“Unbelief can be as much a mark of spiritual maturity as belief.” – John Stott
“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.” – 1 John 4:1
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” – Matthew 7:15-16
- Historicity of Jesus (1 John 4:2) – 1st test is the complete recognition of Christ; the acknowledgement of the historical incarnation of Jesus, that “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.”
- Testimony of the Spirit (1 John 4:4) – 2nd test is the Holy Spirit; We overcoming because of the Spirit in us… when we feel something is wrong… it should be like a radar that helps us seek it out and assess it… false teachers will not be able to completely subdue us when we have the Holy Spirit in us.
- Needs to be from the Word not the world – The world likes the message because it is from the world… acceptance from the world will be a red flag. (2 Timothy 4:3)
- 7 Key Tests…
As John exhorts us to “test the spirits” in 1 John 4, it is important to note how we can do this and also why John feels so passionately about this topic. John writes this letter to a collection of churches experiencing false teaching (1 John 2:18-28; 4:1-6; 5:6-7). Time hasn’t changed this troubling fact, as we continue to experience false teaching and heresy from within the so-called Christian community of believers.
We see it in our immediate churches and movements (Word Faith etc.) and in the various cults (Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.) that are around us and John seeks to send a definitive cautionary warning to us while reassuring us that we will prevail in Christ by the Spirit.
Interestingly, the claims of the past are very similar to the heresy we can observe today. The claims to minimize the implications of sin (1 John 1:6-10) and strip Christ of His deity and true identity (1 John 4:2).
In chapter 3, John clearly communicates the identities of humanity being 2 options only – children of God or children of the devil and in chapter 4 he continues this parallel dialogue by warning of the false teachers and heresy that are “from the world” (1 John 4:5) /children of the devil and states that we must take the warning and overcoming this. The 2 options of humanity’s identity parallel the two spirits present in the world – “Spirit of truth and the spirit of deception” (1 John 4:6).
With this in mind coupled with God’s numerous cautions against false prophecy, false teaching, and false witnesses, we must take this seriously and shine the light of God’s truth by the Spirit on all of these elements.
After establishing the existence of this problem and the fact that God commissions us to deal with this cancerous element in the church we must then turn our attention to “how” we can test.
The below presentation serves to provide some context for this passage as well as equipping you with practical tips (although not exhaustive).
We cannot view this as simple theological nitpicking as the impact of false spirits/teachings is serious in its explicit implications and perhaps even more serious in its subversive implications.
We must always “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3).
Suggested Reading(s): B = Basic, M = Moderate, A = Academic
- The Best of A. W. Tozer, Book 1 (p. 182-194 1978) (M)