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. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. Little children, you are from God and have conquered them, for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and whoever is not from God does not listen to us. From this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
1 John 4:1-6; NRSVue
There seems to be a whole lot of sifting going on nowadays. And it’s happening everywhere. No entity seems to be immune. Instead of getting into specific details, which I’m not well capable of anyhow, I would like to touch on some generalities which hopefully will be pertinent to the topic at hand.
John tells us that we’re to not believe every spirit, but test them. And the test pertains to Jesus Christ, whether or not he has come in the flesh. There evidently was some denial at that point, that the Word who was with God and was God, that this Word had become flesh, that is, human (John 1). John addresses that head on, and makes it clear that a denial of such amounts to opposition of Christ.
Surely today some of that continues. But I wonder what else is spoken in the name of Christ or as with authority from God which actually stands in opposition to Christ. In order to get there, we’re going to have to have the gospels in hand: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and we’ll need to study Jesus: his birth, life, teachings, works, death, resurrection, ascension, the pouring out of the Spirit, and only after we study that, then what follows in the rest of the books of the Christian New Testament. And with that in heart and mind, we’ll also need to consider everything else: history, tradition, and noting all of this in the context of the present day. In other words translating the teaching of Christ into the present, a tall order indeed, but one to which we’re surely called.
I think we’ll find a lot that we hear or pick up from supposedly Christian sources which actually does not comport with Christ, with the Spirit of Christ. It is not enough just to line up some beliefs that must be subscribed to, often seeming to have little to no connection to actual living. It’s about life as well. Are we following in the teaching of Christ (2 John 1) or not? It’s not only about Christ, but also Christ’s actual teaching. What about loving our enemies, seating ourselves with outcasts, taking in strangers, helping the poor beyond mere giving of scraps, a concern for justice, inclusion of all ethnicities, really of all as Jesus did, etc.? Of course not leaving behind any of the teaching. The Spirit of Christ will surely be at work in us collectively to that end.
If it isn’t Christ or Jesus through and through, then it’s not of the spirit of Christ. I’m not at all referring to perfection, because no follower of Christ or church will ever be perfect in this life. But it is about perfection in striving in the spirit of Christ for what is actually held dear by Christ. And again, that’s going to have to take some prayer and study, not just by ourselves, but together. And only as we keep on doing that will we be able to begin to see through spirits which are not of God, not of Christ. As we seek together to live in the spirit who really is of God and Jesus.