Test the Spirits

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” (1 John 4:1).

- 1 John 4:1

When we studied the authority of Scripture a few months ago, we spent time focusing on 2 Timothy 3:16–17 and its teaching on inspiration. In addition to the Bible’s being God-breathed, this important passage tells us that Scripture is useful for teaching and for reproof, demonstrating that all believers should earnestly desire to have their beliefs formed and corrected by the Word of God.

If the layperson should seek to have his confession tested by the teachings of the Bible, how much more should this be the case for those who are teachers of God’s Word? Sadly, however, it is those who purport to be teachers who are sometimes the most offended whenever someone seeks to test their teachings against the Word of God. In our own day, for example, many televangelists are quick to call down the wrath of God upon those who would question the orthodoxy of their methods and teachings.

In today’s passage, John reminds us that we are not to believe every prophet that comes our way. Having told us that believers have the Spirit to give them assurance, John asserts that not everyone who claims to have the Spirit is in fact of God. Many different and false spirits have gone out into the world, and it is necessary to test the claims of all who purport to speak the truth of God (1 John 4:1).

In the succeeding verses, John gives a specific test to determine the orthodoxy of teachers — confession of the incarnation. In giving this test, John is not teaching that this confession exhausts orthodoxy, for it is possible to believe in the incarnation and hold to unorthodox views of justification, such as are found in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. John focuses on the incarnation because this was the specific teaching denied by his original opponents.

The incarnation is one essential of the faith taught in the Bible; it is therefore not stretching the meaning here to say that we must test the spirits against all the essential teachings of Scripture. The specific teaching for which we must most strongly contend may vary given our situations. However, we must always confirm our teachers’ instructions according to their faithfulness to all the essentials of biblical faith.

Coram Deo

In 2 Corinthians 11:14, the apostle Paul warns us that Satan often masquerades as an angel of light. Our enemy is a deceiver and will sometimes hide in the church, influencing teachers subtly or overtly to deny the Word of God. It is therefore incumbent upon us to know theology and study the Scriptures so that we might be able to test the spirits. Spend time today reviewing an essential doctrine of the faith, such as the Trinity, the person of Christ, or justification by faith alone.

Passages for Further Study

Jer. 28
Luke 6:43–45
2 Cor. 11:1–15
Gal. 1:6–9

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