TRY THE SPIRITS
"Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is in the world. Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them," (1 John 4:1-5).
We hate to be negativeóalways against somethingóbut human nature, sin and Satan being what they are compels us to be true to our God and to denounce evil for what it is. The Ten Commandments, incidentally, are at least eighty percent negative, for eight of them begin with "Thou shalt NOT." Yet they are the standard for manís conduct, and manís conduct being what it is, prohibitions are more needful than commendations. Sometimes Godís men have a commission to be negative in some things. Jeremiah, for example. "Then the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold I have put my words in thy mouth. See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant," (Jer. 1:9-10). Four of the six elements in his commission were negative.
We live in an age in which everyone thinks there should be more broadmindedness. Yet there are few people who are gullible enough to believe that all religious teachings are true. Any thinking person realizes that when two teachings are diametrically opposed, both cannot be true. Both can be wrong, and sometimes are. It is a sad but true fact that falsehood has been contemporary with the truth from the beginning of human history. The Archliar himself was the fourth being to come on the scene shortly after creation was completed, and he wrought havoc that is still going on today. This will always be the case so long as man is in the present state. Falsehood will always be in competition with the truth. Well has Daniel Defoe said tható
"Wherever God erects a
house of prayer
The Devil always builds a chapel there;
And twill be found upon examination,
The latter has the largest congregation."
This is true for several reasons. (1) The Devil has an intense hatred of God and His truth. (2) Manís religious nature, along with the rest of his nature, has been corrupted by the fall. (3) The world, being totally under the domination of the Devil, is antagonistic to all spiritual truth. (4) Not even genuine Christians are immune to the deceptions of the Devil. (5) Nothing delights the Devil like getting one of his own in control of one of the Lordís churches, for thereby he has a much wider range of influence than when he only controls individuals. (6) True churches are Godís ordained means of Him being glorified, something that above all else the Devil wants to thwart.
Unfortunately, professing Christians are often careless about the discernment of the spirit that motivates the religious teachers and preachers that bombard the modern world with their doctrines. The attitude of the religious world of today is that "Iím a Christian. Youíre a Christian. Everyone is a Christian." But this is to confuse religion with Christianity, which are two radically different things. Everyone is indeed religious, for this is wrought into the very nature of man, for he was created to worship God. But because of the fall of the whole race in Adam, all men are by nature totally depraved, and so their religious thinking is distorted and confused.
The words "religion" and "religious" appear only seven times in the New Testament, and only one of these is used in a good sense. In Acts 13:43 the word used is sebomai, (sebomai), which means simply to worship or to be devout, and the context shows that it was not the Christian religion. In Galatians 1:13-14 IoudaismosóJudaismóappears twice, and refers to Paulís religion before his conversion. The remaining appearances are the renderings of threskeia (qrhskeia), or threskos (qreskoV ), which refer only to outward service to whomever or whatever one deems God. See Acts 26:5; James 1:26-27. Only in the last verse is it used in a good sense, yet even here it does not refer to salvation, but only to that which should be the fruits of salvation. Sir Robert Anderson says of this:
"ĎA new religion!í It would be nearer the truth to declare that one great purpose of Messiahís advent was to put an end to the reign of religion altogether. Such a statement would be entirely in keeping with the spirit of the only passage in the New Testament where the word occurs in relation to the Christian life." The Silence of God, p. 44.
We think of the many admonitions in Scripture to "believe," but in 1 John 4:1 the admonition is to "believe not," and commands us rather to test the spirits whether they are of God. This shows that there are some that are not of God, as the further words "because many false prophets are gone out into the world" declare. The Bible is a very practical Book, for it not only teaches the true and good, but also warns against the false and the evil.
1 John 4:1-5 is an explanation of why some men can get such a ready hearing from the world, while others, notably sound Baptists, cannot. Pastors are called of God to set the doctrinal pace in the churches, which is often an undesirable position, for it makes it impossible for him to be universally loved and admired. Indeed, our Lord warned against the desire to have such esteem. "Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! For so did their fathers to the false prophets," (Luke 6:26). Yet no pastor dares surrender his office to another. And churches ought to keep this in mind when they call a man to be pastor, and they ought to respect a sound pastor when God gives them one.
Unfortunately there are sometimes little old ladies with an exaggerated sense of their wisdom and spirituality that would like to usurp this responsibility. And on rare occasions, a deacon may desire to leave his office as servant of the church to try to rule it. And sometimes there may be a dictatorial group in a church that desires to dominate the church. But none of these are called of God to this responsibility, and pastors dare not abdicate their God-given duty to stand in the gap and to try the spirits of all that come, claiming to be teachers and preachers of the Word. We do not wish to speak a word against elderly ladies, or deacons, or anyone else, but the pulpit is not the village common, open to anyone that wishes to air his or her own peculiar views. It is the sacred trust of the pastor of every church to regulate what is spoken from its pulpit, and churches must recognize this principle in their choice of a pastor, and stand firmly behind it by supporting a sound man once he is called as pastor.
It is not enough that a man may have a pleasing personality, nor that he may be a dynamic speaker, nor that he may pretend to piety and zeal for the souls of men. The test is a doctrinal oneóspecially in regard to Christís person and work, and the plan of salvationófor no man was ever called of God to preach his own message. "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because THERE IS NO LIGHT IN THEM,"(Isa. 8:20). The minister of God will have the message of God. Sometimes men speak of "dead orthodoxy," and unfortunately this sometimes develops, yet this gives no justification to any supposed "living heterodoxy," for there is no such thing. Heterodoxy is always dead.
I. CONSIDER THE WARNING.
Our text warns us not to accept every religious teacher at face value because the world is full of religious charlatans, nor is this a new thing. "But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them (This is not in reference to Jesusí redemptive work, as Arminians claim, for the Greek word is despotes, (despothn), which always refers to the Father, as in Jude 4, not to Jesus), and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of," (2 Pet. 2:1-2). This is the Lordís command to His people, for He is concerned that they be not deceived by wicked and deceitful men. A deceived Christian can be neither happy nor serviceable. Thus, we have here a command, in essence, to be "narrow-minded" in spiritual matters. The warning is necessitated by the fact that "many false prophets are gone out into the world." These are not just "liberal" Christians, nor are they simply men with "inquiring minds," as some like to characterize themselves. These are false prophets.
John speaks of the same people in 2 John 7: "For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist." He gives two more names to these people: "deceivers" and "antichrists." Our Lord Himself warned that these would increase as the end of the age draws on. "For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before," (Matthew 24:24-25). Paul likewise referred to these. "But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived," (2 Tim. 3:13). Seducers are those that lead astray, either morally or spiritually, as here.
The "damnable heresies" of 2 Peter 2:1 are the stock in trade of false teachers, and this is that of which 1 John 4 warns. We can and must tolerate differences between brethren in minor things, but false doctrine in fundamentals cannot be tolerated without danger to the souls of men. It is not enough that a man may be sound in some things, for false teachers have always mixed enough truth in their messages to beguile the unwary. Pure falsehood would not deceive many, just like pure poison without a large mixture of corn would not be eaten by rats. Even the most unwary soul would probably be suspicious if Satan appeared dressed all in red and wearing a tail and horns, as he is commonly pictured. But Satanís guise is as "an angel of light," so it is not to be wondered at that his ministers also so disguise themselves, (2 Cor. 11:13-15).
It is not so much the outward appearance of a man, nor his speaking ability, nor his personality, that determines whether he is a false teacher. Even his message and his doctrines may often contain much truth, so that the unwary may be deceived. What then? Our text warns us to "Try the spirits" of such men. That is, determine by which spirit he is controlled and led. 1 Corinthians 2:10-12 speaks of three spirits that may influence a person: (1) The human spirit. (2) The Holy Spirit. Or, (3) Hellís spiritóSatanóthat is the moving spirit in the world. Note the contrasting spirits in 1 Timothy 4:1: "The Spirit [of God] speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils [demons]."
This is a situation that is becoming more and more common, for just as demonism reached an all-time high just prior to the first coming of the Lord, so it is predicted that it will also be very common just prior to His second advent. Today witchcraft, spiritualism, astrology, necromancy and many other forms of Satanismóindeed all forms of occultismóare in vogue as they have not been for centuries. Many of the practitioners of these things are outright frauds, but at the same time, there are many of them that accomplish things that are supernatural. They do this through demonism, and not because they are "the great power of God," (Acts 8:9-11), as they often claim to be. Demons are the inspirers of all false doctrines, as well as the instigators of evil practices. Many unsaved church members get caught up in demonism by dabbling in these supposedly "innocent" practices. But it must be remembered that God showed His view of all such when He decreed the death penalty for them, (Ex. 22:18; Deut. 18:10-12). And though some such people claim to be Christians, all such are self-deceived and deceivers of others, for God holds all such in abomination. He decreed the death penalty for these because such people are murderersómurderers of souls, not just of the physical lifeóan infinitely worse crime than physical murder, for which the death penalty was decreed in Genesis 9:5-6, and which has never been repealed.
II. CONSIDER THE TEST.
The Greek word rendered "try" in 1 John 4:1 is dokimazo, (dokimazw), which has to do with the testing or assaying of something to determine if it passes the test, and to approve it if it does. Any time reference is made to judging whether a person is what he claims to be in religion there are well meaning but shallow persons that will quote Matthew 7:1: "Judge not, that ye be not judged." But this injunction has to do with setting oneís self up as of superior worth and as a standard, and condemning all others that do not conform to it. The same Greek word is used in different places of the churchís duty to judge its own members, (1 Cor. 5:12-13), and of the fact that saints are to judge both the world and angels, (1 Cor. 6:2-3). A church must always judge those that would have any impact or influence upon it, as to whether it can receive them. To not do so is to commit spiritual suicide, for Satan and his hosts delight to get into a church if they can so that they can murder souls by their damnable heresies, (John 8:44). The duty is to test the spirits of professing preachers and teachers by the Word of God to see if they are true. The Word of God is the judge of all such, and not any individualís standard. The Lord Himself said in Matthew 7:20 that "Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them," which demands a judging and a testing of a personís fruits.
How may we test these? In several ways: The first test is, What do these say about the incarnation? What is their outlook on Jesusí humanity? Do they recognize His virgin birth, His holy humanity, His purposeful incarnation? Or do they look upon Him as merely a near perfect human, but nothing more, as the modernists do, or as an ideal, but mythical man, as Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian (?) Science (?), did? 1 John 4:lff was written at the time in refutation of those who came to be called Docetae and Gnostics in the second and subsequent centuries, who denied the real humanity of Christ.
The second test is, What do these say about Jesusí deity? Is He the Christ of God, very God of very God? Or do they view Him simply as a good man, a great teacher, a noble, but unfortunate martyr as so many do today? If they deny that He is the "Anointed Of God," the "only begotten Son of God," "God incarnate," then they are false prophets. Orthodox Jews, Mohammedans, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses (so called) and others all recognize Jesus as a great man, even as a prophet, but they all deny His essential and absolute equality with the Father. "Jesus Christ" is not just a personal name, setting Him apart from the many other Jesuses (Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua) of that day. "Jesus" is His personal name, but it is also suggestive of the union of His perfect humanity with His absolute deity, and implies the work that He came to accomplish, for it means literally Jehovah is my Saviour, and was given in anticipation of His work, (Matthew 1:21). "Christ" is rather a title than a name, for it means "the anointed One," and so, claims for Him the office of the Messiah, which was the Hebrew equivalent, so often promised in the Old Testament. The fact that prophecy often referred to this coming One as God, (Isa. 7:14; 9:6; Micah 5:2, et al.), also implies His absolute deity and equality with the Father.
In his second epistle, John warned believers what their attitude should be toward those that do not abide in this doctrine about Christís person. "Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds," (2 John 9-11). This makes it clear that the doctrine of Christís person and work is crucial to one being a genuine Christian, and that person who is in error about this is not Christian, whatever his pretense and profession may be.
This testing of these spirits has a practical side also, for in attempting to separate the Son from the Father, these destroy the only hope of salvation for man. Our Lord Himself said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me," (John 14:6). Those that deny Jesus to be the Christ of God, thereby also have not the Father, have no hope of salvation, are lost, doomed and damned, for they have rejected the only way to the Father, and the only hope of eternal life. The apostles all recognized this truth, (Acts 4:12; 1 Cor. 3:11; 1 John 5:9-12).
There is yet another test that we may apply, which is set forth in 2 John 7. "For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist." At first glance this appears to be a repetition of 1 John 4:2, but literally it reads "is coming in the flesh," for the word is a present participle in the inspired text. Thus, a manís outlook on the return of Christ is crucial to his doctrinal soundness. The return of Christ is the believerís "blessed hope" (Titus 2:13), for it will consummate his salvation by redeeming his body so that it corresponds to his redeemed soul.
The devil has always tried to overthrow the doctrine of Christís coming and Kingdom. He tried to frustrate these by offering the Kingdom to Christ under wrong circumstances and at a wrong time in Matthew 4:8-10. This failing, he tried to keep Christ from coming to His Kingdom by inciting the Jewish people to revolt and to destroy their King on the cross. When this only fulfilled prophecy and the hope of the Kingdom of Christ appeared even brighter than ever, he moved many to spiritualize away this hope in the third and following centuries. And he is still doing the same thing today, but this shall not prevent Christís Kingdom from coming to pass in due time. He is coming back to the earth in a visible form to set up a literal Kingdom upon earth. "His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east. . .the Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with thee. . .And the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one Lord, and his name one," (Zech. 14:4, 5, 9). "I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him, And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. . .And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him," (Dan. 7:13-14, 27).
Yet another test is suggested in 1 John 4:5. "They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them." The message of false prophets will always be a world-pleasing, flesh-glorifying, ego-inflating message. It will ignore all the great doctrines that center in the total depravity of man. And if the subject of sin is touched upon, it will be dealt with in such a way that proud man will be made to believe that he can take care of his own sin problem by his own wisdom and strength. And if the Lord is given any credit at all by these false teachers, He will only be made to appear as a sort of helper or assistant in salvation.
Thus, these tests may be resolved to one all-important principle. Does God get all the glory, or is man the one glorified. Our Lord Himself stated this principle in John 7:17-18. "If any man will do (the Greek is a present infinitive: willeth to do) his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him." A willing and obedient spirit, with an eye only to the glory of God will characterize the truly spiritual man, and he will not originate his own doctrines, but rather will speak only the truth that is from God.
As we said earlier, the test is a doctrinal one, not a moral one. The devil cares not that a man may be very moral and upright, or that he is religious, so long only as he does not recognize and receive the Cross work of Christ as his only hope. The worst enemies of Christ during His earthly ministry were not the morally degraded wretches of the lowest social order, but were the scrupulously moral and upright religious leadersóthe social and moral elite. A close study of the temptations of Satan will show that his attacks are directed almost wholly against faith instead of against morals. The depraved human heart is the source of temptations to moral evil, (Mark 7:21-23; Jam. 1:14). Only as immorality may be a tool to keep people from trusting or obeying the Lord, does the devil use it, or as a solace to keep from feeling oneís need of the Lord. Thus, it is not a sufficient test to ask only if a man is morally good. Most false religionists are, for in many instances they make this their hope of salvation.
III. CONSIDER THE PROPHECY.
Every one of the false teachers described in 1 John 4 manifests the spirit of antichrist, (v. 3). They are not the great final Antichrist, but they have his spirit, and are his forerunners. What is this spirit? It is the spirit of denial of the person and work of Christ, as 1 John 2:22-23 reveals. "Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus (His human name) is the Christ (His divine office)? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father." There is a unity in Christ: He is both God and man, and these cannot be separated. But there is also a unity between the Father and the Son, according to these verses. And Jesus said in John 10:30, "I and my Father are one."
Thus, the nearer the coming of the Antichrist is, the more essential it is for Satan to deceive the world into separating Jesus of Nazareth from the office of the Messiah. The Antichrist cannot assume this office to himself, as he is foretold to do in Ezekiel 21:25-27, and elsewhere, until he has discredited in the eyes of the world, the Messiahship of Jesus. There can be little doubt that many liberal theologians and unsaved preachers are laying the groundwork for this very thing by their denial that Jesus was anything more than a good man and a great teacher. The tendency to deny that Jesus is the only way to God, as He claimed to be, (John 14:6), and as the apostles taught, (Acts 4:12; 1 Cor. 3:11), is commonly to be seen today. In almost no entertainment media today does any preacher ever pray "in Jesusí name," for most assume that they do not need Jesusí salvation and mediation to come to the Father, but that they can approach on their own merits. This is but a reflection of the attitude of most pastors and churches, and evidences the spirit of antichrist in common thinking. Jesus taught in John 16:23-24 that henceforth they were to ask the Father for their desires "in Jesusí name," for all spiritual blessings come to us through Him alone, (Eph. 1:3-4). Why would anyone not want to pray "in Jesusí name" unless he had imbibed that spirit of antichrist that denies Jesusí necessity to our acceptance before God?
This spirit of antichrist is everywhere evident in our world, as is seen in the denial of Jesusí deity, or His humanity, or His unity with the Father, or, as is the case sometimes, of His very existence. "Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time," (1 John 2:18). The apostasy that we thus see on every hand among professed Christians is simply a foreshadowing of the soon approach of the end of the age. Not only so, but it seems likely that this prophecy will grow much worse than it now is, for the Lord Himself intimated the extensiveness of the apostasy when He said, "Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith (literally Ďthe faithí) on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). "The faith" is a New Testament phrase for the body of doctrinal truth, and is commonly used for this. It is also true that the definite article often has the force of a demonstrative pronoun, and so, may here refer to "that kind of faith"óa ceaseless prayer of faith for justice. Or, the demonstrative may refer back to "His elect," for a saving faith is characteristic only of the elect, (Titus 1:1): "the faith of Godís elect," for no one believes but "by grace," (Acts 18:27). But to whichever the reference is it does not greatly alter the fact that there will be a great shortage of saints with a deep and abiding faith in Jesus. Many professing Christians will then have been deceived by the spirit of the antichrist.
These many antichrists foreshadow that one that shall head up all apostasy from and rebellion against God in the last days. This is the one that Paul calls the "man of sin." He shall head up a world government and a world church that shall seek to destroy all worshippers of the true God, and indeed all that worship any other than himself, for he shall demand that all the world worship him only. "Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God," (2 Thess. 2:4).
In 2 Thessalonians 2:11 this same person is called "The Lie," for he will be the opposite of Christ, Who is "the Truth," (John 14:6). Satanís original deception of man was with that infamous lie that "Ye shall be as God [Hebrew elohlimóthe triune God]," (Gen. 3:5), and this vain hope of proud man has been fostered by false teachers ever since. The preaching of the "Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man" is this same lie that has deceived gullible man down through the ages. It is based upon the empty hope of sonship without salvation, heirship without holiness, and rewards without regeneration. The last great Antichrist will be the last hope of both Satan and fallen man of accomplishing this.
Every person therefore who thinks to reach heaven without passing through the atoning blood of Christ is essentially antichristian in character. And every such person foreshadows the great final Antichrist, who is characterized, not only by his antagonism to Christ, but also by his claim that he actually is the Christ. This is involved in the very meaning of the term.
"The word ĎAntichristí has a double significance. Its primary meaning is one who is opposed to Christ; but its secondary meaning is one who is instead of Christ. Let not this be thought strange, for it accords with the two stages in his career. At first he will pose as the true Christ, masquerading in the livery of religion. But, later, he will throw off his disguise, stand forth in his true character, and set himself up as one who is against God and His Christ." A. W. Pink, The Antichrist, p. 60.
Prophecy is given to warn and to encourage the Lordís people, and the same text that warns us of the many false prophets that have gone out into the world, also assures us of our victory over them through our God. "Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world,"(1 John 4:4). However, this does not relieve us of the responsibility of being on our guard against such men, for while they cannot destroy our souls, they can destroy our testimony and our usefulness in the service of our God, if we get entangled in their doctrines. And they may destroy unsaved people if we do not hinder their heresies.
Nor is it just the responsibility of the pastor to try the spirits. Certainly as the undershepherd and leader of the flock, he is to be on his guard against the wolves that always wish to come in and destroy the flock. But the book from which our text was takenó1 John was not written to pastors, but to the "little children"óJohnís favorite expression for believers (nine times in the English version). Thus the responsibility rests on all believers to be on their guard against such false teachers. Often by the time the pastor knows that one is sowing falsehood among the flock, much harm has already been done, unless the members of the flock know the truth, and are responsible to guard against those that are doctrinally unsound.
Nor is it enough to judge by denominational names, for there are many "Baptist" spirits, that are not only not Baptistic, they are not even Christian. We must remember that such men as Harry Emerson Fosdick, Martin Luther King, Dr. Hamilton of "God is dead" fame, and numerous others that denied Jesusí deity, were all Baptists in name. Nor is the designation "independent Baptist" sufficient, for there are those in independent Baptist ranks that are doctrinally unsound, and who knows but that there may be some of these who are also of this antichristian spirit.
Remember, these cannot be tried as to their speaking ability, their likeability, their personalities, their morals nor by their zeal. They must be tried doctrinally, which will generally reveal the spirit that dominates their lives unless they lie about their beliefs. Even in the first century, men were already passing themselves off as possessed of the Spirit of God, but who were preaching false doctrine. And if this was so then, how much more so will it be so in these last degenerate days.
"Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God."
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