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1st John (2011)

Testing the Spirits

1 John  4:1-6

Lesson audio

Testing the Spirits

1 John 4:1 NIV  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.

The Teachers Object

We have heard in the news recently that the teachers employed by the Los Angeles Unified School District are up in arms over the proposal to use the results of standardized testing to evaluate their performance. It is difficult to object to the idea that a teacher's performance appraisal should be based upon the results shown in the students. The teachers themselves raise the following objections:

·         The caliber of the students varies across the district. Interestingly, the teachers in poor sections of town are convinced that this will drag their scores down while the teachers in richer sections are certain that their students will improve less because they are already doing so well. The method seems to be permanently unfair to all teachers.

·         They also object to the competitive nature of the evaluation. A test can be used to compare one group of students to another; or it can be used to determine just what the students know. The teachers object to the comparison; they seem to have no objection to the absolute evaluation of the students.

·         Indeed, the purpose of the evaluation is to determine what impact any given teacher has on the students. The comparison is to other teachers, thus leading teachers to "teach to the test".

·         Finally, this is a standardized test. Some students just don't do well on standardized tests, and teachers fear that having a few of those students in your classroom will destroy your reputation.

There are answers to each of these objections. It's not my purpose in this lesson to discuss how to evaluate public school teachers. Rather, I point out to you the difficulty of using test information at all. It seems that the teachers object to this process mostly because of the fact that it's based on this testing. So how does one perform proper testing?

Sign of a Good Test

So, what are the signs of a good test?

·         First, the test must tell the truth. No matter how convenient the test may be to administer, no matter how prestigious the organization that delivers it, no matter how the public views it, the test must tell the truth.

·         Second, the test must be understandable. One of the objections the teachers have raised the standard test is that the statistical use of the results is not easy to comprehend. A test which requires a genius to interpret is inherently faulty.

·         Third, the test must be consistent with other tests. If you have seven measures of a teacher and six of them are highly positive, one of them very negative then the first place to look is at the test, not the teacher.

Why Test the Spirits?

Indeed, the teachers argue that such testing is unnecessary. There is already a system of classroom evaluation which provides information on how teachers perform. So it would seem that if we implement a test, we should be clear about the need for the test and the purpose of the test.

John, in this verse, tells us to test the spirits. He also tells us why. The reason is simple: there are a whole bunch of frauds out there. How do we know who are the real Christian teachers, and which are the frauds? It's very important that we do this for two reasons:

·         First, we know the character of Satan. He will take the true tests, the ones we should be applying, and twist them so as to deceive us. We cannot presume innocence.

·         Most important, if you're not testing the spirits, you're the one who runs the risk of hell.

From God?

1 John 4:2-3 NIV  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,  (3)  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.


The matter is rather straightforward. The first test is that Jesus Christ came in the flesh. You will recall John's trouble with Cerinthus, who denied that Jesus had a real body. The idea that Jesus came in the flesh is necessary for any real understanding of the Christian faith.

·         Jesus must be fully man to be acceptable as the reconciling sacrifice of the atonement.

·         But he must also be fully God, otherwise he does not speak with authority. He never claimed to be just a prophet, as the Moslems say. He claimed to be God in the flesh. No flesh, no God.

The Christ

Implicit in this test is the idea that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ. Messiah is the Hebrew word; Christ is the Greek word. They both mean that he is the Holy One of Israel. He is the long promised one, the one who was written about in the prophets of the Old Testament. This has two extremely important implications:

·         If you accept the Old Testament prophecy as being fulfilled in Christ, at least in part, then you accept the idea of prophecy in general. This implies that you believe certain things will happen in the future. If you are certain of those things, you should prepare for them. So prophecy does not mean something that has no effect on our lives, but has an ultimate effect.

·         It also implies that the God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament. If Jesus comes out of nowhere (like Mohammed) he can proclaim a new truth. Jesus did not do this. Instead, he fulfilled an old, eternal truth. There is still one God. His laws do not change.

If Not

The result of this test is binary: either the spirit delivering a message to you is under the control of the spirit of God, or is inspired by Satan. If inspired by Satan, it is an antichrist. Remember, that spirit could be speaking to someone by prophecy, or be the guiding spirit of the individual speaking to you by mouth. If that spirit is an antichrist, that person is going to hell.

I hope that makes the matter quite serious for you. Often enough, Christians who do not participate in Pentecostal worship skip over this section as not apply to them. It applies to all Christians; you are to discern whether or not the preacher or the teacher or the speaker is an antichrist. Which brings us to the second point: are you better equipped to do this with a great deal of Bible study or very little Bible study? The modern trend is to eliminate Bible study. In the history of the church there have been several periods where the study of the Bible by anyone but an expert has been all but forbidden. The people in those ages were often very pious. But it is possible to be pious and misled.

Church and World

1 John 4:4-6 NIV  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.  (5)  They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.  (6)  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.

Here John makes it clear: the spirit which comes from God, the spirit of truth is tested by its conformance to what the apostles taught.

Worldview and Church View

One of the recurring myths found inside the church is the Christian should be just like other people, only forgiven. Do you remember that bumper sticker? In fact however, Christians are different and they have a different world view.

·         Most important, those were Christians have overcome the world. The rest of the planet is mired in the passions of mankind – the things that you must leave behind when you die. The Christian overcomes that because he knows where he will be 5 min. after he's dead.

·         How did this come about? The Christian knows it is not because anything that he personally has done; it is by the power of God. So if there's a big difference between Christian life and non-Christian life, it stems from the fact that the power of God is in the Christian life.

·         What keeps this effective in changing lives is that the children of God listen. They listen to God; the world does not. The world listens to the voices that cry out for younger women, older whiskey, faster cars and more money.

If those things don't make you different, what on Earth or heaven above would?

Obviously, the world has a different view. The essence of that view is that you only go around once, and you should grab what you can grasp all the time. The world's view is the sins of the flesh, sins of the world and the sin of pride are good things. You should therefore use your main strength to chase after them. By their fruits you will know them.


So it comes down to this: who are you listening to? Are you listening to the spirit of God, or the spirit of the antichrist?

There are many people who hold the church doctrine is dull, boring and most of all — useless for any practical purpose. It's just an opinion you hold. That's the world's view; nothing could be further from the truth. If you hold to the mysteries of the faith your life in this world will be greatly changed. I will not promise you that your life will be one of smooth sailing and no problems; Christ never even hinted that that would be so. I will tell you that he will give you the strength and the wisdom to overcome the world – if you will follow him.

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