“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)
Notice the concern and love with which St. John writes to his beloved. Test the spirits, he warns them. Why? Because where the gospel is preached, the devil and the flesh set themselves hard to work. And they are a wily crew. They don’t toss everything out. The tweak and twist. They nuance and numb. They take an inch here and add a pound there. And they have every reason to be jealous, to hate the gospel. God didn’t send Jesus for them. God sent Jesus for us. God came in the flesh for us. Jesus is for us.
How shall we test the spirits? While there are a number of questions that could pop up on this test, there is one big one. This is one is pass/fail. Do they confess Jesus? That is the question we are to ask. Do they speak the same words about Jesus as the holy prophets and apostles do through Scripture? Do they speak the language of faith or the language of the world about Christ? This is what makes or breaks this examination.
The language of faith speaks promise and persecution, hope and trial, victory and pain. The language of the world may well speak the former, but rarely the latter. It can paint a pretty Christ, much too pretty. The language of faith’s Christ has wounds, and those wounds are our refuge. The language of faith speaks death through life and glory through shame. The language of the world likes life and glory, but not the kinds that come through death and shame, especially the death and shame of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who came in the flesh to offer his flesh on Calvary and in his Supper.
Test the spirits, St. John urges his beloved, for there most definitely is a spirit of truth and one (or many) of error, and there is most certainly a lot at stake in the decision concerning which spirit we lend our ears. Whoever is of God listens to God’s voice, sounded through his apostles and prophets, like the ocean in a seashell, but much clearer, as well as through his called servants in every age who speak in accord with the living voice of the apostles and prophets in Scripture.
There aren’t little matters and big matters at stake when we speak or listen in God’s name. There’s Jesus, all of Him, and all of His saving work on our behalf. Every spirit that does not confess Jesus, that does not speak the same Spirit-given words as John and his brothers and sisters so long ago, that spirit is not from God. Yes, these false spirits may indeed speak many truths, many wonderful things about life and God, but if they do not confess Jesus, the Truth, the true Son of God and God Himself, the Redeemer, my Brother and Advocate, the one who took flesh to shed the blood of God, they are not of God, not of God for your salvation.
Test the spirits, beloved. Hear the voice of the apostles and prophets and listen for those who sing in harmony with John and his friends still today. John was about Jesus. Listen for those who are all about Jesus still now. Listen for what about Jesus they are all about? Listen for talk of Jesus for you, because that is the Jesus you need, and that is the Jesus John walked and lived with, the Jesus he went to Patmos for, the Jesus he wrote about in his epistles and his Gospel. If that’s not the Jesus you are hearing about, take heed, for your ears are worth more than you know. Faith comes through hearing, after all. Jesus is at stake, and Jesus is the one thing a Christian can’t be without, and Jesus is what your ears were made for, the melody of your peace, the name of your hope, the trumpet blast of your salvation, the sweet whisper of sins forgiven, the shout of the love of which all your love is an echo.