1 John 4:1 ESV
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
So, what is meant here by the word “spirit”? It literally means Spirit, spirit, wind or breath. And, the reason we must test these spirits is because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
So, what exactly are we testing, and how do we go about testing them?
Well, a spirit may be a personality, someone’s character, his nature, temperament, attitude, tendency, and heart. And, it can be an influence, a power, sway, pull, and persuasion, etc. And, wind can be “wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14), which is influential in persuading people a particular direction.
For, we are all daily having the potential of being influenced by all sorts of people, personalities, attitudes, characters, teachings, speeches, talks, news reports, social media, blogs, and opinions of others, etc. And, we can be influenced by our culture, traditions, religious institutions, our government, educators, doctors, lawyers, movies, TV shows, music, and the list goes on.
So, we need to test these influences (these spirits) against the Word of God, in prayer, seeking God’s counsel, his guidance, and his wisdom to know if they are of God or not of God. But, we are not going to be discerning about the wrong kinds of influences if we are already giving in to evil, and/or if we have our minds closed, and we refuse to hear what God wants to show us.
So, first of all we need to turn our hearts away from any sinful practices, and we need to turn our hearts towards following our Lord in obedience to his commands. And, then we need to listen to what he teaches us, and we need to put the Word of God into practice in our lives. Then, we can see clearly to discern good from evil, and discern these spirits, if they be of God or not.
1 John 4:2-3 ESV
“By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.”
As you know by now, we have to read Scriptures in context, but not just the immediate context of the passage of Scripture, but in the context of the Scriptures as a whole. And, if we do that, in this case, we will understand that the picture here is a little broader than just what is stated here.
For example, we have many Scriptures that talk about hypocrites, like the Pharisees, who outwardly professed faith in the one true God, but inwardly were filled with all kinds of wickedness. So, their outward confession of faith was not supported by their actions.
We also have examples of false teachers who are wolves in sheep’s clothing, who make a pretense of being followers of Jesus, but who are not. They masquerade as servants of righteousness, but they are really servants of Satan and/or of self. So, they may outwardly confess Jesus as having come in the flesh, but they are not servants of the Lord, but of the devil.
So, they may confess that Jesus has come in the flesh, but their confession is empty, for it doesn’t mean anything. It is lip service only, for their hearts are far from God. So, just because someone makes an audible confession of Jesus Christ, or of faith in him, it does not mean that person is of God.
For, “anti” (as in antichrist) means “against” or “opposite of.” And this is where we test these “spirits,” i.e. these influences, attitudes, doctrines, etc. We compare what they are saying to what Jesus said to see if they are truly for Christ, and on his side, teaching what he taught, or if they are against Christ, doing and teaching the opposite of what he did and taught.
1 John 4:4-6 ESV
“Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We 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.”
So, these “spirits,” i.e. these influences or influencers who are in question here, who are antichrist, are from the world of sin, and they speak from the attitudes, values, principles, beliefs, morals, philosophies and behaviors of the world. And, we can recognize them because their influences are in opposition to Jesus Christ, and are opposed to his influences over our lives.
Ok, so here we need to look at what Jesus Christ taught us, and then we need to look at all these other influences and influencers in our lives and see what they are teaching us in the way of what we should believe, how we should act, what we should value, and what attitudes we should embrace.
And, again, these influencers are not just people, but they can be music, movies, TV shows, social media, YouTube, and the news media, etc.
Jesus’ Main Message
So, Jesus’ main message regarding why he came to the earth, and why he had to die on a cross, and be resurrected from the dead, was that he came and he died that we who believe in him might die with him to sin and live with him to his righteousness (1 Pet. 2:24; 2 Co. 5:15, 21; 1 Co. 6:19-20; Lu. 9:23-26; Rom. 6:1-23; Rom. 8:1-17; Eph. 4:17-24; 1 Jn. 1:5-9).
What Jesus and his New Testament apostles taught us was that faith in Jesus Christ is a gift to us from God, and it is divine persuasion from God, for we can’t even come to faith in Jesus Christ unless the Father first draws us to Christ.
So, if this faith is of God and from God, then the one with faith submits to God, surrenders to Jesus as Lord, leaves his life of sin behind him, is transformed in heart and mind of the Spirit of God, and then follows Jesus Christ in obedience to his commands (Rom. 6:1-23; 1 Jn. 2:3-6).
And, the true believer in Jesus Christ walks (in lifestyle) according to the Spirit, and by the Spirit is putting to death the deeds of the flesh, and he no longer walks (in practice) according to the flesh (Rom. 8:1-17; Lu. 9:23-26).
The World’s Influence
So, now we compare what Jesus and his New Testament apostles taught to what the world and these antichrist influencers are teaching us.
What the world and these false teachers are teaching and influencing us toward is free license (carte blanche) to live by our feelings and by our sensual and fleshly urges. They are teaching a “love” that is the opposite of God’s love, for the love they are promoting allows us, again, to indulge in our sinful nature and to do whatever feels good to us, or whatever will be pleasing and gratifying to our sinful flesh.
Thus, these false shepherds of the people who are really wolves in sheep’s clothing, who masquerade as servants of righteousness in an effort to influence us to live by our flesh, have devised a false grace gospel of salvation that requires no death to sin, no walking in obedience to Christ’s commands, and no submission to the Lordship of Christ over our lives.
For, they teach a “faith” in Jesus Christ that is of the flesh, that is man created, and that makes no demands on them for holy living or for walking in the fear of the Lord. So, in essence, they give their “followers” free license to live in sin without guilt, while giving them a false hope of heaven when they die.
What they are teaching, thus, is deceptive. It twists the Scriptures to the advantage of the flesh, it tolerates evil in people’s lives, and it distorts God’s grace, as though his grace gives permission to keep living in sin. But, it doesn’t (See Tit. 2:11-14).
They pull Scriptures out of context, too, to make them say what they want them to say. But, the influences which they are spreading are nonsense (garbage, rubbish), for they do not align with the Word of God.
And, in their efforts to change the gospel of Jesus Christ to a free-for-all, where anyone can have the hope of heaven when they die, regardless of how they live their lives on this earth, they have brought God down to their level. And, they have changed the Kingdom of Heaven into the kingdom of men. For, they try to make God and his kingdom altogether like the world.
And, again, these influences that are bad for us are very worldly and fleshly, and they appeal to our flesh and to our sensual appetites. They try to get us to live by our feelings, rather than to live in the power of God, according to the Spirit of God, in obedience and in submission to our Lord.
So, we need to expose these “spirits,” i.e. these influences for what they are, and compare what they are teaching against what Jesus and his NT apostles taught, for this is the way we test them to see if they are of God. And, this is the way in which we turn people from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so they can receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those sanctified by faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 26:16-18).
By Ann Aschauer
Children of the Kingdom, you are called by God to shine His light,
In the day of small beginnings, trust in Him, trust in Him.
On this firm foundation build your lives to bring Him glory;
People need Him in a world where hope is dim.
So shine on through the darkness;
Be the salt and light for all your world.
Live for Jesus, ’til you see Him,
And your faith has its reward;
Shine on through the darkness;
Let His love shine through you all your days.
Go and win your generation for the Lord.
c 1990 Ann Aschauer
used by permission