Test the Spirits
4 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
God Is Love
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
1 John 4 Commentary
by Hank Workman
I remember the meeting well. Almost 30 years ago a woman whom I did not know called and said she had a word from God for me. She claimed she had been given a dream and needed to speak directly to me. In her adamant tenacity, she demanded a meeting and drove out to my office. I must admit, I was a bit rattled from the entire phone call and unsure what to expect. She bustled into the office where we sat and talked. It just got stranger.
She wouldn’t talk about the dream or the word. She flat out refused. Oh, she hinted toward it, alluded and even accused indirectly of things that God had revealed to her but would not speak into it. In fact, I remember saying to her, “If you don’t tell me whatever this word is from God or speak toward this dream, how am I to know what He wants to communicate to me?” Then, pursing her lips, she squeaked out, “God will tell you.”
However, He never did.
The damage she did to me though was beyond eyesight. I took this bizarre meeting to God and prayed earnestly for Him to speak and reveal whatever it was. I searched my heart. I searched everything. Nothing was revealed. But what her actions did was push me towards a spiritual insecurity at that point. As a result, it brought a lot of questions to my mind that made me look at why God would speak to a complete stranger and not to me personally.
Words from God can be powerful. He can speak through others into our lives at times and direct us toward a new movement or growth. It can challenge us to grow in an area of which we struggle. But by the same token, “words from God” can be false. I put the phrase in quotations because more often than not a ‘word’ many times indicates human inclinations.
We must be wary when people open a statement, “God told me…”
John writes for us not to believe every spirit but test the spirits to see if they are from God. In fact, he goes further as to what’s often behind these ‘words’ from people in verse 5. He states that those who are false teachers speak from “their viewpoint of the world.” But this statement is powerful. Those who claim to speak for God can be speaking simply from their own vantage point. Consequently, they have derived the spirit within them from the teaching of the world. That’s never a good or sure thing.
We should not believe everything we hear just because someone says they are speaking for God or that He has inspired them. We can be fairly gullible. Sadly many printed materials, television programs, preachers themselves are slick but dead wrong. They peddle false doctrine and false ideology which the masses follow. Because of the packaging or yes, even the emotional aspect of which they speak or write, people get sucked in.
Testing the spirits is as necessary for today as it was in John’s time. Obviously, we must not take what another says hook line and sinker but truly go before Him as we wrestle with whatever the teaching or word was. Ask Him to confirm truth or deception. Take their words and line them beside scripture. Do they affirm what God or Jesus has said? Or are their words or doctrines at the fancy of man from the world’s perspective? And look at their fruit. Look at who they are and what their lives consist of. This is very important. Can you find a commitment to a Body of Believers? Look upon their lifestyle and decisions.
Anytime someone opens a statement with “God told me” step back and consider many things before you receive. Greater is He who is in you than He who is in the world, and He within you will reveal truth as you seek.
1 John 4 Commentary
by Brad Boyles
When I worked in the computer software industry, I became familiar with the latest viruses and malware that would infect our client’s computers. It seemed like every few months or so, there was a new threat out there. For our customers, most viruses could be traced back to an email or website that was clicked and granted access by the user.
I remember one, in particular, that was a pop-up that precisely mimicked an antivirus update. It looked completely legit. It would come up and warn you that your virus definitions were out of date and that you needed to “click here” to update to the latest software. To the untrained eye, it looked completely harmless. An ignorant person clicks the link and within seconds an infection occurs.
Here’s the thing.
Almost every user I talked to about this issue didn’t even have that brand of antivirus software (the one in the fake pop-up). Why do you need to update something that isn’t even installed? If they would have been familiar with what they had, they wouldn’t have fallen prey to this trickery.
Here’s the point. The only way you can discern a counterfeit is to know what the real thing looks like. In this chapter, John gives us a basis for understanding false spirits. It’s not the only test we can engage in, but it’s a great start.
This is how you will be able to know whether it is God’s Spirit: anyone who acknowledges that Jesus Christ came as a human being has the Spirit who comes from God. 3 But anyone who denies this about Jesus does not have the Spirit from God. The spirit that he has is from the Enemy of Christ; you heard that it would come, and now it is here in the world already.1 John 4:2-3 GNB
There are two ways this false spirit can manifest itself but both ways come from the same spirit. One is obvious. A spirit that outright denies Jesus or twists his Name is definitely false. Any “Christian” institution that denies the fully man / fully God nature of Jesus Christ is not of God. However, there’s also a more subtle version of this.
I once heard a man give a “Gospel presentation” to youth group kids to illustrate a point. He talked about problems in our life, and how we suffer greatly because we don’t know God. He talked about how we long for guidance and moral direction. He articulated the fact that being a Christian means forgiveness, love, and hope. He outlined the power that comes from knowing God and having a plan for our life.
He talked about the importance of prayer in our Christian walk, and how we must dedicate our lives to it. Next, he went on and on (for a long time) about all the great treasures of living a Christian life and having faith that leads us toward God. He talked about a lot of great things. By the end of it, he looked around the room and asked, “Now what did I leave out?” The room went silent. Apparently, by their standards, he had given a great presentation.
He didn’t mention Jesus! Furthermore, he failed to mention sin, repentance or the reasoning behind Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection to begin with!
There are lots of nice, shiny packages that come to us looking like the real thing. Unless we are in our Word, we will fall for them every time. We will be just like my clients on the phone who clicked on the antivirus update never knowing that it was about to cause a virus instead of eradicating one. That’s exactly what false spirits do, right? They mimic the real thing hoping to lead us away!