Summary: Never swallow someone’s line just because he uses terms of the Christian faith. False teachers are popular with the world because they tell people what they want to hear. Here John warns the Christians who faithfully teach God’s Word will not win any popu
Opening illustration: In an unethical selling technique called the bait-and-switch method, a retailer lures customers into his store by advertising a well-known product at a very low price. When the buyer asks to purchase it, however, he is told that it is out of stock. The salesperson then tries to sell him an inferior line of merchandise, hoping to pocket a bigger profit. The brand name was used just to get potential customers to step inside.
In a similar way, a false teacher uses biblical words to capture interest and gain a hearing. He may talk about Christ, redemption, the cross, and the resurrection, but these “trusted terms” amount to nothing more than a come-on. The “seller” uses them to advertise truths that, as far as he is concerned, are “out of stock.” When an interested person responds, he is confronted by beliefs that are completely contrary to God’s Word.
Let us turn to 1 John 4 and check out how we can discern the different spirits surround us …
Introduction: It amazes me, frankly, even though the Bible is clear on this, how inept the church has been through its history at protecting biblical truth. Every generation seems to fall into error. This is why the Paul instructed Timothy in his letter (1 Timothy 6: 20) "O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you." And what had been entrusted to him was the treasure of divine revelation. Guard that.
In order to guard that, he says, you have to avoid worldly and empty chatter. You have to avoid arguments that oppose the Scripture, even though they might be called knowledge. They are falsely called knowledge. Some have professed these things and gone astray from the faith. Guard the treasure; guard the truth, what is essential to the faith. That’s how he ended his first letter to Timothy. Here’s how he began his second letter to Timothy. Chapter 1 of 2 Timothy, v. 13, "Retain," that is hold, "the standard of sound words. Hold on to sound doctrine which you have heard from me." V. 14, "Guard," there is that same word again. "Guard or keep through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us the treasure which has been entrusted to you."
It’s the guardianship that is so important. We cannot pass on the truth unless we protect it, unless we guard it. There are always false religionists, cultists. There are always those who come along with their deceptive schemes that purport to be biblical, that quote Bible verses, that say they have a message from God, that have a better way to understand the Bible and apply the Bible to make the Bible acceptable, to make the gospel acceptable. There are those who in outright fashion attack the Bible and then there are those who are much more subtle than that. But we are constantly being called to the defense of the Scripture and the defense of the truth.
How to test the spirits?
1. The Confession Test (vs. 1-3)
Arguing from the particular to the more general, one can draw the conclusion from this that any time a spirit is conveying false doctrine (i.e. something that is unscriptural), he cannot be of God. Thus, in principle, a spirit who conveys false information is not the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit will never lead anyone contrary to the Bible. The discerning of spirits was given as a temporary sign gift and (along with the other temporary sign gifts) would cease to be given with the completion of the New Testament. By contrast, the New Testament Scriptures have been given to believers for their guidance or direction until the Lord’s return at the rapture. If someone teaches things that are contrary to the Scripture, he is a false teacher; and the source of his teaching is not God the Holy Spirit.
So, what about the evil spirits that we see in the NT professing and claiming Jesus to be the Son of God and the Lord of all lords? This was never professed, claimed or articulated by the religious breed (Pharisees and Sadducees) of their time! People even started to accuse Jesus of possessing and being empowered by the evil spirits to do healings and miracles. The demonic spirits also believe in God but do they obey God? No, they don’t … “But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe -- and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2: 18-20) Apparently we would articulate with fervent joy contrary to the demonic spirits who are fearful of God when they utter the name of Jesus Christ.