How Can the Christian Discern the Spirits of Truth and Error?

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“They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error” (KJV, 1 John 4:5-6).

“They are of the world”

In John 4:5-6, John is continuing to battle against the false teachers of his time. The same could be said of today’s false teachers, “They are of the world.” While all of God’s creation lives upon the world and are in the world, we see that John uses the phrase, “They are of the world,” uniquely.

To be of the world is to be unregenerate. To be of the world is to be without the Spirit of God. When someone is of the world, his thinking will be set on the world and its ways. The one who is of the world will be carried along by the world like a ship is carried along by the wind in its sails.

“therefore speak they of the world”

A natural outpouring of someone who is of the world is that he will speak of the world. If we are not careful, we will miss the valuable lesson that is to be found in this teaching. John was waging his war against the heresies of his day. To make his point and enlighten his listeners concerning false teachers, John told them that false teachers would speak of the world.

To be of the world is ultimately a matter of the heart. When someone’s heart is set upon the world, worldly speech will naturally pour forth. This does not mean that a false teacher’s speech is characterized by blatant ungodliness. However, it does mean that a false teacher’s speech will be characterized by worldly matters rather than the Word of God.

Colossians 3:2 tells us that the Christian is to set his mind and affections on things above and not to set his mind and affections on things of the earth. Likewise, John tells us in 1 John that the Christian is not to love the world or the things of the world.

“and the world heareth them”

However, what is characteristic of the world is that the world will listen to its own voice. Scripture says, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned into fables” (2 Tim. 4:3-4).

The world loves to hear its own voice.

Paul warned against what would characterize the latter days. We can see that the people of the world would seek out teachers that would satisfy their selfish desires. As a result, the itch would be gratified, and the ear would be turned. Much like a dog turns its ear toward the one who scratches and away from another.

The sad reality of the world in which we live is that, ultimately, all of humanity is being shepherded. While the Bible does not use this language, the illustration is fitting. Jesus said His sheep hear His voice, and they follow Him. The same can be said about the people of the earth. The world has a voice, and it speaks loudly. Those who are of the world hear the world’s voice, and they follow.

“We are of God”

While there are people who are of the world, there are also people who are of God. To be of God is to be born again and sealed by the Holy Spirit. To be of God is not to be on the fence but to be known by Christ and express genuine faith and repentance toward God.

To be of God is contrasted with the one who is of the world. Therefore, the one who is of God is the one who has been taken out of the kingdom of darkness and has been translated to the kingdom of the Beloved Son, Jesus Christ. Therefore, to be of God is to be an ambassador for Christ and one who seeks God’s kingdom first.

“he that knoweth God heareth us”

The first test that John gave can be found in 1 John 4:2. In that verse, John tells his listeners that they could detect truth from error by noting whether the teacher believed and stated that Jesus Christ came in the flesh. John tells his listeners that if someone confessed that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh, it would be in line with the truth.

As we move down to verse 6, we see that John was not done with his guidance on detecting truth from error. Instead, John claimed that when someone knows God, he will also align himself with the apostles’ orthodox (historical) teaching. Thus, he will believe what the Bible says and not a new teaching that arises at a later date.

“he that is not of God heareth not us”

Here we see the great divide between those of the world and those of God. John speaks in black and white. He tells us that those who are of the world will listen to the world. He tells us that those who are of God listen to God. On the contrary, those who are of the world will not hear God. There is no middle ground with John. John does not like leaving loopholes and backdoors for the listener to escape.

The Bible would support John’s claims. Paul tells us of the work of Satan in 2 Corinthians 4. We are told that Satan has blinded the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing Christ in His Gospel. From the beginning, it could be said that those of the world do not hear God.

Cain did not hear the voice of God with spiritual ears when God said, “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted…” (Gen. 4:7). When God commissioned Isaiah, He told him to say to the people, “…Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not…” (Is. 6:9).

Ultimately John equates hearing with understanding rather than simply hearing the words of a speaker.

“Hereby know we the spirit of truth”

John ends this passage by stating that it is by his teaching that one may know the Spirit of truth. The Spirit of truth is properly capitalized as it is not referring to the spirit of man but the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God is the Spirit of truth.

When Jesus was on the earth, He promised that the Holy Spirit would come and convey truth to the apostles after His departure. There is no way that the apostles could have remembered what Jesus said and written it down without error. Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written decades after Jesus left the earth. John’s Gospel was likely written around sixty years after Jesus left the earth.

However, the Holy Spirit was given as the Spirit of truth, and it is by the Spirit that we have the Word of God.

“and the spirit of error”

It is also adequately said that while there is a Spirit of truth, there are also spirits of error. Demonic teachings can be seen throughout the Bible and in modern times. We are told in Scripture that the false gods of the Old Testament we not merely metal or wooden images, but rather the people were worshipping demons.

Spiritual warfare is real, and one of the greatest battles the Christian will fight is for the truth of God’s Word. Paul warned the believers in Ephesus that if they wanted to fight against the schemes of the devil, they must put on the whole armor of God. The first piece is the belt of truth. Without the truth, the battle will be lost.

Final Prayer

Father, I thank You for Your truth. I pray that You would help me contend for the truth of Your Word first and foremost in my life and mind. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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