Figuring Out Falsehood

1 John 4:1-6

November 6, 2011 | Brian Bill

Have you picked up on the growing number of scams taking place in our society today?   Years ago, WGN-TV reported that a group of three men have been posing as police officers, complete with badges and walkie-talkies, and robbing homes on the northwest side of Chicago.  

There are warnings issued about fake emails being circulated that looks like it comes from Apple about individual iTunes accounts.  This is actually an attempt at “phishing,” which is a relatively new word that refers to a scam by which an e-mail user is duped into revealing personal or confidential information on a fake website which the scammer can then use illicitly.  These emails and websites look legitimate and the messages are often urgent and very believable.

Other times, these hoaxes are easy to spot. I received this email from someone whose name I know but obviously did not come from him.  I’m going to leave the grammar as it was: “Hello Friend.  I remembered hearing about a quick and easy solution this caught my eye right away im headed straight for the top try it for yourself.”

One of the most common frauds involves an email from Nigeria where you are asked to help access a large sum of money in a foreign bank account.  For your efforts, you are promised a percentage of the funds.  Once a dialogue is established, you will eventually be asked for advance fees and personal account information.  By the way, I read that the second most lucrative industry in Nigeria is scamming foolish Americans out of their money.

One of the easiest ways to spot a hoax in an email is a line that says: “Send this email to everyone in your address book” because scammers and spammers want their material to spread as far and as fast as possible.  Another clue is when “over-the-top” language is used with words like “Urgent,” “Danger” and so on.  And when words are typed in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, something is fishy.

While the phony phishing schemes on the Internet are dangerous, there are insidious spiritual scams taking place all the time, which are even more perilous.

I’ve gotten to know an individual who comes to our church.  After learning more about her story, I asked her to type it out so we could learn from her experience: “Around age ten I realized I was a sinner who needed the Savior, and I became a spirit-born child of God by trusting in Jesus…Through most of my life I continued to study the Bible and attended various churches while growing in my knowledge and understanding of God’s holiness and grace.  However, ten years ago after the 9/11 attack I was unknowingly in a spiritually weak state when I joined a Bible study at the home of a trusted friend and fellow believer.  There I was introduced to a group of people who seemed more loving and dedicated to the Lord than other Christians I knew…

“I foolishly believed I could not be deceived because all of this group’s teachings were clearly based on God’s Word which I already trusted, and my friend and I thought we were reading the Bible in context.  In addition, I was reassured when the group’s leader claimed that Jesus is deity…I believed she meant what is understood by other believers.  However, it was not long before I found I had been stripped of all previous assurance of my faith, and I was then being manipulated by the use of fear and guilt and transformed into a different personality. 

“Although we were encouraged to ask questions in this group, we were often accused of ‘resisting the authority God had placed over us’… and I quit asking questions.  The group’s leader allowed herself to be promoted as God’s only prophetess for today’s remnant of true believers, and she claimed that any questioning of her teachings was ‘persecution’ from those who just did not want to do God’s will.  She also claimed that her teachings were confirmed by the obvious ‘fruits’ and many mystical ‘signs’ we were all experiencing.  

“Eventually, this very authoritative group dictated which translation of the Bible we could trust, which authors and speakers we could trust, and which people we could trust.  In this way the group controlled what information we were exposed to and kept us busy doing God’s will as determined by the leader, and thus the group controlled our thinking as well as our behavior.  The group’s leader taught that those outside of her group, as well as those within her group who disagreed with her and then left, would all suffer God’s wrath.  Although my family and relationships with others became strained and even my marriage was threatened, I became thoroughly convinced that I would suffer God’s wrath for eternity if I left this group.

“After several months I finally realized this group’s leader was misrepresenting the Jesus I knew and trusted, so with the help of God’s courage I quietly began to question her other teachings.  From my research of information available on the Internet, I soon realized I was involved with a cultic group led by a false prophet…who promoted her false teachings by deceptively misrepresenting God’s Word out of context, and by confusing the definition of familiar Christian terms.  Although I had known a lot of information about cults, I had not known how they work in recruiting and keeping their members…”

I’m going to pause there and share the rest of what she wrote at the end of the sermon.

There is truth and there is falsehood.

One religious researcher estimates that there are over 4,300 religions and cults in our world today (see  Many scholars and reporters “shy away” from the term cult and instead use the phrase, “religious movement.”  While at times it’s important to be “PC” or “Politically Correct” in how we use certain terms, God is more concerned that we become “BC” or “Biblically Correct.”  There are cults in the world today.  There is truth and there is falsehood.  There is right and there is wrong.

Aren’t you glad that the Bible helps us figure out how we can separate fact from falsehood?  The spiritual scam taking place in the early church was known as Gnosticism.  The word “Gnostic” means knowledge.  The root of this word is still used today as in agnostic, which means “without knowledge;” prognosis, “before knowledge;” and diagnosis, “with knowledge.”  Gnostics believed in secret levels of spirituality, they doubted the deity of Jesus, and even more so, they did not believe in the full humanity of Jesus.  John’s words that confront counterfeits in the first century have tremendous application to us today because this same error is creeping into our culture, and even into some churches, through books like the DaVinci Code, our fixation on celebrities and the media attention on the Gospel of Judas.  

Last Sunday we learned together that the only way to move from a condemning heart to a confident heart is to focus on God’s character – He is great, He is glorious and He is a giver.  And then we must determine to follow God’s commands – to lean on Him, to love others, and to live in Him.  

 Here’s the main idea: Because Christ is in believers, we must not believe everything we hear.  Let’s go through four diagnostics from 1 John 4:1-6.  Each point contains a key word and a question to ask.

1. INVESTIGATION: How is spiritual skepticism encouraged?

After introducing the topic of God’s Spirit at the end of chapter 3, John wants us to know that there are other kinds of spirits around as well.  Verse 1 tells us that it’s important to be spiritually skeptical: “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.”  John calls believers “dear,” because his readers are close to his heart and are to be close with one another.  The command to not believe every spirit is in the present tense.  It literally means: “Stop believing every spirit,” which indicates that they were too gullible and accepting of any teaching that came their way.

It’s important to have a healthy skepticism when it comes to spiritual claims.  Proverbs 14:15: “A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps.”  False teachers don’t walk around with nametags that say, “Hi, I’m a False Teacher.”  Our culture tells us to believe what feels good or what sounds the best but we must practice doctrinal discrimination.  The word “test” refers to examining, proving and scrutinizing in order to see if something is genuine.  It was used of examining metals to see if they are the real deal. 

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Fools Gold”?   One Gemologist writes: “It is not unusual for a beginner to wonder about the difference between gold and the other materials found in a streambed, because shiny rocks, or iron pyrite (fool’s gold) is mistaken for the real thing.  In fact, there is a story of an entire shipload of iron pyrite being shipped over to England during the 1500’s — the yellow stuff having been mistaken for gold.” Shakespeare made this phrase famous: “All that glitters is not gold.”

There’s a lot of stuff that glitters in the name of spirituality.  Almost everything connected with God and truth has a counterpart in various forms of evil.

  • The Trinity is copied by the Devil, the Antichrist and the False Prophet.
  • Wheat is counterfeited by tares.
  • In contrast to angels, there are demons.
  • Moses’ miracles were imitated by the Egyptian magicians.
  • In the Book of Acts, Philip’s miraculous signs were copied by Simon the sorcerer.

Did you know that every single New Testament writer warns against false teachers and false prophets?   Jesus himself said in Matthew 24:4-5: “Watch out that no one deceives you.  For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.”  Dear friends, it behooves us as believers to examine these extravagant claims because not everything you read or see or hear is from God.  And the reason we are to test for the truth is because it’s not always obvious.  2 Corinthians 11:14 reminds us that even “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” We are to stop trusting everything and start testing.

I was stunned when I was watching Bill O’Reilly on the Factor many years ago.  He first played an excerpt from an interview with the well-known atheist Richard Dawkins.  I was glad that O’Reilly poked holes in Dawkins’ arguments.  But then he interviewed the spiritual self-help guru Deepak Chopra, as a supposed “expert” on spiritual matters.  During the interview Chopra said that it’s impossible to know the deity and how we just need to listen “to the heart.”  When asked further questions, he said that he believes in an omniscient “source.”  Friends, to Chopra, Jesus is almost a Buddhist figure, Satan is a creation of our guilt and cosmic consciousness is what we should all be striving for.

Let’s be like the believers from Berea as described in Acts 17:11: “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”  Because Christ is in believers, we must not believe everything we hear.

Back in 1 John 4:1, the phrase “gone out” means to “escape” or “spread abroad.”  Check out this paraphrase: “My dear friends, don’t believe everything you hear.  Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you.  Not everyone who talks about God comes from God.  There are a lot of lying preachers loose in the world.”  

2. INCARNATION: How is the Savior viewed?

The second diagnostic when examining something is to make sure to keep Christ as the key.  If a group doesn’t get their teaching about Jesus right, nothing else will be right either.  Look at verses 2-3: “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.”  

The word “acknowledge” is actually the word “confess,” which has to do with a commitment that leads to a genuine confession.  It literally means to “say the same word,” or to say the same thing that God says about something.  What is it that the Father has said about His Son?  He is Savior and Lord and God.  The phrase, “has come” means that it’s an abiding reality.  He’s come “in the flesh,” which means He was not a phantom.  John 1:14 states it very clearly: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  To not confess that Christ came in the flesh is to deny that which is true.  2 John 7: “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world.  Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.” 

John Newton, who wrote “Amazing Grace,” also wrote these words:

‘What think ye of Christ? Is the test

To try both your state and scheme;

You cannot be right in the rest,

Unless you think rightly of Him.’

Do you remember when the DaVinci Code book came out?  One line in particular from the book is very troubling: “Almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false” (page 235).  I like what Charles Spurgeon once said: “Christ is the sum and substance of theology.”  Jesus is the central focus of all God has done, is doing and is going to do.  The name “Jesus Christ” covers his humanity and His deity.  Jesus is his earthly name and Christ refers to his heavenly name.  He is fully God and fully man.  

Friends, the Mormons talk about Jesus, but to them he is the half-brother of Lucifer and a created being.  Jehovah Witnesses believe that Jesus was Michael the Archangel who became a man and that after the resurrection, Jesus was just a spirit, not a real, physical person.  Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet but not God.  Christian Science teaches that Jesus was a man in tune with the divine consciousness.  The Baha’i faith believes that Jesus is only one of nine great world manifestations and is not the unique path of salvation.  Unitarians believe that Jesus was a good man who was mistakenly deified by His followers.

Any system that denigrates His deity or dishonors his humanity is not of God.  John calls this the spirit of the antichrist.  Listen to these words from 2 Peter 2:1-2: “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you.  They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them-bringing swift destruction on themselves.  Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.”  Because Christ is in believers, we must not believe everything we hear.

3. REGENERATION: How is salvation understood?  

In verses 4-5, we see that when we’re saved, we become God’s children and the Holy Spirit comes to live in us: “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 viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.”

  • Different sources.  To be “from God” is not an arrogant claim of our superiority as Christians but rather the simple truth that through the new birth we have been adopted into His family and we are now connected to Him.
  • Different strength.  God is greater and His truth will always win the day.  Romans 8:37: “…in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”  Satan is defeated, though he doesn’t act like it.  

I came across a story about a proud lion that was walking through the jungle and came upon a little rabbit.  He demanded to know who the rabbit thought the king of the jungle was: “Oh, you are, mighty lion!  You’re the king!”  The lion lumbered on and came to a monkey and roared out the same question. The answer was the same.  He was king and everyone knew it.  Then he came to a bull elephant that was 16 feet tall and had 6 foot tusks.  The lion roared, “Who’s the king of the jungle?”  The elephant grabbed the lion with his trunk, lifted him high over his head and threw him against an oak tree 20 yards away.  As the lion slid down the tree like melted butter, he looked up at the elephant and said, “Well, just because you know the answer you don’t have to get uptight about it!”

Listen.  The devil is deceiving many that he is stronger but greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world!  Christ won and that means we win!  That reminds me of 2 Kings 6:15 when Elisha reassured his servant when they were outnumbered and in danger of being killed: “Don’t be afraid…Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

We overcome because God is greater

Dear children, if you are born again then you are from God and the Almighty abides within you.  The word “overcome” means to vanquish, subdue and conquer and the tense indicates that this victory has been won in the past and we are still enjoying that victory in the present.  We overcome because God is greater, not that we’re great.  

I was glad to read  that Harold Camping, the “Doomsday Prophet,” has now apologized for his false predictions of the return of Christ and that he was wrong to say that God had stopped saving people (see  I’m happy to hear that he’s retracted his error but saddened that he got so much attention in the media and from his followers.  Because Christ is in believers, we must not believe everything we hear.

4. SUBMISSION: How high are the Scriptures held? 

Check out 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 recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.”   When John uses the word “we” and “us,” he’s referring to all the apostles he represents.  All who are truly born of God will accept the teaching of the apostles as preserved in the New Testament.  Those who know God listen to the Word of God.  In order to recognize truth from falsehood, make sure you are submitted to the Scriptures.  False teachers don’t have a high view of the Bible, either adding additional books, or by simply ignoring its clear teaching.   It’s one thing to appreciate the Bible; it’s another thing altogether to submit to its authority.

We should have our spiritual radar working all the time.  The Bible gets misquoted, ignored, demeaned and sometimes people believe things about the Bible that are simply not true.  For instance, did you hear what Jay Carney, the Presidential Press Secretary, said this week?  This is how he answered a question: “Well, I believe the phrase from the Bible is, ‘The Lord helps those who help themselves.’”  The only problem is that this is not in the Bible.  Actually, we know that the Lord helps those who can’t help themselves.

Check out these five traits of false teachers as found in the Life Application Bible.

  • They claim to have “new truth” from special prophets or special revelation.
  • They twist Christian doctrine.
  • They undermine Scripture.
  • They promote salvation by works.
  • They undermine the assurance of eternal life by God’s grace.

Let’s pick up the rest of the testimony we began with today.  This individual who was deceived and ended up in a cult learned some things that she’d like to pass on to us.

“I learned that to determine the context and meaning of a verse or passage in God’s Word, we must consider what style is being used…and who is actually speaking…and to whom…and for what purpose.  I was reminded that Satan can use signs and wonders to counterfeit the work of God, and I realized that this group and its leader were trying to take the place of Jesus even if they were sincere and unaware of their sinful error. 

“I learned that I had taken my eyes off of Jesus and focused again on my own attempts to be righteous, and thus I had fallen for the group’s lie that I could get rid of all my sin.  I was reminded that when God looked at me In Christ, He saw the righteousness of Jesus alone.  I learned that as I focused on Jesus and surrendered to the Spirit’s work in my life; He was slowly transforming me into a better reflection of Jesus.  God used my experience with this group to humble me and teach me that anyone can become deceived if in a vulnerable state and He has used me to warn others as well as to encourage those who have been deceived.  God has faithfully renewed and strengthened my faith in Jesus alone by giving me a deeper understanding of His loving grace…and I am very grateful.”

Friends, beware.  Be warned.  This is an urgent message, meant to be heard in CAPITAL LETTERS!  Because Christ is in believers, we must not believe everything we hear.  Let’s review.

  1. INVESTIGATION: How is spiritual skepticism encouraged?
  2. INCARNATION: How is the Savior viewed?
  3. REGENERATION: How is salvation understood?
  4. SUBMISSION: How are the Scriptures held?

I read an 18-page article this week about how to avoid internet hoaxes and was a bit surprised by the closing sentence: “Unfortunately, there are some people that simply will not believe that a message is a hoax regardless of how compelling the evidence you present to them.”

Aren’t you glad that there is compelling evidence that Christ is who He said He was?  

Going Deeper

  1. Would people say that you are gullible?  Why or why not?  What have you seen happen to those who believe everything they hear?
  2. To what degree are we supposed to be spiritually skeptical when it comes to preachers and teachers?  Can this be taken too far?  If so, how can we avoid becoming too critical?
  3. Compare John’s test in this passage to the Old Testament test for prophets in Deuteronomy 13:1-5 and 18:14-22.  What similarities do you see?  
  4. Why is so important that we test the spirits?  How does 1 Thessalonians 5:21 add to our responsibility?
  5. What would you say are the most attractive or enticing elements of teaching that is false today?  Why do you think this message is so appealing?
  6. Read 4:3.  What are some specific examples in our world today of the “spirit of the antichrist”? Do you think it’s getting worse or better?  How should you respond when you see this?
  7. How do you feel when you read that the spirit of the antichrist “is already in the world”?  Ask the Holy Spirit to give you discernment.
  8. Memorize this phrase from 1 John 4:4 – “…The one who is in you is greater than the one in the world.”  How might this promise give you renewed hope and confidence as you deal with doubt and discouragement?  How specifically does this help when you’re tempted?
  9. Verse 5 refers to those who “speak from the viewpoint of the world”?  What does this look like today?  How do movies, TV shows and popular music speak from this viewpoint?  What can be done to counter this?  
  10. How can you help protect the next generation from the “spirit of falsehood” in verse 6?
  11. Based on this passage, what program on TV does your family need to stop watching?  What music should be turned off?  What positive thing can you be doing to replace these negative influences?v

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?