1 John 4:1-6 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. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 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. 4 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. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 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.
1 Thessalonians 5:21–2221 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil
In his tenth message on the letter from the Apostle John to the church, Pastor Chris builds on John’s message of God’s Truth and His Love. His focus in chapter four is a prescription for every believer to know what words and ideas are authentic those that are counterfeit. A daily dose of discernment is the antidote to deception.
Chris quotes Charles Spurgeon, a powerful preacher of the 19th Century, “Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between right and wrong; rather it is telling the difference between right and almost right.” Following this is the key for us to develop discernment – Godly Humility.
14 Characteristics of Humble People
- Do I have a servant’s heart?
- Non-defensive or reactionary heart?
- A quiet, teachable spirit?
- Selfless interest and speech?
- Submissive to those in authority?
- Love and interest in people to build them up?
- Tender conscience toward sin?
- No desire for applause or publicity?
- Honest and transparent?
- Courteous and respectful?
- Authentic and real?
After walking humbly, we are directed in John’s letter to “test the spirits…test everything” So, how do we test what we see, hear, read, and believe? Pastor Chris shows us three ways:
3 Ways to Test the Spirits
“…test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world…” 1 John 4:1
- The Bible Test – do the words align with God’s Word?Be like the Berean Jews and Greeks in Acts 17, “…they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” Acts 17:11
- The Jesus Test – does the message ring true with Jesus’ actions and words?
“2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” 1 John 4:2-3
- The Holy Spirit Test – does the message sound like it comes from the Spirit of God? “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…” 1 John 4:6
False Prophets – testing the message
Often those who seek to deceive are really “false prophets” deceived by the Devil, agents of his lies, and bent on deceiving others. Using these tests helps us “hold fast to the truth” and reject the ambassadors of almost-truth. Not all with whom we disagree are deceivers, merely fallible humans.
What a false prophet is NOT:
- Someone who made a mistake and said something in error or the wrong way
- Someone you disagree with on an open-handed issue – “is it a spine issue, or a rib issue?”
- A person who is learning and changing
Here are some signs of a false prophet
- Intentionally malicious, belittling their hearers, tearing down others
- Preach different close-handed issues
- Devoted to compelling others to abandon biblical truth
In the end, Chris instructed us, the most important element of daily discernment is walking in-step with the Spirit of God. These activities will assure you of your ability to determine whether a message is from Him, or not:
- Check your heart – be humble, receptive, hungry, and full of hope.
- Build relationships by actively loving and listening to people.
- Be careful what you hear and read, but not closed.
- Do real research, not relying on hearsay, “I heard…”
- Give others the benefit of the doubt.
- Don’t take the posture of a critic.
- Love Truth.
- How might a message sound that is “almost right” (C.H. Spurgeon)?
- How have you discerned whether a message was from the Spirit of Truth, or spirit of error? (1 Jn. 4:6)
- Why do you suppose humility is vital to testing the spirits – to discernment?
- What are some good ways to handle a conversation about God’s Truth with someone you disagree?
How could believers better distinguish between a mistaken message and a false teaching?
- Review the list of characteristics of a humble person. Ask God if you are able to truthfully live out those in your daily life. Confess those that you haven’t and seek His Spirit to correct them.
- Think of someone with whom you disagree about some biblical issue. Consider reaching out to them to have a different conversation marked by your humble approach. If it is a teacher or preacher, find a way to put their message to the three tests: Bible, Jesus, and Spirit – reflect on whether your view of them changes. If they are a false messenger, commit to avoiding their teachings (including for criticism) and pray for them to be convicted and speak truth.