May 6, 2015
1 John 4:1-3
Dear friends, 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. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
If there’s one thing we can say about a false prophet, it’s that they don’t wear t-shirts that say “false prophet.” In other words, they can be very difficult to spot. A false prophet or false teacher often presents a slightly grey-shaded version of the truth, rather than a glaring error anyone can spot. They often come across with a strong sense of authority. In fact, their teaching can seem so reasonable and even compelling it seems they carry the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
It’s why John warns us to “test the spirits.” Note, though, he’s not telling us to “trust our gut” or our instincts or our sense of discernment or what other authorities we trust might or might not say. John gives us a far more objective criterion.
This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.
It all comes back to Jesus. Jesus is THE Truth. If we do not comprehend and confess the truth about THE truth, we are sitting ducks for false teachers. Hear me straight here. This is not about saying the right words or saying the words right. False teachers play fast and loose with the meaning of words. False teaching, or heresy, always comes back to a distortion of the truth about Jesus.
Some months ago I was in a church where a noted Jewish New Testament scholar was invited to teach. She was brilliant and compelling and exceedingly coherent in her teaching. She had given her life to the study of Jesus of Nazareth. She is one of the foremost authorities on Jesus and the New Testament on the planet.
After her message, the pastor graciously opened the floor for questions. The people, very generous in their response, marveled at her interpretations of certain passages of Scripture they had never understood before. It amazed me just how ready they were to completely buy her message and get on board with her program.
I sensed the Holy Spirit moving me to ask a question, and not just any question, but THE question. I didn’t want to do it, but I was compelled to raise my hand. When the microphone came my way, I stood and in as kind and gracious a manner as I could, I posed this question, “Do you believe God raised Jesus Christ from the dead?” She answered, “No.” In my lawyerly mind I thought to myself, “No further questions,” and I sat down.
I respect her for her honesty. I admire her devotion to the study of the New Testament. I am certain I could learn many “true” things from her about Jesus of Nazareth. But as far as I’m concerned, no matter how much she knows about the New Testament, her inability to confess Jesus Christ as risen from the dead effectively disqualifies her as a teacher of the Church. While I’m certain she is not a charlatan or a dishonest person, I do believe she is a false teacher.
John, in essence, tells us when it comes to false teachers don’t walk, run. When it comes to Jesus Christ, we cannot have a “think and let think” mentality. When the central truth of the Gospel is even a shade off center, the circumference of the message will be cloaked in shadows and the consequences will be catastrophic.
It’s why we literally need to put our would-be leaders on the proverbial “witness” stand and kindly, graciously, with the love of God ask them what they believe about Jesus. Something like this:
Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten son of God. . . God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, of one substance with he Father, by whom all things were made? Do you believe he was “born of the Virgin Mary? Suffered under Pontius Pilate? Was crucified, dead and buried? Do you believe that on the third day he arose from the dead? Ascended into heaven? And sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty? Do you believe from there he will come to judge the living and the dead?
And after this, we must press in further and make certain of what they mean when they say he was “raised from the dead.” Was this a “spiritual” resurrection or a “bodily” resurrection? Is this a metaphor or a historical fact?
This is how we “test the spirits.” I don’t want to bully anyone with a strong-armed sense of certainty, but I make no apology for an overabundance of clarity on these matters. Something tells me John would agree.
J.D. Walt writes daily for Seedbed’s Daily Text. He serves as Seedbed’s Sower in Chief. Follow him @jdwalt on Twitter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get the Daily Text delivered to your inbox fresh every morning. Subscribe HERE.