We must test every spirit we encounter to see if it matches God’s spirit (John 4:1-3)
It’s becoming more and more important to be cautious when it comes to religious teachers you encounter. Some religious con-artists want to get into your pocketbook. However, there are also those who are not in it for your money, but they proclaim a message that did NOT come from God, and if you embrace their teachings, it will lead you away from God. It’s not always easy to spot a false teacher right away, because they do know plenty about the Bible, and they’ll use some of the right terminology. So it’s important to carefully test what they’re preaching and what their intentions are, to see whether or not they are really bringing a message from God.
Not only is it unwise to believe that every religious teacher is genuine, it can be dangerous to our souls. Please take a moment to carefully read 1 John 3:24-4:6. Here, John doesn’t say “test every preacher", but instead "test the spirits". How do you do that? You can know what’s in every person’s mind/heart/spirit by what they say and do. Every action and every word we utter first begins within our spirit, elsewhere called our “heart” (Matthew 15:17-20). You can know if someone’s spirit matches God’s spirit, based on whether or not what they say and do, matches exactly with what God says in His Word. If it doesn't, don't believe it. The spirit of false teachers won’t match with what God has said. It will be different. So their spirit is characterized by error; it’s more like the world, than God. Remember, it's not what I say, or what you say. It's what [b]God[/b] says, that counts. He is the final authority and no one on this earth, can match His wisdom.
John gives us the reason we must test every spirit: “many false prophets have gone out into the world” (John 4:1). A prophet is simply someone who speaks for God. God has revealed His will for mankind. To come back into fellowship with Him, through prayer, repentance, and finally, accepting Him as your Lord and Savior. Then go about communicating God's message, so that others will know and follow Him, too. “False prophets” are men and women who claim to speak for God, but they are actually delivering a message that God did NOT reveal…they’re spreading lies. Sometimes false prophets know they’re lying (some televangelists and so-called faith healers). Some false prophets completely believe they’re telling the truth, but they’ve deceived themselves into twisting God’s word, to say things God never said. They shall be held accountable for that before God one day. So the reason we can’t believe every spirit, is because there are so many false prophets who’ve gone out into the world today. I believe that number is rising, and is far higher today, than in John’s time.
Some spread the lie that Jesus was not God in the flesh. Instead, they argue that Jesus was a sinful man who had God’s spirit come upon Him for a couple years. We know that God never said that. Therefore, we can know that their spirit doesn’t line up with God’s. Since they’re spreading false doctrines, these false prophets are what John calls “antichrist.” John says, “Test every spirit, because there are many false prophets in our world.”
You can't see it, but there is a spiritual war going on between good and evil; between God and the devil. As long as we hold firmly to the truth God gives us, and we are serving His purpose. Those false teachers who are working against Christ are really serving the purposes of the devil, even though they don’t see it that way. All false teachers prove to be from the world (4:5). If false teachers didn’t get their message from God, where’d it come from? It came from the world: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life (1 John 2:16). Man-made religion is very different from what God revealed, because of the source of its teachings. We know these false teachers were saying that you could be a Christian and keep on living a sinful lifestyle. That sounds pretty good…if you’re in love with what this world has to offer. But if you love God, you won't want to disobey Him. That’s why man-made religion is so popular, because it caters to worldly desires and worldly ways of thinking. John says the world listens to teachers like these. We should never think that a religious group is pleasing to God just because they have a lot of followers. These “antichrists” had a lot of followers too, but they sure don’t have any spiritual fellowship with God.
As in John’s time, many today reject what the apostles taught. They like the idea of Jesus, they wear the name Christian, but they refuse to accept what God’s apostles taught. So they invent a Christianity that’s convenient and comfortable for them. One that's not the same as it was in the beginning, but one that’s based on worldly desires. John would call this a “spirit of error” because it actually goes against the will of God. The children of God, however, reflect God’s spirit.
1 John 4:6 refers to Christ’s specially chosen apostles. Christ’s apostles are God’s spokesmen. What they preached and wrote, carried the authority of God Himself. They were given direct revelation from Christ, by the power of God, through his Holy Spirit. What we do with the apostles’ teachings determines the kind of spirit we have. Do you hunger for truth? Is your only allegiance to the Word of God? That means you have the“spirit of truth.” When truth is your priority, all you care about is what God revealed.