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. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 John 4:1–6)
In John’s day, as in ours, there was a problem with false teachers in the church. These people claimed to speak in the name of God, to have some sort of special insight, but were in fact leading the faithful astray. A big name, straight teeth and sharp clothes are no guarantee. The Christian has to be discerning when listening to a preacher, or church leader.
John gives us one test we can use: does the teacher affirm that “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh”? This not only speaks to the reality of the manger at Bethlehem, and Jesus’ human nature but also speaks of Jesus’ divinity. After all if Jesus “has come in the flesh”, we might ask the question “from where?”! The false teachers of John’s day would appear to have taught that Jesus only appeared to be human. The equal error would be to teach that he is only human.
We needn’t worry that these false teachers will prevail, after all God is bigger than any falsehood. The world around might find their teaching more palatable, but “we are from God”. We should seek his approval, and that alone.
Christianity is a beautiful tapestry of finely intertwined doctrines. They fit together, and work together. Beware any who seek to remove one cog or another, because the machine will simply then not work. “Test the spirits”!