The Acid Test of Faith

Bible Book: 1 John  4 : 1
Subject: Spirit of God, Knowing the
Series: 1 John

Throughout the first three chapters of the First Epistle of John, the Lord shows us how we can know that we know Him. Remember that the Gospel According to John, the evangelistic Gospel, was written that we may know him; the First Epistle of John was written that we might know that we know Him.

Recently, Woodrow Kroll posted on his website a message he had preached on AFR radio. In that message from the First Epistle of John he listed numerous proofs that we are children of God. Let me share only a few of them:

1. You know you are saved if you walk in the light, 1 John 1:6.

2. You can know you're saved if you have fellowship with God's family, 1 John 1:7.

3. You know you're saved if you have a keen sense of your own sinfulness, 1 John 1:8.

4. If you're born again, you will live in willful obedience to God's Word. 1 John 2:3.

5. You know that you're born again if you no longer are enamored with what captivates the world, 1 John 2:15.

6. If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone that practices righteousness is born of him, 1 John 2:29.

7. You eagerly anticipate the return of the Lord, 1 John chapter 3:1.

Now read the closing verses of chapter 3. With those verses as a backdrop, now we will go on to chapter 4.


“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

A. Christians Must Not Believe Every Spirit.

1. Literally, it is “stop believing every spirit.”

a. This implies that they were believing false spirits.
b. Those coming from a pagan background did indeed believe “every spirit.”

2. Some neglected sound doctrine.

3. Some rejected sound doctrine.

4. Some distorted sound doctrine.

a. Many had accepted a budding Gnosticism.
b. Some brought certain tenets of Gnosticism into the church.
c. They were perverting the Gospel through knowledge or speculation.

5. Many modern heresies are rooted in Gnosticism.

a. Eastern Mysticism has its roots in Gnosticism.
b. New Age Movements can be traced back to Gnosticism.
c. Humanism shows signs of Gnostic influence.

B. We Must Test the Spirits Today.

1. There are many false spirits in the world today.

2. Some false spirits are associated with pagan worship.

3. Some are associated with the so-called Christian Cults (Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses).

4. Many are associated with New Age religious movements.

5. Many others simply redefine the Gospel.

There were the hippies of the sixties who rejected Christ, but there were others who were called Jesus Freaks. They were not interested in sound doctrine. They just wanted to love everyone. Then there were people who wanted to abolish all denominational distinctives. They advocated love, not doctrine. These people talk a good game. I even heard of a church whose pastor announced that they rejected doctrines and dogma, they just believed that God is Creator, Jesus is Savior, and the Bible is the Word of God. Sounds good, does it not? Of course, he had just listed his first tenets of their faith (thus, dogma).

Doctrine is truth, and truth does not preclude love. As a matter of fact it is impossible to embrace sound biblical doctrine without embracing love for God and love for other people. At the same time, true Christian love is guided by sound doctrine, because godly love, agape’, is a mental attitude love. It is directed with the mind. If you wait until you get a warm fuzzy feeling before you reach out to some people you are going to wait a long time because some of the people who may need you are not very pleasant. Christian love and sound doctrine are not mutually exclusive. In fact, there is no way you can grow in either while neglecting the other.

5. We are to test these false spirits.

a. We must follow Scripture.
b. We must pray for guidance.
c. We must follow the Holy Spirit.
d. We must listen to sound doctrinal preaching.
e. We must learn through Sunday School and Discipleship Training.
f. We must offer a clear defense of the Gospel.


A. The Book of Jeremiah Provides Us With Examples of False Prophets.

1. Some advocated false religions.

2. Most simply watered down the truth.

3. There are many examples in the New Testament.

4. They are still with us today.

We could take time to look at many false prophets who have gone out into the world to spread false doctrine, but I will mention only a few. Who has not seen the two young men riding around the neighborhood on bicycles, spreading a false gospel under the deceptive name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints? And of course, there are the Jehovah’s Witnesses. While many may dismiss these cultic visitors (even though they never show up when it is convenient) as harmless, they are preying on our church members and records show that a large numbers of their converts come from mainline churches.

Scores of thousands of people used to listen to Herbert W. Armstrong on radio, and hundreds of thousands watched his son, Garner Ted Armstrong on Television. Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart were household words for many years. My family drove through Tulsa, Oklahoma on our way back from Nebraska a number of years and decided we wanted to see Oral Roberts University. We did not know it but they had scheduled a conference for that evening. If we had stayed we would have heard Oral Roberts announce that he had raised people from the dead - people who had died while he was preaching! I have had people to go to sleep while I was preaching, but as far as I can recall I have never had one to die in a service.

All of the false prophets are not in some organized cult group. The first person I heard applaud the Supreme Court ruling which took prayer out of public schools was my Systematic Theology professor in seminary. Every time President Bush advocates church involvement in trying to meet the needs of people today, the networks parade Barry Lynn from the National Council of Churches to tell us why Christianity is some how bad for America. We should not be surprised at what the ACLU might do, but shouldn’t we be able to expect a little more from an organization with a name like, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State?

Southern Baptists adopted a Baptist Faith and Message Statement in 1925 and that statement served the denomination for a number of years. However, by 1963, SBC President Hershel Hobbs felt that a revised Baptist Faith and Message Statement was needed. My close friend, Luther Hall was president of the Louisiana Baptist Convention that year and served on the committed that presented the 1963 statement which was approved with strong support. That statement declares that Jesus Christ is the criterion by which Scripture shall be interpreted. That sounds good, and many thought that statement would have drawn pastors and teachers to a stronger view of Scripture. The emphasis was to be on the fact that all Scripture was given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit and was therefore infallible - truth without error.

Unfortunately, some people, or so it is claimed, used this statement to justify their not holding to the Scripture as infallible. When they came to something they did not like they simply said, well that doesn’t matter anyway because Jesus is the criterion by which we interpret the Bible. In other words, in their scheme of things since Jesus transcends the Bible, if there is a question about something in the Bible we can simply let our commitment to Jesus take precedence over that Scripture. Some seemed to advocate an extra-biblical Christ, one who was somehow more compassionate, discerning, and pragmatic than the Scripture.

I have even heard people accuse those of us who believe the Bible is inerrant of bibliolitry - worship of the Bible rather than God. However, the Bible is the Word of God. And if you want to know the character of God, go to the Bible. If you want to understand the attributes of God, go to the Bible. If you want to know God’s love, go to the Bible. Let the Holy Spirit, the divine Author, illuminate your heart. There will never be a conflict between the Bible and the Lord Jesus Christ.

At the 2000 Convention, Southern Baptists clarified a number of issues. The word “inerrant” had come into use over the past generation to define the position of those who held to a very strong view of Scripture. In 1973, I spent a lot of time with the late Dr. H. Leo Eddleman, who had been president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary when I was a student there. We discussed Scripture a number of times and neither used the word inerrant at the time. Dr. Edlelman was in the process of recruiting a new professor for the Criswell Center of Biblical Studies where he served as president.

One day, Dr. Eddleman told me about a conversation he had had with a professor from England. He told me that man was a strong biblicist. I like that term! A strong biblicist. The 2003 Baptist Faith and Message Statement uses the word “inerrant” - I like to think of myself as a strong biblicist, because I believe the Scripture - the original documents, that is - were without error. I also accept the evidence given by Norman Geisler and others showing that the Bible we have today is remarkably accurate, as evidenced by a comparison wit the earliest manuscripts available. This is also demonstrated in comparisons with other ancient manuscripts. If they had been subjected to the same tests as Scripture, no one would ever believe anything written by Homer, Socrates, Virgil, Suetonius, Tacitus, or Josephus.

I could hardly believe it when a pastor told me that he believes the Bible is inerrant, but said, “I just don’t want anyone to try to force me to say it.” A short time later another pastor told me the same.
I would never try to force anyone to say he believes the Bible is inerrant, but I consider it a privilege and a joy to embrace that view myself. And when they come up with a stronger word I will be waiting for that one, too. Let me stress one other thing: to me this is theological, not political.

B. We Must Test These False Prophets.

1. Some are obviously false prophets.

2. Others are not so easily detected.

Have you ever had anyone come up to you and say something like this: “God gave me a word for you.” Or, “I have a word from the Lord for you.” Others make the same claim in different words.
I understand that just before he went to the pulpit to preach once Sunday a woman approached Charles Haddon Spurgeon and said, “Do you know what God told me to tell you?”

Spurgeon, according to the report snapped, “Yes. And He spoke to me after he spoke to you and he told me to tell you to shut up!”

A number of years ago the church I served co-sponsored two church in south Louisiana. We were conducting a Vacation Bible School in one of the when the pastor told me about a local man who had become involved with a local charismatic congregation. This congregation decided to send several of its members to other area churches to spread their beliefs and their experience. After several Sundays he approached the pastor, Wendell Douglas, and said, “The Holy Spirit gave you a great message today.” Wendell asked, “Do you mean you believe the Holy Spirit speaks to me?” The man assured him he believed that message came from the Holy Spirit. Wendell then asked, “If I tell you that the Holy Spirit is telling me to tell you something right now, would you believe it?”

The man said, “If you say so I will believe it.” Wendell said, “The Holy Spirit is telling me to tell you that you ought to go back where you came from and not sow seeds of discord in this church. Now do you believe the Holy Spirit told me to tell you that.” The man said, “If you say the Holy Spirit told you to say that, I will accept it.” He never returned.

Needless to say, all the stories do not turn out like that one. One pastor was preaching when someone came from the congregation and began trying to take the pastor’s shoes off - while he was preaching. It seems the man had gotten a message that the pastor was standing on holy ground.

There are countless illustrations of people who claim to have a word from the Lord, who in fact make statements that seem inconsistent with the Bible. But you can be sure of this one thing, God does not want you to be deceived. He has given you his inerrant Word, His Holy Spirit, and His full attention when we approach him in humility. And because He does not want you to be deceived, He has given us pastors and teachers who will help to understand His Word and to make an application of it in our daily walk with Him.


God doe not want you to be deceived. He wants you to know truth from error, true prophets from false prophets, the true Spirit from false spirits. Listen to His words from 1 John 4:2-3:

“By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.”