What Does It Mean to Test Every Spirit?

Deception is rampant in this world. From films and television programs to university professors and politicians, if we have learned anything, it is that lies and deception are rampant. It is the same in spiritual matters. Deception abounds.

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 is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: 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 (1 John 4:1-3). 

One of the tactics of demons is to subtly undermine our confidence in truth. This tactic is quite effective, since if they directly assault things we hold to be true, we are more likely to respond defensively, and their plan collapses. However, by gently and progressively introducing the seeds of doubt and confusion with regard to a known truth, you can be moved toward falsehood without the need for combat. This was the tactic of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. He did not directly deny what God had commanded Eve regarding the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but simply introduced the element of doubt. “Did God really say that?” (Genesis 3:1). The simple introduction of doubt begins to work in our imagination. The more we entertain the doubt in our imagination, the more a desire grows to actualize that doubt in tangible ways. This is just the way all temptation works. Once you entertain the image of whatever it is you are tempted to do, playing with it over and over in your mind, the more desire grows to fulfill that temptation.

It is the same with doubts. The more they are entertained, the more they take root and grow into full-blown apostasy. This is why Scripture tells us it is important to guard our thoughts. “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips” (Proverbs 4:23-24). When you fail to guard your mind, you fail to act intelligently, falling prey to disordered emotions and deceptions suggested to you by the unclean spirits that do indeed roam about seeking your destruction. 

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast (1 Peter 5:8-10).

Now, these doubts need not be introduced by direct demonic contact, but more often than not are introduced through various forms of media and other people. In the age of the internet, we have access to literally every sort of perversion, distraction, lie, and deception known to humanity. As we surf the web, we all encounter some aspects of each of these. It is inevitable. No one is immune and no mind is spared the constant onslaught of things designed to undermine truth. Many spiritual lives have been ruined, and many have lost families, and even their freedoms, to the temptations provided by the so-called “dark web.” I heard one pastor refer to the internet as Satan’s playground, and while the comment is simplistic, it does have a bit of truth to it. But it is not just the internet. Television and films provide plenty of imagery, which often bypasses the critical thinking side of the human mind, and enters directly into our imaginations, where again they can be entertained to such an extent, they become desires. This is not limited to just images, but ideas as well. It is amazing and saddening how many people get their religious and worldview concepts and opinions from film and television and embrace them without carefully examining them. The Apostle John was right on target to urge us to test the spirits. They are quite sneaky.

Test Time

How do I test the spirits? First, the person, idea, or entertainment should do nothing to undermine the person of Jesus Christ. Now, that might sound simple, but it is not so easily determined. You have to examine the content of the ideas being promoted or suggested very closely. Undermining the person of Christ is not just an attack on who we believe He is, but also on the totality of His truth. Does the person or idea deny or undermine any of the following?

  • The objective nature of truth; The objective nature of morality.
  • Natural revelation; Divine revelation.
  • The fact of two genders; The fact of sin.
  • The sacred nature of human life from conception to death; The existence of God.
  • Jesus as God Incarnate; Fundamental human rights.
The Church Father, Tertullian, wrote on the topic of entertainment. While entertainment took different forms in his time, the principles still apply today.

For all licentiousness of speech, nay, every idle word, is condemned by God. Why, in the same way, is it right to look on what it is disgraceful to do? How is it that the things which defile a man in going out of his mouth, are not regarded as doing so when they go in at his eyes and ears — when eyes and ears are the immediate attendants on the spirit — and that can never be pure whose servants-in-waiting are impure? 

The Apostolic Constitutions states:

You are also to avoid their public meetings, and those sports which are celebrated in them…. Abstain, therefore, from all idolatrous pomp and state, all their public meetings, banquets, duels, and all shows belonging to demons.”

When examined in light of all that Scripture has to say on these and other issues, most forms of entertainment and most ideas, whether spiritual, philosophical, or political, all reveal the existence of unclean spirits behind them.

In Summation

I freely admit that testing the spirits in this way can be a daunting task. However, if you are not willing to be diligent in something as important as your eternal destiny, then you have to reassess your priorities. Take stock of what you consume with your eyes and ears. Is each and every one of them in accord with the totality of Scripture, or are you looking the other way, as it were, on what you perceive to be “little things” because you enjoy the television program, movies, books, radio show, etc.? Test the spirits, that you might be found faithful at the time of judgment.