Bible Studies for Life: The Dark Side
Because God’s people encountered false prophets in the Old Testament, God revealed two standards through Moses that enabled His people to distinguish between true and false prophets:
- If a prophet announced a special sign or wonder that came true and then encouraged the people to follow other gods, he was a false prophet. (See Deut. 13:1-5.) True teaching never steers us away from the one, true God.
- If a prophet announced something that did not come true, he was a false prophet. (See 18:22.) God is all-powerful and cannot lie, so His words will always come true. No exceptions.
Many centuries later, the apostle John was still dealing with false teachers—this time as a leader in the early church. “Do not believe every spirit,” John wrote, “but test the spirits to see if they are from God.”
Satan had updated his tactics at the launch of the church to include distortions of the truth about Jesus Christ. That’s because Christianity rises or falls based on what we believe—and what we teach others—about Jesus.
John gave us a Christ-centered test by which to evaluate a person’s beliefs and teaching. Stated simply: “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.”
There are two key elements to this test:
- The full humanity of Jesus Christ is affirmed. Note the emphasis on the phrase “come in the flesh.” Christ was not a spirit being; He was a human being. John used the name given at His birth: Jesus. He was fully a man.
- The full divinity of Jesus Christ is affirmed. John also used the title given to Jesus: Christ. He is the Anointed One from God, the Messiah. He is God.
The Jesus revealed in the Gospels is clearly the Son of God who lived among the Jews, was crucified, and died a real death. Jesus also experienced a physical resurrection on the third day after His crucifixion. This resurrection confirmed everything He taught and showed that His life and death were approved by God.
Therefore, when you want to test the validity of a group, find out what that group teaches about Jesus. For example:
- Mormonism teaches that Jesus was the first spirit-child born to humanity’s heavenly parents.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus was a spirit-creature created by God who later came to earth as a man.
- Islam teaches that Jesus was a highly revered prophet, but He was not the Son of God.
- Hinduism teaches that Jesus was a man who reached “god-consciousness.”
The Scriptures are clear: Jesus is both fully human and fully God. Any religion, philosophy, or individual that rejects that foundational truth did not originate with God.
Satan is a master at corrupting the truth. But when we remain discerning and keep our eyes open by continually testing what we see and hear against God’s Word, we will not be caught in error.
Thankfully, John reminded us of two great truths in verses 1 John 4:4-6.
First, you are from God. Believers—those who have a relationship with Jesus Christ—are brought into God’s family. Therefore, we are secure in Him:
“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:28-29).
“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).
Second, you have conquered those who have the spirit of the antichrist. Our relationship with God is not just a secure, defensive position; it’s an offensive position. We don’t conquer evil by cowering in a corner. Because we are in Christ, we can boldly step out, test the spirits, and represent Christ in the face of any and all evil we encounter.
Of course, we don’t conquer in our own power. Because we are from God and rest in Him, He has given us His own Holy Spirit. And it’s only through the presence and power of that Spirit that we can conquer. At the moment we trust Christ as our Redeemer and Lord, the Holy Spirit indwells us.
A relationship with Christ and the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit go hand in hand:
- “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to him” (Rom. 8:9).
- “Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God?” (1 Cor. 6:19).
John reminded us about the incredible difference the Holy Spirit makes when facing the forces of Satan that oppose Christ: “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” Satan may be powerful, but God’s Holy Spirit is infinitely more powerful. The false teachers and false prophets may sound wise, but our God’s wisdom is boundless. The world can have great pull and persuasion, but the indwelling Spirit is immeasurably greater.
When we live under the lordship of God, leaning on Him and filled with His Spirit (see Eph. 5:18), He helps us to test the spirits we encounter. We don’t need to fear being deceived by a powerful enemy. Why? Because we’re resting in a greater power: the indwelling Holy Spirit who enables us to “know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deception.”
In Christ, we’re placed in a great position to recognize evil and falsehood—and to stand against it. We truly have nothing to fear.
Excerpted from Jeremiah Johnson, Bible Studies for Life: The Dark Side © 2017 LifeWay Press®. Used by permission.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Christian Standard Bible®. Copyright 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission.