How Should We Test the Spirits?
In 1 John 4:1 we are commanded to “test the spirits” because of the existence of false prophets in the world.
1 John 4:1 says: 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. [Emphasis Added]
1 Thessalonians 5:21 says that we should “test everything” and to hold fast to what is good.
In fact, throughout most of the entire Bible, God warns His people to beware of being deceived by false prophets and false doctrines (Jeremiah 23:21; Matthew 7:15-16).
So for us to avoid deception of any kind and the lure of false teachers, the Scriptures command us to “test everything” and to “test the spirits”.
What Does It Mean to Test the Spirits?
To “test the spirits” means that we compare what is being taught with the clear and categorical teachings of the Bible. It means that every doctrine that is taught from the pulpit or anywhere else, must be compared with the truths that are written in the Scriptures.
Also there is no individual irrespective of title, social status or popularity who is above the word of God, and so all preachers and all doctrines must be consistently tested against the word of God.
To “test the spirits” also means that all things, including natural or supernatural activities and encounters, must be tested or compared with the teachings and principles of God’s word.
We live in a world where people who claim to speak for God, will make unbiblical assertions of having spiritual authority over others. Some make claims of spiritual manifestations, visions, dreams, miracles and new revelations and prophecies. Therefore all of these things must be tested and compared with the truth and principles written in the Bible.
The Bible is the final authority on all matters and it is the standard for us to discern truth from error.
How Do We Test the Spirits or Test Everything?
By urging us to test everything or to test the spirits, God is giving the Christian believer the authority to judge and discern all things through the lenses of the Bible.
Just like the example of the Bereans in Acts 17:10-11, the Christian believer is to examine the scriptures against all teachings in the following manner:
- Christian believers should not be naïve about claims of spiritual authority and to gullibly accept all such claims
- Christian believers should not be quick to accept every message or doctrine without personally testing or researching the authenticity or truthfulness of the message through the Scriptures
- Christian believers should indiscriminately test every message or doctrine irrespective of the title or popularity of the person who is preaching the message
- Discerning and judging between good and evil should be a daily part of every Christian believer’s life
Our ability to discern and test the spirits ultimately depends on the strength and depth of our relationship with God. It also depends on our knowledge and understanding of God’s word.
Therefore, having a genuine and growing relationship with God is essential to our ability to discern.
So becoming born again and then seeking to genuinely grow spiritually through prayer and the study of God’s word is essential. The more we know the character and nature of God through the Scriptures and through our relationship with Him, the more we will grow in Christ.
Furthermore, Biblical literacy and the ability to rightly divide or interpret God’s word is also essential. We must have a genuine desire to seek the truth that is found in God’s word. We must also have a desire to know God’s word above the traditions and teachings of men.
2 Timothy 2:15 says: Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
Psalms 119:11 says: I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 says that God’s word trains us in righteousness and equips us for every good work.
So Biblical literacy and understanding of God’s word is essential to one’s ability to discern and test the spirits. The more we study God’s word and learn how to interpret His word in context and categorically – the more we will be able discern false teachings.
Another essential element of learning how to test the spirits is our understanding of the true Gospel.
When we have an understanding of the true gospel message as defined in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, the easier it will become to recognize false gospels or false teachings.
Paul warns in 2 Corinthians 11:4 that the preaching of another gospel is the same as preaching another Jesus and preaching a different spirit that is not the Holy Spirit.
Furthermore, knowing and understanding the character and nature of the Holy Spirit as described in the Scriptures is also essential to being able to discern between the work of Holy Spirit and the work of evil spirits.
In Galatians 1:8, Paul says that even if an angel were to preach a different gospel that is contrary to the true gospel message then we should not accept such a false teaching. Therefore, what more if mere men were to do the same?
The Connection Between False Prophets, Demonic Spirits & Spiritual Warfare
In 1 John 4:1, this scripture connects the teachings and activities of false prophets as being inspired by evil spirits.
In 1 Timothy 4:1-2, Paul says that by departing from the faith or the true teachings of God, people automatically devote themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons which are spread through people whose consciences are seared.
1 Timothy 4:1-2 says: Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared,
So according to both 1 John 4:1 and 1 Timothy 4:1, demons / evil spirits create false doctrines and they require false prophets as their mouthpieces to spread the false doctrines.
When anyone claims to be speaking for God, or on behalf of God, it is consistently necessary to discern if that person is really speaking the true message of God.
Many who claim to speak for God are sadly teaching false doctrines and thereby leading many people astray and possibly sending many to the fires of hell (Matthew 24:11).
So right at the crux of the matter – there is a spiritual battle for souls. The warfare is not of flesh and blood but it involves principalities and powers of darkness (Ephesians 6:12).
Satan is attempting to get many people to hell through the belief in false doctrines and false gospels, whilst God is offering redemption through the true gospel which offers salvation through a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ.
So just as God has genuine Christian believers who are sharing the true gospel and doctrines of God – the Scriptures teach that satan has his servants who disguise themselves as servants of righteousness who spread false teachings (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
In 2 Corinthians 11:14 it says that even satan disguises himself as an angel of light – hence the importance of why Christians must learn to discern or test the spirits.
Another example of discerning and testing the spirits is found in Acts 16:16-19. Paul had to deal with a slave girl who was possessed with a spirit of divination. Now whilst the girl appeared to be telling the truth about Paul and Silas, and about their proclamation of the gospel – the slave girl’s utterances were being influenced by the spirit of divination that possessed her. Paul then later realized that the girl was being influenced by an evil spirit. Hence Paul had to cast out the demon and put an end to the fortune telling, because money was also being earned by her slave owners because of her divination.
So these are examples of why it is necessary to “test the spirits” or to “test everything”. There is always a connection between false teachings and the spiritual realm.
In the spiritual battle between good and evil – not all things are what they appear to be. Therefore spiritual discernment which is exercised through God’s word and by the power of the Holy Spirit is always necessary.
So in summary we should test the spirits or test everything
1. Because of the rise of false prophets (Matthew 24:4,11,23)
2. Because of false miracles and signs and wonders (Matthew 24:24)
3. Because of the detrimental effects of false doctrines (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
4. To warn others who are deceived so that they don’t follow false teachers (Jude 22,23)
Unlike many false teachings, the true gospel and word of God points only to Jesus Christ and what He did for mankind on the Cross (John 3:16). The gospel that God gives glorifies Jesus Christ alone and is able to transform a person to become a true and genuine follower of Christ. The true gospel causes man to decrease whilst Christ increases. The true gospel and word of God does not make us elevate men – but it leads us to elevate God. The true gospel message exposes the fake ones.