Scripture continually warns us to test our understanding of God’s instruction to ensure we are not deceived. We go back to the Torah and the writings of the prophets to validate truth. It has not changed. More recently, but entirely consistent with the first, we can also test our understanding with the record of the New Testament, recognizing that if our understanding of the New Testament implies inconsistency with the Old Testament then we are in error. In fact, the New Testament builds on the Old like the framework of a house is built upon the foundation. Without a good foundation, the rest will not stand.
1 John warns us to test every spirit… not to believe every spirit. We are again warned that there are many false prophets… many. They speak as from the world and the world listens. Those who know God will listen to us, who truly follow Christ. Thus, do not be surprised if the majority of people will not follow someone who teaches and proclaims truth. On the other hand, if someone claims Christ in name and teaches a compromised doctrine that seems palatable or comfortable to the world, then many will follow him.
Keep in mind that the very idea of a false prophet implies that they present themselves as if representing God. The same is true today. Perhaps they do not claim to be prophets today, but rather pastors and bishops. The point is that the false teaching is not something that “those unbelievers” are presenting, but rather will come from what appears to be within the church, within the body of Christ.
Testing the Spirits
1Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. 4You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. 5They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. 6We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Reflecting further, this is not simply referring to false prophets. It seems to be deliberate in choosing the word “spirit”. I would need to study further, but it seems to imply that Satan will attempt to influence us and deceive us even in sending his messengers to seemingly deliver or confirm the (wrong) word of God to us. We must stay focused on the true Spirit, which is always aligned with the Word, to ensure we are not led astray.
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