The Bible warns us of wolves in sheep clothing. There are those who will attempt to infiltrate the church with claims of knowing God, yet they spread false teaching. As our fellowship is strengthened, it is important that we protect the fellowship. This is why it is imperative that we know the truth so we can identify false teaching when we hear it, and we can protect ourselves from straying from the truth. Colin Kruse wrote, “In 3:11–24 the author explained to his readers that they may know that they have passed from death to life and that they dwell in God and God in them when they show love towards fellow believers. And in 3:24 he added that they may also know that God dwells in them because of the Spirit he gave them. However, it is not only those who, like the author, remain faithful to the message heard from the beginning and who love fellow believers who claim an experience of the Spirit.” There are many who claim to have had an experience of the Holy Spirit and have been given a message from the Lord. However, many who claim such experience are false teachers. Therefore, we must know the truth for ourselves so that we may avoid the trap of false teachers.
Test the Spirits. John begins chapter four by encouraging us to ‘test the spirits.’ Verse one says, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” John tells his readers not to believe everything they hear. In the age of the internet and social media this warning cannot be more relevant to us today. There are many who are spreading misinformation and lies that are bringing great harm to those who fall for it. Allow me to give you several statements by which you can test what you hear and read.
First of all, if it seems outrageous it probably is. God wants us to be grounded in truth. His truth is what we have been given recorded in God’s Word. His truth is sound and sure. His truth can be trusted. God has recorded for us in His Word all that He wants us to know about Himself and how we are to live and what we can expect in the future. God never operates outside of His revealed truth. Therefore, if there is something that seems to be far outside of reality that it appears like something from a sci-fi movie, then it probably is what it is: fiction. For example, I have heard of erroneous claims that the war in Ukraine is not real and that it is all staged. There are some out there on the internet claiming that Putin is actually the good guy. I know this is false because of the reports of missionaries on the ground in Ukraine who have witnessed first-hand the atrocities of the Russians. I also know that such claims are false because it does not fit with the narrative of the end times as laid out in the scriptures. If you know your Bible, you will know that Putin and Russia are not the good guys. There are other many outrageous claims that you can find on the internet today. Everything from Biden being a clone or a robot to the very false claim that we are already living in the tribulation period. My friend, be careful what you read. Test the spirits. Turn off your computer and open your Bible. If something seems to be outrageous and outside of reality, then it probably is. Don’t fall for it! Satan is working overtime to keep us from the truth by introducing us to such outrageous claims. Don’t get distracted. Don’t fall for Satan’s lies.
A second principle in testing the spirits is if the plain sense makes perfect sense seek no other sense. This is a powerful principle when it comes to interpreting scripture. As you read God’s Word and it is perfectly laid out and is easily understood, then don’t try to read into it to make it say something that’s not there. There are very few passages in the Bible that are so difficult to understand that we have to use our imagination. Most every part of scripture is very clear to the educated reader. God is not the author of confusion. He did not give us His Word to confuse us or as a riddle that we have to figure out on our own. Just read the Bible and accept it for what it says. Don’t try to add to it or take away from it. Don’t try to read between the lines. Just accept the Bible for what it is. If someone adds to what God says or tries to make it fit with their view of things, then they are probably a false teacher. Those who twists the scripture to fit with their agenda is not of God.
Another principle in testing the spirits is their attitude, behavior, and level of obedience. A true man of God will never lead someone to disobey God’s Word. A true man of God will never question God’s Word. A true man of God will never twist scripture to promote his personal agenda. If you hear someone preach that church attendance is not important for the spiritual growth of the believer, get away from them. If you hear someone constantly bad mouthing the church and putting down other pastors and churches, get away from them. If you hear someone attacking other believers, get away from them. If you see someone behaving in unloving ways toward other believers, get away from them. If you see someone purposefully and intentionally attempting to divide the church, get away from them. If you see someone claiming to be a man of God but is behaving like an unbeliever, get away from them. The attitude, behavior, and obedience (or lack thereof) is a sure way to know whether someone is truly of God or not.
John tells us to test the spirits because there are many false prophets in the world. In the age in which we live when information is so easily spread across hundreds of platforms, we must be extra careful. It is so easy for someone to be led astray these days. It is so easy to fall prey to the lies of Satan. Be careful who you listen to. Be careful what we read and what you hear. Stay grounded in God’s Word. Follow teachers that teach the Word of God and nothing else. Follow a pastor who loves you enough to tell you the truth rather than one that tells you what you want to hear. Compare what you hear to what God’s Word says. Make sure you are listening to the truth rather than the lies of Satan.
Know the Spirit of God. The sure way to know if something is of God or not is simply to know God. The closer you are to the Lord, the more sure you will be of the truth. Therefore, instead of listening to all that is out there, just listen to the Lord. Pay attention to God’s Word and know the Spirit of God. Verse two says, “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God.” My friend, do you know the Spirit of God? Are you able to discern truth from error? The only way to discern truth from error is to have the Spirit of God in you. To have the Spirit of God in you, you must believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God and by believing in Him you are one of His. “The great assertion of the faith that sets a Christian apart from others is this: Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh.” In order to protect yourself from false teachers, you must know the truth for yourself. George Whitefield, the great British evangelist, was speaking to a man about his soul. He asked the man, “Sir, what do you believe?” “I believe what my church believes,” the man replied respectfully.“ And what does your church believe?” “The same thing I believe.” “And what do both of you believe?” the preacher inquired again. “We both believe the same thing!” was the only reply he could get. A man is not saved by assenting to a church creed. He is saved by trusting Jesus Christ and bearing witness to his faith. You must be grounded in the Word. You must know what you believe and why you believe it. You cannot be grounded in the Word unless you are in the Word. You must be a student of God’s Word. It is knowing the Word for yourself that enables you to identify false teaching when you hear it.
Know the Spirit of Anti-Christ. Verse three says, “And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.”As you are grounded in the truth you are able to quickly identify if something is false. However, it is also good to know what is being said in the world so that you can know whether or not something is of God. There is a spirit of anti-Christ in the world. The spirit of anti-Christ is one that denies the preeminence of Christ. It questions the Deity and the humanity of Christ. Sadly, this spirit of anti-Christ has infiltrated many churches today as they place more importance on social issues rather than on the Word of God and simply following Christ. The spirit of anti-Christ is also seen in churches that put a greater emphasis on emotionalism and entertainment than on the preaching of the Word. We need to know and identify the subtle ways in which Satan tries to infiltrate the church so that we can protect ourselves from falling prey to false teaching. Now I am not a legalist by any means, however, when we hear of something that breaks away from sound doctrine and the traditional church, we should tread very carefully because it could be something very subtle that Satan is using to introduce a spirit of anti-Christ into the church.
Know who you are. In order to protect ourselves from falling into the trap of false teaching, we must never forget who we are. Verse 4-6 says, “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.” John lays out the truth that in order to discern between truth and error, you must remember who you are. If you know Jesus as your Savior, you are a child of God. As a child of God, you have overcome the world in the name of Jesus. If you are a true believer, you have the Holy Spirit within you that testifies of the truth. It is the same Holy Spirit indwelling all believers. Therefore, if you hear something that is not agreed upon by the majority of believers who have the same spirit in them as you do, then you need to investigate it further before claiming that it is of God. For example, if you attend a church where you know the Word of God is preached and taught. You know the people in the church that loves you and cares for you. There are people who you look up to in the church and you trust them. If you start believing something that those in your church don’t believe. If you find yourself going against what the church teaches and what all those people you respect follows, then you better investigate it further. If there is something you are falling in to that is completely outside of the realm of what your church family agrees with, then you really need to pay attention, because you could be falling into false teaching. If multiple people in your church disagrees with something you have heard, then you better be careful, you could be falling into false teaching. God is not the author of confusion. The Holy Spirit is not going to lead someone one way and lead someone else a completely different way. We have the same Spirit living within us. We have the same Bible that we read. If there is something that goes completely against what the church holds to, its probably false teaching. Know who you are. Don’t believe everything you hear. Trust the Spirit of God and the Word of God and listen to the views and advice of other believers that you are close to.
It breaks my heart when I see a believer in Christ wrapped up in the lies of Satan. It’s heartbreaking to see a believer suffer with so much confusion in their mind. Stay grounded in the Word lest you too fall prey to the spirit of anti-Christ that is in the world today.