A Discerning Heart and Testing of Spirits
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 (1 John 4:1 NKJV).
1 Kings 13 tells us a rather sad story of an individual referred to as a “man of God” who was sent from Judah by the Lord to Bethel prophesy against King Jeroboam of Israel. The man of God was given a three-fold command by the Lord: not to accept any food, not to accept any drink, and not to return by the same way. When the king tempted the man of God to break God’s command, the man of God had his guard up and he refused (1 Kings 13:1-27). However, on his way back, he was intercepted by a fellow prophet, who tempted the man of God to sin. The old prophet said, “I too am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the Lord, saying, ‘Bring him back with you to your house, that he may eat bread and drink water’” (1 Kings 13:18 NKJV). The old prophet was lying – the angel of God had not visited him, and God had certainly not changed his instructions for the man of God. The man of God let his guard down and trusted the old prophet, following him, eating bread in his house, and drinking water, thus breaking God’s threefold command (1 Kings 13:19). As they sat at the table, the old prophet unexpectedly received a true word from God, pronouncing judgment on the man of God for disobeying God’s instructions: “Thus says the Lord: ‘Because you have disobeyed the word of the Lord, and have not kept the commandment which the Lord your God commanded you, but you came back, ate bread, and drank water in the place of which the Lord said to you, “Eat no bread and drink no water,” your corpse shall not come to the tomb of your fathers” (1 Kings 13:21-22 NKJV). Not long after leaving to continue his journey, the man of God suffered a horrific death: “a lion met him on the road and killed him. And his corpse was thrown on the road, and the donkey stood by it. The lion also stood by the corpse” (1 Kings 13:24 NKJV). Like the young prophet, many Christians are deceived because of letting their guard down. While the Bible has clear instructions, and should be our authoritative source, lying prophets like the old prophet mentioned above will attempt to take us on a detour. Believing and following false or lying prophets, however old or experienced, is a scheme of the enemy to lead to utter destruction (Jeremiah 14:14-16)!
Today, there are many scams that are perpetrated, thanks to advancements in technology. Have you ever received an e-mail promising you untold riches if you responded by providing your bank account details? How about phone call from a nice computer technician promising to clean all the viruses in your computer if you will provide him access to your computer only for them to install viruses and then charge you to buy their virus cleaning software? Spiritual scams are possibly more extensive nowadays than online financial scams, and have more serious consequences as we mentioned in our messages on Spiritual Abuse – Part 1 and Part 2. Nowadays there are many ministries and false religions that are financially thriving as a result of peddling lies of prosperity, healing, miracles, and happiness in order to entice many into their traps. Some of these religions are mainstream churches, while others are megachurches led by a charismatic leader, yet others are smaller independent ministries that claim to have supernatural dreams, visions and messages from God. The Bible warns us:
“But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you [use you for gain] with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does[a] not slumber” (2 Peter 2:1-3 NKJV).
Using Discernment to Overcome Deception
A few years ago, a church we were attending was promoting a certain book that depicts the Lord in sacrilegious terms, and church members were given free copies of the book to use as a “witnessing tool”. At first, we were reluctant to read the book, but since it had been recommended by our Church pastor, we read it. The book depicted the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as regular human beings and was thought-provoking, but we were troubled how the God-head was treated sacrilegiously. This is contrary to what we read in the Bible where post-resurrection we see both the Father and Son highly elevated and worthy of our praise, worship, glory, and honor – all the saints, angels and Heavenly Beings worship Him (Revelation 7:9-12). We discarded the book and didn’t think much of it, until we read a few months ago that it had been turned into a movie, and it became very popular among many Christians!
Another book that this church promoted for witnessing had a story about a certain man who met Jesus at a high-end restaurant, and Jesus, who was wearing jeans and a denim shirt, ordered fine wine to drink while answering all questions. Again, this was intriguing and interesting to read, but deceptive – for example: while we don’t drink alcohol, or endorse its consumption, in the Bible the Lord also explicitly told His disciples “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29). In both stories, we see the distortion of Biblical truth, and it is very subtle such that a spiritually discerning person will not see anything wrong with these false depictions of the Lord that Satan uses to desensitize believers from fearing God, who “will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14). The Bible also warns us that “if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:26-27).
Today, there are many books, movies, music videos, and Television programs that have been made to appeal to the masses, especially Christians. They may have what appears to be a good plot or “family-friendly” theme, and they may even be peppered by a few religious-sounding words here and there, but they are designed to lead you astray from your faith. If you don’t have discernment, you will not be able to recognize the wolf in sheep’s clothing and you will be deceived!
Why is Spiritual Discernment and Testing Important?
In His great love for His children, the Lord forewarned of the proliferation of false prophets and false doctrines in the last days. Satan’s target is not the world or religions that are already spiritually blinded and deny the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ, but children of God who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and committed their lives to Him. In sharing the signs of the end time with His disciples, the Lord Jesus warned that “many false prophets will rise up and deceive many” (Matthew 24:11 NKJV), and He repeated again that “false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24 NKJV). Reiterating the same warning, the Apostle Paul later warned “And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:12-14 NIV). Apostles Peter, John and Jude sounded similar warnings (2 Peter 2:1-3; 1 John 4:1-4; Jude 1:4).
A few years ago, against our better judgement and a result of letting our spiritual safeguards down, we got interested in the various supernatural dreams and visions that some Christians were sharing online. Some of these were “revelations” of heaven and hell, others were apocalyptic messages spelling gloom and doom to happen in certain years, and others were exhorting new ways to praise and worship God. Some of these did not clearly line up with the Bible and it was easy to dismiss them as false (Isaiah 8:20). Others were confusing, and we deemed it safe to discard them since God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). The rest were very sophisticated and seemed to line up with the Word of God, for the most part – they had a lot of truth, but interwoven with a few strands of lies scattered here and there. The ministries and people who shared these sophisticated messages liberally quoted the Bible, mentioned the name of Jesus, and offered rich prayers. For a short while we were carried along, until we started to notice some disturbing patterns (red flags) in some of the ministries:
- They started saying that not all revelations are in the Bible, citing, for example: “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25). They used this verse as an excuse to justify their unbiblical messages, contrary to God’s command that no one should add to or take away from His Word (Deuteronomy 4:2; Deuteronomy 12:32; Revelation 22:18).
- Some of the prophecies and visions they shared did not come to pass (Deuteronomy 18:22). They then tried giving excuses and justifications, such as translation errors, etc.
- Some touted questionable spiritual gifts and overemphasis on speaking in tongues or praying for very long hours daily.
- Some claimed very detailed visions and revelations of Heaven and hell. Others even talked to the dead in “heaven” or “hell” and received “gifts” or messages from the dead to share with the masses. The Bible clearly warns that we should not be communicating with the dead or consulting them, but should consult God (Deuteronomy 18:10-11; Ecclesiastes 9:5-6; Jeremiah 27:9; Isaiah 8:19). The Apostle Paul was not permitted to share such revelations (2 Corinthians 12:1-4). Also, in the story that Jesus shared of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus warned that if people do not obey His written Word, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead to tell them (Luke 16:19-31). It is the Holy Spirit who imparts spiritual gifts as He wills, not men – dead or alive (1 Corinthians 12:7-11). We believe that Heaven and hell exist. Some of the dreams and visions perpetuated by some ministers do not line up with Scripture and are used manipulate the brethren, condemn them, and cause fear and discouragement.
- The people with “spiritual gifts”, especially those who were having “supernatural” dreams and visions on a regular basis were being idolized by ministry followers and members; they were treated as “special” and their visions were not closely scrutinized. Their messages were automatically accepted as special messages from God, and instead of being tested (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22), certain Scriptures were tactfully manipulated to justify their messages. These prophets know that they can hook people and keep you interested with dreams/visions, heresies, and new “truths”. Their messages draw you to them and attempt to persuade you to follow them. By claiming they are protected by big angels and sharing personal accolades supposedly from the Lord, they secretly entice you to idolize and follow them while going after other gods, which includes them and their false delusional visions of God (Deuteronomy 13:1-3)!
- If anyone dared to ask a question, they would be mistreated, threatened or kicked out. In some cases, they would receive condemning messages from “the Lord” that they will be punished or killed for questioning or speaking against the pastor, or they would be accused of being demon-possessed or having a bad spirit. Unfortunately, such messages lead to idolizing man and fearing them, instead of fearing God! The Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16), was not only questioned, but He was hit, slapped, spat on, mocked, and even crucified (John 8:57-58; Matthew 26:67; 27:26-31). In contrast, He gave a most loving response by graciously laying down His life and praying “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:24 NKJV). The Lord’s gentle response eventually led to the Centurion confessing Jesus as the true Messiah and Lord (Matthew 27:54; Luke 23:47).
- Some people with “spiritual gifts” claimed that the Lord had guaranteed them (and their immediate family members) the “rapture” ticket. This “once saved, always saved mentality” made them proud and look down upon others. They became spiritually abusive, exuding bad fruit, and started personal attacks when they were questioned about their unbiblical visions. One pastor claimed Jesus showed him his family members’ mega mansions in heaven that were hundreds of stories tall, still under construction, and located at a prime spot in heaven. As a result, people idolized these ministry leaders and their families. The Apostle Paul warned that if we do not continue disciplining ourselves, we may be disqualified even after preaching to others (1 Corinthians 9:27). The Word of God also encourages to “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”(Philippians 2:12 NKJV) and the Lord Jesus Himself said: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’ then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out”(Luke 13:24-28 NKJV). “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36 NKJV).
- Some shared visions where the devil was giving messages and warnings, and exposing how he works to deceive us. In the Bible, we see the devil deceiving, tempting, destroying, and waging war against believers and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ (Genesis 3:1-4; Job 1:6-22; Luke 4:1-13; Revelation 12:17). Why would the Lord Jesus Christ use someone who comes to kill, steal, and destroy, and the father of lies to preach the true Gospel (John 8:44; 10:10)? There is simply nowhere in the Bible where the devil comes to give a life-giving message, and the Bible does not encourage Christians to reason with the devious devil. We are to rebuke Satan in Jesus name and resist Him steadfastly so that He may flee from us (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10; James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8-9).
- They shared visions that “The Lord” exclusively loves their ministry or church. That they alone are the “true Church” that keeps “all the commandments” and receives special revelations from Jesus, or that they are the “remnant” church, or the “144,000”, etc. This might sound good but it feeds into the elitist mentality and promotes idolizing of the pastor, ministry or church. We once visited a ministry where the pastor boldly declared that the Lord had told him that everyone attending his revival services would make it to Heaven! Such deceptive tactics are used as a means to increase ministry membership, loyalty, and financial support. In the Bible, God emphasizes His love for individuals who are obedient to Him (Proverbs 8:17; John 3:16; 14:21-23; 16:27; Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:16).
- Some ministries or churches don’t condemn sin. The ministers condemn others, but don’t own up to their sins. We have heard some ministries claim that the Lord told them that they are pure or that they don’t sin, but only make “slipups” or “small errors”. The Bible says “…there is no one who does not sin…” (1 Kings 8:46 NIV). We are warned that “a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough” (Galatians 5:9 NIV) and to avoid “even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people” (Ephesians 5:3 NIV). Sin is lawlessness and wickedness (1 John 3:4), and we all need to confess our sins before God that we may be forgiven and cleansed of all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9), “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NKJV).
- They may get mistreated by false Christs and turn around and mistreat others also. For example, we heard one pastor sharing visions where curses words were spoken. In turn, he would come and speak curse words from the pulpit. We are taught in the Word of God that we must rid ourselves of “all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language” from our lips (Colossians 3:8) and not to “let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).
- They equate themselves to be as great or greater than Moses, Elijah, or Paul. One false prophet claimed that he was a friend of God but Moses was not a friend of God! Thus, suggesting to be greater. From reading the Bible, we can see that besides Adam and Eve, Moses might arguably be the closest person who was a friend of God (Exodus 33:11)! God calls all His servants friends, not just one man (John 15:15). There is another famous prophet currently claiming to be Elijah. The Lord already clarified that John the Baptist was the Elijah to come (Matthew 11:12-14). The Lord Jesus Christ says – Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he (Matthew 11:11). Let us therefore be humble and ensure to be hearing and following the Lord Jesus Christ (Deutoromony 18:18-20)!
- They introduce strenuous rules that are hard to keep up every day – new commands. They’ll ask the same questions the disciples asked the Lord such us “teach us how to pray”. The answers they receive emphasize a certain way to pray, causing you to be living the Christian life as if it is a sprint which could eventually lead to burn out, discouragement, and falling away. Our walk in Christ is more of a marathon than a sprint!
- Many of them are seeing visions of people or hearing voices and attributing them to God: They may see an old man and assume it is the Father; or a handsome man wearing a white robe and a talith and assume it is Jesus. They multiply false witnesses because people read and also have similar dreams and visions.
- They brazenly continue to teach error even after correction from others: These elders who are sinning are being approached by two or three witnesses to point out their error and they don’t listen (1 Timothy 5:19).
The Bible tells us that God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). In our experience, we have encountered people from various religions, such as Islam, Hinduism, and even New Age, who give credit to their god(s) for a favor they have may have received. You may also have heard of some prominent personalities, and even preachers, declare that all religions serve the same “God” and lead to the same destination. The Book of Acts narrates the story of a slave girl who was possessed with a demonic spirit and was exploited by her masters for economic again (Acts 16:16-24). Every day, she followed Paul and his companions shouting repeatedly, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved” (Acts 16:17). While many of today’s preachers would probably glow in such accolades, regardless of the source, Paul clearly did not enjoy the attention drawn to Him and his companions. Satan uses various deceptive tactics to hinder God’s children and the message of salvation, and what he was doing through the servant girl no different. Had the servant girl been left to continue making her proclamations, the people could have been left confused since they served other gods and the servant girl was actually serving Satan through divination, a sin condemned by God (Leviticus 19:26; 20:6). Paul was discerning and he commanded the demonic spirit to leave the girl immediately, consistent with what the Lord Jesus did when he rebuked demonic spirits that confessed Him as the Son of God (Luke 4:34, 41; 8:28-29). The Lord God Most High does not need the devil’s assistance to accomplish His purpose! False teachers/prophets often employ trickery, manipulation, coercion, and they may justify these tactics and even lie in God’s name. The good news us that God has given us instructions through His Word and His Holy Spirit is willing to guide us if we allow Him. We should be solidly grounded in the Scriptures and must not let anyone bully or sweet-talk us into believing and following anything or anyone else, but Jesus alone! The Lord Jesus declared that He is the Only Way to the Father (John 14:6), and we should be careful not to allow ourselves to fall into Satan’s trap which is meant to confuse, deceive, and lead us away from Christ.
How Do You Discern and Test False Teachings?
Some people claim that you can test a vision or dream by requesting another vision or dream. Granted that Satan is “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2-3), dreams and visions are not foolproof. Some prophets and ministers are also so sure of their false dreams, prophecies and visions that they viciously and forcefully defend them and intimidate whoever tries to question them. Such was the case with the prophets Hananiah and Zedekiah.
- Hananiah falsely prophesied and lied in the name of the Lord to challenge Prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 28).
- In the encounter between King Ahab and the prophet Micaiah, 400 prophets were filled with a lying spirit, and only Micaiah was the true prophet (1 Kings 22). After Micaiah refused side with the false prophets, Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah slapped him on the cheek and mocked him, and the king of Israel imprisoned the prophet (1 Kings 22:24-26).
Under all circumstances, do not be smooth-talked, coerced, or forced to quickly believe any messages, prophecies, dreams, or visions that are purported to be from the Lord. Here are some simple steps to test these messages:
- First, have a clean motive, a willing and open heart that is receptive to God’s Truth, humbly willing to admit your wrongs and repent, and being ready to accept godly correction. The Bible says: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:17), and “…But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word” (Isaiah 66:2). Remember, if we are always right then our sin will remain (John 9:41).
- Secondly, you must uphold the Bible as the Authoritative Source of Truth – not man, not Google, not church/ministry doctrine. The Bible is your reliable GPS for truth, the sure way to test whether messages are from God or otherwise, as exemplified by the Lord Jesus Christ who asserted “It is written…” (Matthew 4:4-10) when Satan attempted to test him, and the Bereans who “received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). The Bible says that “the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). God’s Word is “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).
- Thirdly, pray sincerely and fast faithfully, asking the Lord by faith to give you a discerning heart. Four years ago, we started to pray for discernment, and since then the Lord has graciously opened our eyes to clearly see some lies that we once thought were true. Most people have inherited lies through their church doctrines and interactions with the world, and so the Truth of God through His Word is necessary to set us all free (Jeremiah 16:19; John 8:31-32). In our personal prayers, we regularly pray to know God’s ways (Psalm 25:4) and deliverance from deception, lies, delusions, idolatry, false teaching, tricks of the enemy, scams, etc. Most people think someone else is deceived, not them because they are strong, intelligent, well educated, and know how to discern. But we want to encourage you to be willing to say “Lord, is it I?” (Matthew 26) because many children of God will stumble or fall “that they may be refined, purified, and made spotless” until the appointed time of the end (Daniel 11:35). Therefore, open the door for the Lord and ask Him to show you the cunning schemes of the enemy. You are very precious to Him, and God promises us: “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Hebrews 8:32).
- Observe the fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). Is the minister of God exuding the fruit of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? Or is he controlling, manipulative, evasive, coercive and exerting pressure on members, not allowing people to exercise their freewill and make their own choices and decisions?
In the Bible, prophecies, visions, and dreams were legitimate forms of revelation, and the fulfillment of a prophecy, a sign, or a wonder ordinarily validated the entire message of the prophet (Deuteronomy 18:22). However, even if a miracle or wonder accompanied the message, a prophet who leads the people away from the living God is a false prophet. We are commanded not to listen to or yield to those prophets (Deuteronomy 13:6-8). Because many prophecies, messages, and teachings today may contain a lot of truth and a “little yeast”, you might not sense soon enough that you are being led astray. Just like the Lord warned the Israelites of old (Deuteronomy 13:1-3), it is very important for Christians today to understand how to discern false teachings (Acts 20:28–31; Galatians 1:8; 1 John 4:1).
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, do not allow yourselves to be enslaved by man’s doctrines or deceptions, and not be afraid to test every dream, vision, prophecy or message you receive from anyone or yourself (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). Do not let anyone intimidate you, manipulate you, or coerce you into following them because they have “supernatural” gifts. Follow Christ alone; for “you were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men” (1 Corinthians 7:23), and let us continue growing in our faith, “then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14).
If you would like to have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, we invite you to start with this Prayer of Salvation. For any questions or comments about this article or our ministry, please contact us.
May you be set free by the Truth in Christ.
Abes and Janet.