Test the Spirits (Part 4)

In previous posts, we began examining the aged apostle John’s command to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1). This is a command for believers to test individuals on their teachings and lifestyles.

There is a need for testing, as we noted last time. But before we dive into the how of testing, we must know the why. John answers that important question when he writes, “for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1b).

That is, there are many false prophets in the world. Now, John wrote this epistle around 90 A.D. (probably a few years before).[1] This would be roughly 60 years after Christ’s ascension (see Acts 1:6-11). Within 60 years, then, false prophets were already abounding in the early church.

You can imagine that things have not gotten any better. They have gotten progressively worse. Paul says as much when he writes to Timothy, “evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13). Why should we test the spirits, John? Because many false prophets have gone out into the world. They abound!

We, as believers, must understand this. While some godly men and women encourage the Church and stand for sound doctrine, many false prophets are seeking to undermine the work of God. John gives us a glimpse into some of the challenges he faced in the first-century church.

For example, apparently some individuals doubted the fact that Jesus had a physical body. At the beginning of his epistle, John focuses on the physical body of Christ. He describes Christ as one “which we have seen with our eyes,” and “which we have looked upon,” and one that they even had contact with when he writes “have touched with our hands” (1 John 1:1). Later in church history, this would become a heresy known as Docetism.[2] There seemed to be those who denied the dangers of sinning (see 1 John 1:5-10). All that is in chapter one!

The present Church faces many of the same challenges. Many of the heresies she fought against are present today. Additionally, there are other challenges the Church faces. Many false prophets are in the world, teaching that the Church must be more like the world, that the Church must stop preaching against sin, and that the Church must be more accepting. That is precisely why we must test the spirits, “for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1b).


[1] Robert W. Yarbrough, “Introduction to 1, 2, & 3 John, in Christopher W. Morgan, Stephen J. Wellum, and Robert A. Peterson, ESV Systematic Theology Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 1573.

[2] If you want to learn more about Docetism, check out these two websites: https://zondervanacademic.com/blog/docetism and https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/docetic-heresy/.

Test the Spirits (Part 3)

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God…” (1 John 4:1, ESV)

After warning believers against a gullible approach to spirits (i.e., teachers), John then commands believers to test the spirits.

The word test is an interesting word packed with meaning.

Ultimately, however, the word means to evaluate. Evaluations are a routine part of life. Employers consistently evaluate their employees with annual evaluations. These are times when managers or supervisors sit down with the employee and discuss their performance at their job. I spent over five years as an Assistant to the Store Manager with Walmart. Though there were challenges, one of my favorite aspects of the work was giving associates evaluations. We would discuss their strengths, their areas of opportunity, and ways to help them develop. Of course, some evaluations were more enjoyable than others. Some had to be encouraged to develop in several areas. One of the tasks of an ASM was to evaluate. The sports world is no stranger to evaluation, either. Athletes are evaluated for their performance. Their statistics are evaluated to see their proficiency in their respective sport. Managers evaluate the effectiveness of coaches. Arm-chair quarterbacks evaluate the passing games of their team’s QB. We need to evaluate. It is a necessity.

Think about heading on a road trip. One of the important steps is to evaluate your motor vehicle to make sure it is running properly and ready for the trek. Doctors evaluate aging individuals for maximum health and to detect any potential health issues.

John tells believers to test, to evaluate, the spirits. This is a command. For the believer, to test or not to test is not the question. Believers must evaluate spirits. I mentioned a few modern heresies (though they are not really modern) in the previous post. That is just one example of why believers need to evaluate the spirits.

Another reason would be to simply look at popular, “Christian” books. CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network) has Jesus Calling by Sarah Young as their number one book they recommend believers purchase. Now, if one were to test Sarah Young’s book, one would find several issues (biblically speaking) with it. Here are a few websites you can check to see why evaluation (testing) is needed for believers.

We do not have an option for testing. We need to test. We must test. Now the question is, “How do we test?” I am glad you asked! You will have to wait until next time to find out (or you could just continue reading 1 John 4:1-6).


For previous entries in this series, see:

Testing the Spirits (Part 1)

Testing the Spirits (Part 2)