How to Distinguish the Spirit of God from the Spirit of Antichrist

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already (1 John 4:1-3).

God is at work building a new community, a new creation. The ascended Christ is not physically present with us, yet he has sent his Spirit at Pentecost, restoring communion not only between the Creator and his creatures but also communion between men and women of different social classes, ethnicities, and backgrounds (Eph. 4:3).

Here are six truths we can glean from what the New Testament teaches us concerning the Spirit of God's presence and work today.

1. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin.

The Spirit’s ongoing ministry is judicial. He convicts the world of sin by the law, persuading us of our guilt and continual need for Christ’s righteousness through the gospel (John 15:26–16:15). 

2. The Holy Spirit guides us into truth.

The Spirit guides us into all truth, which the Son embodies. The redeeming work of Christ lies behind us, but the effect of that Word is at work in “these last days” by the Spirit’s empowerment (John 14–16; Joel 2:28). The Spirit leads us to confess the Son of God has become incarnate for us and for our salvation.

3. The Holy Spirit unites us to the incarnate Son of God.

The Spirit is the mediator of, not the surrogate for, Christ’s person and work. The Spirit does not replace Jesus but rather grafts and unites us to our heavenly king and head, disrupting ordinary history by placing us into the new creation (Acts 2:14–36; Eph. 4:1-ff.). 

4. The Holy Spirit glorifies the person of Jesus.

The Spirit glorifies Jesus, making him known through indwelling our hearts as a gift of our final redemption. He makes all of Christ’s work our own. The Spirit thus mediates the threefold office of Christ to every believer, glorifying the Son in and through us (John 16:1-ff.; Isa. 61:1–2; Luke 4:18–21).

5. The Holy Spirit orchestrates the church.

The Spirit gives and orchestrates the many gifts bestowed on the whole body through the ministry of pastors, elders, and deacons in the church. These officers are given so we may be brought up into maturity in the faith (1 Cor. 12:12-ff.; 1 Pet. 4:10-11; Eph. 4:1-ff.).

6. The Holy Spirit renews all things.

Through this ministry of the Spirit, which began at Pentecost, we are remade into Christ’s likeness as prophets, priests, and kings. We are remade into true and faithful witnesses in the cosmic courtroom, a choir answering antiphonally (singing in response) in praise to our Redeemer by the power of the Spirit (Eph. 5:1–21; Rev. 19:1–10).

Asking hard questions: Is the Spirit of Christ present in this Church?

The Scriptures point out these signs very clearly if we only look. The fruit of the Spirit is the very real form and shape of Christ’s community on earth (Gal. 5:16–26). The world will know we are Jesus' disciples by our love for one another. The Holy Spirit’s work can be seen where sacrificial love and hospitality abound.

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:31-35).

The Spirit of God leads us into a truth that is not merely a cognitive affirmation of facts but a way of life — the way of Christ's love. Faith is a heartfelt trust that throws us into the arms of Jesus which simultaneously rests in Christ and rejects the spirit of this evil age. This true, saving faith is a fruit of the Spirit's work.

The tools that the Spirit of the Lord uses are the preaching of his Word and the right use of the Sacraments within godly discipleship (Acts 2:42). The signs of God's favor and presence can be seen in this community created and centered on God's Word. His Word is being scattered like seed in the field of the world that begins to bear fruit even now by the power of the Spirit (Matt. 13).

The Spirit of God is forming us into his image and binding us to each other in faithfulness and love, giving us a new identity and a new family. As Paul declares to us, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19). This reality could only come about because the blood of Christ has brought us near.

Nevertheless, this new creation is something we must work at. We must learn to love by bearing each other’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). We must seek out God's Word to be guided into the truth of the Son of God, to receive the conviction of our sins, and to be further united to Jesus and each other. 

When this is happening, we can be sure God’s Word is taking root and we are in the Spirit’s presence. If these things aren't happening, we can know the spirit at work is not the Spirit of God. As James reminds us,

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (James 3:13-18).

But where the Spirit is, so is Christ by his power and redeeming grace. This is how we discern the Spirit of God from the spirit of Antichrist.

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error (1 John 4:4-6).

Photo of Timothy W. Massaro

Timothy W. Massaro

Timothy Massaro has written for Core Christianity, Modern Reformation, and other publications. He oversees the Christian Education ministry at Resurrection PCA in San Diego and serves as a hospice chaplain. He has an affinity for all things J.R.R. Tolkien (except the movies) and has interests in the intersections of philosophy and theology. His biggest prayer is that the gospel in all its beauty might re-kindle a wonder and joy of God’s goodness in our hearts and that our lives might adorn the gospel. Connect with Timothy on Twitter @word_water_wine.​

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