************ Sermon on 1 John 4:1 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 16, 2020
1 John 4:1-6
1 John 4:1
"Test the Spirits"
Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 11:14 that Satan masquerades as an angel of light. He hides his true colors. He pretends to be something he isn't. I did a Google search for images of Satan masquerading as an angel of light. Guess who all showed up? Joel Osteen (the smiley preacher in Texas), the pope, Hillary, Obama, and the cover of the JW Watchtower Magazine. One person even posted a picture of Elvis.
According to John in our Scripture reading, what is true for Satan is also true for Satan's followers. They also mask and disguise themselves as angels of light or as wolves in sheep's clothing.
Our text this morning raises two points: first, a command to test; second, the need for the test.
I A Command to Test
A "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit." That's a command here, a negative command: do not believe. Do not believe every spirit is the Holy Spirit. Don't be gullible. Don't be naive. Don't be fooled by those masquerading as an angel of light. Don't be fooled by wolves in sheep's clothing. Don't buy into everything you hear that claims to be Gospel truth. Be skeptical.
The original Greek of our verse indicates this is something that is already happening. The community of John was believing every spirit. The community of John was believing every lying spirit. "Stop it," says John. "Stop falling for it. Stop believing every spirit."
John says the same thing to us today. "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit." Dear friends stop believing every spirit. Don't believe everything you read on the internet. Don't believe everything you hear on Christian radio or TV. Don't believe everything you hear at a Christian conference. Don't believe everything you read in the latest spiritual book. Don't believe everything you see in a Christian video. Don't believe everything you read in a Christian magazine. Don't believe everything you hear on a Christian podcast. Be skeptical, not gullible.
B Which brings us to the second command of our text: "test the spirits to see whether they are from God." A positive command: test. The word for "test" is a wonderfully vivid word in the Greek. It is a word used for testing metal. In the Ancient World metal was tested by fire. It was put through the fire to determine its purity. Similarly, Christian, put everything you hear or read or see through the test. Don't be gullible, be skeptical. Test it for yourself.
By the way, the word for "test" was also used for testing people before they were assigned to very prominent tasks or put in positions of leadership. So, our elders put Pastor Joel to the test before he could become ordained. And, we test our men before we put them into the office of elder or deacon.
"Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God ..." Test the spirits. Test every spirit, including the Holy Spirit. It should be the practice of every believer to put everything to the test.
C How? How do we test what we hear or read or see? We test the spirits according to the Word of God. We test the spirits according to the actual, written, holy Word of God. Why do I put it this way?
A number of years ago right after a worship service, a visitor asked me, "What word from the Spirit do you have for me today?" This is right after hearing the Word of God read and explained. This is right after I preached what I thought was a pretty good sermon. "What word from the Spirit do you have for me today?" He was put out by my answer: "If you want to hear the Spirit, open the Bible." He thought the Spirit speaks apart from the Bible. What a dangerous, foolish approach.
"Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God ..." How do we test the spirits, including what supposedly comes from the Holy Spirit? How do put them under the flames. We test in the light of Scripture. The Bible is the standard we use. And the Creeds and Confessions of the church based upon the Bible. We are to be like the noble Bereans who examined the Scriptures everyday to see if what Paul said was true. They tested Paul. Paul, the Apostle to the gentiles. Paul, who had an encounter with the risen and glorious Lord.
If it was right and proper for the Bereans to test Paul, then it certainly is right and proper for you to test me or anyone behind this pulpit. This means it is right and proper for you to test the leaders and teachers at our Christian schools. This means it is right and proper for us to test the professors at our seminaries and Christian colleges.
(1 Jn 4:1) Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God ...
Paul also speaks about testing -- towards the end of his first letter to the Thessalonians:
(1 Th 5:19-22) Do not put out the Spirit's fire; (20) do not treat prophecies with contempt. (21) Test everything. Hold on to the good. (22) Avoid every kind of evil.There are so many voices in today's world. And so many Christians can be so gullible and naive. So, "test everything." What is good, hold on to. What is evil, push away. Examine everything. Be discerning about everything.
Today, I'm afraid, most churches and Christians have lost the will to discern. Sometimes, it is because we don't know the Bible and our doctrines. Sometimes, it is because we are lazy and don't want to do all the work. Sometimes, it is because we live in a day and age and culture where it is not politically correct to ever say someone is wrong.
II The Need for the Test
A This brings us to our second point: the need for testing. Listen to what the rest of our text says:
(1 Jn 4:1) 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.Did you hear that? "Because many false prophets have gone out into the world."
Realize, congregation, we are in a great spiritual battle between truth and error. Spiritual warfare is the battle against the Word of God.
This battle started already in the Garden of Eden. Satan attacked God's Word. Remember the first thing out of his mouth? He said to the woman, "Did God really say ..." So he cast doubt on the Word of God. Then, he followed it with an outright lie: "You will not surely die ... [instead] you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Gen 3).
Realize, congregation, that every religious idea has a spiritual source: either it comes from the Spirit of God or it comes from the demonic spirits under the leadership of Satan. James tells us there is wisdom that is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil (James 3:15). And, James tells us there is wisdom from above, from God, that leads to peace, mercy, and other good fruit (James 3:17). It is one or the other. What you teach or what you believe either has its source in the truth of God or in the lies of Satan. There is no middle ground.
"Many false prophets have gone out into the world." A prophet is a mouthpiece. A true prophet is a mouthpiece for God. A false prophet is a mouthpiece for Satan and his demons. What concerns us is origin, who they come from, who they speak for.
B "Many false prophets have gone out into the world." The majority of people in the world today live under the lies of Satan and his demons. True Christians are a small minority. Don't forget, Satan is the god of this age (2 Cor 4:4), the prince of this world (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient (Eph 2:2). He rules over men in this world and they have fallen for his lies. Any form of religion, other than the one true religion, belongs to the devil: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, animism, JWs, Mormons, Christian Science, Seventh Day Adventism, even Roman Catholicism. Satan and his demons use many different approaches: atheism, agnosticism, polytheism, cults, idols, perversions of Christianity. These are all deceptions of the devil.
C "Many false prophets have gone out into the world." Satan and his demons wage an ongoing campaign against the truth of God. They want people to be ignorant of the truth or to deny the truth. False doctrine always has demonism as its source. The worst thing we can do is to consider any attack on the truth of Scripture, any attack that causes people to doubt or deny the truth of God, to be harmless or innocuous. So, both the Old and New Testaments warn us against error, lies, and deception; both warn us repeatedly against the corruption of God's truth.
"Many false prophets have gone out into the world." Demonic attack leaves no Christian doctrine alone. Listen to what they attack:
-the authority, inerrancy, and inspiration of Scripture
-the virgin birth and sinless life of Christ
-the sovereignty of God
-that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone
-that God made the heavens and the earth and man
-that marriage is between one man and one woman
-that human life is sacred
Satan's demons wage a persistent and endless campaign against the truth of God's Word. They say all sorts of lies. They work to make people ignorant of the truth, or to doubt the truth, or to distort the truth, or to deny the truth.
The community of believers where John lived was no exception. They were under attack by pre-Gnostics. Remember their teaching? They claimed special or secret revelation and knowledge from God. They denied a host of doctrines: the need for repentance, the incarnation, the deity of the Son, the danger of the world, a Christian lifestyle, growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, perseverance in the faith, love for one another. They cast doubt on the truth of God's Word. The net result: people were being deceived by messengers of darkness disguised as messengers of light.
"Many false prophets have gone out into the world." Many false prophets -- not just some, not just a few, but many -- have gone out into the world. They have taken over the public media. Over and over again, they have been allowed to infiltrate our churches and schools and seminaries. Over and over again, God's truth is under assault by Satan's lies.
D In the middle of all this, what are Christians to do? They are to be discerning. In this mixed up, confused world, the church is to be the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim 3:15). Which means we need to discern between the truth that comes from the Spirit of God and the lies that come from other spirits.
(1 Jn 4:1) 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.
"Many false prophets have gone out into the world." Jesus puts it this way:
(Mt 7:15) "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.You got to beware of them, says Jesus. They are everywhere. They are subtle, clever, deceptive enemies of the truth, and a danger to God's people. And, then, these words of Jesus from Mark 13:
(Mk 13:22-23) For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect--if that were possible. (23) So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.Be on your guard.
Conclusion(1 Jn 4:1) 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.
Now, let me end with a warning. People don't like it when we do this. They don't like it when we scrutinize or test what they proclaim and teach. They don't want you to treat them with skepticism. It puts them on the defensive. It makes them mad. They accuse us of being judgmental and small-minded and old-fashioned and they try their best to make us feel ignorant. Error and heresy and lies cannot stand being tested against the truth of Scripture and come out attacking. What I am telling you is that there is a price to pay for being discerning.
The quickest way to make a heretic mad, the surest way to get under the skin of a false teacher, is by being like the Bereans -- checking every wind of teaching and doctrine against the truth of Scripture.
For the sake of our children and youth, for the sake of our grandchildren, we don't have a choice. If we love them and care for them, then we 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. You have to know the spirit of truth from the spirit of error. This is critical because salvation is dependent upon what you hear and believe. Therefore, the most important thing that happens in this church is the proclamation and hearing of the truth. That's why we test the spirits.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page