Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error (1 John 4:1-6).
The word “try” in the phrase “try the spirits” carries the following meaning: “to test, examine, prove, scrutinize (to see whether a thing is genuine or not), as metals “(KJV w/ Strongs).
It is important to notice that the apostle John is not speaking of simply examining a “certain view” concerning matters that do not change one’s faith in Christ. He is speaking specifically about “trying the spirits,” and in verse six we see that we are to try the spirits so that we can discern between the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
I find it interesting that the spirit of error of which He speaks is associated with those claim to be prophets “because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” The Bible also warns of false pastors (John 10), false apostles (2Corinthians 11), and false teachers (2 Peter 2). As we examine the scriptures closely, we see that there are some things that all false ministers have in common:
- They lead sincere people away from the truth in Jesus.
- They draw attention to themselves.
- There is a love for money that drives them.
- They focus more on worldly things than on eternal truth.
There are, however, true ministers including prophets who are sent by God with the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon them to testify of Jesus. All true ministers are first and foremost preachers or teachers of the word of God. Their aim is to glorify Christ to those to whom God has sent them.
Yet many today are placing more emphasis on what they call their anointing than they are on Jesus, speaking much about their anointing and promoting men. Yet the true anointing of God is centered in Jesus (1 John 2:27) and one anointed of the Holy Ghost cannot help but glorify Christ – “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ” (Acts 5:42).
The Bible is full of examples of truly anointed servants of God. John the Baptist is one such example. The Bible tells us that he was filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb. One can readily see from the scriptures that John did not come testifying of Himself.
When asked if He was the Christ, John the Baptist replied by saying, “I am not the Christ.” John’s declaration of himself was simply that, he was sent to bear witness and testify of Him who is the Christ, Jesus the Son of God.
“I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God” (John 1:34).
“Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples; And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God! And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus” (John 1:35-37).
The mark of one truly anointed of God is that he leads men to follow Jesus.
In our opening text, the Apostle John tells us, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God.” He then gives us the standard by which we are to try or test the spirits – “Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God.”
But what does he mean by confessing that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh? Is it merely an acknowledgment of the historical person of Jesus Christ or is it more than that? This question will be answered as we examine thoroughly what is expressed in the statement “Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.”
Intertwined in the three epistles of the apostle John are both the warnings of deceivers and the exhortations to continue in Christ.
If we look closely at John’s words here chapter 4. and consider them within the context of the entire epistle, it becomes much clearer as to what he means.
First, notice the comparison between 1 John 2:18 and 1 John 4:3
1 John 2:18 – Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.
1 John 4: 3 – And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.
It is also interesting to notice the similarly between 1 John 2:19 and 1John 4:1.
1 John 2:19 – They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
1 John 4:1 – Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
Now, notice John’s words in 1 John 2:20-23:
But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth. Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also. (1 John 2:18-23)
In verse 22 John asks the question, “Who is a liar? His answer then follows: “he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ.” Next, he qualifies what he has just stated by saying, “he is antichrist that denieth the Father and the Son.”
The liar of whom he refers to in the first half of the verse is in the second half called antichrist. Therefore “denying that Jesus is the Christ, is defined by the apostle John as denying the Father and the Son.
Simply put, denying that Jesus is the Christ, is denying that Jesus is the Son of God. Denying that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is denying that the Son of God was manifested in the flesh. Hence, those who are of God preach and teach the message of Son of God who came in the in the flesh.
In verse 23 he sums it up by saying, “Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.” The confession that Jesus is the Christ is synonymous with declaring him to be the Son of God. And by this confession- Jesus Christ is the Son of God, we know the true God and those who are of the true God.
The confession of Christ coming in the flesh is much more than a simple acknowledge of Jesus or mention of his name in an effort to place credibility on ones ministry. The confession to which the apostle John refers is the very Spirit of the message being put forth. Those who are of God declare the truth in such a way that the very spirit of what they say draws men to the Son of God and Him only.
Later in 1 John 4 the apostle John expounds more fully on this confession of the Lord Jesus saying. “And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.”
False ministers do not testify of the Son of God. They may speak about the glory, miracles, God doing a new thing, spiritual experiences, and every other use of terms which will tickle men’s ears and feed the lust of the flesh, but they will not testify of the Son because God has not sent them.
Jesus said “He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him” (John 7:18).
The joy and delight of one truly sent of God is to testify of the Son through who only the Father can be known. There is no word, no revelation, and no truth from God the Father except that it is revealed through the Son. God speaks to us by His Son and in no other way.
Jesus said my sheep here my voice. The voice of the Savor is not drawing attention to men and exalting them. The voice of the Savor is drawing men to the Father. And no man has the Father without the Son.
And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life (1 John 5:20).
Notice also, the two ways in which the apostle John describes those who are not of the truth. In 1 John 2, he describes their message as denying Jesus Christ is the Son of God and chapter four he says they confess not Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.
In 2 John, he again speaks about those who are not true ministers:
For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward. Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that ABIDETH in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds. (2 John 7-11)
Notice the similarity to John’s words in each of His epistles. A true prophet or messenger comes bringing the message of Christ. Let me say that again. A true prophet or messenger comes bringing the message of Christ. A false prophet or messenger may talk about Christ, but Christ is only a side issue; he or she has other intentions. A true minister walks in the Spirit of Truth and Jesus said the Spirit of Truth would testify of Him (John 15:26).
What specifically then is the message of those who do not walk in the truth and who do not bring the doctrine of Christ. Both 1 John 2 and 1 John 4 give us a clear answer to this question
In the three verses just prior to addressing the many antichrists in 1 John 2, he says the following:
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever (1 John 2:15-17).
In 1 John 4:5 he uses the same decription in speaking of false prophets – “They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.”
There is no harmony between the truth of Christ and the deception of the world, neither is there any harmony between the will of God and the lust of the flesh. False ministers are of the world and appeal to the lust of the flesh.
This is the subtle work of spirit of error which creeps in and teaches men to desire the things of the world rather than the truth of the will of God which cannot be known apart from conformity to Christ.
Please understand that recognizing the spirit of error is not always obvious. If it were, there would be no need to be warned. On the surface, deception looks and sounds like the real thing. Yet, at its root, it is another spirit. There is only one God and His Spirit brings honor, glory, and praise to the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Spirit of God will lead men to the Cross and into conformity with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection so that God may be glorified in them. When the message of the cross is absent, watch out!
False prophets will not bring men to the cross, but the Spirit of God will – “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Galatians 6:14).
Remember: Every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God! They may talk about God, the glory, supernatural experiences, angelic visitations, even healing and miracles, but the true Holy Spirit always glorifies Jesus Christ.