Many people might remember the litmus test from high school chemistry lab. Strips of litmus paper are dipped into a liquid solution to determine the acidic or base levels of that liquid. In general, if the paper turns red, the solution is an acid. If it turns blue, it is a base.
Just as the chemistry litmus test reveals acids and bases, so also a spiritual litmus test will “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (v. 1). In the ancient world, many teachers and self-proclaimed prophets vied for the Christian community’s attention. Here was a test for the spirit behind the teaching: “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” (vv. 2–3). Only those who acknowledge the full divinity and the full humanity of Jesus are from God. In fact, the spirit that denies these truths “is the spirit of the antichrist” (v. 3).
Believers may be tempted to despair when they observe so many false spirits proclaiming error around them. The forces arrayed against God and the truth seem so powerful and even wellaccepted. Scripture offers a reassuring reminder: there is victory over these false spirits “because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (v. 4).
While these false teachers claim to be speaking for God, in truth the world’s viewpoint has utterly penetrated their own thinking. They are not from God, but “from the world” (v. 5). In the end the community of believers must not worry about popularity, only about adhering to the truth from God which they have been given.