Testing The Spirits

Title: Testing The Spirits

Bible Book: 1 John 4 : 1-6

Author: Gil McKee

Subject: Fake; Counterfeiting; Truth



Did you know that counterfeiting of money is one of the oldest crimes in history? Here in America it became a serious problem during the 19th century when banks issued their own currency. In fact, by the time of the Civil War, it was estimated that one-third of all currency in circulation was counterfeit.

So in 1863 the United States adopted a national currency in hopes that it would solve the growing counterfeit problem. But before long, the new national currency also became the victim of widespread counterfeiting. So on July 5, 1865, the United States Secret Service was established to suppress counterfeiting.[1]

Through the years, many techniques and tests have been formulated for the purpose of identifying counterfeit currency. One such test that is used today is a Counterfeit Detector Pen like this one. (Demonstrate how it works.) With the use of this pen and other counterfeit detection techniques, bankers and other businesses can discern between genuine currency and counterfeit currency.

Spiritually speaking, Christians often find themselves in a similar position as bankers and others who have to be able to discern between that which is genuine and that which is not. And like currency counterfeits, spiritual counterfeits are nothing new. In fact, the Bible is filled with warnings about false teachers and their counterfeit doctrines. And the Bible says that we are to be able to discern between doctrines and religious teachings that are biblically sound and those that are not.

The apostle Paul said it this way in Ephesians 4: “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.” Ephesians 4:14 (NASU)

That’s why he also said to the Christians in Thessalonica: “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” 1 Thessalonica 5:21-22 (NIV)

Every kind of evil certainly includes false teachers and counterfeit doctrines. And that is exactly what John has on his mind and heart as he begins the fourth chapter of his first epistle. John knew that his readers were under attack from false teachers and false doctrines; so here is what he had to say.

John makes it clear in that last sentence that there are two spirits at work in our world – the spirit of truth and the spirit of deception. Any philosophy, opinion, or religion that does not fit the spirit of truth is from the spirit of deception. And that’s why John says here in these verses that believers are to test every spirit to determine if they are from God, Who is the spirit of truth.

So let me show you four things about this test. First, notice…

I. The command for the test. (1a)

Now I know we live in a day where it’s not popular or politically correct to pass judgment on another person’s personal belief system or religious ideas. In fact, we live in a time where many people desire for every religious idea or opinion to be upheld as equally true and valid. But the Bible makes it perfectly clear that there is a spirit of truth and there is a spirit of deception.

And of course, that’s why John said what he said in verse one. Read verse 1a.

I want you to notice two important verbs in that verse – do not believe and test. Both of those verbs are written in the imperative which simply means that John is issuing a command. If every idea, philosophy, and religious opinion were equally true and valid, the Bible would have never commanded us to test them because what would it matter? But the reality is that not every spirit, not every idea, not every philosophy, and not every religious opinion is from God, much less equally true or valid. So we are commanded to test them all to discern whether they are from God or from the Adversary.

Which leads us to a second point – and that is…

II. The cause for the test. (1b)

Read all of verse one again.

John says the reason we are to test the spirits is because many false prophets, doctrines, and religious ideas and opinions have gone out into the world today. The word translated false literally means, “untrue, erroneous, deceitful, or wicked.” And it’s not that there is just a few untrue, erroneous, deceitful, and wicked teachers, ideas and opinions out there in the world…there are many of them.

Dear friend, that’s why you can’t afford to just gullibly accept and believe every so-called preacher or teacher you might hear on television or radio. That’s why you can’t afford to just haphazardly pick up any religious book or commentary in the bookstore. No, we must learn to discern between that which is biblically sound teaching and doctrine and that which is not.

You see, the reason this is so important is because it has been the goal and purpose of our Adversary from the very beginning to deceive God’s people. It’s what he did in the Garden of Eden the very first time he tempted man to sin. He deceived Adam and Eve.

In fact, the word deceive also appears nineteen times in the New Testament and it always has to do with the Devil and his works of deception. Jesus emphasized how the Devil sows deception among God’s people through the parable of the wheat and tares. In that parable He taught that God sows good seed into the world and Satan sows tares. God sows His children into the world and Satan sows his counterfeits into the world at the same time.

God sows truth; Satan sows deception. And John’s warning is brief and very blunt: “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

I can’t leave this point without saying that Christians who ignore John’s admonition and warning do so to their own harm because there are many powerful and persuasive voices out there in our world today that are being used by the spirit of our Adversary to deceive even true believers if possible.

As Christians we are to continually test what we see, hear, and read to determine if it is from the spirit of God or from the spirit of our Adversary. And the only reliable way to test what we see, hear, and read is to measure it against the perfect standard of God’s truth found in His Word. That’s why Jesus prayed to the Father on our behalf: “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” John 17:17 (NKJV)

So it is mandatory that we learn to test ideas, philosophies, doctrines, and opinions through the practice of biblical discernment.

That leads us to a third important point…

III. The confession of the test. (2-3)

Now I think we all know that Christians are not going to agree on every single doctrinal issue; and that should not jeopardize our fellowship or our efforts to work together as the body of Christ to evangelize the world. In fact, last Sunday night I preached a message reminding us of some of the basic facts about the Church. One of the things I reminded us about is the fact that in the Bible the Church is seen in two lights: the church local in specific times, places, and congregations; and the Church universal which includes all Christians in all times, places, and congregations.

The Church universal is bigger than Baptists or Methodists or Presbyterians or Pentecostals or any other Christian denomination you might name. And while we certainly have doctrinal distinctives and differences, there is one doctrinal confession that binds us all together as God’s people. And John states it very clearly in verses two and three. Read verses two and three.

When it comes to discerning whether an individual or a church or a religious group is truly of the spirit of God, John says the litmus test has to do with what that individual or group believes about the person of Jesus Christ.

Specifically, John had in mind some doctrinal teachings of his day that taught that Jesus of Nazareth was only different from other human beings in that he was wiser and better than they were; but was not the incarnate Son of God. He was created and used by God, but not God Himself in the flesh.

And John counters such doctrinal heresy in his gospel by emphasizing the deity of Jesus. In the first chapter he says that Jesus was in the beginning with God and was God. He also says in the fourteenth verse of that first chapter that Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us. In chapter ten Jesus said that He and the Father are one. Repeatedly John teaches that no one can honor the Father without honoring the Son. And, of course, in chapter fourteen, Jesus makes it clear that the only way to be saved and come to the Father is through Him.

Unlike what some ancient false teachers taught and what some modern-day cults teach, Jesus is not merely a created being. He is the incarnate, eternal second Person of the Godhead. He is the Son of God who came to dwell among us in flesh that we might know the glory and redemption of God through personal relationship with Him.

Unfortunately, we live in a world today where it is increasingly politically correct to accept all religions as worshipping the same God, regardless of what they teach about Jesus Christ. But the fact is that all religions do not worship the same God! Jesus Himself made that very clear. In Luke 10 He said to His followers: "The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me." Luke 10:16 (NASU)

That is also why Jesus said in John 3: “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." John 3:36 (NKJV)

And John says in the fifth chapter of this first epistle: “And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.” 1 John 5:11-12 (NASU)

So the litmus test of whether a person really knows God and has eternal life is what they believe and confess about Jesus Christ. If they believe and confess Him to be the eternal Son of God then they know God and are of the spirit of God. But if they do not believe and confess Him to be the eternal Son of God then they do not know God and are not of the spirit of God. But they are in fact of the spirit of the antichrist.

Finally, John mentions…

IV. The conclusion of the test. (4-6)

We may be uncertain and unsure about some of the secondary matters of the Bible but we can be certain about the foundational truths of the Person and work of Jesus Christ. And John makes it clear in verses four through six that for those of us who are truly children of God, no false teacher or false teaching can remove us out of God’s hand because the One who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world.

On the other hand, those who listen to the one who is in the world (the Devil) are from the world. Therefore, what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them.

But we are from God. Anyone who knows God listens to us; anyone who is not from God does not listen to us.

The pronouns, we and us, primarily refer to John and the other writers of Scripture but to all who accurately proclaim and teach the Word of God. Those who know God will listen to them but those who do not know God will not listen to them.

The apostle Paul explained it like this to the Christians in Corinth: “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 2:12-15 (NIV)

In a world today that is filled with all kinds of false and erroneous religious teaching, believers must constantly test the spirits to discern what is from God and what is not. Don’t just blindly believe every new religious idea and opinion but use the counterfeit detecting pen of the Word of God as the sole authority by which to test all spiritual ideas, philosophies, and doctrines. If it agrees with the completed, written revelation of the Word and what it teaches about Jesus Christ, then accept it and embrace it. But if it is found wanting in light of God’s Word and God’s Son, then we must reject it and help others to do the same. That’s what John meant when he said for us to test the spirits.

[1] Know Your Money, Department of the Treasury United States Secret Service (Revised 1998), p. 13.


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