The message of the false prophets presented in varying guises was a tantalizing brew. It afforded the right to become a “free spirit” untrammelled by fixed principles. It gave free reign to emotion, sentimentality, excitability, and the cultivation of pleasurable inner experience culminating in ecstasy and private revelations, always directed toward the attainment of high self esteem and maximum self satisfaction. Man, not God, was at the heart of the vile religion that travelled the world so rapidly and sought to invade the church, and there was no sense of the need for a real Redeemer who would deliver men from their illusions, iniquity, or personal defilement. Indeed this innate defilement was “sanctified” by the deification of man and his natural desires. In its more gross expressions it was driven by the demonic. He who has ears to ear let him hear the siren songs of our day. Let him see the sight of many the popular entertainers of our time in the choreography, costume, and cosmetics that debase our humanity and suggest the influence of the dark and cruel one who devises our ruin.
The spirits we are to test are those influences that animate our drives and affections in every area of our lives, those flashes of insight or seeming enlightenment that govern our minds and determine the goals we pursue. We are subject to the spirit of the natural self corrupt but controlled more or less by the common grace of God. We are susceptible to the spirit of the world, an affinity with humanity in a corporate sense with whom we share common tendencies and sensibilities. We may come under the influences, impressions, and illumination of the Spirit of God. We may even feel pressure and persuasion from the inhabitants of the realm of darkness. The spirits approach us for our acquiescence and compliance and we need to be aware of their sources.
We need to be acquainted with and examine our own spirit and its leanings. This is the essence of our own personality, its type, temperament, taste, and trends of behaviour, The things we want and wish for at a subliminal level can come to us in acceptable dress and powerful impact and we can rationalize their legitimacy. What pleases us may become permissible and receive the sanction of our conscience. We are willing to endorse the suggestions of our own desires and identify them with the promptings of the Spirit of God. We must test our spirits by the commandments of God in order to certify their purity and motivation. Are the spirits we heed consonant with love for God and inward obedience to him?
The spirit of the world allures us as best it can. Vanity Fair tempts us with its wares and amusements. We were born in its tents, besieged by its messages, schooled in its customs. It never occurred to us to try the spirit of the world. It was always there from the moment we arrived, and ingrained in our nature through observation and imitation. It was natural to get caught up in the world, hold its values, and pursue its aims until the gospel enlightened us to the awful and startling fact that the love of the world was enmity with God. Yet how often are we still accommodating to the spirit of the world in ways we do not suspect, and have adjusted them to the practice of religion? Do we interrogate our accustomed outlook and readily adopted stance on so many issues? Are they simply the expression of the “old Adam” who remains within?
The spirit of falsehood loves to haunt the place of religion in the heart, the religious organization, or informal affiliation. Religion is ostensibly some sort of move toward God, or substitution for God. It is the sphere that Satan meddles in most in case we are in danger of stumbling upon truth. It is here that he weaves his fabric of lies, mystification, and confusion. Here his inventiveness is prolific and overwhelming in the options he has on offer. His catalogue has something for every customer. His is the greatest variety store in the universe. The most effective diversion from God is religion ranging from primitive paganism to the closest possible counterfeits of Christianity. An abundance of ritual and mystery entrances some as if the charm of music, aesthetics, and architecture actually elevates the soul to heaven. For others encounter with the depths of one’s self and its subjective motions equates with the experience of God. Without the realization that the substance of our nature is suffused with depravity and deceit we fail to see that self cosseting and self justification govern the operations of the inner life. Functioning by feeling is like floating over a hazardous ocean without compass and rudder.
The Spirit of God guides us through principles that engage the mind he has given us. He has endowed us with the gift of his revelation recorded in Holy Scripture and from the light of his word we are directed by the lamp of righteousness. While the mind weighs any matter the Spirit purifies and persuades the heart to follow his leading in a manner, perhaps mainly, of which we are not made conscious with tingling sensations and an air of elation, lest like Paul we become puffed up. When the grasp of an issue is too high for us, or a solution beyond our reach, we resort to prayer and patient faith waiting for the answer to occur, or for God to overrule.
Testing the spirits is a divine work wrought within and for us. We are given the anointing of the Spirit to exercise discernment. We are given the word to teach us. The twofold illumination of the cleansed conscience helps us to detect sin and deceit. The regenerate (“born again” is, unfortunately, a much debased term) listen to God and judge by revealed and rehearsed truth which attunes us to his mind and trains perception. We may not be endowed with infallibility but we are preserved or retrieved from gullibility, and we are called upon to be diligently probing.