Our message today is entitled “Test the Spirits.” We’re going to be talking about how to determine what is true and what is false in our world.
On April 1, 1996, Taco Bell Corporation took out a full page ad in a number of major newspapers announcing that it had bought the Liberty Bell and was renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell. Hundreds of outraged citizens called the National Historic Park in Philadelphia where the Liberty Bell was located to express their anger. Taco Bell revealed a few hours later that it was all a practical April fool’s joke. That’s a trivial example of fake news that deceived a large number of people. It is however, vitally important to be able to discern between what is true and what is false in our world. If we make decisions based on falsehood, the results will not be good.
John 8:32 (ESV) “and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
If the truth sets us free when we know it, falsehood keeps us in bondage. The Bible talks a lot about the truth. Many people think that the Bible only deals with spiritual truth and so has little to say about other aspects of our world. But that is not true. God’s Word teaches us that all truth is God’s truth. For example, 2+2 = 4 is a mathematical truth that represents the structure of God’s creation. As we study the Bible, we learn that the Kingdom of God represents and is based on the truth. On the other hand, the domain of Satan represents and is based on falsehood and lies.
1 John 2:21 (ESV) I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth.
As believers, God has revealed the truth to us and God’s truth contains no lies or falsehood. There’s a lot of talk today about fake news versus real news. Who decides what is fake and what is real. Unfortunately, the people and organizations that are seeking to be the judges of what is true and what is false, do not the truth themselves. So, the situation today is that the news media, social media, the internet, television and movies are full of falsehood of all kinds. False facts and teaching are being presented as true, true facts and teaching are being presented as false.
As believers, we must learn how to test the spirits. Behind every truth in our world is the spirit of God, referred to by Jesus in John 14:17 as the spirit of truth. Behind every lie or falsehood in our world is Satan, whom Jesus referred to in John 8:44 as the father of lies. Jesus is the champion of the truth, as should all who follow Him be as well.
John 14:6a (ESV) Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
So, let’s see how we can learn to test the spirits to discern between truth and falsehood.
1 John 3:19 (ESV) By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him;
God wants us to have confidence that we know the truth and are living in the truth. When we know that we are of the truth, then we have confidence in our relationship with God. God desires for us to know the truth in every aspect of our lives and to spread that truth to others. But there are times when we may not have confidence before God, times when we must …
1 John 3:20 (ESV) for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.
When does our heart condemn us? Our heart condemns us when we sin by believing on and acting on a falsehood. All sin comes from believing a lie from the enemy and giving in to temptation. How do we defeat the doubt when our heart condemns us? God has made a way for us to be forgiven by confessing our sin to Him and receiving His forgiveness. God then reassures our hearts and restores our confidence in God and His truth.
1 John 3:21-22 (ESV) Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.
John now spells out the conditions to having confidence with God. If our sins are confessed and forgiven, our hearts will not condemn us with guilt, so that we can have confidence in our relationship with God. Confidence with God translates into faith in our prayers, so that we receive what we ask for. If we’re walking in God’s truth, having our prayers answered, what are we doing? We are living in obedience to God’s commands and pleasing Him in all of life. Now this is very important. This is what is required to know that we are of the truth, to know that what we believe is true. We must be walking in close relationship with God and His Word. We must know His commands from His Word and obeying them.
The deceptions and falsehoods of the enemy are very prevalent and subtle in our day. I believe that there is more deception, more falsehood in our nation today than ever before since the founding of this country. These lies and falsehoods have permeated our media, our schools, our government and an increasing number of our churches.
Some people despair of knowing the truth because there are too many options. Others have believed the lie that there is no absolute truth. They think that each person can have their own truth, even though these personal truths contradict one another. But God’s Word teaches us that you can know the truth and be able to detect falsehood. The closer you walk with God, the better you know and obey His Word, the more you will be able to detect falsehood and error of all kinds in life. Not only will you will have confidence with God, God desires for you to …
1 John 4:1 (ESV) 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.
There are many spirits in the world. Spirits are supernatural beings that have power to influence people who allow them to. God has only one spirit, the Holy Spirit, the spirit of truth. Satan, on the other hand, has many spirits or demons under his control that promote lies and falsehood. We are not to believe everything we hear, because behind every teaching, behind every piece of news, there is a spirit, either of God or of the devil.
John tells us that there are many false prophets. A false prophet speaks a teaching from a spirit that is not from God, so his teaching is false and must not be heeded. There were many false prophets in John’s day and there are many more today. So, how can we test the spirits to see whether they are from God? John’s answer is that we must discern how the spirit answers the question …
1 John 4:2-3 (ESV) 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.
This is the fundamental test to determine whether a teacher, a prophet or a teaching is from God. Has Jesus Christ come in the flesh? What this means may not be obvious. Jesus Christ means Jesus the Messiah, which indicates that Jesus is the Son of God and fully divine. The test is whether Jesus as God has come in human flesh, fully God and fully man. The Holy Spirit teaches the Jesus is fully God and fully man. Any other spirit or teaching is not from God.
John lumps these other spirit’s teaching in one category of the spirit of the antichrist. These are demonic spirits that are against Jesus Christ and the truth, they are lying spirits. What does the spirit of the antichrist teach about Jesus? Most teach that Jesus was simply a man, a good prophet, but not God. Some spirits teach that Jesus was God or some type of spirit being, but not human. Both are false teachings. We’ll give some examples in a few minutes. God wants us to ..
1 John 4:4, 6 (ESV) 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. … 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.
John, writing to believers says that they are from God and have overcome them. Who is them? Them are the lying spirits of the antichrist or Satan that teach falsehood about Jesus and His Word. John writes that greater is He who is in you that he who is in the world. Who is in us? The Holy Spirit of God, the spirit of truth. Who is in the world? Satan with his demonic spirits of the antichrist.
John says that those who know God, who know the truth, listen to us. Us is the apostles who have written God’s truth to us in the pages of the New Testament. False teachers do not listen to God’s Word. Finally, John identifies the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth and Satan’s spirits as the spirit of error. God wants to teach us to discern the spirits, which is also a spiritual gift.
What happens when we apply this test of spirits? Every religion in the world, other than Christianity fails the test. No other religion teaches that Jesus is fully divine and fully human.
What happens when we apply this test to Christian denominations? Some fail the test and others are close to failing. The Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science clearly fail the test with regard to their teachings about Jesus. The majority of adults in America believe that Jesus sinned in his life and this belief is increasing. If Jesus sinned, then He cannot be God, so the majority of adults in America are believing a lie of the spirit of antichrist. Jesus did not sin, He lived a perfect life. This statistic, as well as others, shows us that many other Christian denominations are sliding into error and deception.
This is not the only test for error. Another test is to ask how a person is saved? Is it by faith in Jesus Christ or by doing good works? The Holy Spirit teaches that one is saved by faith in Jesus Christ. The spirit of error teaches that one is saved by doing good things. Many other denominations fail this test. We must learn to discern the spirits.
2 John 1:7 (ESV) For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.
John writes that there are many deceivers who do not pass the test. These deceivers are people who have believed and are teaching the falsehoods of Satan’s lying spirits. In fact, he says that these deceivers have gone out, speaking of going out from the church, back into the world. Because there are so many deceivers, we must be careful to …
2 John 1:8 (ESV) Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.
We must be alert and careful about who we listen to and what we watch so that we are not deceived as others have been. John warns us that it is possible to be deceived by deceivers. So, we must not …
2 John 1:10-11 (ESV) If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.
In those days, false teaching was almost entirely spread by word of mouth. Written documents were very rare and there were no other forms of communication. So, John warns the church to not receive those false teachers or deceivers into their homes. The last phrase in verse 11 gives the reason. Whoever welcomes or receives the false teacher “takes part in his wicked works.” By aiding and giving ear to false teaching, you become guilty as well. We must beware of deceivers.
While we may not welcome false teachers into our homes literally, it is far more easy today to welcome false teaching into our homes virtually. False teaching can come into our homes and lives through websites, videos, movies, games, television and books. False teaching is not just related to theological issues. False teaching is rampant in our media today.
False teaching glorifies and celebrates all kinds of sin. When we watch people sinning for our entertainment, we are taking part in that sin and so are guilty of that sin. We are specifically warned against welcoming falsehood into our lives and homes here and many other places in the Bible. Everything we watch, listen to or read affects us, either for good or for bad. It is either of the truth or of error. It either draws us closer to God or drive us farther away. There is nothing neutral in our world, so we must beware of deceivers.
God’s plan for us is to be people of the truth, God’s truth. We can gain confidence in God as we live in obedience to the truth of His Word. Through the Holy Spirit of truth, we can learn to discern between the spirit of truth and the spirit of error that leads people away from Jesus. We must be alert because our world is full of deception and deceivers. As we learn not to welcome false teaching and error into our lives, God will help us to walk in the blessing of His truth and help others as well.