1 John 4:1-3 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. 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.”
The spirit of a person is his soul, his inner self, his essence. It can also be his disposition, temperament, attitude, and character. And spirit can be a feeling, a tendency, an emotional force, determination, strength of mind, moral fiber, etc. Spirit can also be the Holy Spirit or it can be an evil spirit.
So, what or who are we actually testing here? We are definitely testing human beings, so that fits. We are also testing beliefs and doctrines and faiths which are being taught, whether they be of God and of His Spirit or from Satan and evil spirits. But we are also testing people’s characters and their attitudes and their actions to see if they are from God or not.
And we are testing all against the Scriptures as a whole and in context. For we must guard against using Scriptures taught outside their context as proof text as to whether what is being taught is of God or not. For many false doctrines stem from Scriptures taught outside their context. So we really need to read Scriptures in their context to get their true meaning.
So, we are not to believe every spirit. And this means that we are not to believe every pastor or Bible teacher or writer of devotions, no matter how famous they are, and no matter how popular or well liked they are. For many of them are liars and deceivers. Many of them are knowingly teaching what is false in order to lead you in the wrong direction.
We are also not to believe everyone who calls himself a Christian, or every politician of any particular political party, or all newscasters, or all writers of what is considered Christian books or literature or songs. We are to test them all. For believe me, liars abound. Deception abounds. And many people today are following these liars and deceivers to their deaths.
Now, I know that this says here that we will know the Spirit of God by this: 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. But then we have other passages of Scripture which speak of wolves in sheep’s clothing who pretend to be followers of Jesus Christ in order to fool the people. They masquerade themselves as servants of righteousness.
So, what this says is that they make an outward confession of Jesus, but it is outward only, and its purpose is to deceive. So, we can’t go by what people say only. The Pharisees are prime examples of this. Most of them were outwardly religious and seemed to be doing the right things, but secretly many of them were engaged in all kinds of wickedness.
So, just because someone claims to believe in Jesus or to be a Christian or to be called of God to pastor a church doesn’t mean he is any of that. He could be totally faking it all and in order to deceive. So, when we are testing these spirits, we have to look beyond what lies on the surface or to what people profess only, and we need to watch their lives and listen to all their conversations to see what they are truly made of.
Many of these wolves in sheep’s clothing come across as genuine followers of Jesus, and sometimes it isn’t what they say but what they don’t say that clues us into the fact that they are not the real thing. Also, we need to listen for subtle twisting of truth, for lies are rarely that bold and outstanding, though some are. Most are well hidden in mixtures of lies and truth.
Watch out for subtle suggestions, too. One of the tricks is to place a passage of Scripture in a writing to suggest that what is being said is biblical and that what is being said has something to do with the Scripture, but sometimes they are just placed in the writing to give the allusion that what they are teaching is biblical and that it has anything to do with the quoted Scripture.
So, just saying here that we can’t go by what people confess with their lips for many of them are liars and deceivers. We need to listen to all the things they say that we are able to hear and we need to listen for attitudes and values and morals and actions they describe, perhaps in casual conversations, for deception is so subtle and it takes much discernment to see it. But we have to know the Word of God.
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.”
Those spirits that are not from God will be shown for what they are if we are truly paying attention to what is going on and if we are indeed testing them against the teachings of Scripture. One of the sure fired tests is if they are teaching repentance, obedience, and submission to Christ as Lord or if they are rejecting that.
Now, there are legalists who are teaching repentance, obedience, and submission, at least outwardly, but there is no guarantee that they are living what they are teaching. Some of the wickedest people I have known in my life have been religious people outwardly who seemed to be teaching on holiness and righteousness but they were doing all sorts of evil.
So, we have to test more than just their words but also their actions, for our actions are what give proof to whether or not what we say is really what we believe. If they are living worldly lives, and their casual conversations are about everything but Jesus, and then they preach “hellfire and brimstone” from the pulpit, that does not make them godly.
Also, some preachers seem to be smooth tongued charmers who appear to know all the right things to say to people to make them feel good, and so many people are following them, thinking that they are following the truth, but many of them are not teaching the true gospel, because they don’t want to offend people and some of them because they are willfully wanting to lead people away from God to following after their own flesh.
So, if the people of the world are liking a preacher and are enjoying the “fellowship” of the body of Christ, then something is wrong with that picture. It means they are not teaching the true gospel but a half-truth gospel which tickles itching ears and which appeases the world in their sins. And if we are teaching the truth from God’s word, in love, and people are rejecting what we are teaching, chances are pretty good they are not from God.
So, again, test everything against the Scriptures and in context, and test more than just people’s words but their attitudes and their actions. For you can tell me that you love me but if you truly love me it should show by how you treat me. Definitely it is not love to lie to people or to deliberately and habitually sin against them. For love is not what you feel. It is what you do.
And faith in Jesus Christ is not a confession or a profession of faith only. We must die with Christ to sin, not just once, but daily, and we must follow Jesus in obedience to his commands, and we must honor Christ as Lord. For, if we continue in habitual and deliberate sin, we don’t have the hope of eternal life with God, but we will die in our sins. So faith and action go together. They can’t be separated. It is not what we say, it is what we do.
By Ann Aschauer
Well, some folks think that “love” means emotion,
So it comes and goes their whole life through.
Some folks never know that when the magic goes,
If you keep on lovin’, it’ll come back to you.
I was so afraid we’d lose the special feeling,
And someday we’d find our love wasn’t true,
But then God opened up my eyes and made me realize,
Love is not what you feel, it’s what you do.
And so we stood side by side at the altar,
As our wills and God’s power combined.
With His help I could say, “I do love you today,
And I will for a long, long time.”
c 1987 Ann Aschauer
Used by permission