Testing of the Spirits: The Spirit of Truth and Error
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. 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.
In verse 1, we receive a twofold command.
- Do not believe every spirit
- Test the spirits to see whether they are from God.
What do we test these spirits with?
The measuring stick of truth that God has given us, His Word that he has given us in the Bible. We can have 100% assurance that God will not contradict himself, so if anyone comes to us claiming that they have received a revelation from God that is contrary to scripture we know that it is untrue.
Our passage today gives us two criteria for testing the teachings and sayings of others.
TEST #1: Examine WHAT THEY SAY (VERSES 1-3)
TEST #2: Look AT HOW THEY LIVE (VERSES 4-6)
TEST #1: EXAMINE WHAT THEY SAY (VERSES 1-3)
Why do we have to test to see if what someone is saying is true?
- There are many false teachers who have gone out into the world.
- We have a tendency to want to believe things because we want them to be true, not because they are actually true.
Determining if a message is true or not is a question of content. Does the message encourage God’s people to worship and obey him, or does it lead them into idolatry of worshiping and obeying the teacher? What the teacher says matters far more than how he says it, or whatever apparently supernatural signs he can produce to support it. The test is not whether it feels right, but whether it is true. Therefore, the measuring stick of God’s revealed truth in the Scriptures must be applied.
TEST #2: LOOK AT HOW THEY LIVE (VERSES 4-6)
Are the actions of the teacher consistent with someone living in the light or is the teacher’s actions consistent with that of someone living in the darkness of the world?
Some things are always true and others always false. Truth is not just the present consensus of opinion; it is defined by the character of God.
In conclusion, test the spirits so that you will not be fooled by the false teachers. You do this by:
- Studying God’s Word.
- Watching their lives.
- By becoming good theologians.