Beloved, do not believe every spirit,
but test the spirits to see whether they are from God,
for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
By this you know the Spirit of God:
every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,
and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.
This is the spirit of the antichrist,
which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
Little children, you are from God and have overcome them,
for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world,
and the world listens to them.
We are from God.
Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us.
By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
I John 4:1-6
This section is really talking about discernment. How do we tell the difference between what is true and from GOD and what is false and/or from a false spirit?
We watch, over the years, as some in our churches, make wise decisions based on truth. Others seems to make decision based on prevailing fads and they get easily derailed. They don’t seem to have an inward sense of descernment. To make matters worse, they don’t seem to realize their weakness and don’t listen to those who are wiser. Their lives tend to leave a lot of litter in their wake. Debris from broken relationships, unwise decisions based on false hopes, advice from those who don’t bring advice from the Source of Truth, but from a false spirit. Their lives are way more up and down (or zig-zaggy) than they need to be.
Obviously, our lives won’t be one long line that is straight across…or we would be dead. There will be plenty of ups, downs, zigs and zags. But the ones we don’t need are those done because we didn’t listen to wise advice or the ones taken because we were following advice that was not anchored in truth.
True/False Prophets-vs. 1
The way to tell if someone is a true prophet has nothing to do with showmanship, but rather what their view of Jesus Christ is.
Is their focus on Christ and His work? Or on themselves or the worship of false gods. Of course, if they are making future predictions, a small part of what a prophet does, they need to come true 100% of the time! Otherwise, they are not from GOD! (cf. Deuteronomy 13:1-5)
And before we get comfortable thinking about worship of false gods as little idols that we can see, remember that particularly in our day, false gods are often those priorities and things we worship above GOD! Those things we think we need in addition to GOD to make us happy. The beautiful home, a comfortable life, a certain lifestyle, people who respect me, who like me…you name it. For each of us it is different.
Did you know that in the Old Testament, a prophet who was discerned to be false because his prediction didn’t come true, was stoned! It was a serious offense! And there was none of this vague, this-could-be-true-of-anyone kind of predicting!
Read the story of Micaiah, a true prophet, to see what he endured in his life, for his true prophecies…and how he was finally vindicated in the end. (cf. I Kings 22:1-40)
I was thinking about false prophets in our day. I don’t want to link to specific pages, but the false prophets that seem to hit me in the face are Joel and Victoria Osteen. Yes, they do have the name of Jesus in their list of beliefs, but when they are speaking, their focus in never on Him. (I have no personal vendetta against them. But I don’t want to see people led astray by their false teachings that look beautiful and sound good.)
Their focus on them, their accomplishments and on you and this power you have in you that is never identified with Christ. It is more of a new version of the old positive thinking stuff I remember hearing about years ago. You learn to think more positively about yourself, give them money, believe that you will have a better life and it will happen! If it doesn’t happen, you haven’t believed hard enough…or maybe haven’t given enough. But it has nothing to do with the fact that their message is a false one!!!
Well it is! On so many levels! The basis of your acceptance in Christ is on what He did for you! The grace He offers you for the full, free and rich forgiveness costs you nothing. There is nothing you do to to earn it. You are no longer bound to the worship of possessions, comfort, etc. You are now free to serve Christ in your work and worship.
But I’m getting a little far away from I John. So I must come back.
Test of a true prophet-vss. 2-3
Behind each prophet is a spirit. It is either the Spirit of GOD or the demonic spirit of antichrist as you see in these 2 verses. (I Corinthians 12:3)
The Spirit of GOD’s voice will underscore that Jesus was the historical Jesus who came as the incarnate Messiah. That is it plain and simple. Jesus was fully human and fully GOD! It is a mystery, we don’t fully understand it, but that is it!
There are 2 other versions that you may hear when people talk about “Jesus coming in the flesh”. One is that he was a real man but doesn’t emphaisize that He was fully GOD…as is clearly mentioned in other passages. Another version suggests that He was born a man but at His baptism, GOD came and indwelt Him and left just before the crucifixion. There are enough other places in Scripture that don’t back up that view either! (cf. John 9:22)
No matter how charming, how plausible,
how eloquent the prophets in question may be,
the test of their witness to Christ and His truth
is the test by which they must be judged.
F. F. Bruce
The Church and the World-vss. 4-6
This is where this passage gets downright practical! When we start talking about true prophets and false prophets, it can get scary.
Who am I to question the teaching of someone?
Aren’t I holding myself up to be an authority over them?
Maybe I’m just thinking too much of myself?
And John is saying a resounding, “NO!”
You are a child of GOD!
You have Christ in you!
This is the promise of GOD to you!
you are from God and have overcome them,
for He who is in you
is greater than
he who is in the world.
I John 4:4
First, as believers who are in Christ, we have overcome the false teachers in an intellectual battle. That battle is won! They are trying to deceive, we are testing them and not being taken in. Thereby, we win the battle!
Second, it is not because we are intrinsically stronger than those in the world (at that time the Gnostics who probably were intellectually stronger). It is because Christ is stronger…as the passage says. We always need to remember that!
The problem for many of us is that we don’t know the way of truth well enough to defend it…or even to know the difference between it and error. This will be more and more of a problem for us as individuals and the Church in general if we don’t learn the Truth so we can discern the difference.
There are only two ways to walk: the way of Truth or the way of Error; the way of Christ or the way of antichrist.
Do you know the way of Truth enough to discern it when it is being preached?
Can you discern error when you hear it preached or spoken as advice to you or those you love?
Can you tell the difference when it is echoing in your head?