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. (1 John 4:1-6 ESV)
All of us have heard the saying “Do not believe everything you hear!” This saying is particularly true when you listen to someone who claims to be from God and is presenting a “new truth” or a new interpretation of the Scriptures. It is easy to be misled.
When we test something, we do so to determine if it is true or not. Only very gullible people believe every claim they hear (especially on the internet). We should be more like the Bereans who Luke praises in Acts: “The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” (Acts 17:10-11 ESV) We should always examine, in the light of the Scriptures, what we are taught.
Peter, also, warns us of false prophets: “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words.” (2 Peter 2:1-3 ESV) Therefore, we must “test the spirits” to determine if these men are “ravenous wolves.” (Matthew 7:15 ESV)
How do we “test the spirits”? Do they deny Jesus came in the flesh? During the life of John, a false teaching called Gnosticism had developed. In general, it taught that God (Christ) did not come in the flesh because all matter is evil. Many Gnostics believed Jesus came as a spirit or that He was a mere man who may have also obtained divinity because He led an exceptionally good life. I think we may also compare this to the modern preacher or teacher who believes that Jesus was just a good man and teacher or that He was a myth woven together with wise sayings. Such people have the spirit of Antichrist.
Another way to “test the spirits” of those who claim to speak for Christ is to make sure they are following the doctrines of the apostles. Do they follow or reject the teachings of the apostles? Is what they teach in agreement with what the apostles taught? If not, they have the spirit of antichrist. Today, too many people want to introduce new interpretations of what the Bible actually says plainly. Much too often, we find those who are actually willing to add to the Scriptures. These men risk the curse of “plagues” and their share in “the tree of life”. (Revelation 22:18-19)
The world follows false preachers and teachers because they speak in a manner pleasing to the world. Size and numbers, however, do not measure truth. Consider, “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” Jesus Christ has overcome the world. Therefore, if we know the teachings of the apostles as found in the words of the Bible – a false spirit will not deceive us. Are you applying the apostles’ doctrine to test what you hear and read?