Test the Spirits


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. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but 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.

1 John 4:1-3

Oh my word, what a timely text!  With the previous chapter ending by saying that we can know that Jesus lives in us because of the (Holy) Spirit He gave us, now John takes another step forward in our experience.  How can we tell who is right and who is not?

Simple: Test the spirits!

Well, it is actually simple, but at first it sounded a little creepy to me. On closer examination, however, it isn’t creepy and it isn’t hard.  Does a teacher or commentator acknowledge that Jesus Christ came in the flesh?  Do they acknowledge Him at all? If they do, they are from God; if they don’t they are not from God. If they don’t acknowledge Jesus, they aren’t from God, they are antichrist. If this is so, would we consider them a reliable source of insight?  Well, you can decide that one…

 You, 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. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We 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.

1 John 4:4-6

John finishes this thought in these verses, making his point even clearer.  We have overcome the spirit of antichrist, because the Holy Spirit within us is greater by far that the spirit of antichrist could ever dream of being.  Interesting point to bear in mind when reading commentaries, blogs and books!  These false teachers speak from the viewpoint of the world, not from the viewpoint of God, and the world will listen to them. Yes, and while the world will listen to the false teacher, the spirit of antichrist, the world will not generally listen to us, for they simply can’t fathom what we are talking about, so let’s not be surprised by this.

I’ve spoken with many Christians who fear that they might be tricked and led astray, and I always tell them that they will not be tricked and led astray if they have a strong relationship with Christ.  That is precisely what John is asserting here.  It’s so simple to tell the difference, and when you were little, your mother or father probably told you how to recognize who is credible and who is not, for I’ll bet they told you to “consider the source.” To put it another way, I wouldn’t recommend that we take spiritual advice from an atheist, nor would I suggest that we should take Bible instruction from a non-believer.

See how simple this stuff is?


About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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18 Responses to Test the Spirits

  1. Kitsy says:

    We’re it that simple!

    Once in college, I was debating some point with another student and she said, “Well, I’m right and you’re wrong because, right now, I’m filled with the Holy Spirit, so I can’t be wrong.”

    Hmmmm. Simple? My Aunt Fanny.

  2. Kitsy says:

    One may or may not have the necessary or additional gift of discernment; was she, in fact, filled with the Holy Spirit? or just with common self-righteous pride? I can only judge myself…not someone else. I’ll put my money on our both being off the mark.

  3. Kitsy says:

    You may choose to not approve this comment because it can cause some confusion but I had two couples interested in my house: one was a buyer the other a financier. They both used what I call the “Christan card;”. They both quoted scripture in their emails and letters, especially those reminding me to not think of myself but to think of others. They both said they would pray for me, etc. They said they were there to ” help me.”. They also wanted to know all of the specific details of my financial situation, especially exactly what I owed on the house. I told them “no.”

    Now, the two couples claimed to not know each other but I’ll bet they attended the same seminar or read the same book.

    I do not trust people who use the “Christan card” as short hand for “you can trust me because I’m a Christian.”. People who do that are usually hiding something or what they are offering does not hold up under scrutiny.

    BTW, when I told one husband that I wanted offers that were clean and simple, his reply was, ” We’ve done this enough so that it is simple to us but I can see that it may be confusing for you.”. I replied, “I don’t need it to be simple for me to understand it; I want it simple to live it.”

    In short, under further scrutiny, all of the offers took care of the mortgage companies and the “Christian couples,” but offered nothing to me. When I bid them good-by and cautioned them against defrauding vulnerable people, they said, “God has a plan for you,” whatever that meant. I daresay, God has a plan for them, too

    • Don Merritt says:

      I have never met a follower of Jesus Christ who would use their faith as a way to gain a business advantage, but I have met quite a few who attend church and try to play the “Christian Card” (as you put it). Yet such people are neither Christian nor Christ followers, rather they are wolves in sheep’s clothing; a danger not only to the vulnerable but to the Body of Christ itself.

      Of course, Scripture teaches that we should have nothing to do with such people, and your remarks remind us of that; thank you.

  4. Kitsy says:

    I believe it is virtually impossible to know if someone has truly accepted Jesus for Who He is, etc. People can say anything…even to themselves. In fact, I had difficulty knowing if I, myself, had truly believed or accepted. I’m sure other people can be deluded, as well. They may not be intentionally misleading others or even themselves…although their fruit gives us a hint.

    Even if they have truly accepted and believe, character change is almost never immediate or complete. That’s what this life before the afterlife is about, I think; this is where God works on us to try and ‘get it right.’ So, even a true Christian…someone who believes and accepts…can be untrustworthy. I don’t call them ‘wolves’ as much as ‘unfinished;’ God is not done with them, yet. They are not ‘of Satan,’ but are vulnerable and capable of being used by Satan. That’s why I don’t touch statements like, “If you are not of Christ then you are of the Devil.”

    “Of the Devil,” implies they are bought and paid for…if not minions of Satan…but I don’t think that is true of any human because Jesus bought and paid for everyone and there is hope as long as they are breathing…and I’m not even sure about after that.

    What fruit they bear is a good test…but one should always be careful, prayerful, and cautious. If in doubt, saying out loud, “In the Name of Jesus, get away from me, Satan,” doesn’t hurt, either. But just because someone is not just like Jesus, does not mean they are to be judged, condemned, or accused. I prefer the terms ‘assessed,’ then cautioned and advised. God is not done with any of us, yet. Thank you, Jesus, and to God be the Glory.

  5. Kitsy says:

    It has been suggested to me that my comment above should be posted as my next piece. I hope you don’t mind.

  6. What a remarkably myopic lens through which to see others!

  7. Wally Fry says:

    Good stuff Don. You probably know I am part of a pretty hardcore non charismatic association. We hear somebody getting led by the Spirit and we call the heresy police LOL. I’m probably a lot more relaxed on that count than most of my immediate circle of believers, who would probably call the heresy police on me. Anyway, the ultimate litmus test obviously is whether it is in accordance with the scripturally revealed Gospel. Any thing else is automatically not of the Spirit.

    • Don Merritt says:

      Wally I think you right on the mark. The theological terms for this are “general revelation” which refers to the Scriptures, and “special revelation” referring to the leading of the Spirit. When special revelation contradicts or is counter to general revelation, then the revelation cannot be divine because God does not oppose Himself.

      You might be relieved to know that “your” use these same terms with the same injunction as I just did, so… in doing so, they are confirming that the leading of the Spirit really does exist, but you all use different words to describe the same thing.

      • Wally Fry says:

        Different words to describe the same thing. Sigh, how we like to argue over words when we are actually saying the same thing. Instead of looking at our agreement, we focus on our differences.

      • Wally Fry says:

        Well, Don this has really been on my mind. As I said, I am not charismatic, nor will I likely ever be. Nonetheless I believe that if we listen, the leading of the Holy Spirit is a very real presence in our lives. Most people do believe that, I suppose. But, I do run with some people who have a tendency to almost put the ministry of the Holy Spirit aside as if He no longer exists, This is, of course, because of a fear of the abuse of spiritual gifts. Heck, I fear that also myself. But the solution is not to deny the work of the Holy Spirit, because that is actually counter to scripture where we are told NOT to quench the spirit.

        I was sharing a story once with and older man I new about a witnessing encounter I had had. I relayed how the Spirit had quite forcefully propelled me to talk with a particular man. The first stranger I ever witnessed to, in fact. This fellow flat out told me that I was mistaken, as the Spirit only speaks to us through God’s Word, not in any on the spot type of thing. Wow, good thing I am as obstinate and stubborn as I am, because that counsel would have shut some down. Me, I just hit the books and he and I talked later. He remains one of my favorite people by the way. But, along with vast abuses of the work of the Holy Spirit is the opposite, the almost denial of the current ministry He performs.

        • Don Merritt says:

          Yes, and that is a very dangerous thing to do! I say that because it then gets easy to suggest that the work of the Holy Spirit must really be coming from the Enemy, and that is the blasphemy of the Spirit, and Scripture teaches us fairly clearly that that sin is one we really don’t come back from.

          I also come from a background that has been very comfortable in putting the Spirit in a box on a shelf somewhere in a locked closet so to sopeak, because the Spirit seems to hard to predict or control; such nonsense! Happily, that approach has been fading in recent years, for that kind of thinking (almost denying the presence of the HS) is a very substantial reason for certain once-flourishing churches to have almost stopped in their growth.

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