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The DEEP

How to Test a Spirit

The easy spiritual litmus test.

1 John 4:1–3

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because 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 of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.

How can we test a spirit? What does that even mean? How would we cross-examine a spirit?

John provides the answer with, “because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” We aren’t expected to chat directly with spirits; only Jesus did that. Rather, it’s people who claim to speak for God (prophets) who should be “tested.”

And the test is simple and unambiguous.

Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.

Paul wrote the same thing in 1 Corinthians 12:3.

Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.

Thus, John is saying something rather aggressive. If someone is a false prophet, he won’t be able to make a proper confession of faith.

False prophets can talk incessantly about expecting to go to heaven, but they cannot confess Jesus as Lord. They’ll dodge the question every time.

Don’t let them.


As noted in yesterday’s DEEP, we know first-hand what the spirit of God is like. Thus, it shouldn’t be too hard to tell if a spirit is bogus.

Except that it is. A false spirit will, of course, try to conceal its nature. It is false, after all. That’s why it’s important to press “prophets” on the issue of who Jesus is. So how does one apply this in practice? Should you just challenge people?

Of course not. Getting someone to confess Christ is the goal for a wide range of cases. This should always be done with tact. You can ask people about Jesus without it sounding like a cross-examination.

Confrontation is not how evangelism works.


These Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay. The Weekend DEEPs are written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

https://www.ailbe.org/resources/community

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

https://www.ailbe.org/resources/itemlist/category/91-deep-studies

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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