Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God

by Mike Ratliff

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 5:19-22 (NASB) 

God has called His people to discernment. If you listen to many so-called Christians in our time, you would think the very opposite. In fact, to question the veracity of someone’s teaching is considered the ultimate case of uncouthness in these so-called postmodern times. I find it very interesting that this concept works only in one direction. These who hold to this sort of “ministry” are very quick to point fingers at those of us who do proclaim that God’s Word is The Truth and we are all called to obey Him. We are seen as being immersed in legalism when we draw lines that are precise and unyielding based entirely from clear biblical teaching. However, those of us who do this are anything but that. Instead, we are being obedient to what God tells us to do in His Word. We must test every spirit. 

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)

What a rich verse! It is addressed to true believers who are in fellowship with our Lord. These αγαπητοί would include all of us who are truly in Christ. The verb here is πιστεύετε, which simply means to believe or have a mental persuasion about something. It is in present tense, imperative mood, and active voice so it is a command to do something with continuous or repeated action. This would be how we walk before the face of God, how we walk through each day. This verb is negated with the word μὴ so we are being commanded to NOT walk through each of our days or how we walk before the face of our God in our devotion to Him a certain way. We are told to not believe all spirits automatically. We are told to be discerning and not gullible. Also, when someone teaches from God’s Word or claims to speak for Him they are being guided or influenced spiritually. We are told that it is imperative to test what they teach to see if they are from God or not.

The word translated in the NASB as “false prophets” is ψευδοπροφῆται, which literally says they are “pseudo-prophets.” In Greek, this word describes religious imposters. These are false prophets and in our time, they are in pulpits, on TV, on the Radio and in print practically everywhere we turn. The word translated in the NASB as “have gone out” is ἐξεληλύθασιν, which describes people being spread outward from a source. This verb, however, is in perfect tense, indicative mood, and active voice. Bill Mounce describes this tense as being used to express great theological truths. He says, “It is used to describe action that was brought to completion and whose effects are felt in the present—the present, of course, from the time frame of the writer. Because it describes a completed action, the action described by the perfect verb normally occurred in the past.” Applying that to this verse, what do we see? Evil through false prophets being taught as if it is God’s Truth is a theological certainty.

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) 

2 ἐν τούτῳ γινώσκετε τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ θεοῦ· πᾶν πνεῦμα ὃ ὁμολογεῖ Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθότα ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστιν, 3 καὶ πᾶν πνεῦμα ὃ μὴ ὁμολογεῖ τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐκ ἔστιν· καὶ τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ τοῦ ἀντιχρίστου, ὃ ἀκηκόατε ὅτι ἔρχεται, καὶ νῦν ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ ἐστὶν ἤδη. 1 John 4:2-3 (NA28)

This is very clear. We can discern that a prophet is of the spirit of God, that is, that he is from God, if he confesses (ὁμολογεῖ) that Jesus Christ has become incarnate from God as a man. This was in response to the Gnostic teachings that were starting to take hold in the Church when John wrote this epistle. They were teaching that Jesus was indeed God, but that He was not a man and had no real body. In our day, we have the Emergents embracing the religious teachings of many false prophets from other religions that paint a different Jesus than Jesus Christ. They teach a Jesus who is not from God, but is of their own imaginations. This is, of course, the product of evil spirits attacking the deity of Christ. Jesus Christ is God and yet, at His incarnation, came to His people as a man. He is fully God and fully man. It is this, and only this, that enabled Him to be the propitiation for the sins of His people. He died to pay the price for their sin. Any teaching of a different Jesus or one that tries to say that He did not come as a Man to do this very thing is one who is of the antichrist (ἀντιχρίστου).

Listen carefully to this warning my brethren. Any teaching about Jesus Christ that is contrary to what we are taught by the Spirit of God through His Word is of the antichrist. This is demonic deception. This perverts the Gospel and distorts our Lord’s true nature. Therefore, we must test the spirits. We must not automatically believe every preacher or Bible teacher or prophet, et cetera. Check out what they teach with the Word of God and listen to the Holy Spirit continually as you do this.

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) 

4 Ὑμεῖς ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστε, τεκνία, καὶ νενικήκατε αὐτούς, ὅτι μείζων ἐστὶν ὁ ἐν ὑμῖν ἢ ὁ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ. 5 αὐτοὶ ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου εἰσίν, διὰ τοῦτο ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου λαλοῦσιν καὶ ὁ κόσμος αὐτῶν ἀκούει. 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 4:4-6 (NA28)

This is very clear. False prophets speak from the world, τοῦτο ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου λαλοῦσιν. The Greek word used to say “they speak” means “to talk at random.” It is speaking without wisdom and this is the best the world can do. Those who are of God have the Spirit of God and are then able to hear the truth and know that it is the truth. Those who live in the Word of God are better able to do this than immature Christians who don’t. This is why it is imperative for us to teach right doctrine and teach our people to get into God’s Word for themselves. Notice that those who are not of God do not listen to us when we speak the words of truth. This is the product of unbelief. Do not for a second believe that this is limited to those who are pagans or atheists. There are innumerable people who profess to be Christian who are in unbelief and are, therefore, not of God because they do not hear the truth and believe it.

My brethren, we are in an apostate time, but God has His own people who are not in darkness. We hear the truth and know that it is so. However, those who are professing to be Christians, but who are actually of the world prove this by their rejection of God’s Truth as The Truth while embracing the beliefs of the age. In our age, it happens to be the elevation of uncertainty as a virtue. How stupid! However, let us understand that this very thing, when taught and embraced by professing Christians proves that they are false. They are of the world and no matter how religious they are, they are not in Christ and He is not in them.

Let us make sure we test the spirits, all of them. That includes what I teach here my brethren. Please check out what I teach with what the Word of God says. Know this, that traditions of men do not, nor will they ever, equate to the Word of God and His good doctrines.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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