“The Spirit of Truth And The Spirit of Error”
1 John 4:1-6
1Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, 3and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. 4You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. 6We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Throughout the first epistle of John it is clear that the apostle is concerned about Christians being deceived. He wrote with urgency to warn them about anti-Christ in chapter two. In that context the writer said, "no lie is of the truth," and he said, "who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ?" In chapter three, verse seven he said: "Let no one deceive you." John was not an alarmist or paranoid. But he entertained a realistic concern about Christians being deceived; he knew the spirit of error as opposed to the spirit of truth. If that reality escapes our notice, we are in trouble today.
"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world."
If you look at this verse on the simplest level and that should always be our starting place this is a prohibition: "Do not believe!" An apostle of Christ is telling us not to do something. In the older translations: "believe not every spirit." In the New King James: "Do not believe." In a later, recently published translation: "Don't believe all people who say they have the Spirit."
Let me illustrate this. If you have ever watched religious television you know it is common for a preacher to tell his audience that he has the Holy Spirit, or that God personally appeared to him and told him to do or say certain things. Apart from the Scriptures and not subject to any verification you can be satisfied with the man or woman simply says "they have the Spirit." Consider what the apostle John says here: "Don't believe all people who say they have the Spirit." This is a prohibition from an apostle, and he says, "do not believe."
Many passages in the New Testament require belief; there is the command to believe. Look back into chapter three here in First John, at verse 23 - "And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ" In Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, evidence is given upon which to base our faith in Christ. Belief is encouraged; is urged; is commanded. But here, in 1 John 4:1, belief is
prohibited: "Believe not every spirit."
We cannot just accept anyone who claims they have the Spirit; we cannot just let our minds fall under the influence of any spirit. It may be the spirit of error. The only way to know is to read the Word of God. You cannot believe everything you hear! Let me just name several fields of human activity:
Politics ~ Can you believe everything you hear?
What about religion? Can you believe everything you hear? If you listen to the various religious messages about in the world today, you soon discover messages in conflict. All you hear cannot be the truth. All you hear cannot be taught in the Scriptures by God.
Some theological systems maintain that we are predestined, without regard to the personal will of heart. Others have built a sacramental system, surrounded by traditions and man-made doctrine and practice.
At large in "evangelical" religion, there is a primary concentration on belief in Christ, but often denying the role of baptism and downplaying obedience to the teachings of the apostles. Religious cults claim authority in their writings and structure. Human creeds are enforced. Some in world religions deny that Jesus Christ is the Savior, the Only Begotten Son of God. Do we just believe everything we hear? The messages in modern religion are in conflict.
John says: Do not believe everybody who claims they are telling you what you ought to believe and do in religion! Do not accept every teacher's claim that he is telling you what the Holy Spirit revealed. Try
the spirits; test all religious teaching!
Let me ask you ~ Which religious teachers today, should we apply this test to?? Every single one of them! Billy Graham, Benny Hinn, Jerry Falwell, Max Lucado, Charles Swindoll, Warren Berkley and every other preacher or teacher you might listen to, and every uninspired author you read. Every single religious teacher should be tested in the same way, by simply seeing if what he says is in the Scriptures!
Let me state the matter in these terms:
Never think that if a man is popular and brings in huge crowds, that means he must be teaching the truth!
Never think that if a man is a good public speaker and can hold the attention of an audience, that means he must be teaching the truth.
Never think that if you like the person, he must be teaching the truth.
Never think that if a man has been baptized and is a member of a local church of Christ, he has to be a perfect teacher of truth.
Never think that if a man quotes a lot of Scripture, he must be teaching the truth.
Never think that if a man has academic, educational credentials, he must be teaching the truth!!
There is only one way to determine if a man is teaching the truth - - see if what he says is in the Bible!! In order for you to make that determination you know what you'll have to do? Read and study your Bible!
This will help. Let me take us to another passage, in Acts 17:10-11. 10Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. 12Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men.
Observe two things:
ONE, it doesn't say they searched the Scriptures while listening, or when they got home for a few minutes. They searched the Scriptures daily!
TWO, the Bereans applied the test of Scripture to an apostle of Christ! And they
are commended as being noble in this! If they needed to use the Scriptures to
verify the word of an apostle, it is certain we must use the Scriptures today to
verify the word of those who are not apostles. John, why is this necessary?
Because "many false prophets have gone out into the world." We can complain
about and lament the fact that this is so, but in the end, we must face this
reality. It shouldn't be but it is so. Satan is on the job every day, and he is
at work through false teachers; false prophets and false religions. He is busy
in the world, in families, in the church, to gradually displace the truth with
I'm aware we are talking about things not generally accepted in our culture; not religiously correct. There is a general attitude in the public that every form of religion is all right, nothing should be called "false." There is a general distaste for calling anyone a false teacher or false prophet, but the opinions and conventions of the culture should have no influence on us! John, an apostle of Christ, wants us to face this reality, there are "many false prophets gone out into the world." In verses 2 & 3 John makes an application of this, in his time and for his readers.
2By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, 3and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.
There were false prophets then and they were denying the human existence of Christ. Jesus came in the flesh; we call that, "the incarnation." Deity became flesh and dwelt among us. That's historical gospel truth.
Some just said, "No, this isn't true." Their doctrine was Jesus did not come in the flesh. Probably, Gnostic in their view of things opposed to any suggestion of Deity coming in the flesh, so they would not confess that Jesus Christ came in the flesh. John says three things about them:
ONE, they are "not of God."
TWO, this is the spirit of the antichrist.
THREE, you have heard this was coming; it is now already in the world.
Verse 4: "You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world." John is rigid and shows no compromise at all, in separating light from darkness; truth from error; God from the devil . . and the people who belong to God from the people who live in association with the devil! The false prophets are wrong and in their false teaching, they show their opposition to Christ (they are anti-Christ), and they show their association with the devil. But to faithful Christians John says: "You are of God" "You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world." As I accept God's Word, believe in Christ, live by the activity of faith God abides in me and that puts me in position to overcome, to defeat the evil one, "who is in the world." Using God's word to test everything is essential to this result.Verses 5 & 6 . . .
They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
This whole passage is a distinct contrast between false and true teachers. This is seen in the emphatic use of "they" in verse 5 and "we" in verse 6.
"They" refers to the false teachers who have gone out into the world. They are influenced by the world; associated with the world; so, they keep on speaking out of worldly wisdom, and the world keeps on hearing them. One man said, "The world listens to those who speak its own language." On the other hand, John and the other apostles were "of God," and they spoke the truth of God; their message was in tune with God's infinite wisdom because it came from God.
So, there is a difference and by testing the spirits; by comparing what is taught to what is revealed, we can know the difference between truth and error.
Now, one way to consider this is The message authenticates the speaker, not the speaker the message. Let me explain. It is a mistake to decide you like the man, therefore you'll accept everything he says. The better approach is take the message, compare that message with what is revealed; then accept the message - not because of the man, but because it is revealed.
One thing must influence everything we believe, teach and practice. The Word of God. The Word of God is inspired, authoritative and sufficient to govern all that we do before God (2 Tim. 3:16,17). You cannot turn your soul's salvation over to men. You cannot just listen to a preacher you like and let that govern your responses to God. Search the Scriptures. Read your Bible. Hear, believe and obey the gospel. Just be a Christian; a member of the Lord's church. "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free," (Jno. 8:32).
By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 11.6; June 2004