Be Discerning

Good morning! If you are visiting with us today, I want to welcome you once again to Grace Bible Fellowship Church. It’s an honor to be worshiping with you today.

We are back in First John where John is going to highlight what it means to be discerning. He told us at the end of chapter three that we can be assured of our salvation, and today he is going to help us to be discerning about teachers we listen to as well as provide some practical tests for us. In 1 John 4:1-6, John says…

1 John 4:1 Beloved, 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. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. 4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

INTRODUCTION

Have you ever been tricked or fooled by someone or something? You thought it was true or real but you found out it wasn’t. That was the case for many who thought they were going to strike it rich during the California Gold Rush. During the gold rush of the mid-1800s, the word “Eureka!” was an exclamation used by many who had struck it rich. Eureka means “I have found it!” This word summed up every treasure hunter’s dream and expressed the thrill of striking real pay dirt. The term eureka also meant instant riches, early retirement, and a life of carefree ease.

However, many prospectors quickly learned that not everything that appeared to be gold actually was. They were fooled! Some riverbeds and rock quarries sparkled with golden specks that seemed like a eureka moment. However, it was nothing more than iron pyrite, commonly known as “fool’s gold.” Miners had to be very discerning and careful to distinguish this fool’s gold from the real thing.

Most experienced miners could usually distinguish pyrite from gold simply by looking at it. However, in some cases, the distinction was not quite so clear. As a result, they developed tests to discern genuine gold from fool’s gold. One test involved biting the rock in question since real gold is softer than the human tooth whereas fool’s gold is harder. That must have resulted in a lot of broken teeth for those gold miners. There were other tests developed, however the ultimate point is miners had to rely on these test to authenticate real gold from fake gold. Just looking at it wasn’t enough.

Spiritually speaking, Christians often find themselves in a similar position to these gold miners. When confronted with various doctrines and religious teachings, all of which claim to be true and seem to have a bit of truth sprinkled in, believers must be able to discern those that are biblically sound from those that are not. Let’s face it, just because something glitters doesn’t mean it’s good. Christians need to be equally wary of spiritual “fool’s gold.” We must not accept something as true without first testing it to see if it meets God’s standard. If it fails the test, Christians should discard it as false and warn others about it. But if it meets the test in keeping with the truth of God’s Word, believers can embrace it and endorse it wholeheartedly. John is saying here in this passage to be discerning and test what we see and hear. So John tells us that we need to first…

LEARN TO LIVE DISCERNINGLY

Spiritual “fool’s gold” and “false teachers” are nothing new. In fact, the old and new testaments are filled with warnings about false teachers:

Isaiah 8:19 When they say to you, “Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter,” should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? 20 To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.”

Matthew 24:4 And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many.”

We are also warned about the counterfeit doctrines that these false teachers spread. In 1 Timothy chapter one, Paul tells young Timothy:

1 Timothy 1:3 As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, 4 nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. 5 But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, 7 wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.

And 2 Peter chapter two says:

2 Peter 2:1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.

Therefore, we must be discerning or, as Ephesians 4:14 says, we will be “children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.” First Thessalonians 5:21-22 says that it is crucial that we “examine everything carefully” in order to “hold fast to that which is good [and] abstain from every form of evil.” Otherwise, we increase our vulnerability to Satan’s deceptive attacks and manipulative perversions.

Let’s take a look at Satan’s approach. Satan’s basic strategy for attacking truth was first highlighted in the Garden of Eden. The first thing he tried was he cast doubt on what God had said about eating the fruit of the tree of life when he said, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat?’” If Satan can get you to just start questioning what God has said, you have opened the door for further criticism. Secondly, Satan denied outright what God had said to Adam when he said, “You surely will not die!” Now Satan calls God a liar! That is truly an insane step to take but Satan is desperate to take everyone down with him. And finally, he distorted what God had specifically told Adam when he said, “you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Satan and his demonic forces have used this same approach of casting doubt, outright denial and distortion of truth as they have waged a relentless, non-stop campaign against the truth of God’s Word and those who are followers of Jesus Christ.

Scripture contains many references to the long struggle for knowing, upholding, and obeying the truth. In the old testament, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Elijah, and the prophets continually called God’s people back to the truth from false doctrine and idolatry. And in the new testament, Jesus Himself warned of false prophets as did Paul, John, and Jude. Today, there are many so-called pastors, teachers and evangelists that continue spewing false and perverted doctrine in an attempt to destroy you.

Just like in the Garden of Eden, the source of error can always be traced back to satanic roots. That is why Paul told Timothy:

1 Timothy 4:1 But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron.

Let’s make it really clear: Any ideology, philosophy, opinion, or religion other than God’s truth fits into Satan’s agenda. That is why it is so important for us to recognize the difference. If we fail to be discerning, we will not only be confused and unable to discern error for ourselves, we will also be unable to accurately convey the truth to others.

So we must do three things, 1) guard the truth by knowing it, 2) hold it as a firm conviction, and 3) distinguish it from what is false. By being faithful to sound doctrine, we will be able to teach others.

John knew that his readers were under attack from false teachers so he commanded them to test those who claim to teach the truth. He gave them reasons why such testing is crucial and guidelines for how it should be conducted. So John is going to lay out a strategy that all Christians can use for distinguishing between God’s true spiritual riches and Satan’s “fool’s gold.” John starts by saying that there is…

A COMMAND TO TEST

1 John 4:1a Beloved, do not believe every spirit…

John just discussed the abiding work of the Holy Spirit in true believers at the end of chapter three, now he transitions to the work of unholy, evil spirits in false teachers and their false teachings. Because these supernatural spirits are experts in deception, Christians must be careful to closely examine every spiritual message they encounter. As I mentioned earlier, 1 Thessalonians 5:21–22, tells us to, “...examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.”

John is literally saying to “stop believing” false doctrines. Due to the present tense of the word “believe,” John’s phrasing indicates that the action is already under way and that believers are to stop believing these spirits. If any of his readers were accepting the message of false teachers, they were to stop doing so immediately. They needed to exercise some biblical discernment just like the Bereans of whom Luke wrote in Acts 17:11 when he said, “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”

Unbelievers, whose understanding has been darkened according to Ephesians 4:18, have no basis on which to evaluate false teachings that claim divine origin. According to 1 Corinthians 2:14, “…a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” Therefore, they are highly susceptible to false doctrine and can easily be led astray into error. But believers, who have the Word of God and the Holy Spirit living within them, must test what they hear with what they know to be true, as revealed in God’s Word.

John tells us there is a commandment to be discerning and test every spirit and now he says…

THERE IS A REASON TO TEST

1 John 4:1b …but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

The term translated “test” is used to refer to a metallurgist’s assaying of metals to test their purity and value. Since John uses the present tense of the term “test” it indicates that believers are to continually test the spirits “to see whether they are from God.” Christians are to continually evaluate what they see, hear, and read to determine if it originated from the Spirit of God or, alternatively, from Satan.

Of course the only reliable way to test any teaching is to measure it against what God has revealed in His infallible, written Word.

2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

As the perfect standard of truth, the Word of God provides believers with their primary defense against error.

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

God’s Word is able to divide truth from lies and to know the reality of what is going on in our hearts.

John says there are not just a few false prophets, he says “many false prophets have gone out into the world.” We need to realize that Satan does not merely want to oppose the church, he wants to deceive and destroy every single person he can. Satan, with his deceitful schemes, with support from his demons, has infiltrated denominations, institutions, churches, schools, and organizations, resulting in compromise and ultimately error. There are many false prophets that Satan is using to deceive those inside and outside church.

Satan not only develops lies that directly deny biblical truth, but he is also very subtle, often mixing some truth with some error. After all, some truth mixed with error is usually far more effective and far more destructive than a direct contradiction of the truth. Those who believe everything they read from the Christian bookstore or what they hear on Christian radio or what they see on Christian television shows are prime targets for doctrinal deception. Think about it for a minute, Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 11:14-15 that “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.”

So Satan masquerades his lies as truth. He does not have to always wage war openly against the truth. He is much more likely to attack the truth by infiltrating the church with subtle error. He uses the “Trojan Horse” approach by placing his false teachers in the church where they can selectively and secretly introduce destructive heresies. Satan puts his lies in the mouth of someone who claims to speak truth from God’s Word. That way, Satan disguises error as truth and makes evil look like it is good.

For this reason, Jesus Himself warned of false prophets in Matthew 7 where He says:

Matthew 7:15 Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.

Christians who ignore the Lord’s warning are living a very risky life. It is absolutely imperative that believers practice biblical discernment.

John now goes on to highlight the…

GUIDELINES ON HOW TO TEST

1 John 4:2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. 4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

John sets forth three familiar tests for determining whether a teacher and his message reflect the Spirit of God or the spirit of Satan. Here are the three tests: 1) Does the person confess Jesus Christ is from God? 2) Does the person manifest evidence of the fruit of righteousness? And lastly, 3) Is the person committed to the Word of God? Therefore, true teachers are characterized by a confession that Jesus Christ is from God and is God, a possession of a righteous life, and a profession that God’s Word is the divine law. Those who fail to exhibit these traits prove that they are not from God.

Let’s take the first test…

CONFESSION OF JESUS CHRIST AS GOD

1 John 4:2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.

The first test is a theological test although more specifically it is a Christological test. The question is, “Does this person confess and teach that Jesus Christ is from God?” The word “confesses” in this passage means “to say the same thing.” Every teacher who agrees with scripture that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, confesses a truth taught by the Holy Spirit—that Jesus Christ is God incarnate.

If you will recall, John is just echoing a very clear Christological statement that he made when he opened this letter. All the way back in 1 John 1:1-3, he said:

1 John 1:1 What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life— 2 and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us— 3 what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ came from God the Father as the living Word of God who became flesh:

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Jesus is one with the Father and is manifested to us as the second person of the Trinity – the Son of God. According to God’s plan, Jesus came in the flesh to die a substitutionary death for all who believe in Him as Lord and Savior.

John continues to emphasize the deity of Christ and teaches that no one can honor the Father without honoring the Son because they are one. For an individual to be saved, one must believe that Jesus is eternal deity who became a man. Jesus is not a created being! However, many ancient false teachers and some current day religions such as the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus is just a man which implies he was created and specifically denies that He is God.

Even for those who have an intellectual belief of the truth that Jesus is God, it will not save them. James 2:19 says that even the demons believe and shutter. To be saved one must acknowledge Jesus as Lord. According to Romans chapter 10:

Romans 10:9 …if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

A person’s understanding and acceptance of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God is the ultimate litmus test of the legitimacy of his professed faith. In today’s politically correct world it is becoming increasingly popular to affirm that all monotheistic religions worship the same God. But the fact is, they do not! Jesus made this point very clear in Luke 10:16 when He said, “The one who listens to you (referring to the disciples) listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.” Jesus also said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

Every spirit propagating any religion or philosophy that does not confess Jesus, is absolutely not from God. This type of teaching is both erroneous, heretical and ultimately a rejection of Christ. John emphasizes the spirit of the antichrist several times through this epistle. In 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 and 8-9, all believers have heard that the final Antichrist is coming, but John is telling us that the spirit of the antichrist is already in the world. This spirit of the antichrist is evident in false religions and their deviant doctrine. The true nature of Jesus Christ is predictably denied by false teachers and the religious systems they promote. However, those teachers who rightly understand Jesus Christ as God and portray Him and His work on the Cross prove they possess the Spirit of truth.

The second test for determining whether a teacher and his message reflect the Spirit of God or the spirit of Satan is whether the person is…

MANIFESTING EVIDENCE OF A RIGHTEOUS GOD-LIKE LIFE

1 John 4:4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them.

When Jesus came to earth, God became a partaker of human nature. Philippians 2:7-8 says “but [He] emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Although God became a partaker of human nature through incarnation, it is through salvation that believers become partakers of the divine nature. According to 2 Peter 1:4, Peter says, “For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature…”

In John’s statement where he says, “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world,” he is primarily affirming the believer’s security against the false teachers. Peter highlights that all true Christians possess an incorruptible seed of eternal life that means no satanic deception can take them out of God’s saving hand. Those who have been truly born again have been given a supernatural insight into the Truth and a discernment that protects them from false doctrine and those who teach it.

In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul summaries this point very well when he says:

1 Corinthians 2:12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. 14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. 16 For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.

Believers may be unsure of some peripheral matters but should never be unsure about the foundational truths of the gospel, such as the person and work of Jesus Christ. True believers will not be fooled when false teachers invariably attempt to change the fundamental work of Christ by advocating some form of salvation by works or any other means to be reconciled to God.

Contrary to God’s Word, false teachers and their followers cling to worldly ideas. They do this because “they are from the world; therefore, they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them.” Although it is not always obvious, false teachers demonstrate that they are anything but genuine servants of Christ through what they say and how they live. On the other hand, true believers, resist worldly ideas because they have overcome the world.

The last test for determining if a teacher and his message reflect the Spirit of God or the spirit of Satan is whether there is a …

TRUE PROFESSION OF THE DIVINE LAW

1 John 4:6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

In contrast to the false teachers, Truth teachers proclaim God’s revealed Word as the source of all truth. All Truth teachers accurately proclaim the Word of God, and the person who knows God listens to these true teachers. However, anyone who is not from God does not listen to their teachings.

The Canon, comprising both the old and new testaments, is therefore the sole authority by which Christians must test all spiritual teachings. God’s Word is absolutely reliable and more sure than human experiences or senses. It is trustworthy in every jot and tittle. It is unchanging and eternal. In fact, in Matthew 24:34, Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” According to John 17:17, it is the truth standard and by that standard, along with the help of the Holy Spirit, believers know the Spirit of Truth and the spirit of error.

APPLICATION/CLOSING

Today, John has reminded us that we are commanded to live discerning lives and to test all things we see and hear against the truth of Scripture. We are to also test those who claim to be true teachers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are to test them to see if they profess Jesus Christ is God incarnate in the flesh and that God the Father sent Him to become Savior. We are to test them to see if these teachers manifest a righteous, God-like life. And lastly we are test them to see if they proclaim God’s Word as the divine law.

In a world predominantly infiltrated with demonic false teaching, believers must constantly test the spirits, the false teachings of others, to discern what is from God and what is not. Using the tests that John has outlined here, we can discern true spiritual gems from doctrinal “fool’s gold.” Like the noble Bereans, we are called to compare every spiritual message we encounter to the revealed standard of Scripture. Only then can we obey Jude’s admonition in verse 3 to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.” By faithfully guarding the truth in the present, believers will preserve it both for themselves and for future generations.

John says…

1 John 4:1 Beloved, 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. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. 4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

Let’s pray.