Did you know Facebook is going to start charging users? Did you know Bill Gates is giving away his money to people who like and share his posts? Did you know they are giving away free tacos at the gullible store? That’s really not funny, because we know people that would at least google one of those statements. We also know those who would believe anything if it came from someone who stepped behind a pulpit. Carrying a Bible, having the title “Pastor so-and-so,” or being on television is not what makes someone a genuine Christian teacher. Others may hear this skepticism and tell you to lighten up or be more encouraging, but the Apostle John would tell you to do otherwise:
1.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. 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. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 4. 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. 5. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 6.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. (1 John 4:1-6)
So how do you test the spirits? Do you meditate while sitting “criss-cross-applesauce?” There is nothing spooky or mystic about testing the spirits. The first command John gives us is to test every spirit, and the reason he tells us to do so is because ‘many false prophets have gone into the world’. In other words, every one who speaks is motivated by something: Either the Spirit of God or the spirit of the anti-Christ (v.3b). Therefore, the way we test spirits is by examining the message of the speaker. Does the content of the message agree with the Apostolic teaching found in scripture (v.3a)? Below are seven ways we can do just that (adapted from A.W Tozer’s book ‘Man, The Dwelling Place of God).
Seven Tests For Teaching (by A.W. Tozer)
1. How does the teaching affect my relationship with God? Is He magnified and glorified, or diminished?
2. How does the teaching affect my attitude toward the Lord Jesus Christ? Does it magnify Him and give Him first place? Or, does it subtly shift my focus onto myself or some experience?
3. How does the teaching affect my attitude toward scripture? Did the teaching come from and agree with the Word? Does it increase my love for the Word?
4. How does the teaching affect my self-life? Does it feed self or crucify it? Does it feed pride or humility?
5. How does the teaching affect my relationships to other Christians? Does it cause me to withdraw, find fault, and exalt myself in superiority? Or, does it lead me to genuine love for all that truly know Christ?
6. How does the teaching affect my relationship to the world system? Does it lead me to pursue the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life? Does it lead me to pursue worldly riches, reputation, and pleasures? Or, does it crucify the world to me?
7. How does the teaching affect my attitude toward sin? Does it cause me to tolerate sin in my life or to turn from it and grow in holiness? Any teaching that makes holiness more acceptable and sin more intolerable is genuine.
John tells us this is vital to Christians, not only because teachers are going to be judged on whether they tell the truth, but also because the audience is going to be held accountable on whether or not they listen to the truth. Verse six says those born of God listen to John’s testimony. In other words, those who are genuinely born of God will desire legitimate teaching, while those who are falsely converted will desire false teaching. Paul tells Timothy, “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Timothy 4:3 ESV).
These false Christians won’t desire the truth, but will gravitate toward teachers that will tell them what they want to hear. The truth of God’s Word tests us all. If we are a teacher, it tests whether or not what we say is true. If we are not a teacher, it tests whether we desire God’s truth, even if it disagrees with our lifestyle and brings forth the need to repent.
The power to overcome false teaching is found in verse four. John tells his readers that ‘He’ who is in them is greater than he who is in the world. This verse has been dragged–kicking and screaming–out of context and applied to every carnal pursuit we want to put it in. We can now win basketball games and get good grades in school simply because He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world. Right? Not so. John tells us this: we are from God and have overcome them (the false teachers) because of Him (the Holy Spirit) who is in us. We have the power to overcome false teachers–and their wives with pink hair–on TBN because we have the Holy Spirit inside of us. Praise God! The Holy Spirit is the power to overcome, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:4-5 ESV)
You wouldn’t want the water coming out of the faucets in your home not to be treated at the plant. In the same way, you don’t want the teaching coming out of the pulpits in your church unfiltered by scripture. Be sure to filter the teaching you hear and read. Do not believe every spirit, but test it to see whether it’s from God. If you filter what you hear and read–by His grace and the power of the Holy Spirit–it won’t make you sick, but will instead refresh your soul.
(This was adapted from our Wednesday night bible study on 1 John 4:1-6 at Dry Run Baptist Church. We have dinner on Wednesday nights at 6 pm and Bible Study at 7 pm. Join us at 2109 Cincinnati Road, Georgetown KY)