1 John 4:1, “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.”
There are many false teachings and false teachers in our culture today. We only need to turn on the TV or peruse a bookstore or drive down a road for a few minutes to see that. Sometimes the amount of error even within the church can seem to be some prevalent that it can lead us to discouragement and despair. It is not long before we find ourselves asking, “How do I safeguard my soul and the souls of others in the midst of wolves’?
In today’s passage, John teaches us in one verse how to safeguard our souls from error and false teachers and I want to expound a bit on this passage. In order to do that, I am going to work through this passage out of order and give us a few takeaways from this one verse.
- False prophets have always been around and always will be around until Jesus makes all things new.
The early church was immediately plagued by false teachers. So much so John says, ‘many false prophets have gone out into the world’. Don’t be discouraged or disheartened. The church has been dealing with false teachers since the inception of the church. God’s people have been dealing with deception since the serpent in the garden.
- Be cautious.
John warns us, ‘do not believe every spirit’. Let me help translate that. Do not believe something just because it is labeled as “Christian”. Christian bookstores aren’t going to do your discerning for you. You are called as a Christian to discern truth from error. Gullibility doesn’t wear well on a believer. It is unacceptable, and we will give an account for whether we took John’s charge seriously.
- Grow in your discernment.
Finally, John tells us to ‘test the spirits’. The Bereans did this well (Acts 17:11). How do we test the spirits? We grow in our love and knowledge for God’s Word. We can’t spot counterfeit gospels if we do not study the actual Scripture. John here leaves us with a starting point he says to test to see whether ‘they are from God’. How can we know? Again, we must know God’s Scripture. Also, I find a good initial question to ask is this:
Is what this person saying making much of man or Christ? In other words, who is the hero of the story? Good follow up questions could be, ‘is the gospel clear?’ and sometimes ‘is this person even making sense?’
As believers, we have a responsibility to know God, know his word, and combat false teaching with the truth. Are you equipped?