Summary: You test the spirit behind religious teachers by knowing the truth & walking in the Spirit of Truth. You need to know how to walk in the Spirit of God & test the spirits because there are many deceiving spirits in the world today.
1 JOHN 4: 1-6
TEST THE SPIRITS
Close to the BATTLE LINES during the Korean War a sentry was walking his post one night. He heard a sound in the darkness, and he challenged, "Halt! Who goes there? Friend or foe?" A voice replied, "Friend!" The sentry said, "Repeat the second verse of 'The Star Spangled Banner.' " The voice responded, "I don't know the second verse." The sentry said, "Advance friend."
Christians must be on their guard to distinguish between spiritual friend or spiritual enemy. Not only do some deny Jesus' deity (2:18-27) some deny His humanity. Thus you must test the spirits. You test the spirit behind religious teachers by knowing the truth and walking in the Spirit of Truth (CIM). You need to know how to walk in the Spirit of God and test the spirits because there are many deceiving spirits in the world today. You can be confident though as you test the spirits in this deceived world because greater is the Spirit of God who is in you than the anti-christ spirits.
I. TESTING THE SPIRITS, 1-3.
II. VICTORY OVER THE SPIRITS, 4.
III. THE SPIRITS CONTRASTED, 5-6.
We are challenged in verse 1 to learn how to distinguish the Spirit of God from false spirits. ¡°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.¡±
John affectionately addressed believers as beloved, both by God and by John. Because of this love he tells them not to believe every spirit. Do not believe is in the imperative. It is a command. STOP believing is a possible translation. More than one kind of spirit sought to control or at least influence the minds and hearts of Christians. Here ¡°the spirits¡± referred to a person(s) dominated or influenced by a demonic spirit(s). Theses spirits seek to control, deceive or influence those seeking power, control and influence. Some examples or types of these demonic forces are spirits of religiosity, spirits of lying, of accusation, of deception, of pride, of lust, of greed, or depressing spirits [Rom. 8:38; Eph. 1:21; 3:10; 6:12; Col. 1:16; 2:10, 15; Heb. 1:4, 14].
Instead of being gullible or undiscerning they are to test or try the spirits meaning those person who claim to speak for God or authoritatively. Context indicates that this phrase is also a command. The verb ¡°test¡± [doke¨] is used of proving oxen (Lk. 14:19) or coins. The intention of the testing is to approve the spirit. A teacher was not to be suspected of being a demonic controlled person before he had been given opportunity to prove himself. The same test is necessary today for all those in positions of authority or influence [which includes politicians and media people].
The reason for putting visiting, TV, or internet teachers to the test was because many false prophets have gone out into the world. They have gone out and established themselves within the churches. The word rendered prophet may mean either a foreteller or a forth-teller. A true prophet was one who spoke under the direction of the Holy Spirit. False prophets attempt to imitate those who speak for God. False prophets pretend to speak by the Holy Spirit, when in reality they speak by an evil spirit. There are many false prophets in the world even now doing their damage.
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 a prospective 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 is brought in, he is deceived by beliefs that are completely contrary to God's Word.
Never swallow someone's line just because he uses Christian terms or appealing rhetoric. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you discern whether or not the speaker is really being true to the Bible. Then you won't get hooked by false teachers who use the doctrinal bait-and-switch method to deceive their hearers.
Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits means that we shouldn't believe everything we hear just because someone says it is a message inspired by God. There are many ways to test teachers to see if their message is truly from the Lord. One way is to check to see if their words match what God says in the Bible. Other tests include their commitment to a local body of believers (2:19), their life-style (3:23-24), and the fruit of their ministry (4:6). But the most important test, John will say in the following verses, is what they believe about Christ (4:2). Do they teach that Jesus is fully God and fully man? Our world is filled with voices claiming to speak for God or to speak authoritatively. Give them these tests to see if they are indeed speaking God's truth or have another agenda that has demonic initiative or impute.