1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because 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; and this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.
(1 John 4:1-3, NASB).
The Age of Many Messages
We live in an age of many many messages. The entire planet as a whole, and a huge percentage of each individual in it, is screaming for our attention at all times through tiny machines we carry in our pockets. More than ever, true prophets and false prophets have access to our ears. We can’t just be a sponge taking in every message without analysis or thought! Every message is not truthful; some messages are false or misleading, and some are given a “Christian” sounding twist. The best counterfeit is the one which is closest to the authentic money without being real tender. We can expect the best and most tempting falsehoods to be the ones that are closest to the true Christian faith.
The Discernment of the Beloved
“Beloved!” We are reminded again who John is writing to: the beloved children of God, destined to a state of being that cannot be imagined. They are not the perfect (1 John 1:10), but they are the beloved (1 John 3:1) and destined for unimaginable glory (1 John 3:2). It is from our identity as the beloved that we are to test the spirits. As believers in Jesus Christ and beloved children, we are the possessors of peculiar inside knowledge (1 John 2:20,21). Thus we are not to believe every spirit, and thus we are empowered to test every spirit as if we are solely right.
Agenda of the spirits: Belief
It is worth noting that these spirits’ agenda appears to be to get us to believe something; it is our belief that is under attack. Is it not strange that John does not say that the aim of the spirit of the antichrist is to get us to sin, to fall into some debauchery? Naturally he is writing so that we may not sin (1 John 2:1), but it is the root belief which is the best and only true defense against sin. So the biggest threat that he keeps returning to is that we would fall without challenge into a false belief. False belief is what leads us to lovelessness and debauchery – disbelief in the power of the propitiation (1 John 1:7, 4:10).
False prophets, according to the scripture, do not act according to their own volition nor do they invent or propagate their own teachings. They are teaching the things these spirits are saying through them. But the manifestations of these spirits of antichrist operate through false prophets and through their teaching. So when people are teaching things as if they are coming from God, we are encouraged to test the spirit form which their teaching issues. Teachings are “from” somewhere, either from God or from a false spirit. I’m not making this up, it is right here in the scripture.
John is clear that this is no small problem, nor is it isolated and clear. There are many false prophets that have gone out into the world, and they are roaming around all over the place spreading their teaching.
The word “test” is the Greek work “dokimazo”, which means “to test, examine, prove, scrutinise (to see whether a thing is genuine or not), as metals.” If you are looking for pure genuine gold, you test it in various ways such as weighing it, measuring its volume by its water displacement, and calculating its density to make sure it really is absolutely pure gold and nothing but gold. In fact you may run various different tests. No matter how friendly and smiling the seller of the gold may be, there is an incentive and a possibility that the gold is impure. Nothing less than utterly pure gold will do – it must be tested. It may be that the seller is honest and sincere but has been duped themselves – the test is for the gold, not the seller. If you do not test and then buy impure gold, you lose a lot of money on your investment.
We might feel selfish and judgmental and even arrogant testing all this input as if we are the sole possessors of truth. We may feel even more so insisting on such stringent purity! However, we are not so much talking about condemning false teachers as we are talking about taking care how your influences inform your belief. If you are trying to watch what you eat, and someone has prepared a sumptuous meal, they may be insulted if you resist eating, but that is their problem, not yours. You actually have the ultimate responsibility for what you put in your mouth. Even more we must take care for what be believe! Far more than your character or your dreams or your heart, your belief informs the direction and connection of your life. It really must be examined and questioned and made pure, and yes, there is a lot of self-interest going on here. As we have seen, if you throw out the purity of Christ and Him crucified as the cornerstone of Christian living and community, you have nothing left but unpropitiated wrath and isolation. If you throw out the centrality of the cross, you throw out the possibility of walking in the light and of effectual confession and sanctification. The message of Christ crucified for sinners and resurrected must not be marginalized, watered down, dethroned, or reduced to non-scandal. The pure gospel of grace must be our one thing that is held as holy and non-negotiable.
6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials,
7 that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;
8 and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,
9 obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.
10 As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry,
11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow.
12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven–things into which angels long to look.
(1 Peter 1:6-12, NASB).