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The Apostle John offers a simple test for discerning the Spirit of truth from the spirit of error: does a person listen to the apostles, or not?

5They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 6We 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 4:5-6)

Note that John didn’t ask whether someone heard the apostles, but whether someone listened to the apostles. Especially in the modern world, we are bombarded with all kinds of messages that we cannot escape from hearing.

But whether we listen to a particular message is a different story.

Biblically, the idea of listening to the Word of God is much more than simply having God’s words wash over us. While neither Hebrew nor Greek differentiate between the words hear and listen (the distinction I’m making is an English issue, not an issue in the original languages), the concept of hear/listen in the Bible (no matter which word is chosen as a translation) is clear: Listening to the Word of God includes attention, faith, and obedience.

This distinction, though, is a particular emphasis of 1 John 4:1-6. John readily acknowledges that we will always hear all kinds of messages that originate from one of two sources: the Spirit of God, or the spirit of the antichrist.

That’s the point of 1 John 4:1:

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. (1 John 4:1)

Of course you will hear all kinds of spirits, John writes. At stake is not whether you hear them, but whether you listen to them. Do not believe every spirit, but test them according to the doctrine of Christ.

It is to the word of Christ that you owe your attention. Listen to this word, for this word is inspired by the Spirit of God himself. Believe that Christ has indeed come in the flesh, and obey his gospel by faith.

And whenever you hear anything that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, don’t listen to it.

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