In the book of 1 John (found in the Bible), testing the spirits is a concept that is talked of. It states, “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).
So, what does this verse mean? What does it mean to test the spirits?
For someone like you, a new believer, it’s important to know you’re in a vulnerable place. You haven’t yet developed discernment. And that’s okay. That comes with time and experience.
When I was a new believer, I believed most of what was told to me. I didn’t have a lot of biblical knowledge so I believed people when they spoke about the Bible. If people spoke authoritatively and it sounded true, it must mean it was true? Right?
False. People are flawed human beings. Not everything you hear from others is true, even if it’s coupled with pure intentions.
Keep reading to learn more about what it means to test the spirits and how to practically apply this to your life.
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What does it mean to test the spirits?
I touched on the meaning of this phrase a little bit, but I’d like to go more in-depth.
Testing the spirits means being diligent to make sure everything you hear aligns with scripture.
When you hear someone teaching from the Bible, you don’t blindly accept everything they’re teaching. You test everything against scripture.
God will never reveal anything contrary to his Word. The Bible is our ultimate authority.
How to Test the Spirits
Here are 3 practical steps to take when testing the spirits.
#1 Don’t believe everything you hear.
First, don’t believe everything you hear. Just because someone is speaking authoritatively doesn’t mean they’re speaking the truth.
The Bible is our ultimate authority, not man. That’s why it’s super important you read your Bible! You need to know what’s in the Bible in order to develop discernment.
You may be asking yourself: what’s discernment?
I love this quote by Charles Spurgeon. He explains discernment so well.
“Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.” — Charles Spurgeon.
Discernment is a skill that grows over time as you continue your journey as a Christian. If I leave you anything, I want to leave you with always going back to the scriptures when you hear anything.
#2 Test everything against scripture.
The first step is to not believe everything you hear from people. The next step is to test everything against scripture.
In Acts 17, Paul is preaching the word to Berean Jews. The Berean Jews didn’t automatically believe everything Paul had said. And Paul had quite the reputation!
It states, “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:11 NIV).
They examined the scriptures EVERY DAY to make sure everything Paul said was true. They were truth seekers. This is a great example of how we should be when we hear teachings. We need to test teaching against scripture.
#3 Find someone to disciple you.
Finally, it’s important you find someone to disciple you. Having a trusted, solid, mature Christian to go to when you have questions is so beneficial.
Being discipled as a new believer is vital. Phillip asks a man if he understands what he was reading (the man was reading Isaiah). The man answers, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:31 ESV).
Trying to figure it out on your own will be overwhelming. Having others around you to disciple will help you understand more spiritual things and mature as a Christian.
Here are some additional resources for those of you who’d like to go more in-depth on this topic.
- John MacArthur Sermon: How to Test the Spirits
- Got Questions: What does it mean to test the spirits?
- Melissa Doughtery: Test the Spirits? What Does That Mean?
Remember, test everything you hear, even if it’s coming from me. Make sure everything I tell you is true. Don’t just believe what I’ve said. Examine everything.
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