Don’t believe everything you hear. This truth, coming either from a pastor or a parent is good advice, and it’s the advice that the Apostle John passes on to his followers:
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. 1 John 4:1 (ESV)
Here is John’s warning against false teachers, but notice he doesn’t say teaching; he uses the word “spirits.” What John is saying is that whenever you hear someone teaching, there is a spirit behind it. It’s either the Holy Spirit or it’s an evil spirit. So test it. See if it is truth. Don’t accept every teacher who claims to be speaking for God, because everyone says that their message is true. But many teachers are spreading false ideas, so you can’t believe everything you hear.
A Very Prominent False Teaching
We should know that there is bad teaching out there, and one of the most prevalent messages is very subtle: today we are told that there are two realms of information: facts and values. Facts are the hard sciences like chemistry and biology and of course math. These things, people say, are a matter of truth, right and wrong. But then there are values. And that’s a whole different realm, these people say.
“You believe in Jesus?” They ask. “Well, I’m glad you found something that works for you! But I don’t think that would work for me.” So religion is put in the area of values. “It’s nice, and I’m sure it’s helpful to you,” they say somewhat condescendingly, “but let’s keep it out of the public square, and please keep your views to yourself, because your thinking is only a matter of personal opinion. It’s not in the true/false realm like science and math.” Ah, but Jesus is either risen from the dead or not. That’s not a value – that’s a true/false question, and the answer to the question is more important than all the quadratic equations in the world. So don’t believe every spirit.
Like every other age, we are living in an age of ideas. In John’s day it was Gnosticism and the Judaizers, who wanted to add works to faith. Both of these teachings are still going strong today, though they have morphed into something John and Paul might not recognize, but we should be able to. And there are many more things to suck us in – the strange appeal for some to radical Islam and everything else, from Oprah to Dr. Oz.
The moral of this story is that Christians need to be interested in doctrine. Don’t let anyone say to you, “Well, I am just happy in Jesus. I’ve got my Bible and my Christian friends…and doctrine?…well, doctrine is boring. I don’t pay attention to that. I don’t get all caught up in theology and that sort of thing. I don’t need to be interested in doctrine.” But you see, that’s just not true. John says, “Test the spirits.” But you can’t test the spirits unless you have something to test them by. Truth matters.
And more than that, whatever you say about doctrine, you do believe certain things. Not everyone likes the word doctrine, nevertheless, everyone has a doctrine, even those who say they don’t. Because you see, theology is the study of God. He’s the most important subject we can study, and everybody has thoughts about Him, even those who say they are not interested in theology.
So be careful to test the spirits, to see if they are from God.
For Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, November 26th: 1 John 5