Summary: How do we "test the spirits", and what does that say about our identity as God’s people?

Testing, Testing, 1-2-3: 1 John 4:1-6

The People Of God: Studies in 1 John November 6, 2005


It is good to be back after a couple of weeks vacation, and I really mean that! We had a good time away as a family, enjoyed our trip, and created some great memories. It was good timing for us, as both Joanne and I had been pouring a lot of time and effort into work and hadn’t taken much time off during the summer, so needed to take a break. But here is what I want to share before diving back into 1 John – I discovered something interesting about myself. I didn’t need, or want, a break from loving and caring about people here at church. In fact, during my time away I found my thoughts and prayers very often returning to a number of specific people here, and I enjoyed that. I wasn’t worrying, I wasn’t concerned that things were going to fall apart without me (in fact I trusted they would improve in some ways!), I just found my heart reaching out in love and compassion, reaching back here, which is home.

I found that an encouraging affirmation of what we have been studying in 1 John this fall – that being the people of God means, above everything else, that we are a people who love God and one another deeply. God has loved us so much, and being His children means loving Him and others in return.

1 John 4:1-6

This morning we continue our study in chapter 4, verses 1-6. As we have been throughout, we approach the passage with a central question – what does this tell us about who we are as the people of God?

“1Dear friends, 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. 2This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

4You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 6We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.”


In order for us to figure out what John is talking about, it helps to remind ourselves of the context of the letter. John is writing to a church who was facing some difficult opposition from people who had been a part of the church, but had come to some very different conclusions about who Jesus is and what it meant to be a Christian. In chapter 2, John wrote “18Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 19They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us… their going showed that none of them belonged to us… 22Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son… 26I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray.”

Here in chapter 4 John returns to this reality, and helps prepare them to face opposition.

Testing The Spirits: vs 1

Sometimes we equate faith with mindless acquiescence. We think that taking something “by faith” means “in the absence of proof” or sometimes even “in spite of the evidence…” That may at times be part of what “faith” means, but it is missing the foundation – truth. Faith is not about shutting off our brains and blindly accepting or mindlessly believing. Faith is about a bedrock of truth about who God is, who Jesus is, who we are as children of God indwelled by the Holy Spirit, how we are to live in our world as ambassadors of Jesus, and of then having faith in those truths for the needs and realities of the moment.

That is the kind of faith John calls us to in verse 1: “Dear friends, 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.”

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