TESTING THE SPIRITS
The Bible gives many keys to understanding how to test the spirits in order to determine if a person, spirit, or influence is good or evil. Because almost all opposition to the Father, Jesus Christ, and the children of God comes from the influence of evil spirits, it is extremely important for God’s elect to be able to discern the difference between a good and an evil spiritual influence (1 Cor 2:11-16).
This study shows many of the keys to testing a spiritual influence in order to determine if it is good or evil. Moreover, this study shows how to use these keys to resist and overcome an evil influence.
Some people believe that a pleasant or benign supernatural experience is a confirmation of their belief system and that such experiences are from the true God. Moreover, because no physical harm came to them during the experience, they believe that they are in no danger.
Although a religious or supernatural experience may be pleasant and seemingly harmless, it is very dangerous to automatically assume that the experience is from the true God or one of his servants. Just because one feels that one has had a supernatural experience such as a dream, a vision, the appearance of an apparition, the hearing of a disembodied voice, or some other unexplained experience with religious implications, it does not mean that the experience is from the true God or one of his servants. The word of God clearly says to test the spirits to see if they are of God or not.
Gideon Tests the Spirit
Gideon is mentioned in the Book of Hebrews chapter 11 as one of the faithful who have obtained salvation and will be included in the first resurrection (Heb 11:32-33, 39). Gideon was not a novice in the worship of God; he understood who God was, how he was to be worshiped, and God’s promises to Israel. Gideon was well grounded in his faith relationship with God, yet he questioned the validity of the message sent to him by God through a spirit-being. See Jdg 6:11-40.
The account of Gideon shows that the true God does not condemn those who are suspicious of supernatural experiences and question their source.
A Serious Warning
The apostle John gave an extremely serious warning to the elect of God about people who claim to be true servants of God but may not be. John instructs the elect of God to put these people to the test to see if they are what they say they are. Although John’s warning primarily speaks to people who are false prophets, his warning should also be taken to include other types of evil, such as the influence and presence of evil spirits:
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, to see whether they are from God: for many false prophets have gone forth into the world” (1 John 4:1). See Matt 24:4-5; 2 Cor 11:3-15.
Here, John speaks of influence from spirit-beings and instructs the children of God to put them to the test of truth.
In Jesus’ reprimand to the Jewish religious leaders about of their false religious beliefs and practices, their sinfulness, and their conspiracy to murder him, he notes that the Devil is the father of lies (John 8:44). This is the same evil spirit that mixed truth with error in order to deceive Eve and cause her and Adam to rebel against God. He is also the same spirit-being who (along with other evil spirits) is deceiving the whole world politically, philosophically, and religiously today (Rev 12:9).
The account of lying spirits going from heaven to deceive Ahab’s prophets into telling him lies (1 Kgs 22:19-22) and the prophecy of Ezekiel, which shows that, at the end of the age the spiritual leaders of the Israelitish people will be liars who deceive the gullible (Ezk 13:1-10), clearly show that one should be very cautious about who and what one believes in reference to spiritual matters.
That Which is Good
The apostle Paul instructs the elect of God at Thessalonica to “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thes 5:21 KJV):
- Good conforms to God’s law and instructions.
- Evil violates God’s law and instructions.
One of the simplest ways to determine if an influence, spirit-being, belief, teaching, or person is good or evil is to see if there is conformity to or a violation of God’s law and his instructions to his people.
THOSE WHO ARE AGAINST CHRIST
There are many people who teach things that are contrary to the teachings of God but say that they follow his ways. In his letter to the elect, John repeats a prophecy that was known to those to whom he was writing, and he tells them that its fulfillment was in progress at that time. Moreover, he says that those who were against Christ at that time were never true sons of God and that by leaving the true body of Christ, they had revealed their true nature and purpose.
1 John 2:18-24 Paraphrased
“Young ones, it is the last hour and as you heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have risen up; from which you know that it is a last hour. They went out from us, but were not of us. For if they were of us, they would have remained with us; but they left so that it might be revealed that they were not of us” (1 John 2:18-19).
John confirms that those who have the spirit of God also have the knowledge and ability to discern truth from error in spiritual matters:
“And you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things. I did not write to you because you did not know the truth, but because you know it, and because every lie is not of the truth” (1 John 2:20-21).
Here, John presumes that the people he is speaking to are not novices in the faith, but are experienced in the truth of God. Herein is a major key to having discernment between good and evil. In order to know the truth, a person must diligently, sincerely, and prayerfully study God’s word. People who lie about spiritual matters will be known by people who have the spirit of God within them because the spirit of God reveals the truth: See John 14:17; 15:26; 16:12-13; 1 Cor 2:12-13.
Those Who Deny Christ
Those who are against Christ, do not teach the truth concerning Jesus as the Creator God and Savior of humanity. They also deny the individuality of the Father and the Son. Evil spirits teach a mixture of truth and error and pervert the knowledge of God and his system of worship in order to deceive the gullible:
“Who is the liar, except the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? The one who denies the Father and the Son is the antichrist. Anyone who denies the Son does not have the Father. The one who confesses the Son truly has the Father” (1 John 2:22-23).
Only those who understand and believe the truth concerning the Father and the Son have the Father’s spirit. John says that all others who claim to be followers of the true God are liars. They are liars because they deny the individuality of the Father (the Sovereign God) and the Son (the Creator God and Savior of humanity) and deny this foundational truth.
“What you heard from the beginning, let it abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you will abide both in the Father and in the Son” (1 John 2:24).
The truly converted people of the first age of the church understood exactly what John was saying concerning the Father, Christ, and the spirit of God because they were taught the mysteries concerning the plan of God by the apostles. However, this knowledge was lost when the organized church disappeared shortly after the apostle John’s death. Now, in the last age of the church, this knowledge is again necessary and is being revealed to those whom the Father is calling to salvation. See Dan 12:1-10; Matt.13:10-12; 1 Cor 4:1; Rom 16:24-26. See also our studies about the disappearance of the early church.
One of the things that John stresses in his writings is that the spirit of God residing within the children of God separates them from the world, makes them sinless before God the Father, and reveals to them those who oppose and reject Christ and the Father. This is an extremely important understanding because each of the elect has been given the ability to discern good from evil; however, it is the responsibility of the elect to strengthen and exercise this ability to discern good from evil.
1 John 3:6-10 Paraphrased
“Everyone who remains in him does not sin. Everyone who continues to sin has not seen him, nor known him” (1 John 3:6).
John speaks of the purity and sinlessness of those who practice righteousness and have the spirit of God. The English word ‘seen’ is translated from the Greek ‘horao’, which means ‘to stare at’,’to discern’, or ‘to perceive’. John says that the children of God who reside in Christ remain sinless because they understand the things pertaining to Christ, whereas sinners cannot understand or know God:
“Little children, let no one lead you astray; the one practicing righteousness, is righteous, even as the One is righteous. The one practicing sin is of the Devil because the Devil sinned from the beginning. For this the Son of God was revealed, that he undo [destroy] the devil’s works” (1 John 3:7-8).
The ‘Devil’s works’ refers to the deception of Eve, which resulted in humanity being placed under the death sentence for the violation of God’s righteous law. Christ has destroyed the Devil’s work through his righteousness, his life, and his perfect sacrifice. Thereby, he removed the death sentence for those who obey God.
“Everyone being begotten of God does not sin, because his seed [spirit of God] abides in him, and he is not able to sin, because he has been born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the Devil are revealed: Everyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God; neither is the one who does not love his brother” 1 John 3:9-10).
It is impossible to understand what John is saying here unless one understands that the spirit of God the Father that resides within his children keeps them in a sinless condition before him. As long as a child of God seeks to live a righteous life and does not willfully and habitually practice sin, no sin is imputed to them. This is because the spirit of Christ also lives in the children of God through the spirit of God. Therefore, his righteous qualifications are also imputed to those who possess the Father’s holy spirit. See Rom 8:33-34; 1 John 1:1-7; 2:1-2; 5:18 and our studies about the indwelling of the spirit of God.
A child of God who is serious about their calling will be diligently seeking to live their life according to every word of God. This is yet another way to test the spiritual influence behind anyone who professes to follow the true God.
Jesus Christ has Come in the Flesh
“By this know the spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God: And every spirit which does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not from God: and is the antichrist which you heard is coming and now is already in the world” (1 John.4:2-3).
John says that a child of God can determine that a spirit (i.e., a spirit-being or spiritual influence) is from God if it acknowledges that Christ has come in the flesh. If this acknowledgment is not made, the spirit-being or spiritual influence is evil and against Christ.
On the surface, it would seem that the formula John gives in order to determine the character of a spirit-being or spiritual influence is simple and direct. However, the key to understanding John’s instructions is understanding what he means when he says, “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.”
Most people admit that the person Jesus lived and was a religious leader. Some acknowledge that he was a prophet, and some acknowledge him as the prophetic Savior of humanity. However, very few truly understand or will acknowledge him as the Creator God who became the Savior, died, was resurrected, and now lives in the flesh of the children of God.
The Mystery of Christ in You
In speaking to the Ephesians, Galatians, and Colossians, Paul reminds them of the importance of Christ who resides within them.
To the Ephesians
“Whereby, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ, Which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it is now revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the spirit” (Eph 3:4-5 KJV).
To the Galatians
“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20 KJV).
Paul says that his past life is dead through the application of Christ’s sacrifice. The old Paul died at baptism and a new Paul was born with Christ living in him:
“My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you, I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you” (Gal 4:19-20 KJV).
In speaking to the Galatians about his concern for their spiritual growth, Paul uses the Greek word ‘morphoo’, which means ‘to form’, ‘to fashion’, and ‘to take on a form (especially in the womb)’.
This is the only place in the New Testament where this Greek word is used in the context of growth. Paul’s concern for the Galatian’s deteriorating spiritual condition reached the point that he had serious doubts that Christ’s spirit was ever within them.
To the Colossians
“Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God; Even the mystery which has been hid from ages and from generations, but is now made manifest to the Saints; To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:25-27 KJV).
The mystery of how Jesus Christ lives in the flesh of every child of God was understood by those of the first age of the church and it can be understood today by those who have the Spirit of God residing within them.
1 John 4:4-17 Paraphrased
“Little children, you are of God and have overcome them, because he in you is greater than he in the world” (1 John 4:4).
John says the children of God have overcome those who were against Christ through Christ who lives within them.
“They are of the world; therefore they speak of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God; the one knowing God hears us. Whosoever is not of God does not hear us. From this, we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:5-6).
Only those who have the spirit of God dwelling within them are truly able to understand and discern spiritual matters (1 Cor 2:9-13). If a person does not understand the foundational things of God’s truth, it is a strong indication that they are not called of God.
The Indwelling of the Father
“No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and his love having been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him, and he in us, because of his spirit he has given to us” (1 John 4:12-13). See Luke 24:46-49; Acts 5:32.
John Speaks of the Father
“And we have beheld and bear witness that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God” (1 John 4:15).
The Father sent the Creator God to earth to become his Son and the Savior of humanity. Only those who truly understand and acknowledge this fact will have the Father residing within them, and they will reside within the Father.
“And we have known and have believed the love which God has in us. God is love, and the one abiding in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16).
The understanding and acknowledgment of the indwelling, of the Father and Jesus Christ, within the elect of God is one of the many ways that one can determine whether or not a person, a spirit-being, or a spiritual influence is of God.
Testing False Ministers and False Doctrine
Paul’s instructions to Timothy (1 Tim 1:18-20) and Titus (Titus 2:1-8) about the teaching of sound doctrine and his warning about elders who go astray and people who are false ministers are very important today. Today, there are many who claim to teach the truth, but actually, teach false doctrine and lead people astray.
In order for a person to discern the influence behind a spiritual leader and their doctrine, a person must carefully study the leader’s life and what is being taught. The warnings to six of the prophetic churches in chapters two and three of the Book of Revelation are examples of spiritual leaders and the people they lead not fulfilling their responsibilities pertaining to true doctrine.
“For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also are transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works” (2 Cor 11:13-15 KJV). See also Deut 13:1-5; Jer 23:21-22; Rev 2:2.
Satan has many ministers (Rev 2:9; 3:9), and some of them are within the congregations of God. Some of these are truly deceived themselves. However, some are not and they go about actively trying to destroy the unsuspecting, the ill-informed, and the gullible. Jesus knew this would happen and warned his followers to be aware of those who were not sent by him to shepherd his people:
“Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” (Matt 24:4-5 KJV).
No matter how cleverly crafted and eloquently stated a false doctrine is, it is a teaching that is in opposition to the Father’s truth. Although false teaching may have some elements of truth within it, false teaching will always have within it some error that will lead a person away from the foundational truth of God, which will result in eternal death for those who believe it. The following are five of the foundational errors of false doctrines:
- The false teaching that Christ has released humanity from the obligation to obey the law of God.
- The lie that there are no faith and works involved in obtaining salvation.
- The deception that God the Father and Jesus Christ are the same spirit-being.
- The false teaching that God accepts many different methods of worship of him.
- The lie that God’s truth is subjective without empirical values.
Whether one’s area of concern is with spiritual leaders, religious teachings, or manifestation of spirits, spirit influence, or any other thing concerning the spirit dimension and its interaction with the physical dimension, it is the responsibility of each person who is of God to diligently and prayerfully study and meditate upon the word of God and diligently apply the instructions and wisdom therein.
Awareness, preparedness, and resistance are the major keys to winning the spiritual battle against evil, whether this evil is a spiritual influence or false ministers or doctrines. All evil can be conquered through being aware of what is truly good and what is truly evil (2 Tim 2:15), being armed with the proper weapons for spiritual warfare (Eph 6:11-17), and vigorously resisting evil (James 4:7-8; 1 Pet 5:6-9). The elect who do these things will always be victorious over evil (2 Pet 1:10).
By B.L Cocherell, file #b8w20