Summary: Man is designed to be a spiritual being. He will worship something, even if it's a false god. The truth has been diluted and compromised by many, and we live among many who are confused. There is an urgent need for spiritual discernment in our day.
The Need for Spiritual Discernment
1 John 4: 1-6
I am sure we’ve all been warned about believing everything we hear. The same caution should be applied for what we see as well. It is foolish to believe everything we are told and much of what we see. Lies and deception were used to tempt Adam and Eve and the enemy and his associates have not changed their tactics. Our world is filled with false doctrine and deception.
Such deception has existed for centuries, since the fall of man. Acts 5:36-37 – For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought.  After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed. We remember Jim Jones leading more than 900 people to commit suicide in Guyana in 1978, David Koresh and the Branch Davidians of Waco Texas, and the group that sought a ride on the comet Hale-Bopp. These were false teachers who led people astray under the cover of spirituality. We must know what the Bible teaches, what we believe, and why we believe it. There is no shortage of false prophets in our day, and it will continue until the Lord returns.
John urges us to develop spiritual discernment and guard against deception and the spirit of antichrist. Let’s examine the insights of the text as we consider: The Need for Spiritual Discernment.
I. The Believer’s Diligence (1) – Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Our discernment requires due diligence if we are to overcome the spiritual attacks we face. Consider:
A. The Appeal (1a) – Beloved, believe not every spirit. John offers a simple yet profound appeal. We cannot believe everything we hear or experience in this life. He simply challenges the believer against being gullible in everyday life.
This appeal needs to be heeded today as well. Have you ever known a time when we were bombarded with more doctrine and philosophy than today? Society and culture have adopted their own set of rules. We are challenged by many against a literal interpretation of Scripture. Many argue the Bible doesn’t hold the same weight today as when it was written. They claim it was given for others, but no longer applies today. Many false prophets appear sincere and maybe believable, but we must examine every aspect of our lives with Scripture.
B. The Approach (1b) – Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: When we are offered a philosophy or view from others, always approach it from a biblical perspective. Is it consistent with the teaching of Scripture? What does the Bible have to say about this particular doctrine or behavior? Try the spirits and teachings of others. We are expected to examine the motives and teaching of others, seeking to determine their merit based on the Word.
Have you ever heard someone say, “I know what the Bible says, but…?” We can rest assured God will never lead us contrary to His Word. If the motives, teaching, or behavior of others contradicts Scripture, we can know for sure it isn’t of God. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, there is a pretty good indication that it is a duck!
C. The Aggression (1c) – because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Bear in mind, they were only a few decades removed from Christ’s ascension and yet John proclaims there were already many false prophets among the world. With the first of humanity, Satan sought to defile men and lead them astray. I am convinced he plants counterfeits among the world in an attempt to hinder the Gospel message.
Man is a spiritual creature with an inward desire to worship something, even if it is himself. All of humanity will either worship the true and living God or gods of their imagination. The doctrines and religions of our day continue to diversify and grow. Man wants some sort of worship that is consistent with his personal desires. Satan will provide a teacher and doctrine to accommodate man’s wishes. We are surrounded by false prophets, many of whom seek to spew their poison under the banner of Christ. 2 Peter 2:1 – But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.