1 John 4:6 We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Some evangelicals, not all, are confused as to the precept of sola scriptura which is placing Scripture as the highest standard for faith and practice. We preach this standard to steer clear of the spirit of error and hold to the spirit of truth.
But what sola scriptura does not mean is that every Christian develops their own interpretations of Scripture and by which binds the church by them. The central Gospel message of Scripture is non-negotiable for the church which is that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone. The church has always taught this central message. Any deviation from this is heresy.
When we look at secondary messages, this is where some straying from Scripture can be seen in place of worldly tradition. These would be for example in the eschatology debate, where one might believe their interpretation is non-negotiable, but cannot claim this truly if Scripture is their ultimate authority, because Scripture has not disclosed the fullest of counsels in this realm.
One can be a pre-milleniest and hold to the central Gospel message for example, or hold to amillennialism and hold to the central Gospel message. The secondary messages are negotiable since the fullest counsel of that particular secondary doctrine has not been yet surmised, the primary Gospel though is not negotiable.
So what does this mean? It means we should not automatically discard confessions and testimonies in past church history, and hold just to our own private understanding. Our understanding should not stray from Scripture, and the historical confession of that understanding should also be shown. Meaning that you after 2,000 years for example are not given some new revelation, the revealed word of God is the same as it was then. I see this with some doctrines in the modern church, a pastor or group will claim some new girated version of a doctrine they were given, of which no one previously before held.
So steering clear of the spirit of error encompasses discernment. We hold Scripture above teachings, and that the interpretations have some historical backing in the body of Christ. Contemplative prayer comes to mind. We cannot find this in Scripture nor does it have historical backing in the body of Christ. That doctrine would be conceived by the spirit of error.
The spirit of truth will have two distinct properties
1. Scripture is the ultimate authority, it cannot error.
2. Doctrines must have backing in the FULL historical church, not just of this age. This would be called the efficacy of the doctrine, as it must past Scripture’s test and by its history this can be proven.