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This study focuses on obeying the instruction to test spirits from a more scriptural perspective. It directs us to the Word of God as the ultimate authority in evaluating any teaching. Everything and everyone has a spiritual source and influence. Believers must master the discipline of testing the source of teaching, sermons, music etc if they want to avoid deception. Just because it is on christian radio does not mean it comes from the spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ that came in the flesh. Read on…
John MacArthur Commentary – 1 John 4
Test Spirits (1 John 4:1-6)
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test spirits to see whether they are from God, because 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, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (4:1-6)
This simple Greek word—meaning “I have found it!”—became a life slogan for thousands of California gold prospectors in the mid-1800s. It summed up every treasure hunter’s dream and expressed the thrill of striking pay dirt. For James Marshall (the first to discover the precious metal in 1848) and the “forty-niners” who followed him, the term eureka meant instant riches, early retirement, and a life of carefree ease.
But would-be prospectors quickly learned that not everything that appeared to be gold actually was. Riverbeds and rock quarries could be full of golden specks that were nevertheless entirely worthless. This “fool’s gold” was iron pyrite, and miners had to be careful to distinguish it from the real thing. Their very livelihood depended on it.
Experienced miners could usually distinguish pyrite from gold simply by looking at it. But, in some cases, the distinction was not quite so clear. So, they developed tests to discern what was genuine from what was not. One test involved biting the rock in question. Real gold is softer than the human tooth, whereas fool’s gold is harder. A second test involved scraping the rock on a piece of white stone, such as ceramic. True gold leaves a yellow streak, whereas the residue left by fool’s gold is greenish black. In either case, a miner relied on tests to authenticate his finds—both his fortune and his future depended on the results.
Spiritually speaking, Christians often find themselves in a similar position to the California gold rushers of the mid-1800s. When confronted with various doctrines and religious teachings, all of which claim to be true, believers must be able to tell those that are biblically sound from those that are not.
As was true in the gold rush, just because something glitters doesn’t mean it’s good. Christians need to be equally wary of spiritual “fool’s gold.” They must not accept something as true without first testing it to see if it meets with God’s approval. If it fails the test, Christians should discard it as false and warn others also. But if it passes the test, in keeping with the truth of God’s Word, believers can embrace and endorse it wholeheartedly. California gold prospectors would cry “Eureka!” only when they found true gold. When it comes to spiritual things, Christians should be careful to do the same.
Learning to Live Discerningly – Test Spirits
Spiritual “fool’s gold” is nothing new. In fact, the Old and New Testaments are filled with warnings about false teachers (Deut. 13:1-3; Isa. 8:19-20; Matt. 7:15; 24:4-5, 11, 24; Acts 20:29; Rom. 16:17-19; 2 Cor. 11:4, 13-15; Jude 4) and their counterfeit doctrines (Acts 20:30; 1 Tim. 1:4-7, 19; 6:20-21; 2 Tim. 2:17-18; 2 Peter 2:1; cf. Isa. 30:10). Christians must be discerning lest they be “children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14). It is crucial that they “examine everything carefully” in order to “hold fast to that which is good [and] abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess. 5:21-22). Otherwise, they increase their vulnerability to satanic deception (Matt. 13:19; 2 Cor. 2:11; 4:4; 11:3, 14; 2 Thess. 2:9; cf. Gen. 3:1; Matt. 4:3-10; Luke 22:31; Eph. 6:10).
Satan’s basic strategy for attacking the truth first became evident in the Garden of Eden, where he mounted a three-pronged assault on God’s Word. First, he cast doubt on what God had said about eating the fruit of the tree of life (“Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat…?”‘, Gen. 3:1). Second, he denied outright what God had said to Adam (“You surely will not die!”, v. 4). Finally, he added a distortion to what God had specifically told Adam (“you will be like God, knowing good and evil,” v. 5). Ever since, Satan and his demonic forces have waged a relentless, nonstop campaign (cf. Rev. 16:14a) against the truth—still using their original tactics of doubt, denial, and distortion (cf. 2 Cor. 4:4).
Scripture contains many references to the long struggle for knowing, upholding, and obeying the truth. In the Old Testament, Moses (e.g., Deut. 4:1-31; 6:1-25; 8:1-20; 12:29-13:18; 30:1-20), Joshua (Josh. 23:1-24:28), Samuel (1 Sam. 12:1-25), Elijah (1 Kings 18:20-40), and the prophets (Isa. 31:6; 42:17; Jer. 8:5; 17:5; Ezek. 18:26; Hos. 14:1) continually called God’s people back to the truth from falsehood and idolatry. And in the New Testament, Jesus Himself warned of false prophets (Matt. 7:15; 24:4-5, 11, 24), as did Paul (Acts 20:29; Rom. 16:17-18), Peter (2 Peter 2:1-3), John (1 John 2:18-24), and Jude (Jude 4-19).
As in the Garden of Eden, the source of error can always be traced to satanic roots (John 8:44). Thus Paul told Timothy: “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron” (1 Tim. 4:1-2; cf. Lev. 17:7; Deut. 32:17; Ps. 106:34-39; James 3:14-16; Rev. 16:13-14). Any ideology, philosophy, opinion, or religion other than God’s truth fits Satan’s agenda—which is why it is so crucial for believers to recognize the difference between the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
If they fail to be discerning, Christians will not only be confused and unable to discern for themselves, but they will also be unable to accurately convey the truth to others. Thus, they must guard the truth (1 Tim. 6:20-21; 2 Tim. 1:13-14; Jude 3; cf. Acts 20:28; Prov. 23:23) by knowing it, firmly holding to it as a conviction (cf. Luke 1:4; John 8:32; 19:35; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Tim. 2:15), and distinguishing it from that which is false (cf. Phil. 3:2; Col. 2:8). By being faithful to sound doctrine, they will be able to teach others also (cf. 2 Tim. 2:2). The apostle John knew that his readers were under attack from false teachers. As a safeguard, he commanded them to test those who claim to teach the truth. He gave them reasons that such testing is crucial, and guidelines for how it should be conducted. In so doing, he laid out a strategy all Christians can use for distinguishing between true spiritual riches and doctrinal “fool’s gold.”
A Command to Test Spirits
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, (4:la) Having just discussed the abiding work of the Holy Spirit in true believers (3:24), John makes the transition to the work of unholy spirits in false teachers and their false teachings. Because these ancient, supernatural spirits are experts in deception, Christians must be careful to closely examine every spiritual message they encounter (cf. Matt. 10:16; 1 Thess. 5:21-22).
The imperative form of the verb believe, with the negative particle not, could literally be translated “stop believing.” John’s phrase indicates the forbidding of an action already under way. If any of his readers were uncritically accepting the message of false teachers, they were to stop doing so immediately. They needed to exercise biblical discernment, like the Bereans of whom Luke wrote, “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Unbelievers, “being darkened in their understanding” (Eph. 4:18), have no basis on which to evaluate various teachings that claim divine origin (1 Cor. 2:14). Consequently they are highly susceptible to aberrant doctrine and can easily be led astray into error. But believers, who have the Word of truth and the Spirit of truth, must test what they hear with what they know to be true, as revealed in the Scriptures (1 Thess. 5:21-22).
A Reason to Test Spirits
But test …spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (4:15)
The term translated test is a present imperative form of the verb dokimazō. The term was used to refer to a metallurgist’s assaying of metals to test their purity and value. John’s use of the present tense indicates that believers are to continually test the spirits to see whether they are from God. Contrary to the view of some, this command has nothing to do with personally confronting demons or performing exorcisms. Instead, Christians are to continually evaluate what they see, hear (cf. 1 Cor. 14:29; 1 Thess. 5:20-21), and read to determine if it originated from the Spirit of God or, alternatively, from demons.
The only reliable way to test any teaching is to measure it against what God has revealed in His infallible, written Word (Isa. 8:20; cf. Prov. 6:23; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). As the perfect standard of truth (John 17:17) and the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17), the Word of God provides believers with their primary defense against error (cf. 2 Cor. 10:3-5; Heb. 4:12).
The urgency of John’s command resides in the fact that not a few but many false prophets have gone out into the world. Satan does not merely want to oppose the church (cf. Acts 5:3; 13:8-10; 16:16-23; 1 Thess. 2:18); he wants to deceive her (cf. 2 Cor. 11:14). In keeping with his fraudulent schemes, his minions have infiltrated denominations, churches, and other Christian schools, institutions, and organizations, resulting in compromise and error (cf. Jude 4).
Satan not only develops lies that directly deny biblical truth, but is also subtle, often sabotaging the truth by mixing it with error. Truth mixed with error is usually far more effective and far more destructive than a straightforward contradiction of the truth. Those who trust everything they read from the Christian bookstore or hear on Christian radio and television are prime targets for doctrinal deception. After all, as Paul wrote, “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:14-15).
So Satan masquerades his lies as truth. (this is why we must test spirits) He does not always wage war openly against the gospel. He is much more likely to attack the church by infiltrating her walls with subtle error. He uses the Trojan horse stratagem by placing his false teachers in the church, where they can “secretly introduce destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1). He puts his lies in the mouth of someone who claims to speak for Jesus Christ (Matt. 4:6; Acts 20:30). In this way, the Devil disguises falsehood as truth, making that which is evil look like that which is good. For the rest of this study go to the link below…
Resource from http://rylandscott.com/assets/JM1John04.pdf