For a moment, I want to test your Bible knowledge. Below there are a few phrases, and I want you to guess as to whether it is written in Scripture or not:
- “God helps those who helps themselves.”
- This is actually from Aesop’s Fable, “Hercules and the Waggoner.”
- “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”
- This is actually an ancient proverb that is not in Scripture. It became popular during the revivals of the Victorian era.
- “Hate the sin, love the sinner.”
- Scripture reflects this idea, but this is actually a quote from Mahatma Ghandi in 1929.
- “Money is the root of all evil.”
- 1 Timothy 6:10 actually says, “…for the love of money is the root of all evil.”
- “The lion will lay down with the lamb.”
- While Isaiah tells us that the wolf will dwell with the lamb, Scripture actually does not say that the lion will lay down with the lamb, even though the phrase is used often by preachers today.
In our previous look at 1 John chapter 1, we learned that the Christian faith is a faith that seeks the truth. We should be honest about who we are and what we’ve done without fear of judgment, and we should care for others enough to listen to them without condemning them.
Truth, in the Christian faith, seems to be more than just us being honest about ourselves, though. Truth also means that the Christian seeks to discover the truth about the reality of things. We live in a world where there is a lot of contradictory information around us. Did God use Darwinian evolution to create us, or did He create all the kinds as they are today? Is going to college actually important, or is it not? Does sugar really make people hyper or is that simply a myth? (by the way, it’s a myth, people use it as an excuse to get hyper). We also live in a world where many people are very dogmatic about their beliefs. They defend what they believe to be true without evidence or reason. They make statements similar to, “This is the way it is because it is just that way!” or, “I’m right and you have to see things my way!” My question for us here is, “How does the Christian faith deal with this thing called truth?”
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. But every spirit who does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist; you have heard that he is coming, and he is already in the world now.
You are from God, little children, and you have conquered them, because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world. Therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Anyone who knows God listens to us; anyone who is not from God does not listen to us. From this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deception.
From the beginning of this passage, John exhorts the people not to believe everything that is said, but to test it because there are people who spread false information. Because God is truth and because the Christian faith is a truth seeking faith, we become seekers of truth. This means that true Christians will not assume that they are correct in everything they think and believe. If the Christian is to be a seeker of truth then he simply cannot have all truth. This is part of what it means to be humble. It also means that true Christians, people who have faith in Christ, will test information before accepting it as true.
In 2007 an article emerged that described why Jesus folded his head cloth after being raised from the dead. The article describes a Jewish custom in which the master of the house would fold his napkin before getting up from the dinner table to indicate that he would return. This way the servant would not take up his food. It also mentioned that Christ folded his head cloth following this Jewish custom so that people would be sure that He would return. This article has gotten so popular, in fact I still see someone share it on Facebook every now and then, but it describes a part of Jewish culture that most likely did not exist. There is no evidence to support the story.
This means someone made it up. It is so important for us to test information and discover the truth, even if it means we might be wrong. When we learn something in school, we can test it. When a preacher or teacher makes a truth claim in church, we can test it. When our parents make a claim, we can test it. When we see a claim on social media, we can certainly test it. When our government makes a claim, we can test it. If we refuse to discover the truth, then we show that we do not have complete faith in the God of truth.
We not only test information, but we are also to test spirits. This means we ask, “By what spirit is somebody making a claim?” Is it by the Spirit of God, or is it by the spirit of an antichrist? These are John’s terms.
Here’s what it means: When someone comes to you and claims to have a word from the Lord, or states that something is true of the Christian faith, true of God, or promotes a certain idea; we can actually test it to see if the idea is truly from God. We examine the idea, claim or ‘word from the Lord’ and we ask, “Does this idea promote only Christ, or not?” If an idea speaks against Jesus Christ as Lord, then it’s Biblically not likely to be true.
For example: In most accounts of evolutionary theory, it seems like people are simply trying to put people on the throne by arguing that natural selection has placed them at the top! This is an attempt to put people on the throne in Christ’s place.
If it speaks of Christ plus something else as Lord, then it’s Biblically not likely to be true. If I claim that I must follow certain rules to partake in the Christian faith, then I place myself on the throne with Christ. Christ is the only one who can have the throne, I cannot.
Ideas that are Biblically true have to promote only Christ as Lord.
Finally, John offers us some reassurance. If we have placed our faith in Christ, we already have victory over the false ‘spirits.’ Those who do not know God is in danger of following these false spirits. Those who know God have victory and can test the spirits to see if they are from God or not. To clarify, here: If we test something and see that it is true, then we can believe it. We don’t have to keep questioning something unless we have a reason to revisit it later.
John does not say, here, that Christians will never have a wrong belief. In fact, it sounds like he knows that even Christians are just as susceptible as anyone to believing false information. What we have as Christians is a sure way to test the spirits and see if they are of God. We are encouraged to test all the information handed to us. It is not a requirement, we can believe the wrong stuff if we want to. We must remember that the Christian faith is a faith that seeks the truth because God is the God of truth, and we can always be honest about what we find. We don’t have to fear education or learning because God has given us a way to test the spirits.
True Christian faith promotes being honest and seeking the truth. It does not promote dogmatism and it certainly does not promote hiding from the truth. As people who have faith in Christ, we want to know what is real. Blind faith is not encouraged, but we also don’t have to know everything to have faith in Christ. We can even believe something that is not true and still have faith in Christ, but we always pursue the truth. What we learn of true Christian faith here, is that it encourages people to seek the truth rather than simply telling them what to believe, and that is beautiful.
 1 John 4:1-6 (HCSB)