Christ 2023