In 1 John 4:1, there is a charge by the beloved apostle of Jesus to, “believe not every spirit but test the spirits”. He goes on to say that if they do not confess that Jesus came in the flesh, then they are not the Spirit of truth (4:2-4). Unfortunately, there are many people who believe that this is the only test that should be given to determine whether we should believe a person or not.
John was actually giving a specific test for a specific heresy called “gnosticism”. There were many fragments to it but one of the main views of the Gnostics was that Jesus did not actually live in the flesh. We can see the practicality of the “test” that John gives. If you want to identify a gnostic, the best place to start is to ask them if Jesus actually lived in the flesh.
There are actually many tests that we may need to run depending on the doctrine or practice. But those tests are always done by comparing those teachings with what the Spirit of truth has revealed in the New Testament (1 John 4:6, 2 John 9-10, John 8:31-32, 17:17).
Someone from the Mormon religion may come to your house and say “Let me tell you about the revelation that Joseph Smith received”. They will continue to tell you that in the late 1800’s Joseph Smith prayed for guidance in finding the true church. They will claim he was told by God that all the churches were corrupted and that he should restore the one true church. Three years later an angel named Maroni led him to golden tablets that contained the Book of Mormon. Now these sincere people will testify to you of how they too have prayed and God revealed the truth to them too. How do we test these claims?
Thankfully, the Bible is completely sufficient in handling claims like this. First, the Bible makes it perfectly clear that receiving “revelations” like Joseph Smith did will not happen in the Christian age (Heb 1:1-4). While God did speak in visions and through angels in the Patriarch and Mosaic age, today he speaks through his Son by virtue of the New Testament (John 8:32, John 17:17).
Secondly, the New Testament teaches that if anyone perverts the gospel, that person is accursed. But even more specific, it says “even if an angel” preaches another gospel let him be accursed (Gal 1:6-9). Whether Joseph Smith really spoke to an angel or not is irrelevant, the gospel that Maroni directed him to is a perversion and therefore needs to be rejected.
This test needs to be run on all people who claim modern day revelations. If a “pastor” stand’s up and say’s “God laid this on my heart”, we need to test that. What he is saying is that God is inspiring him to say what he is going to say. That is no different than the claim of Joseph Smith. I watch various worship services of churches around here. Sometime I will hear a pastor say that, and the crowd starts jumping for joy and applauding. That is terribly frightening.
No man deserves that kind of trust. It doesn’t matter how sincere or heartfelt that person is. Your job isn’t to test the truth about whether they are sincere, your job is to test their teaching against the word of God (Acts 17:11, Col 3:16-17).
The Bible speaks about these teachers quite vividly in 2 Peter 2:18-22. They may sound deep, spiritual, and clever, but their word’s are “empty”(18). I call it “catchphrase christianity”. They have a cute statement that works great for a hashtag or a t-shirt, but isn’t teaching people the doctrine of Christ that is distinct from the doctrines of man.
They draw people by “lusts of the flesh” or by making them feel good(18). Worship isn’t for you to experience some emotional reaction. Worship is to honor God. It doesn’t matter what your “worship preference” is. We need to know what God’s worship preference is! These people don’t teach you how to worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:24).
They prey on people that “barely escaped” or those who don’t know any better(18). How sad it is that there are people who take advantage of lost individuals. They flourish in ignorance. This is the worst type of victimization.
They promise the followers “liberty” and blessings(19). The verse says all the while they are slaves of corruption. Every church in town is going to offer liberty and freedom from sins. We can’t test a group based on what they offer. The second part of that verse says these teachers “themselves are slaves of corruption”. We must judge what is being taught.
Sadly the last line of verse 19 is so true. So many folks believe they have been set free from their sins, but have actually just been “brought into bondage”. And this bondage is worse because they think they are free (2:20-21). Peter said it is better for these people to have never learned anything about Jesus at all because their end is worse than the beginning.
And at the end, all of those people will stand before the judgement seat of Christ and ask themselves “why didn’t I just open my bible and test it?”
Please put your church, pastor, and beliefs to the biblical test!