Some common myths and misconceptions
1. This cannot be the spirit of God because it is unusual and weird.
In verse 1 of our verse we have a warning " 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." This does not mean that just because a work is very unusual, different or extraordinary, that it must be wrong. Provided its nature or difference is such that it may still be comprehended within the limits of scripture. What the church has been used to, is no rule or measure by which we are to judge, because it is new or different from our experience in church life, we should not dismiss something.
2. This cannot be the spirit of God because God would not cause these physical effects on the body.
A work should not be judged by any effects on the bodies of men; such as tears, tremblings including shaking and jerking, groans, loud cries including laughter, agonies of body or the failing of bodily strength including drunkenness and falling down. The influences a person are under is not to be judged in one way or other by such effects on the body, and the reason is because the bible nowhere gives us any such rule.
3. This cannot be the spirit of God because God would draw attention to Jesus not to people.
It should not be assumed that a moving in the minds of people because there is a great deal of noise or commotion that it is not the work of the spirit of God. For though true religion is contrary to the nature of the Pharisees - which is ostentatious, and delights in being seen and applauded by men. Surely wholeheartedness of response can be seen in scripture. It would seem reasonable that a person under the spirit of god would be greatly moved and show strong affections, because spiritual and eternal things are of so great and infinite concern. It is not possible to judge that which is happening in a persons mind by outward observations.
Luke 17:20 Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation,
Luke 17:21 nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you."
Jesus was saying it will not consist in what is outward and visible, therefore no such judgments can be made based on scripture.
4. This cannot be the spirit of God because people receive visions or revelations by their imaginations.
It is no argument that an operation is not the spirit of God because of it having made a great impression on their imagination. Nor is an argument that a work is not of the Spirit of God because a person may have been in a kind of ecstasy, having been carried beyond themselves, and have in their minds been transported into a strong and pleasing imaginations, and kinds of visions, as though they were taken up even into heaven and there saw glorious sights. It was once said of people that had received revelations or visions that "they are either mad, bad or chosen, but few are chosen". In early days they would be executed for being bad, or locked up for being mad, as few were chosen and even these chosen few would be strictly controlled by the church. Yet as Paul the Apostle spoke of visions and revelations, we can simply refute such arguments.
2 Corinthians 12:1-4 "I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know--God knows. And I know that this man--whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows-- was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell."
5. This cannot be the spirit of God because the effect is contrived by means and example.
It is not a sign that a work is not from the Spirit of God because people follow the example of others or that some means is used to facilitate a manifestation. For we know that it is God's manner to make use of means in carrying on his work in the world, and it is no more an argument against the divinity of an effect, that this means is made use of, than if it was by any other means.
It is quite scriptural that we should be influenced by one another's good example. The scripture directs us to set a good example to this end, Matthew 5:16, 1 Peter 3:1, 1 Timothy 4:1, Titus 2:7; and also directs us to be influenced by the good examples of others, and to follow them, 2 Corinthians 8:1-7, Hebrews 6:12, Philippians 3:17, 1 Corinthians 4:16 & 11:1-2, 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8. By which it appears that example is one of God's means; and certainly it is no argument that a work is not of God that his own means are made use of to effect it.
6. This cannot be the spirit of God because there is a shameless breach of convention and procedure.
It is no sign that a work is not from the Spirit of God that many who seem to be touch by it are guilty of breaches of convention and procedure. We are to consider that the end for which God pours out his spirit is to make men holy and not to make them politicians. The Spirit is poured out on all flesh and few know how to conduct themselves under such power and vehement affection of any kind. Therefore, a thousand breaches will not prove a work to be not of the Spirit of God and there may be many irregularities that are really contrary to the rules of God's holy word. That this should happen may be explained by the exceeding weakness of the human nature and the revealing, convicting and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament we have many instances of a great move of the Holy Spirit that was full of many breaches of convention and procedure and great irregularities, the most cited of which is the church at Corinth.
7. This cannot be the spirit of God because they are mistaken on this point or have misleading opinions or beliefs or ideas.
Many errors in judgement, and some delusions of Satan intermixed with the work, any argument that the work in general is not of the Spirit of God. That people make mistakes or have misleading opinions or beliefs or ideas is proof of nothing, except that they need teaching. However great the spiritual influence may be, it is not to be expected that the Spirit of God should be given now in the same manner as to the Apostles, infallibly to guide them in points of Christian doctrine, so that what they wrote and taught might be relied on as a rule to the Christian church.
8. This cannot be the spirit of God because there is sin and wrong doing among the people.
If some who were thought to be touched by the Spirit of God, fall away into gross errors, or scandalous practices, it is no argument that the work in general is not the Spirit of God. That there are counterfeits is no argument that nothing is true; such things are always expected in a time of reformation. An instance of this is Judas, who being one of the twelve apostles, was united with and intimately conversant with, the company of the true disciples, without being discovered or suspected until he discovered himself by his scandalous practice. Again there was Nicolas one of the seven deacons, who was looked upon by the Christians in Jerusalem, in the time of that extraordinary out pouring of the Spirit, as a man full of the Holy Ghost, and chosen out of the multitudes of Christians for that office. It is more than possible that this same man could be the Nicolas who was the head of the Nicolaitan sect, which was named after him, who indulged in gross and vile practices. (Rev 2:6 & 15).
9. This cannot be the spirit of God because emotions of guilt and fear are manipulated by the preacher.
Finally it is no argument that a work is not from the Spirit of God that it seems to be promoted by ministers insisting very much on the terrors of God's Holy Law. That the word of God is preached with such zeal and passion, that emotions of guilt and fear are produced is not evidence that the work is not that of the Spirit of God.
Recognising the Spirit of God - scriptural evidence
Having looked at some instances of the negative signs let us go back to our scripture (1 John 4), which is surely our only rule for faith and practice, that is given the heading in the NIV bible 'Test the Spirits'. To look at what are the sure and positive, distinguishing scripture evidences and marks of a work of the Spirit of God. In fact, verse 2 tells us "This is how you can recognise the Spirit of God", so let us consider the evidence with open mind.
1. When the operation is such as to raise, and exalt Jesus, who was truly man and truly God, who was born of a virgin and was crucified at calvary. When the truth of the gospel is confirmed and established in peoples minds, this is a sure sign that it is from the Spirit of God.
Verses 2 & 3 show this -- " Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
When Jesus is exalted and recognised as the Messiah (the Christ), the son of God and saviour of men, who came as a man to save man. Yet was perfect and without sin, the only one worthy to pay the redemption price of sacrifice. Was raised from the dead and is now seated at the right hand of God. We can be sure this is the Spirit of God at work.
1 John 4:15 says "If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God."
As a man acknowledges who Jesus is, he has more than merely admitted or confessed the truth but in speaking out is establishing and confirming a thing by the personal testimony of his experience, and is declaring it with esteem and affection.
2. When the Spirit that is at work operates against the interests of Satan's kingdom, which encourages and establishes sin, and the cherishing of worldly lusts in men's hearts. This is a sure sign that it is a true and not a false Spirit
verses 4 and 5 indicate this " You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the view point of the world, and the world listens to them."
So that we may safely determine, that if the Spirit that is at work amongst people;
causes a lessening of men's love and desire for the pleasures, profits and honours of the world, and takes their hearts from the eager pursuit after these things;
and causes them to earnestly to seek after the Kingdom of God and His righteousness;
and causes a concern for the future state and eternal happiness which the gospel reveals and convinces them of the dreadfulness, guilt and misery of sin, must be the Spirit of God.
3. The Spirit that operates in a manner that causes people to have a greater regard and hunger for the word of God as seen in the Holy Scriptures, and establishes them more in their truth and divinity is certainly the Spirit of God. This rule is seen in verse 6 -- "We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognise the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood."
When John says "we are from God" he probably means all the faithful but has particular reference to the true teachers, who are sent by God and are inspired to deliver to his church its rule of faith and practice the bible.
Ephesians 2:19 - 22 gives us a idea of this "Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit."
By demonstrating that the church is dependent for its foundation on the teaching of the apostles and prophets as they themselves line up with the chief cornerstone which is the person of Jesus and his teaching handed down to them. We dare not trust in anything else for our rule for faith and practice. The enemy will never try to get men to stand on the truth of scripture or apply it to their lives and lifestyle.
4. Another rule to test the spirits may be drawn from the names or designations given to the opposing spirits, in the last words of
verse 6, " the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood." These words reveal the two opposite characters of the Spirit of God, and the other spirits that counterfeit his operations. Therefore, if by observing the manner of the operation of a spirit that is at work among a people, we see that it operates as a spirit of truth, leading persons to truth, convincing them of those things that are true, we may safely determine that it is a right and true spirit. For instance, if we observe that the spirit at work makes men more sensible than they used to be, that there is a God, and that he is a great and sin-hating God: that life is short, and very uncertain; and they have immortal souls, and must give an account of themselves to God, that they are sinful by nature and practice and helpless in themselves; and confirms them in other things that are agreeable to sound doctrine. The spirit that operates is this way is the Spirit of God.
He brings men to the light, for what ever makes truth manifest is light. the apostle Paul say in Ephesians 5:13 "But everything exposed by the light becomes visible".
Christ tells us that Satan is a liar, and the father of liars; He has all his power and dominion by darkness and error. Whatever Spirit removes our darkness, and brings us to the light undeceives us, and, by convincing us of truth, really does us a kindness. If I am brought to a sight of truth, and am made sensible of things as they really are, my duty is immediately to thank God for it without stopping first to inquire by what means I have such a benefit.
5. If the spirit that is at work among a people operates as a spirit of love to God and man, it is a sure sign that it is the Spirit of God. This is the sign that John insists upon from verse 6 to the end of the chapter. He says " Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." Here it is obvious that John is still comparing those two sorts of persons that are influenced by the opposite kinds of spirits, and mentions love as a mark by which we know who has the true spirit. This is especially made evident in verses 12 and 13 "No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit." In these verses love is spoken of as though the very nature of the Holy Spirit consisted of love, or , as if divine love dwelling in us, and the Holy Spirit dwelling in us was the same thing.
Paul in writing to the Romans (5:5) express the same thought "God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us". Paul give us a further insight in 1 Corinthians 13, where he saying it does not matter what you do, if you don't have love you are first just" a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal" and second " I am nothing" and finally what good does it do me " I gain nothing".
As you read again these verses take a moment to meditate on them, and experience and rely on God's love for you.
1 John 4:16 "And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.
1 John 4:19 We love because he first loved us.
1 John 4:20 If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.
1 John 4:21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.