In previous posts, we began examining the aged apostle John’s command to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1). This is a command for believers to test individuals on their teachings and lifestyles.
There is a need for testing, as we noted last time. But before we dive into the how of testing, we must know the why. John answers that important question when he writes, “for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1b).
That is, there are many false prophets in the world. Now, John wrote this epistle around 90 A.D. (probably a few years before). This would be roughly 60 years after Christ’s ascension (see Acts 1:6-11). Within 60 years, then, false prophets were already abounding in the early church.
You can imagine that things have not gotten any better. They have gotten progressively worse. Paul says as much when he writes to Timothy, “evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13). Why should we test the spirits, John? Because many false prophets have gone out into the world. They abound!
We, as believers, must understand this. While some godly men and women encourage the Church and stand for sound doctrine, many false prophets are seeking to undermine the work of God. John gives us a glimpse into some of the challenges he faced in the first-century church.
For example, apparently some individuals doubted the fact that Jesus had a physical body. At the beginning of his epistle, John focuses on the physical body of Christ. He describes Christ as one “which we have seen with our eyes,” and “which we have looked upon,” and one that they even had contact with when he writes “have touched with our hands” (1 John 1:1). Later in church history, this would become a heresy known as Docetism. There seemed to be those who denied the dangers of sinning (see 1 John 1:5-10). All that is in chapter one!
The present Church faces many of the same challenges. Many of the heresies she fought against are present today. Additionally, there are other challenges the Church faces. Many false prophets are in the world, teaching that the Church must be more like the world, that the Church must stop preaching against sin, and that the Church must be more accepting. That is precisely why we must test the spirits, “for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1b).
 Robert W. Yarbrough, “Introduction to 1, 2, & 3 John, in Christopher W. Morgan, Stephen J. Wellum, and Robert A. Peterson, ESV Systematic Theology Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 1573.
 If you want to learn more about Docetism, check out these two websites: https://zondervanacademic.com/blog/docetism and https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/docetic-heresy/.