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.”
1 John 4:1-6 talks about discerning the spirits.
It tells us that there are the spirit of truth that is of God and the spirit of darkness that is not of God, and also tells believers to be spiritually awake so that they won’t be deceived.
First, 1 John 4:1 says, “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.”
Among the spirits, there are spirits that are of God and of the light, and those that are opposite of God and of the darkness.
The enemy devil and Satan, demons, dragons and their messengers are the spirits that are of the darkness.
The spirits that are of the light and the truth are the heavenly army and angels of God, and cherubim.
God is the only One who is the true spirit, and who created the heavens and earth and all things in them and human beings. He is the One who controls the history and judges mankind.
God is the only One who can answer our prayers to give us blessings and eternal life.
Those men who are of the darkness cannot give life to others, and they cannot gain life for themselves either.
When the period of human cultivation is over, they will be judged and receive the eternal punishment.
However, during the course of human cultivation, the spirits of darkness have the authority to drag the people of flesh to death.
They can do their own spiritual works, and through them they deceive and cheat the men of flesh.
They cheat the people in a way that people will believe there are other gods that can give life and blessings and are worthy of being worshiped.
Today’s passage says that we must not believe every spirit but test it to see if it is of God. But this is not only about the cases where darkness has been clearly revealed as in the case of idolaters or unbelievers.
They obviously do not belong to God, so we don’t even have to test them.
When today’s passage says not to believe every spirit, it means we should discern the people who say they are of God, but who are actually receiving the works from the spirits of darkness.
You and I have received the spirit that is of God.
Men are created with a spirit, a soul, and a body.
God made the body of Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life to make him a living being, namely a living spirit.
But since Adam committed a sin by eating the forbidden fruit, his spirit and the spirits of his descendants are said to be dead.
But as we believe in the Lord Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit, the dead spirit is revived.
Now, we have received a spirit that is of God for we believe in the Lord.
But sometimes, among people who say they believe in God and have received the Holy Spirit, there are people who are controlled by the spirits of darkness and not those of God.
In order for us to avoid being deceived by such people, we need to be able to discern the spirits.
As I explained many times in the Lectures on 1 John, when the apostle John was writing this book, there were many heresies in the early church.
There were people who were in the church who denied God the Trinity and insidiously changed the gospel.
John the apostle is warning the believers again and again not to be deceived by such people.
But the spirits of darkness try to tempt the believers to fall into sins by all means possible, and not just with heretical ideas.
They try to cause troubles in the church.
For example, some people receive gifts of prophecy or visions being full of God’s grace. But as time goes, they change their attitude with their selfish desires, and begin to receive the works of Satan.
Some of them form a group that follows them and cause dissensions in the church.
Or, some people come to church to seek financial gain through the church members.
They approach those believers who seem to be rich and have fellowship with them, and stealthily say that they know of a good business opportunity.
They suggest collaboration or say they will give them a significant amount of interest if they invest in that business.
Here, many times they deceive others with sweet words to claim that their temptation is the work of God.
They say things like, “Such an opportunity is not easy to get. I believe God is opening a way for your blessings through me because you have been faithful to God until now.”
“I want to offer this opportunity to you, rather than other people, because you are a believer.” They say something that can actually tempt the others.
Those who are deceiving others are cheating others with personal ulterior motives, but those who are tempted are also deceived because they too have selfish desires.
Those who long for holiness and pray can discern with the truth when others who are of darkness try to deceive them.
By the way, the first part of today’s passage says, “Dear.”
The Bible uses ‘dear’ when it refers to those believers who are faithful and actually live in the truth.
Namely, the advice to discern the spirits is mainly for those workers in the church who have faith rather than novices in faith or those with weak faith.
Those who have faith must be on the alert all the time in the works of the Holy Spirit through continuous prayers.
Furthermore, they have to discern whether or not those who are of darkness are coming into the church.
Namely, they have to examine them with the truth.
Also, they have to teach the weak believers with the truth so that they will never be deceived.
Brothers and sisters, the second part of 1 John 4:1 says, “…because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
Actually, the role of a prophet is to receive the will of God and deliver it to the people.
He must deliver the exact will of God as it is, without adding or subtracting anything.
A true prophet would deliver the will of God as it is, even if it means he will be persecuted or even be killed.
Then, what is a false prophet?
It is those who deceive people by delivering to them what is not God’s will saying it is God’s will.
It is to give a false prophecy in the name of God to seek their own benefits by telling others what they want to hear.
For example, in 1 Kings Chapter 22, King Ahab of Northern Israel gathered many prophets before he went to a war.
He wanted to hear the will of God about the forthcoming war.
Here, 400 prophets prophesied that he would win, but only one prophet, Micaiah prophesied the defeat of Israel.
In the eyes of Micaiah, the other 400 prophets were receiving the work of a deceiving spirit.
Even after hearing all the explanations of Micaiah, King Ahab was angry at hearing that he was going to be defeated, and he put Micaiah in jail.
But the truth cannot be exchanged with falsehood just because Micaiah was put in jail.
Eventually, the army of Israel was defeated, and King Ahab was killed, thereby fulfilling Micaiah’s prophecy.
The true prophet told him the truth, but since King Ahab had stood against God and had accumulated so much evil that he himself abandoned his chance to live.
Not just in this event but throughout the history of Israel there were many false prophets and they gave false prophecies from time to time.
When the Israel transgressed the Law and worshiped idols, God sent true prophets to warn them of judgment and called for repentance.
But the false prophets proclaimed peace and blessings to the kings and people, which was against the will of God.
Even though God was not protecting them and there were many disasters, they said it was not a big deal and there was going to be peace. It was the result of false prophecy which was the opposite of God’s will.
And because Israel listened to such false prophets, they eventually were judged, punished and destroyed.
Brothers and sisters, then, why couldn’t the kings and people of Israel discern the false prophets?
It was because they did not have any willingness in their mind to turn from sins and repent.
To be able to discern whether a word is true or not, one has to check it against the Law of God.
But those who want to follow their own desires and lust will be blinded spiritually.
They feel it is good to hear the false prophets who say what they want to hear, and they don’t like hearing the prophecies of the true prophets who proclaim the truth.
Rather than trying to discern the prophecy within the word of God, they just want to hear the words that fulfill their desires. This is the reason why they are deceived.
There were such false prophets even at the time of Jesus.
They were the high priests and scribes who stood against Jesus.
They did not use the title of prophet, but they received the works from the spirits of darkness and spread the teachings that were against the will of God.
They were the ones who studied the word of God and taught the people.
But they were not interested in the heart and will of God but only in maintaining their interests.
Even when Jesus performed so many signs and wonders, they just thought about their own standpoints rather than seeking the will of God.
Even when Jesus revived Lazarus, who had been dead for four days and had a foul smell, their attitude was the same.
John 11:47-48 says, “Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, ‘What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.'”
Why don’t you just try to use a little common sense to think about this? When they heard of the amazing things, we know that they should have tried to understand the will of God embedded in them.
Also, they should have thought about who Jesus really was, He who was able to perform with the power of God.
But they were not interested in the will of God, but only in the comfortable life they had. They worried only about losing their positions and authority.
Eventually, they incited the people to kill Jesus, and they handed over the sinless Jesus for crucifixion.
The foolish people of that time followed the instigation of the false leaders and later had to suffer a great disaster.
If you look at their history afterwards, as they said, “Let His blood be on us and our children,” not just themselves but also their children had to suffer so much being persecuted and even massacred.
Brothers and sisters, the spirit of darkness that controlled the false prophets tempt the believers of today as well.
After the Lord resurrected and ascended into Heaven, the Holy Spirit came to the children of God.
They can have the assurance of salvation and they can believe and understand the will of God through the work of the spirit of God, namely, the Holy Spirit.
There are many kinds of gifts, too.
But in today’s passage, it says that we should not believe the words of those people who say they have received something from a spirit of God, but we should test whether that spirit is of God.
To test does not mean we have to make a trap or a scheme to test it.
It means we have to check whether or not their words and actions are in accordance with the word of God.
In 1 John we find the criteria to discern the spirits.
It is: Do they live a holy life as brides of the Lord and keep the commandments of God?
Do they dwell in the light, love God, and love the brothers in faith?
We can discern whether a person has received a spirit that is of God or not, when we check his words and actions according to the above criteria.
But the most important criterion among all the other is whether or not the person acknowledges Jesus Christ, who came to this earth about 2,000 years ago, as the only Savior.
Today, the foremost of all works of the spirit of God, namely the Holy Spirit, is to let us believe in the Lord and receive salvation.
On the other hand, the main focus of the spirit that is of darkness is to deceive the people and lead them to deny the Christ by corrupting the way of salvation.
That is why the Bible says it is the spirit of the anti-Christ.
In the next session, we will learn about the spirit of anti-Christ in more detail.
I hope you will always be on the alert to be able to discern between the light and darkness and not listen to any words of temptation.
I pray in the name of the Lord that you will reach the heavenly city by following the guidance of the Holy Spirit only.