When Unbelief Is Right
A daily devotion for May 23rd
1Dear 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. 2This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3but 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.
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit. (1 John 4:1a)
It is quite true that a mark of maturity is unbelief as well as belief. It is as important that you do not believe certain things as it is that you do believe others. John indicates that this is a widespread problem.
Many false prophets, he says,
have gone out into the world (1 John 4:1a). In Matthew's gospel, the Lord Jesus warned of this:
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves (Matthew 7:15). Here we have underlined for us the fact that we live in a world of deceit, and we are greatly pressured to conform to these things.
In John's day there were teachers going about performing certain signs, perhaps giving predictions of things to come or manifesting tongues, miracles, and other such things. It is of this that John writes and says,
Do not believe these spirits—until you have tested them. Don't be gullible, don't believe just anyone who comes along. It is important to note that there is here a very clear recognition of what the Bible teaches all the way through—that behind the false prophet or false teacher is an evil spirit. There is a true Spirit, the Holy Spirit of truth, the Spirit of love, and just as He speaks through people, so evil spirits also speak through people. When you hear men and women talking about religious things or values, do not gullibly swallow everything they say, especially if they appear to be attractively setting forth something about love and sweetness and concern for others. Especially test that line, for it is the usual approach of error.
We moderns are in much greater danger than the ancients, for in the world of John and Paul's day there was a widespread recognition of the existence of invisible spirits. The ancient world recognized these as gods and goddesses and bowed down to them. This kind of teaching was much easier to accept in the first century than it is in our day. Now we pride ourselves upon the fact that we have grown beyond this. People are intellectually unable to accept this kind of thing today. As a result, we expose ourselves without any defense at all to the control of these evil spirits.
But if we are going to follow the words of Jesus Christ, we must accept what He says is the explanation of the power behind evil in the world. He makes clear that it comes from a host of evil spirits. Part of the blindness of our generation, resulting in chaos and anarchy, is a direct result of people in their pride saying,
I reject the whole concept of evil spirits and demons. It is intellectually unacceptable to me. The blindness of that attitude precludes any defense against it. If we are going to be Christians, we must look at the world as Christ sees it. We most recognize that the pronouncements of humans, whether they are professors in seminaries or whether they are pastors behind pulpits, are not a result of their keen logic or their academic training or their perceptive thinking alone. These people are often unaware of the twist that is given to their thinking by the activity of evil spirits, spirits of error.
Lord, help me to acknowledge that I do live in a hostile world. Teach me not to be gullible, swallowing every line that comes along. But help me to test each on the basis of this One who came and proved Himself to be the truth by His unchanging word.
Life Application: No one will dispute the fact of the existence of chaos and anarchy in the world. Have we in our intellectual pride rejected the existence of evil spirits as irrelevant fantasy?
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Daily Devotion © 2006 by Ray Stedman Ministries. For permission to use this content, please review www.RayStedman.org/permissions. Subject to permission policy, all rights reserved.