How Are We To Listen To The Holy Spirit?

John’s warning here is very important and powerful. It is to be understood on two levels; that of the outer world and that of the inner conscience. As Christians we are counseled here not “to believe in every spirit,” but to “test [them] to see whether they are from God,” or from the Evil Spirit.

There were those in John’s time who were already preaching heretical notions. They formed competing movements, claiming to be the true Christian message. Their movements would often be named after their “prophets” like Manicheism (Mani), Arianism (Arius), Pelagianism (Pelagius), and then there were the Gnostics. These “prophets” were distorting the Gospel. The Manicheists and Arians denied the divinity of Jesus, or the Trinity. The Gnostics taught that only a special few “in the know” could be saved. Pelagius taught that the human will, as created by God, was sufficient to live a sinless life, that human beings can earn salvation by their own efforts. Each of these were leading many Christians away from the true faith and causing dissension within the Church. John’s warnings about “testing” these spirits, therefore, were of immediate importance.

These heretical “spirits” are still around in our own times in different forms. And we still have among us those “prophets” that tempt us with the immediate gratification of the fleeting pleasures of the world; power, fame, wealth, or physical pleasures and escapes. They have grown many and ever louder, and more garish in our times. In either case, for the sake of our eternal souls, these “spirits” need to be tested in the light of our Christian faith. As John tells us. “Every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.” (verse 3) To be able to recognize this is very important, for as John reminds us, “This is the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” (verse 3)

We are from God. John tells us clearly that, “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” We are not to listen to the worldly spirits. Those who listen to them are led astray. We are to listen to the Spirit who dwells within us by our baptisms, who disturbs our consciences when we are tempted by the worldly spirits, and who cheers and consoles our consciences when we act in accord with the law that God has written on our hearts. How do we do this? By developing the habits of prayer, scripture study, attendance at Church, receiving the Eucharist, and prayerful self-examination every night before going to sleep. In doing these things we place our attention on God first. We place ourselves in his loving presence and the more we do so we begin to recognize his presence all around us, everywhere, and at all times. We become more and more familiar with his movements within us. In this way, we will be able to recognize the spirits that are not from God, who try in so many ways to tempt us away from God.

Lord, help us in our efforts to place ourselves in your loving presence more and more in our lives. Strengthen our faith in you so that we can test the spirits with growing confidence. Without you we are lost and vulnerable to the spirits of the world. With you, we know that we will be safe and protected from following the false spirits of the world. We pray all of this in your most holy name, Jesus. Amen!

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.