Test every spirit

by Mike Ratliff

16 Rejoice always; 17 pray without ceasing; 18 in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not quench the Spirit; 20 do not despise prophetic utterances. 21 But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-22 NASB)

CSM is an acronym for “Contemplative Spiritual Meditation.” It is a perverse melding of Christian prayer with Eastern mysticism. Bottom line, those who are behind this are deceived. They have been taken in by deceptive spirits because they have not “tested” every spirit, but have, instead, eagerly sought spiritual influences from outside the Church. The Word of God expressly warns believers against this sort of thing. In this post I would like to unpack 1 John 4:1-6 which does indeed address this.

1 Beloved, 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. (1 John 4:1 NASB)

1 Ἀγαπητοί, μὴ παντὶ πνεύματι πιστεύετε ἀλλὰ δοκιμάζετε τὰ πνεύματα εἰ ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστιν, ὅτι πολλοὶ ψευδοπροφῆται ἐξεληλύθασιν εἰς τὸν κόσμον. (1 John 4:1 NA28)

The prophets of God (preachers and teachers of His Word) are led by the Holy Spirit and so they speak and teach the truth, but there are ψευδοπροφῆται, false prophets, who ἐξεληλύθασιν εἰς τὸν κόσμον, have gone out into the world. These ψευδοπροφῆται are perverse. They are so because they propagate false doctrine and error and so are simply spreading the doctrines of demons. This is why we are commanded here to μὴ παντὶ πνεύματι πιστεύετε ἀλλὰ δοκιμάζετε τὰ πνεύματα εἰ ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστιν, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God. This command would not be given to us if we did not have a way to do this.

Before we look at the method of obeying this command, let us be upfront in this. Whenever we hear a preacher or read something that professes to be for the Church, we are to place the spirit behind these things under this test. That would include what you read here αγαπητοί (beloved). That would include what you hear from the pulpit in your own church every Sunday as well and definitely on podcasts, radio, and TV. In vv2-3, we have the first test.

2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. (1 John 4:2-3 NASB)

The Greek word translated here as “confesses,” ομολογει, is in present tense, indicative mood, and active voice. This asserts something that is occurring while this is being spoken or written. This means that one very clear test of verity for prophet, preacher, or teacher is whether their ministry professes or confesses that Christ came in the flesh to earth. This is a statement about the full humanity and full deity of Jesus Christ. A ministry that does not equally maintain these two truths must be considered disingenuous. Think of those whose teachings limit the deity, foreknowledge, or sovereignty of our Lord in any way. These are examples of ψευδοπροφῆται who ἐξεληλύθασιν εἰς τὸν κόσμον. These are of the spirit of the antichrist for they distort Jesus Christ’s true nature, perverting the gospel.

4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 John 4:4-6 NASB)

Believers must learn to be aware and alert to false teaching, but not afraid. Why? The genuine believer is a new creation and has the indwelling Holy Spirit. This is a built-in check against false teachings (1 John 2:20, 27). Never forget αγαπητοι the Holy Spirit leads genuine Christians into sound doctrine (Romans 8:17), and this is evidence that their salvation is genuine. The Holy Spirit is greater than our enemy so we really should have no fear of being taken out of the Lord’s hand. Our part is to seek to discern the soundness of the doctrines given to us. When we diligently do this, there is a godly protection against error and a promised victory over it as we adhere to the sound doctrine and submit ourselves as living sacrifices. As we do this, the Holy Spirit works in us to transform us because our minds are being renewed as we submit ourselves to God’s Sacred Scripture.

On the other hand, false prophets are from the world and they may indeed have a great following, but these will be of the world, not of God. God’s prophets, preachers, and teachers speak God’s Word, following apostolic doctrine.

6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 John 4:6 NASB)

6 ἡμεῖς ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐσμεν, ὁ γινώσκων τὸν θεὸν ἀκούει ἡμῶν, ὃς οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐκ ἀκούει ἡμῶν. ἐκ τούτου γινώσκομεν τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς πλάνης. (1 John 4:6 NA28)

As we said above, God’s true prophets, preachers, and teachers speak God’s Word, following apostolic doctrine. What is the sole standard by which all teaching is to be tested? It is the Old and New Testaments. That is it. Human concepts of fairness or man-made doctrines are not acceptable, but that is what you will find is the basis of most of what is being promulgated on the visible church in our time. These are demonically inspired teachers. They are so because they reject the teaching of God’s Word or add to it or come up with their own standards (2 Corinthians 4:2; Revelation 22:18, 19). The Greek word translated as “error” in the NASB, πλάνης, means, “a straying from orthodoxy” in a spirit designed to deceive or delude. I cannot think of better explanation of things such as the melding of Christian prayer with Eastern mysticism or that Spiritual Formation inspired devotional series by Sarah Young, Jesus Calling. This would also include the entire CSM, Emergent, Seeker-Sensitive paradigms. All of it is based within το πνευμα της πλανης, the spirit of deceit. These deceivers are deceiving who knows how many people with their man-made doctrines in their transitioning of biblical churches into their seeker-sensitive storefronts to be church for the unchurched.

The reason this has become so prevalent is that the leadership in these churches did not test the spirits. They were deceived and now they are in darkness and the sheep within are either scattered or are being underfed and not cared for by a proper shepherd. Instead, they are bullied and forced to conform to an unbiblical, pragmatic standard not based in solid biblical doctrines.

Soli Deo Gloria!

7 thoughts on “Test every spirit

  1. Very appropriate for today’s ‘pew sitters’. A MUST for all times; but more so in the days we live. So many “other gospels” being taught— cheap grace (I think Dietrich Bonhoffer said that). Saddens me much. Thank you again Mike for being faithful to our Father and Lord’s Word!
    Many blessings for the new year.
    Stephanie

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