I came across a question recently about how a believer is supposed to “test the spirits to see if they are from God.” The very good question arises from the biblical text in I John 4:1,
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
Here’s my reply:
First, as per Matt 24:24, you do NOT discern a false spirit by looking at or for miraculous confirmation. False teachers, Jesus warned, will produce supernatural signs and miracles. Apparently some false prophets are so deceived (they are absolutely sure that they represent Jesus and His kingdom) that they will actually argue with Jesus on Judgment Day, because they thought that their miracles were legitimate (see Matt 7:21-22). So spiritual power in manifestation is NO indicator of truth or falseness. We must be founded on something far more sure.
Secondly, in each major place we are called to test the spirits in the NT, a very simple example follows. And it is always a DOCTRINAL test. As in 1 John 4:1-3. The test John refers to is NOT some esoteric, strange dialogue or interaction with demons. Rather, it is simply listening to what the people these demons are using are teaching about Christ and His work. Do they preach an unorthodox Christ? (ie “Jesus was God but not truly a man” or “Jesus was truly a man but not fully God…”) Or an unorthodox gospel?
I have dealt with literally hundreds of openly demon-possessed people in dark, idol-worshipping areas of the developing world. I have often heard demons say, “Praise Jesus”, or even admit, “Jesus is the Lord.” But they do so in more or less mocking terms. It is not a humble worshipful confession. So you don’t “test the spirits” by getting into a conversation with a demon! John is not inviting us to entertain demons in conversation! You cannot trust anything they say.
Rather, simply listen to what the false teachers are actually teaching. That’s how you test the spirit. Again, a false teacher, led along by false spirits, will sooner or later preach a false Jesus and a false gospel.
That’s how you test the spirits.