Testing the Spirits: Discerning Truth from Deception

Becoming Like Jesus  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  37:14
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Good afternoon! Hope everyone is staying healthy this weekend especially considering all of the smoke that was in the air. I know that we have people who suffer from COPD or Asthma and it was particularly difficult on those groups.
Let me ask you a question. Have you ever found yourself standing at a crossroads, unsure of which path to take? In a world filled with diverse teachings, conflicting messages, and countless sources of influence, discerning the truth can feel like searching for a needle in a haystack. The quest for discernment is not a mere intellectual exercise but a spiritual necessity, for our beliefs shape our lives, and what we believe ultimately determines our eternal destiny.
Today, we are going to be looking at a passage of Scripture found in First John. In this letter, the apostle John addresses a community that is grappling with the challenges of false teachings and deceptive spirits. Their faith is under siege, and the very foundations of truth are being shaken. It is in this context that John exhorts his readers to test the spirits, to discern truth from falsehood, and to stand firm in the confession of Jesus Christ come in the flesh.
My hope for us today is to reflect on the significance of discernment in our lives as believers. John beckons us to a renewed commitment to seeking discernment, not only within the walls of the church but also within the broader culture that surrounds us. We are called to evaluate every source of influence and scrutinize the teachings we encounter, ensuring they align with the infallible truth of God's Word.
In a world where half-truths and distorted ideas abound, it becomes so important for us to ask ourselves: Are the teachings we embrace grounded in biblical truth? Do they affirm the essential aspects of the gospel, including the confession of Jesus Christ come in the flesh? Are we cautious of teachings that distort or deny the very core of our faith?
The most amazing part of our time together today is that we do not embark on this journey of discernment alone. The Holy Spirit, the very Spirit of truth, has been graciously given to us as believers. He indwells us, empowers us, and guides us into all truth. As we navigate the complexities of this world, we must trust in the Spirit's guidance, relying on His wisdom, understanding, and illumination.
Today, I hope that we might renew our commitment to seeking discernment. Actively testing the teachings and messages we encounter, and comparing them to the unchanging truth of God's Word. I hope that we will become diligent in seeking discernment through prayer, studying Scripture, and seeking guidance from mature believers. And above all, we will need to learn to trust in the work of the Holy Spirit, who empowers us to discern truth from falsehood and guides us into the abundant life found in Christ Jesus.
John begins in verse one and he addresses his readers with affection when he writes.
1 John 4:1 ESV
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
In this passage, John highlights the importance of discernment in our walk with Christ. It is crucial for us to cultivate a discerning spirit, for not every spirit claiming to be from God truly represents Him.
Believing every spirit would reveal a certain gullibility, as not all who profess to speak in God's name do so with sincerity and truth. Our faith demands a discerning mindset, a careful evaluation of the spirits that surround us. Why? Because there are false prophets who have infiltrated the world, spreading deceptive teachings that lead people astray.
To test the spirits means to subject their claims, teachings, and actions to thorough examination. We are called to discern whether they align with God's truth or carry the taint of deception. John lovingly warns us against the dangers of blind acceptance, urging us to exercise discernment in the face of spiritual voices.
These false prophets, as John mentions, have gone out into the world, masquerading as genuine representatives of God. They wear the disguise of righteousness but harbor destructive intentions. Their teachings conflict with the foundational truths of the Gospel, seeking to undermine the faith of believers.
As we navigate a world filled with diverse voices and ideas, we are called to be discerning disciples of Christ. Our discernment is not rooted in skepticism or fear but in a deep love for the truth of God's Word.
In our pursuit of discernment, John provides us with a test, a means by which we can discern those who are from God and those who are not. This test revolves around the confession concerning Jesus Christ, the Son of God who came in the flesh.
In verse two we read
1 John 4:2 ESV
By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,
It is through this confession that we identify those who are truly taught by the Spirit of God. The acknowledgment of Jesus Christ as the incarnate Son of God is crucial, for it affirms His divine nature taking on human form.
Conversely, the test states in the first part of verse three.
1 John 4:3 (ESV)
and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.
Those who deny or reject the reality of Christ's incarnation reveal that they are not of God. Their teaching undermines the significance of Christ's humanity and the redemptive work He accomplished in the flesh.
It's important to understand that the confession of Jesus Christ goes beyond recognizing the historical fact of His coming. It signifies the acceptance of His status as the Son of God, who humbled Himself to take on human form. The secessionists, whom John addresses, denied the reality of Christ's humanity and the significance of His sacrificial work.
This test serves as a powerful indicator of whether someone is aligned with God's truth or has deviated into false teachings. The content of what is taught is of utmost importance. Just as in the warnings about false prophets in the Old Testament and early Christian writings, the teachings of individuals play a significant role in discerning their authenticity.
As we encounter various teachings and spiritual influences, we need to discern whether they acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Son of God who came in the flesh.
The denial of Christ's incarnation by the secessionists not only reveals their deviation from the truth but also indicates the spirit by which they were speaking. John writes in the remainder of verse three.
1 John 4:3 (ESV)
This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
In earlier sermons from our series, we encountered the concept of the antichrist as found in various early Christian traditions. It distinguishes between the great antichrist figure who will emerge near the end of the age and lesser antichrist figures whose influence is already being felt. This tension reflects the end times perspective of the early Church, what is referred to as the "already but not yet" tension. What this says is that the prophecy of the antichrist is already being fulfilled. But it is not yet fully realized. It is in the end times that the final fulfillment of the coming of the antichrist will be revealed and experienced. There is already a partial fulfillment of the prophecy but not yet a complete fulfillment of the prophecy.
In our passage, the secessionists are identified as being activated by the spirit of the antichrist per se. The readers had already heard about the coming of this spirit, as it was part of the common teaching circulating among early Christians. The spirit of antichrist is not some distant future reality, but it is "now in the world already," actively at work.
The aim of the antichrist spirit is deception, seeking to lead people astray by denying the truth about Jesus Christ. Within the context of 1 John, the particular denial centers on the true humanity of Christ, that Jesus is the Christ who has come in the flesh. By denying the reality of Christ's incarnation, the antichrist seeks to undermine the core foundation of our faith.
We need to always be aware of the workings of the spirit of antichrist, for it is present in the world today. It manifests itself in false teachings and deceptive ideas that distort the truth of Jesus Christ. We must be vigilant, holding firm to the truth of Christ's incarnation and the fullness of His divinity and humanity.
We need to ensure that we are not swayed by the voices of deception, but rather, we need to cling to the Word of God and the teachings of the apostles. By grounding ourselves in the truth, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we can discern the spirit of antichrist and remain steadfast in our faith.
Amidst the challenges posed by the spirit of antichrist and the deceptive teachings of the secessionists, John seeks to uplift and encourage his readers. He addresses them as "little children" (teknia), a term of endearment used seven times in this letter, signaling the importance of what he is about to convey. He wants them to know that they are from God, that they are children of God who have been born of Him through their confession of Jesus come in the flesh.
And so John writes in verse four.
1 John 4:4 ESV
Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
This truth resonates within our hearts: You are from God. By acknowledging and affirming the reality of Christ's incarnation, you demonstrate your identity as children of the Most High. You have been born of God, born into His family, and bear the mark of His divine lineage.
Moreover, John reminds his readers that they have overcome the secessionists. The secessionists sought to deceive and lead astray, denying the truth of Christ's incarnation. Yet, you have triumphed over them. Your victory lies not in your own strength or wisdom, but in the One who is in you. The Spirit of God who indwells you is greater than the spirit of antichrist that operates in the world.
Take comfort in this truth. The power of the Spirit within you surpasses any opposing force in the world. The spirit of antichrist may be active, but it cannot prevail against the Spirit of God. The secessionists may have left the community of believers and aligned themselves with the world, but their teachings hold no sway over you.
For the one who is in you, the Spirit of God, is mightier than the one who is in the world. The spirit of antichrist finds its alignment with the prince of this world, the evil one who seeks to deceive and to destroy. But fear not, for you are guarded by the power and presence of God's Spirit. He empowers you to discern falsehood and reject false teachings.
Believers throughout the ages have found assurance and strength in the Spirit's indwelling presence. And just as John reassured his readers, we too can trust that our spiritual security rests upon the work of the Spirit within us. No power, no deception, and no force can dismantle or negate what God has accomplished through His Spirit in us.
We now come across a clear description of those whom John refers to as "them." These are the secessionists, the ones who have departed from the community of believers and embraced the world's perspective. John writes.
1 John 4:5 ESV
They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them.
The secessionists, having separated themselves from the church, have aligned themselves with the world. Their departure signifies more than a physical relocation; it is a spiritual shift that places them in opposition to the gospel. By rejecting the message they once heard and turning away from the truth, they have cast their lot with the world and its values.
When the secessionists speak, they do so from the viewpoint of the world. Their teachings are not grounded in the original gospel message they once embraced, but rather in worldly, secular ideas. They may cloak their words in religious and philosophical language, but at their core, they are shaped by the values and perspectives of the world.
It is no surprise, then, that the world listens to them. The world, which is in alignment with their distorted views and philosophies, finds their teachings agreeable. The secessionists' message resonates with those who are immersed in the ways of the world, for it caters to their desires and affirms their preconceived notions.
We need to ensure that we are not swayed by the allure of the world's voice. We must be discerning and wise, recognizing that the secessionists and their teachings do not align with the truth of the gospel. Their words may carry an air of popularity, but popularity does not equate to truth. The world's applause should not dictate our convictions.
We are called to a higher standard, anchored in the unchanging truth of God's Word. We must resist the temptation to conform to the world's ideas and instead stand firm on the foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our message, our beliefs, and our values should be shaped by the timeless wisdom of Scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit.
As we navigate a world that often opposes the truth, we will often times need to live counter-culturally, guided by the Spirit and grounded in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Though the world may listen to the voices of the secessionists and embrace their teachings, we are called to listen to the voice of God and faithfully proclaim His truth.
In the next verse, John makes a clear distinction between those who are from God and those who are not. John writes.
1 John 4:6 ESV
We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Here, John refers to himself, his community, and his readers as those who are from God. They are united in their shared faith and adherence to the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The secessionists, on the other hand, are not from God but rather from the world. They speak from the viewpoint of the world, and as we learned earlier, the world listens to them. However, those who truly know God, who have a genuine relationship with Him, will listen to John and his community. Their ears are attuned to the voice of truth and their hearts are receptive to the teachings grounded in the gospel.
Conversely, those who are not from God, who do not have a genuine connection with Him, will not listen to John and his community. Their rejection of the gospel message is a reflection of their spiritual state. It is not surprising if the secessionists and others who are not from God do not give a hearing to the original gospel proclaimed by believers.
In this context, John reiterates the purpose of this passage, stating: "This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood." The testing of spirits, distinguishing between the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood, is essential in discerning the authenticity of teachings and the origins of those who propagate them.
We need to understand the significance of discernment in our own lives. In a world filled with various teachings and ideas, we must diligently test the spirits and ensure that we align ourselves with the Spirit of truth. We are called to listen attentively to the voice of God, as revealed through Scripture, and to those who faithfully proclaim His Word.

So What?

I have three points of application that I want to stress today.
The first of these is our need to seek discernment.

Seek Discernment

Todays passage reminds us of the critical need for discernment in our lives as followers of Christ. We live in a world inundated with various teachings and messages that can easily lead us astray if we do not exercise caution and wisdom. The call to seek discernment goes beyond our interactions within the church; it extends to the broader cultural influences that surround us daily as well.
As we navigate the vast sea of ideas, philosophies, and beliefs, it becomes crucial for us to actively test and evaluate them against the unchanging truth of God's Word. The Scriptures serve as our anchor, providing the ultimate standard against which all teachings must be measured. It is not enough for us to passively accept everything we hear or see, but rather, we are called to be diligent in examining and scrutinizing each message that comes our way.
In order to cultivate discernment, we must be people of prayer. Through prayer, we invite the Holy Spirit to guide us, enlighten our minds, and sharpen our spiritual senses. As we spend time with God in prayer, we open ourselves to His leading and ask Him to grant us wisdom and insight in distinguishing truth from falsehood. We must never underestimate the power of prayer in seeking discernment.
Additionally, the diligent study of Scripture is a crucial component of our quest for discernment. Regular engagement with God's Word allows us to develop a deep familiarity with its teachings, principles, and truths. By immersing ourselves in the Scriptures, we become equipped to recognize when a teaching aligns with the revealed Word of God or deviates from it. We need to commit ourselves to consistent and intentional study of Scripture, allowing its truth to shape our minds and hearts.
Finally, seeking guidance from mature believers is an invaluable resource on our journey of discernment. God has graciously placed wise and experienced individuals within our church who can provide valuable insights and perspectives. Their wisdom, gained through their own experiences and study of God's Word, can serve as a guiding light to us. We need to be willing to seek out the counsel of trusted mentors, pastors, and fellow believers, knowing that God often works through the community of faith to reveal His truth.
Listen, the world we inhabit is filled with a myriad of voices, each vying for our attention and allegiance. As followers of Christ, we are called to be discerning, actively testing and comparing the messages we encounter against the unchanging truth of God's Word. We must never settle for spiritual complacency or gullibility, but instead, we need to diligently seek discernment through prayer, Scripture study, and seeking guidance from mature believers. In doing so, we guard our hearts and minds, ensuring that we remain firmly rooted in the truth and walk in alignment with God's will.
The second point that I want to make is that simply gaining discernment does us no good unless we are willing to take the time and evaluate every source of influence in our lives.

Evaluate Sources of Influence

We live in an age where information and spiritual input are readily accessible from various platforms, making it crucial for us to exercise caution and discernment regarding the sources we engage with.
In this digital age, we encounter a vast array of spiritual teachings, ideas, and worldviews that vie for our attention. Therefore, it becomes imperative for us to evaluate each source based on its adherence to biblical truth. We must ask ourselves: Do these teachings align with the confession that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh? Do they affirm the essential aspects of the gospel?
The apostle John, in his letter, warns us about teachings that distort or deny the core truths of our faith. Just as the secessionists in his time denied the true humanity of Christ, we too must be cautious of teachings that compromise or distort the foundational elements of the gospel. We must always be on guard against any message that undermines the deity of Christ, His redemptive work on the cross, or the authority of Scripture.
To safeguard ourselves from such false teachings, we must surround ourselves with fellow believers, teachers, and resources that faithfully proclaim the truth of God's Word. We should engage with reliable Christian authors, theologians, and pastors who consistently uphold biblical truth. We should surround ourselves with a community of believers who encourage and challenge us to grow in our understanding of God's Word.
In our quest for discernment, We must also be mindful of the influence of secular culture. While it is important to engage with the world around us and be salt and light in our communities, we must do so with discernment. The values, philosophies, and ideas of the world often stand in stark contrast to the truths of Scripture. Therefore, let us critically evaluate cultural messages through the lens of God's Word, being careful not to compromise our faith for the sake of cultural acceptance.
As disciples of Christ, we are called to be discerning in every aspect of our lives, including the sources of spiritual input we engage with. We must be diligent in evaluating the teachings we encounter, ensuring they align with the confession of Jesus Christ come in the flesh and the unchanging truths of the gospel. And we need to surround ourselves with teachers and resources that faithfully proclaim the Word of God, helping us grow in our understanding and application of biblical truth.
Finally, I want to stress the indispensable role of the Holy Spirit in guiding and empowering us to discern Truth from falsehood.

Trust The Spirit to Guide

John reminds us that we are not left to navigate the complexities of this world on our own, for the Spirit of God dwells within us.
The Holy Spirit, the very presence of God in our lives, is our divine Helper, Teacher, and Guide. He is the one who enables us to discern the truth and distinguish it from deception. As believers, we have been given the incredible privilege of having the Spirit of God indwelling us, illuminating our hearts and minds to understand the depths of God's Word and leading us into all truth.
In our pursuit of discernment, we need to learn to lean on the Holy Spirit for guidance, wisdom, and understanding. It is the Spirit who opens our eyes to the truths of Scripture, convicts us of error, and empowers us to walk in alignment with God's will. Without the Spirit's illumination, we are prone to confusion and susceptible to the deceitful teachings of the world.
We must be intentional in inviting the Holy Spirit to illuminate our minds and hearts as we engage with different teachings and navigate spiritual challenges. In times of uncertainty, we should pause and seek the Spirit's guidance through prayer, inviting Him to reveal truth, expose falsehood, and grant us discernment. We need to learn to rely on His leading and trust in His ability to guide us into all truth.
As we immerse ourselves in the study of God's Word, We should invite the Holy Spirit to be our Teacher and illuminate the Scriptures, enabling us to grasp their deep meaning and apply them to our lives. Through prayer and dependence on the Spirit, we can develop a sensitivity to His leading, allowing Him to shape our thoughts, convictions, and actions.
My prayer is that we would never underestimate the power and presence of the Holy Spirit within us. We need to learn to trust in His guidance, rely on His wisdom, and lean on His understanding. As we navigate the vast sea of teachings and ideas, we need to allow the Holy Spirit to be our compass, directing us toward the unchanging truth of God's Word.
And this can be done through the cultivation of a vibrant relationship with the Spirit, constantly seeking His counsel and surrendering our hearts to His transformative work. When we do this, we will be equipped to discern truth from falsehood, to live in alignment with God's will, and to be faithful witnesses of Christ's love and truth in the world.
We started today by acknowledging the overwhelming nature of the world's teachings, the clash of conflicting messages, and the importance of seeking truth in the midst of it all.
In the passage we explored today from the First Epistle of John, we discovered the apostle's call to test the spirits, to evaluate every source of influence, and to discern truth from falsehood. We emphasized the need to consider the teachings we encounter, ensuring they align with the unchanging truth of God's Word and the confession of Jesus Christ come in the flesh. And we were reminded of the significance of surrounding ourselves with a community of believers, teachers, and resources that faithfully proclaim the truth.
But amidst all our efforts, we must remember that true discernment is not solely a product of our intellect or our own abilities. It is a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit within us. We have been reminded that the Spirit of truth indwells us, guiding us, empowering us, and illuminating our hears and minds. As we invite the Spirit to work in and through us, we can trust that He will lead us into all truth, giving us the discernment we need to navigate the complexities of life.
My hope for us today is that we would go forth from this place with renewed determination that we might be a people marked by discernment, not just within the walls of our church, but within every aspect of our lives. That we would be vigilant in evaluating the teachings and messages we encounter, both within the church and within the broader culture. The we would we be intentional in surrounding ourselves with influences that align with the truth of God's Word. And that we might continually rely on the Holy Spirit for guidance, wisdom, and understanding.
Remember, the quest for discernment is not an isolated endeavor; it is a journey we undertake together as a Church. As such, we need to support and encourage one another in our pursuit of truth, always pointing each other back to the unchanging Word of God.
As we leave today I hope that our hearts burn with a passion for discernment. That our minds be renewed by the truth of Scripture. And that our lives be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us go forth as beacons of discernment in a world desperate for the light of Christ.
May the words of the apostle John resonate within us: "We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us" (1 John 4:6a). May we listen attentively, discern wisely, and live faithfully as those who know the one true God.
Amen.
Let us pray.
O Lord God,
As we conclude our time together, we come before You in gratitude and humility. We thank You for the precious truths we have gleaned from Your Word today. We acknowledge that discernment is a gift from You, a gift we desperately need in a world filled with confusion and deception.
Lord, we recognize that our own wisdom and understanding are limited. We confess that we often fall prey to the allure of worldly teachings and the distortion of truth. But today, we are reminded that Your Spirit indwells us, guiding us into all truth. We thank You for the Holy Spirit's presence within us, for His power and wisdom that surpasses our own.
Father, we pray that You would grant us the strength and diligence to evaluate every source of influence in our lives. Help us to discern the teachings that align with Your Word and those that distort or deny essential aspects of the gospel. Lead us to surround ourselves with fellow believers, teachers, and resources that faithfully proclaim Your truth.
Holy Spirit, we invite You to continue working in our hearts and minds. Illuminate our understanding as we engage with different teachings and navigate spiritual challenges. Grant us discernment in our daily decisions, relationships, and pursuits. Fill us with Your wisdom, that we may walk in the paths of righteousness and avoid the pitfalls of deception.
Lord, we pray for unity among Your people. Help us to come alongside one another, supporting and encouraging each other in our quest for discernment. May we be a community that cherishes and upholds the truth, pointing one another back to Your unchanging Word.
Finally, we ask for Your grace to sustain us on this journey of discernment. May the lessons we have learned today not remain mere words, but may they transform us from within. Equip us to be beacons of light and discernment in a world that so desperately needs Your truth.
We commit ourselves to You, O Lord, and we trust in Your faithfulness. Guide us, protect us, and empower us to walk in discernment all the days of our lives.
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
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