“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. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. … Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:1-3, 7-11 ESV)
John spends a lot of time in his letter telling us how we can “know” different things. One thing he wants us to know is how to tell the difference between spirits, people, or groups that are really from God, and those that are not. Paul says, “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15 ESV).
And so John urges us to “test the spirits”—and we can start by asking whether they confess, “that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.” In those days, just as today, a lot of people talked nonsense about Jesus. They said that He was not really human—that He was an angel or spirit—or basically anything, just so they could avoid dealing with His real death on a real cross. Angels and spirits can’t die, right? So by this trick, the devil tries to destroy our faith in Jesus, making us think that it was all fake—that Jesus was really something different than what the Bible tells us He is.
So our first test for anybody who wants us to follow them is this: What do you say about Jesus? Is He God come down to earth as a human being? Has He suffered and died—and risen from the dead, too!—to rescue all of us from the power of death and the devil? Does He call us to trust in Him for forgiveness, life, and peace?
The second test John mentions here has to do with life. Does this person or group show God’s love in their lives? “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love,” says John. So anybody who says all the right things but treats other people horribly is absolutely not someone we should follow. Abusing and harming people, turning away from their obvious needs, climbing over their bodies to get power—that is the sign of a liar and deceiver. But kindness, mercy, and real concern for other people are the signs of God’s children, especially when they result in acts of self-sacrificing love—just like Jesus’ sacrifice for us. So, test the spirits.
Prayer: Lord, help me to hear Your voice clearly and to follow You and You alone. Amen.
This Daily Devotion was written by Dr. Kari Vo.
Republished with permission from Lutheran Hour Ministries
1. What are some wrong ideas you have heard people say about Jesus?
2. How do you judge whether those ideas are right or wrong?
3. Whom do you know that shows Jesus’ love very clearly in his or her actions?