Testing the Spirits

Jesus said, “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16). To bear fruit, we have to abide in Christ and walk by the Spirit. John said, “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother or sister” (1 John 3:10). Living a righteous life, bearing fruit and loving our neighbor as ourselves are the marks of a true believer.

Christians know that Christ lives within them by the Spirit that He gave them. That is not the case for false prophets, which is why we are to “not believe every spirit, but to test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (4:1). It takes as much spiritual maturity to not believe every spirit as it does to believe in the one true God. The discerning believer finds the balance between superstition that believes everything and suspicion that believes nothing.

True prophets are the mouthpiece of the “Spirit of God” (verse 2). False prophets are the mouthpieces of the “spirit of falsehood” (verse 6) or “the spirit of the antichrist” (verse 3). False prophets have no problem lying, which is why we need to test the spirit, not the person. “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” (1 John 4:2).

John may have written primarily to correct the teachings of the Gnostics, but what he says has broader application. The confession that Jesus came in the flesh goes beyond acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah; it is a public profession of faith in Christ as Lord and Savior that is spoken openly and boldly. Evil spirits recognized Jesus during His public ministry, but they did not confess Him as Lord. Paul wrote, “Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed,’ and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). Demons will say that Jesus is Lord, but they will not say Jesus is their Lord.

A young man who had once been heralded as a prophet who gave prophetic messages in churches was now under psychiatric care. When asked how he received his prophetic “gift,” he said, “I received it after someone helped me receive the gift of tongues.” We don’t help other people receive gifts—God gives them as He wishes. The man was willing to have the gift tested, and while speaking in tongues the spirit was asked, “In obedience to Scripture, are you the Holy Spirit of God?” Suddenly a voice came from the young man, saying, “I am He.”

The spirit was then asked, “Are you the Spirit of Christ who came in the flesh, was crucified, and raised again to sit at the right hand of the Father?” The response was, “No, not He.” Wrong spirit! “Every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God” (verse 3). “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” (verse 6).

Dr. Neil

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