How to test the spirits

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“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.” 1 John 4:1 (ESV)

At Grace City Church we are preaching through the book of 1 John.  Here are some thoughts from this past Sunday’s message on “Testing the spirits”:

  • False prophets and false teachers are not only an ancient problem; they exist today.
  • We test the spirits by examining what is being said, not how it’s being said.  Listen to the content of the message not the style of the message.  Humor, story-telling, voice inflection are part of oratory, but that’s not what is primary.

Here’s the test in order to discern between the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error:  

The Spirit of God leads you to Christ (truth), the spirit of the antichrist leads you away from Christ, and to yourself (error).

  • False teachers come from within the church (1 John 2:18,19) and from within the pastors/elders (Acts 20:29).  That is, they most often won’t be very obvious.
  • In fact, false teachers are almost always sincere, and not acting out of maliciousness. They even affirm the gospel of Christ and the bible as God’s Word.
  • However, false teachers lead you away from Christ and to yourself by making ‘you’ the point of Scripture rather than Christ.  In other words, they make the bible a manual for living an idealized life rather than a revelation of Christ.
  • When a transformed life is the goal (better relationships, missional living, living cleaner lives, etc.), Jesus is eventually reduced to someone who simply powers you up for life’s journey like an energy drink.

If your greatest problem is unrealized potential and unfulfilled destiny, then you don’t need a crucified Christ.

  • Let’s face it: there are many people living at full potential and purpose who want nothing to do with God.
  • There are many people who have good marriages, good kids, good friendships, use their resources and influence for good, have recovered from addiction, and who feel very fulfilled in life, and yet reject any notion of God or religion.
  • On the contrary, if our greatest problem is sin, and our greatest hope is restoration, then our greatest need is redemption, not transformation.  And in order to get redemption you need a Redeemer.  Transformation is a by-product of our redemption. (by the way, our transformation will be complete at our restoration.)
  • The world is full of weary Christians who are exhausted because they cannot fight their giants like David, or have faith like Noah, or step out of their boats like Peter. And when these burdened brothers and sisters show up to church on Sunday, they are further weighed down with do-more, try-harder messages.
  • What we need to hear from our pulpits is Christ’s invitation to rest in our redemption.  Rest.  We don’t need principles of rest, we need the Person of rest – Jesus is our Sabbath.
  • Remember, the Spirit of God will lead you into all truth (John 16:13), except truth is a Person (John 14:6), not a principle.
  • In the end, when you test the spirits, ask yourself: “Is my heart full of Christ and all that he has done, or are my arms full of me and all that I’m to do?”
  • Are you being led away from Christ, and to yourself, or are you being led to Christ?
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