“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1 ESV)
In 1 John chapter 4, we see John’s pastoral heart poured out toward his readers once again. As he considers once more the circumstances that compete for their assurance of salvation, the Apostle writes to his “beloved” friends not to believe every spirit. Rather, they ought to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (4:1).
Why must these first-century Christians be on guard continually? “For many false prophets have gone out into the world” (4:1). This brutal fact signifies the call for these believers, and every believer, to remain steadfastly committed to the truth and to exercise God-given discernment when dealing with teaching. Like the Bereans mentioned in the Book of Acts, Christians ought to “search the scriptures to see if these things are so.” Everything we hear and everyone we hear from must be filtered through the ultimate authority, God’s Word.
At the time this epistle was written, a major false teaching centered around the nature of Jesus Christ. Some apostates denied that Christ had literally come in the flesh. John assures his readers that such people are “not from God” but rather have the “spirit of antichrist.”
It seems that today, heresies have multiplied by a thousand. Walk into a religious bookstore and you may find dozens of more false teachings concerning Christ, or the Bible, or the Holy Spirit, or any other Christian teaching. Though this may be a discouraging reality, our marching orders stay the same: test the spirits!
If you feel as though you are swimming in an ocean of false teaching, concerned about whether what you believe is true or not, recall John’s encouragement to his original audience: “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” If you abide in God and study his word, the Spirit of God will reveal the truth to you, and you will be able to have real, tangible truths against which you can discern error. God has given us what we need to stay in the truth, and no matter who or what attempts to steal us away, remember – he is greater!