John’s 10 Test Questions for “the spirits”

John begins chapter 4 of his first epistle by telling the church to test every spirit that teaches.  Up to this point John has shown how BELIEF in certain things demonstrates spiritual maturity. Now, he is going to show how UNBELIEF in certain things also demonstrates spiritual maturity.

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. 4.1

John reminds his the church that we live in a world full of both true and false prophets proclaiming different messages.  And every one of these messengers has a spirit behind them, either the Spirit of God or the Spirit of the Devil; the Spirit of Christ or the Spirit of the Anti-Christ; the Spirit of Truth or the Spirit of Error.  If we are not careful to test these spirits, we may find ourselves devoted to demonic teaching leading us away from God and his people.

The ‘spirits of error’ do not teach nonsense, rather, rather, they teach popular half-truths and lies oppose God and His Word. Beginning with lies about the trustworthiness of God and His Word (See Genesis 3), they continue to lie about Jesus (how we relate to God), Jesus’ bride (how we relate to one another), and Jesus Spirit (How we live and make decisions). Many of us have believed these spirits, because we have refused to test what they are saying.  We have allowed them to shape what we think, feel, and do.  And sadly, when confronted with John’s Scripture, many of us will still refuse to test those spirits we believe with our behavior, because some of the lies we believe feel good and “work” for us right now.  It seems that a a love for truth, which is  a love for Jesus, is just too inconvenient.

Below are 10 test questions that John asks throughout his letters.  There are two answers for each question, one from the Spirit of God and one from the Spirit of the Devil (anti-Christ or error).  As the Holy Spirit does not provide “new” revelation apart from the revealed Word of God, know that there are Bible verses confirming what the Spirit of Truth says.  You can trust me or, search the Scriptures yourself (begin with 1John) so as to start the practice of testing everything you hear.

Q1:  Are the Words of the Bible God’s actual Words?
Spirit of Truth:  The Words of Scripture are the living words of the living God.  To disobey any word of Scripture is to disobey God.  Scripture governs all intellect, emotion, and experience. Spirit of Error: The Bible is full of the words of men that change with culture.  They may be accepted, rejected, or reinterpreted according to suit man’s mind, emotions, or experiences.
Q2: Who is Jesus? What did He say?  What did He do?
Spirit of Truth:  Jesus is the messiah, the eternal Son of God.  He is fully God and fully man, teaching that He was the way, the truth and the life.  Having lived a sinless life he is our righteousness. Having died as our substitute, he is our forgiveness.  Having risen from the dead, He is our victory.  Spirit of Error:  Jesus is only a man, a radical Jew, a wise philosopher, a good moral teacher, and one who lived a life of service to many, and died as an example of humility and did not rise again.
Q3:  What is sin? Am I a sinner?
Spirit of Truth:  Sin is lawlessness, the result of our parent’s rebellion against God and rejection of His Word.   It is an internal problem of the heart; I am a sinner by nature and by choice. All that is me, my intellect, emotion, is totally depraved, and I will continue to fight against my sinful flesh until I die.  Spirit of Error:  You are a good person.  Sin is a temporary state of mind used by religious zealots to explain their bad choices. Our brokenness does not come from rebellion against God, but as a result of negative external influences such as bad parents, bad education, bad movies, bad music, etc.
Q4: How is my sin problem fixed?
Spirit of Truth:  I am enslaved to sin and cannot free myself.  Sin is removed and my relationship with God restored only through confession and accepting the free gift of forgiveness which comes through the blood of Jesus. Meaning, purpose and joy come through the worship of Jesus.  Spirit of Error:  Salvation from “sin” is fixed through any number of means to manage residue from bad experiences including, but no limited to: pills, books, counseling, positive thinking, working hard to do good,  or living for any number of various causes in which I can find meaning, purpose, and joy.
Q5: Does obedience matter?
Spirit of Truth: Yes. We live a life of repentance—of loving Jesus more and loving sin less.  Those who love Jesus delight in obeying His commands.  Our obedience is not merit to be accepted, rather, the natural response of one who is already loved and accepted. Freed from our selfishness and slavery to sin, I am not free to serve Him with all that I have because He gave all He had for me.  If I am faithless He is still faithful.  Spirit of Error. Yes and No.  No, in that I can do whatever I want, when I want, because I am forgiven and have fire insurance. God doesn’t care what I do as long as I have prayed the prayer.Yes, in that, if I don’t obey then God will no longer love me and he will reject me. If I am faithless, so is He.
Q6: Do I need the church?  Does the church need me?
Spirit of Truth:  Yes.  The church is not an addendum to, but part of God’s salvation.  Faith in Jesus adopts me into God’s family. In this family, I grow, serve, and exercise my gifts to help build a Gospel Community.  Together, we live out the Great Commandment as we fulfill the Great Commission. The Gospel Community is essential to my spiritual maturity; it nourishes me, protects me, and helps sanctify me.  Spirit of Error:  No.  The church is an institution invented by men to help people.  It is a place to meet our needs.  Moreover, it is an optional event we can attend once a week to be “fed” by the pastor.   The best churches try not to be too sacred or religious, rather, they focus entertaining music, cool aesthetics, exciting programs, and good coffee.  Most churches are corrupt and only benefit a few lonely people.
Q7:  How am I to treat my brother?
Spirit of Truth:  I am to love by brother as Christ loved and served me. It is a command from Jesus.  Like Jesus, I am to have concern for the interests of my brother before my own in all humility.  I am to be close enough to see and know my brother’s need, then serve and sacrifice to meet that need..  Spirit of Error:  I am to love or hate my brother depending on how it best serves me. I have no real obligations and only sacrifice if I can predict how doing so might benefit it.  I must love myself before all others, looking out for my own interests, comfort, and treasure.
Q8: How am I to treat my neighbor (the world)?
Spirit of Truth:   I am to love my neighbor.  I am to love my enemies and I am to love the world just as Jesus did.  I am to love them by praying for them, I am to love them by meeting their needs, and by I am to love them by proclaiming the truth of God’s love to them.  Spirit of Error:  I don’t know who my neighbor is….OR…I should separate from the world completely so I don’t catch their “sin” (see Q3).  Moreover, I need to actively hate the sin of the world and condemn as many sinners as I can…OR…I should immerse myself deeply into a rebellious world and make friends  The best way to love them is to have a tolerant relationship with them.  Rarely, if ever, should I speak about the truth to God’s love.
Q9: How am I to live and make decisions?
Spirit of Truth:  I am to live for the glory of God, like Jesus, a life of self-denial.  I make decisions by reading God’s Word and depending on the Holy Spirit for understanding what it says.  By submitting my thoughts, feelings, and experiences to the revealed will of God, even if it confuses, inconveniences, or offends my will.  Spirit of Error:  I live for my own glory, whether that is through self-righteousness or self-indulgence.  I made decisions by determining what makes sense to me, what feels good, and what validates my own experiences. Right, wrong, good, bad, wise, and foolish is dictated by what is convenient, comfortable, and compatible with what I already want to do, feel, or think.
Q10:  Where is my hope?
Spirit of Truth:  The Gospel of Jesus.  Namely, live in prosperity or poverty, trusting in the sovereignty of God, the power of the resurrection, and the promised return of Jesus to restore all things.  Spirit of Error:  My Gospel—whatever is good news to me. Namely, some version of living a successful, comfortable, satisfying life in the eyes of the world, for myself and my family, until I die.

Author: Sam Ford

Sam Ford is a preacher, planter, and pastor from the Pacific Northwest. He is currently pastoring Restoration Road Church in Snohomish, WA.

One thought on “John’s 10 Test Questions for “the spirits””

  1. We are constantly being bombarded by lies and half-truths. It’s amazing that we can function as a country and culture. I wish I had my notes (I’m not at home) from the sermon but I recall writing something about ‘Spirits = Ideas’. These ideas that we choose to believe have a huge impact on our behaviour. Not only should we be concerned with ‘Gospel Truth’, which I adamantly support, but also with every other lie that is being told. We cannot forget that the believing of lies led to the death of millions in the last century.

    Oh BTW, my kids loved the ‘Crap Detector’. They got that much.


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