1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. 2 You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the dumb idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I make known to you, that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
A Catholic priest once shared an incident which took place in the prison where he was serving as a chaplain. Assisted by an older man who happened to be a kind of “godfather,” the priest was in the chapel one day when someone came to inform him about the conduct of a particular inmate. Something had to be done. Since the priest’s assistant could not help but overhear the conversation, when the informer left he casually made an offer to help solve the problem: “Father, you want I should take care of this problem for you?” “No thanks,” replied the priest, “We don’t solve such problems with cement shoes.”
It was a sincere offer. The “godfather” was only trying to help. In his mind, there was nothing inconsistent with being a Catholic and ordering a “hit.” Fortunately, the priest saw things differently. I have heard similar stories of Christian inmates who sincerely believed the biblical way for them to discipline a wayward brother was to appoint someone to rub him out. Here is an interesting twist on 1 Corinthians 5. They did not need to turn this fellow over to Satan to destroy his flesh; they would take care of it themselves!
A distorted view of what it means to be spiritual is not new. One of the prominent areas of difference between Jesus and the religious leaders of His day was the definition of what it means to be spiritual. The scribes and Pharisees measured spirituality on the basis of external appearances. No wonder they were so eager to become wealthy. If Jesus’ parable of the shrewd steward in Luke 16:1-13 caused the Pharisees to scoff (verse 14), one can imagine how the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) offended them. Their problem, Jesus said, was judging on the basis of appearances rather than on the motives of men’s hearts (Luke 16:14-18).
The Sermon on the Mount was our Lord’s exposition of the Old Testament Law, stressing that true spirituality goes far beyond the letter of the law to the heart of the matter. Jesus encouraged the poor (literally, and in spirit), the mourners, the gentle, and those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness (Matthew 5:12; compare Luke 6:20-26). He warned against practicing our righteousness in a way that would attract men’s attention to us (Matthew 6:1-18) and against hoarding our possessions. Jesus cautioned those who were quick to judge others that the standard they applied to others would also be applied to them (Matthew 7:1-5). We are to look to God for the good things of life and to treat others the way we wish to be treated by them (7:7-12). Jesus did not forbid us from making all judgments about others. He taught that we should not give what is holy to dogs (7:6) and that we should be on our guard against false prophets (7:13ff.). In short, Jesus turned the Jewish definition of spirituality inside-out and the spiritual system of His day upside-down.
Even in contemporary Christian circles, there is no consensus of thought on true spirituality which one would expect to find among Christians. Christians are dividing themselves over differing definitions of spirituality. Chapters 12-15 of 1 Corinthians are about true spirituality, and in particular, these chapters address the subject of spirituality in the context of spiritual gifts.
It is no wonder that Paul finds it necessary to address the subject of spirituality when he writes to the Corinthian saints. As Paul’s words in verse 1 indicate, the Corinthians are really ignorant when it comes to the subject of spirituality:
1a Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware.
The Corinthians do not think they are ignorant. Quite the contrary! They believe they are spiritual. After all, they are a charismatic church, a church which possesses all the spiritual gifts (1:7). Regardless of whether we may view some gifts as temporary or not, this church has all the gifts. And these Corinthian saints see themselves as spiritual and wise, while at the same time they tend to look down on Paul and the other apostles:
6 Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that in us you might learn not to exceed what is written, in order that no one of you might become arrogant in behalf of one against the other. 7 For who regards you as superior? And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? 8 You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and I would indeed that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you. 9 For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor (1 Corinthians 4:6-10; see 3:18-20; 2 Corinthians 11:16-21).
Worse yet, some of the Corinthians actually dared to accuse Paul of being unspiritual:
1 Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am meek when face to face with you, but bold toward you when absent! 2 I ask that when I am present I may not be bold with the confidence with which I propose to be courageous against some, who regard us as if we walked according to the flesh (2 Corinthians 10:1-2).
The truth of the matter is just the opposite. It is the Corinthian saints who are unspiritual:
1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ. 2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, 3 for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)
The evidence in support of Paul’s accusation is abundant in the chapters we have already studied in 1 Corinthians. The Corinthian church is a divided church. There are factions, some based upon whom the group followed as their leader (1:10ff.). The Corinthians are proud and arrogant (1:18ff.; 3:18-23; 4:6-10, etc.). The Corinthians are soft on sin, especially sexual immorality (chapters 5-6). They are proud that they embraced a man whose sin shocked the pagan Corinthians (5:1-2). They are taking their disputes before the secular law courts rather than before the saints, or rather than suffer abuse for the sake of the kingdom of God (6:1-8). While some are engaged in sexual immorality, others are guilty of setting aside sex within marriage, thus setting themselves up for sin (7:1-5). Some portray marriage as an evil to be avoided and thus encourage unbiblical divorces (7:10ff.). Some Corinthians are not only eating meats offered to idols, they are participating in the heathen idol-worship ceremonies (chapters 8-10). And those who so casually engage in this heathen worship think themselves spiritual and look down on those who refrain from such involvement with idols as “weak.” Some of the Corinthian women seem to think that since they are so spiritual, they can cast aside the roles which God has assigned to men and women (11:1-16). Many of the Corinthian Christians are sick, and a good number died because they refused to wait for their brethren, consequently celebrating communion in a way that failed to properly estimate the value of the body and blood of our Lord (11:17-34).
The Corinthian church is not a pretty sight. These relatively young Christians are already showing signs of serious spiritual problems. And many of the problems Paul has already exposed in his first epistle thus far can be seen in the attitude and practice of the Corinthians regarding spiritual gifts.
1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. 2 You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the dumb idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I make known to you, that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
As we have seen, Paul hardly flatters the Corinthians when he indicates in verse 1 that he is writing to remedy their ignorance on the matter of spirituality. You may very well wonder how I can make the jump from “spiritual gifts” to “spirituality.” The word gifts has been supplied by the translators, as indicated by the fact that “gifts” is in italics. Literally, Paul is writing, “Now concerning spirituals, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware.” The word rendered “spiritual gifts” here is not the same word which is rendered “gifts” in verse 4.
The word “spirituals” in verse 1 is a rendering of a word whose root (pneuma) refers to the spiritual realm. The problem is that the particular term found in verse 1 represents both the neuter and the masculine genders. If the term is understood as masculine in gender, Paul is referring to “spiritual people.” If the term is really neuter, Paul is referring to “spiritual things” or “spiritual gifts.” In 1 Corinthians 2:15; 3:1, and 14:37, Paul uses the term in the masculine gender, and thus we understand “spiritual” to describe people. In 1 Corinthians 14:1, the term is used as a neuter and thus is rendered “spiritual gifts.”
It would seem we are being forced to decide between one or the other, the masculine gender or the neuter gender. I am not alone in contending that the two senses may be combined and that we are not being forced to choose one and reject the other.162 Paul is introducing the subject of spiritual gifts. The term “spirituals” emphasizes the source of the spiritual gifts given to Christians. The root word charisma, employed in verses 4 and following, emphasizes the fact that gifts are manifestations of divine grace, sovereignly bestowed and not obtained on the basis of merit. Consequently, spiritual gifts are not the benchmark of spirituality or of status in the church, but rather are an equipping for service.
Spirituality is related to spiritual gifts, but not in the way the Corinthians suppose. The Corinthians, as we shall see later in chapter 12, suppose certain spiritual gifts are the evidence of superior spirituality, while the absence of these gifts is proof of spiritual inferiority. Paul has a great deal to say about the relationship between spirituality and spiritual gifts. He begins by making sure his readers recognize there are two kinds of spirituality. In verses 1-3, Paul distinguishes true spirituality from the false in terms of its origin. False spirituality originates from the unclean “spirits” and thus, ultimately, from Satan himself. True spirituality originates from the Holy Spirit of God. Paul then sets down one test for distinguishing the Spirit of God from other spirits.
In verses 4-31, Paul distinguishes false spirituality from that which is genuine in a different way. In verses 1-3, Paul draws two circles. One circle is that of false spirituality, the kind of spirituality inspired by false, demonic spirits which they experienced as pagans. The other circle is that of true Christian spirituality, spirituality inspired by the Holy Spirit of God. In verses 1-3, Paul gives a test by which they can know whether the prevailing spirit is divine or demonic. In verses 4-31, Paul does not challenge the source of the gift or its legitimacy as one of the true spiritual gifts which is given by the Holy Spirit. He challenges the way in which we interpret and apply these gifts. True spirituality does not judge one’s spiritual status or importance on the basis of the gift or gifts one has been given. True spirituality does not employ the spiritual gifts one has been given to enhance oneself, but rather employs them sacrificially to the edification of others.
In verse 2, Paul reminds those relatively new believers in Corinth who think they are so spiritual that not all that long ago they were spiritual by means of demonic spirits. In their minds, now they are “spiritual”, but not so long ago they were pagans. And in that pagan state, they were “spirit led.” They were led “astray to the dumb idols.” They were not led of God’s Spirit into closer fellowship with God. They were led astray, led to idols. And these idols were “dumb” idols. Over and over again the Old Testament prophets emphasize that idols are lifeless and speechless. God is eternal, immortal, the Creator and Sustainer of all life. He is the God who speaks and whose words are certain to accomplish His purposes:
10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth, And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; 11 So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).
1 Not to us, O LORD, not to us, But to Thy name give glory Because of Thy lovingkindness, because of Thy truth. 2 Why should the nations say, “Where, now, is their God?” 3 But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases. 4 Their idols are silver and gold, The work of man’s hands. 5 They have mouths, but they cannot speak; They have eyes, but they cannot see; 6 They have ears, but they cannot hear; They have noses, but they cannot smell; 7 They have hands, but they cannot feel; They have feet, but they cannot walk; They cannot make a sound with their throat. 8 Those who make them will become like them, Everyone who trusts in them (Psalm 115:1-8).
18 “What profit is the idol when its maker has carved it, Or an image, a teacher of falsehood? For its maker trusts in his own handiwork When he fashions speechless idols. 19 Woe to him who says to a piece of wood, ‘Awake!’ To a dumb stone, ‘Arise!’ And that is your teacher? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, And there is no breath at all inside it. 20 But the Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him” (Habakkuk 2:18-20).
The idols are dumb; they cannot and do not speak. But this does not mean the demons are speechless, that there is not inspired utterance in pagan or false religion. The Scriptures make it clear that the demons which lead men astray to the dumb idols are also those spirits who inspire speech which solicits them to engage in false and idolatrous worship. The demons inspire false religious worship:
7 “And they shall no longer sacrifice their sacrifices to the goat demons with which they play the harlot. This shall be a permanent statute to them throughout their generations” (Leviticus 17:7).
17 “They sacrificed to demons who were not God, To gods whom they have not known, New gods who came lately, Whom your fathers did not dread” (Deuteronomy 32:17).
37 They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons (Psalm 106:37).
19 What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we? (1 Corinthians 10:19-22).
The demons not only inspire false religion, they are employed also in corrupting true religion:
3 But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. … 12 But what I am doing, I will continue to do, that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting. 13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their deeds (2 Corinthians 11:3, 12-15).
1 But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, 3 men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; 5 for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer (1 Timothy 4:1-5).
I believe the inference of Paul’s words in verse 2 of chapter 12 is clear. The Corinthians are spiritual; they are “spirit led,” even while practicing their pagan religion. But beyond this, there is a subtle warning which may not be too subtle. The warning Paul implies is that those who have been falsely led astray in the past by deceitful and demonic spirits may be susceptible to the same influence as Christians. The appeal of the “spirit world” then and now is power. The Corinthians are into power, and they are into spirituality. In their eagerness to “tap into” spiritual power, they might involve themselves in the pagan spirit power of their past.
This warning is not really hypothetical. Israel’s history should teach us otherwise. The Old Testament prophets reminded the Israelites that the “gods” of Egypt were not really left behind in Egypt, but came along with the Israelites at the exodus:
14 “Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:14-15).
25 “Did you present Me with sacrifices and grain offerings in the wilderness for forty years, O house of Israel? 26 You also carried along Sikkuth your king and Kiyyun, your images, the star of your gods which you made for yourselves (Amos 5:25-26; see Acts 7:42-43).
When Jehoshaphat (the king of Judah) is conned into an evil alliance with Ahab (the wicked king of Israel) to fight with Syria, Jehoshaphat is rightly apprehensive. The false prophets put on a great show of support. They give the go ahead, indicating God’s approval and certain victory. Jehoshaphat is not convinced, and when a true prophet, Micaiah, is summoned, he reluctantly informs Jehoshaphat that such an alliance will be futile for the king of Judah and fatal for Ahab, king of Israel. He then explains the role of the false prophets with these words:
19 And Micaiah said, “Therefore, hear the word of the Lord. I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right and on His left. 20 And the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said this while another said that. 21 Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will entice him.’ 22 “And the Lord said to him, ‘How?’ And he said, ‘I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ Then He said, ‘You are to entice him and also prevail. Go and do so.’ 23 Now therefore, behold, the Lord has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; and the Lord has proclaimed disaster against you” (1 Kings 22:19-23).
While demonic spirits are not specifically mentioned in Deuteronomy 13:1-18 and 18:14-22, they are at least implied. In Deuteronomy 13, God warns the Israelites regarding false prophets. The assumption in 13:1-2 is that a false prophet may produce miraculous signs and wonders (the same is true in Matthew 7:22). These miraculous works do not prove that one claiming to speak for God is truly a genuine prophet of God who is to be obeyed. When an alleged prophet makes predictions and promises which fail to come true, this is a sure indication that he or she is a fraud. But when miraculous power is demonstrated, the final test is whether or not this prophet’s words and deeds lead men to submit to the lordship (authority) of God by obeying His word.
Verse 3 is necessary in the light of verses 1 and 2. Since the Corinthians are naive, ignorant of all that they should know concerning spirituality and spiritual gifts, Paul must “make known” to them a test by which the Holy Spirit is distinguished from all other “spirits.”
3 Therefore I make known to you, that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3).
It is important to notice that Paul’s emphasis here is upon “speech.” He has already referred to the idols of the Corinthians’ past as “dumb idols” (verse 2). Now he speaks about speech, the speech of worshipers. Ordinary speech is not primarily in view here, but inspired utterance, speech made under the controlling influence of a spirit. This is specifically indicated in the case of one who speaks “by (or in—note the marginal note in verse 3 of the NASB) the Spirit of God.” In other words, it is the Spirit of God, speaking through a person, who is incapable of saying, “Jesus is accursed.” On the other hand, I believe Paul says that a person speaking under demonic control is incapable of saying, “Jesus is Lord.” Nowhere in the gospels does a demon-possessed person say this. The demons reluctantly acknowledge that Jesus is the “Son of God,” or the “Holy One of God,” but not that He is Lord. Even when commanded to come out of a possessed person, the demons seem to resist and rebel to the last moment (see Mark 1:23-26).
This test Paul sets forth in verse 3 is primarily a test of the spirit who inspires a man’s speech. Let the Corinthians remember there is a pagan spirituality, that as pagans they were spirit-led, but that leading comes from a demonic spirit who hates and opposes the lordship of Christ just as Satan did and will do to the end. Every person who is spirit-led then is not necessarily led by the Spirit of God. Those who are led by the Spirit of God will profess Jesus as Lord, and they will be led to intimacy with God, not away from Him by deceit.
But what of texts like Matthew 7:22 where men do acknowledge Jesus as Lord? Is everyone who mouths the words, “Jesus is Lord,” possessed by the Spirit of God? No. Even a Christian can mouth the words, “Jesus is anathema.” But they cannot do so in the Spirit of God. So too a person could say, “Jesus is Lord,” but not when possessed by a demonic spirit who is speaking through them. Remember too that in Matthew 7 the circumstances are carefully described. In Matthew 7, Jesus is not talking about a profession which men make today. The words “Lord, Lord, …” are spoken to our Lord and they are spoken in that day. Those who say, “Lord, Lord, …” are unbelievers who stand before the Lord Jesus Christ in the day of judgment, the day when every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2:9-11). How would any man dare to stand before the Lord Jesus Christ in that day and not call Him Lord? These men remind the Lord that they have cast out demons and performed miracles and prophesied. But the Lord Jesus rejects them as unbelievers because they have not submitted to Him as Lord in life by obeying His commands. They boast of having done mighty deeds in His name, but they have not bowed the knee to Him by humbly obeying His commands, the sign of a true disciple:
19 “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19).
15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).
21 “He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him” (John 14:21).
23 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him. 24 He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me” (John 14:23-24).
10 “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love” (John 15:10).
Lordship is more than words mouthed by men, but when a spirit is speaking through men, the confession of Jesus as Lord is a test of the spirit. Furthermore, confessing Jesus as Lord is an essential part of the gospel:
36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).
8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; 10 for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation (Romans 10:8-10).
In the final analysis, spirituality is the work of a spirit. Paul reminds us there are two kinds of spirituality, the false and the true. All unbelievers are, in one sense, “spiritual.” Some are spiritual in the sense that they are actively involved with the spirit world, led of demonic spirits to worship idols. Other unbelievers may be spirit-led without even knowing it:
1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest (Ephesians 2:1-3).
A spirit-led unbeliever may be an atheist. He may not believe in any god or practice any religion at all. Nevertheless, he or she is still spirit-led, still under the control of Satan. Those who indulge in and serve the flesh are not only “walking according to the course of this world,” they are also walking “according to the prince of the power of the air,” the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4).
If you are an unbeliever, you may very well scoff at what I am saying. In our unbelief and rebellion against God, we want to believe we are the “captains of our own souls,” the “masters of our own fate.” This is simply a delusion. Satan has blinded us to the truth. When we seek our own interests by serving the flesh, we are spirit-led—we are led astray, ultimately to idolatry. The only solution to being led astray by a demonic spirit is to be saved by the blood of Christ and to be delivered from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. I urge you, my friend, to recognize that, apart from faith in Jesus Christ, you are a pagan, and you are spirit-controlled.
If Paul would define true spirituality, he must first of all distinguish between that spirituality which is pagan and that which is of God. On the one hand, the issue is which spirit is in control of our life—the Spirit of God, Who promotes submission to the Lordship of Christ, or a false spirit, who detests and demeans the person and work of Christ and resists His authority. Conversely, the issue is ultimately summed up in our response to who Jesus Christ is. In the final analysis, Jesus Christ is either the Son of God, the Savior of the world and Lord of all, or He is accursed. One dares not ignore this issue, for it is the continental divide for salvation and for spirituality. The answer to the question, “Who is Jesus Christ?” determines our eternal destiny.
We can expect that false teaching will always attack orthodox theology at the point of Christology, the doctrine pertaining to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ:
18 Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen; from this we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us. 20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. 21 I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 22 Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. 23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father (1 John 2:18-24).
1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. 4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you that he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error (1 John 4:1-6).
It is not just doctrinal orthodoxy concerning Jesus Christ which is necessary, although this is foundational. We must not only profess the lordship of Christ, we must practice it. This is what our Lord said regarding the scribes and Pharisees. The “fruits” by which false prophets could be discerned from the true were not miraculous signs and wonders. The “fruits” were the application of God’s Word in their lives so that God, rather than idols, was worshiped and served (Deuteronomy 13) and so that rather than being rejected, Jesus was submitted to as Lord and Christ.
The lordship of Jesus Christ is the dividing line between false prophets and the true, and between false spirituality and the true. Ultimately, it does not matter how spiritual we appear to ourselves or to men. It does not matter whether seemingly miraculous evidences of power can be displayed. What matters is whether Jesus Christ is worshiped and served as Lord.
The test in 1 Corinthians 12:3 should not be viewed as distinguishing a false spirit from the Holy Spirit; it should also be seen as the basis for unity among believers. We Christians are a divided lot. Calvinists separate themselves from Armenians; dispensationalists wage war with amillennialists; charismatics are often at odds with non-charismatics. While Christians must be very careful to discern false prophets and false religion, we should be very earnest in our desire to express the unity of the saints by embracing as brothers and sisters all who submit to the lordship of Christ in sincerity and truth. While verses 1-3 point out the need for the Corinthian saints to keep their distance from the false spirituality they once practiced, verses 4-31 urge them (and us) to maintain the unity of the Spirit, which spiritual gifts are designed to necessitate and facilitate.
If Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12:1-3 contain a warning about false spirituality, and perhaps even false spiritual gifts, they seem to imply a more general warning: Christians should distrust anything they bring with them to Christianity which was a part of their pagan past. I often hear people say, “If that person ever came to faith in Christ, they could do a lot for the cause of Christ.” I don’t think so. If you look at Paul’s view of his religious past as a devout Jew, he does not seem to bring anything with him which contributes to his calling as an apostle:
1 Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; 3 for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, 4 although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. 7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him, and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold if it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:1-14).
Sometimes I fear old vices or characteristics of our flesh are “baptized” into our Christian life by giving these vices new, Christian names. A man or woman who is self-confident (even arrogant) and assertive is sometimes called an evangelist because he or she constantly badgers the lost with the gospel. A person who likes to hear himself (or herself) talk may be called a “teacher” or an “exhorter,” when he or she is simply continuing the bad habit of giving others their opinion on matters. If I understand Paul correctly in 1 and 2 Corinthians, he does not seek to minister out of the strengths he once employed in his unbelief, and which the world finds impressive; he ministers out of weakness (see 1 Corinthians 4:11-13; 2 Corinthians 2:14-17; 4:1-15; 10:1-18; 12:1-10).
Spiritual gifts are given to believers in Christ because we are incapable of producing spiritual fruit in the power of the flesh. Thus, the Spirit of God empowers each of us so that we may participate in and contribute to the maintenance and ministry of the body of Christ, the church. Spiritual gifts and spirituality are not about what we have brought with us into the faith but about what we have left behind (mortified, put to death), and what the Spirit of God has bestowed upon us in His sovereign grace. Thus, there is no basis for pride or boasting in the gifts which we have been given. Paul has much more to say about this in the following verses. May God grant us understanding and application of these things to His glory.
4 Who have said, “With our tongue we will prevail; Our lips are our own; who is lord over us?” (Psalm 12:4)
8 “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8; see Mark 2:28; Luke 6:5).
36 “The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)” (Acts 10:36).
24 “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands” (Acts 17:24).
12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him (Romans 10:12).
11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:11).
14 “These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful” (Revelation 17:14).
9 That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved (Romans 10:9).
5 For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake (2 Corinthians 4:5).
15 But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15).
162 “This debate, however, has probably narrowed the options too rigidly.” Gordon D. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.), 1994, p. 153.