Dear friends, 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. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. – 1 John 4:1-6
In a world where deviant “spiritualities” assail us at every turn, how are we to keep from being blown off way that is pleasing to God? The answer is simple, and it is also foundational: We must remember that the Holy Spirit and God’s revelation always go together. Rather than simply assuming that an interesting idea must be a matter of God’s leading or attributing our feelings to the work of the Holy Spirit; John quite plainly commands us that we are to test the spirits to see whether or not they are from God. He goes on to warn us why this discernment is so important: “For many false prophets have gone out into the world”. Frankly, most Christians in America don’t seem to believe this. People regularly say “the LORD is leading me to …” without any Biblical warrant and anyone who questions whether or not it is actually the LORD who is leading the person in such a direction is viewed as judgmental and unspiritual. In the 90’s, John MacArthur tried to call evangelicals to action through his book Reckless Faith: When The Church Loses its Will to Discern. Yet, it is difficult to see a reason to be optimistic that American evangelicals have heard this plea. Thankfully, we don’t need a complex program to combat the failure of individual Christians and the Church as a whole to be discerning. All we have to do is to follow what God is telling us in today’s passage. We are to test the spirits according to God’s revelation:
- First, John tells us that we are to test the spirits by what they say about Jesus Christ. Jesus is the final and fullest revelation of God. To deny that Jesus is Incarnate Deity is to be an enemy of God (nb: Denying Jesus is not merely an intellectual error. It is opposition to God Himself and earns the deniers the title of anti-Christ).
- Second, John tells us that we are test the spirits be seeing if they agree with the teaching of Christ’s authoritative messengers (i.e. the Apostles). “We (i.e. the Apostles) 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.” Thankfully, God has preserved this Apostolic teaching (inspired by the Holy Spirit) for us in the New Testament. If teachers rebel against having their teaching tested against Scripture they are simply revealing that they are not of God and we should stay away from themThere is a very practical application of this passage in our daily lives. If we are going to test the spirits by God’s revelation we must first know it. The blessed man is the one who mediates on the Torah of the LORD day and night. What will God make of such a man? Psalm 1 tells us that:
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 84
Q. 84. What doth every sin deserve?
A. Every sin deserveth God’s wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come.