A call to Spiritual Discernment

I was visited recently by a lovely, Christian person who claimed to have received a message from God for me and our church.

The message was this,

“Your church will enter a time of unprecedented miracles, signs, wonders, blessings and conversions.  However, you shouldn’t limit God.  You need to open yourself to the work of the Spirit”

Apparently, the gospel about Jesus’ death and resurrection is good and essential, but it is not enough.  Seemingly, we need demonstrations of God’s power (like healing, prophecy, words of knowledge and miracles) to show people that God is real and the gospel is true.

I tried to persuade the person that, according to the New Testament, the gospel is enough for Christian conversion, Christian growth and Christian life; but I did not convince the person – after all, God had given them a vision.

It’s interesting that throughout the letter of 1 John, the Apostle John warns his readers not to be deceived by those who would undermine the sufficiency and power of the apostolic gospel.

In our world and country, we are inundated with people who claim to speak on behalf of God – Angus Buchan being one of them – claiming all kinds of visions, messages, warnings and prophecies.

What are we to do?  Fortunately, this is not a new phenomenon.

It happened in the early church and the Apostle John told us exactly how to deal with it in the letter of 1 John.

True listening

Beloved, do not believe every spirit (every person who claims to be filled with the Spirit and speak on behalf of God), 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)

We are called to spiritual discernment, to listen critically, to test the spirits.

There will always be those who make very sincere, confident claims, but who are sincerely wrong.   1 John 4:6 says that they speak, not from the Holy Spirit, but the spirit of error.

True teaching

How would the readers of John’s letter know what is from God and what isn’t?

No false prophet has ever hung a board on their necks saying, “BEWARE, FALSE PROPHET!”  Every false prophet claims to speak from God, to be biblical and to be inspired by the Holy Spirit.

How do we test the spirits?

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… (1 John 4:2-3)

If the person makes much of Jesus, that person is from God and worth listening to.

John has told his readers a lot about this Jesus who came in the flesh.  He is the righteous one (2:1); he is the propitiation for our sins (2:2) in order to placate God’s wrath; and he appeared to take away sin (3:5).

If there is a preacher who talks about the Jesus who came into our world to die on the cross to take away sin, he is from God.

To put it another way, what is the sign of a Spirit-filled teacher?  A preacher that make much of the cross of Christ.

The sign of a spirit-filled preacher is not that they do healings, or miracles, or signs, or wonders, or speaks in tongues, or has glitter from heaven.  People do all these things in Hinduism, Satanism and the New Age Movement.

The Spirit-filled preacher will love Jesus and love talking about Jesus.  The Jesus who appeared, not to take away all my problems , but to take away my sin (3:5).

How, then, do you know you’re a Spirit-filled Christian?

You love Jesus and grateful for his death for you.

How do you know you’re a member of a Spirit-filled church?

The sermons are about Jesus and his sin-bearing death for others.

If a church does not make much of the cross of Christ, but keeps talking about the Holy Spirit, you know it is not a Spirit-filled Church.  Churches and preachers that do not focus on the centrality of Jesus, are called “antichrist” (1 John 4:4).

The false teachers might think they’re very spiritual and dynamic, but they are anti-Christ. Instead of making much of Jesus’ death to take away sins, they make much of power demonstrations, “breakthroughs” and deliverances.  They claim to be very spiritual, but it is a very worldly “Christianity” they promote that the world loves (v5).  They talk about everything, except the cross of Christ, or the reality of sin or the judgment to come.

The first test for true teaching is that the sin-bearing cross of Christ is central.

The second test for true teaching is that it is in line with the Bible.

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 1:6)

The “we” and “us” of v6 refer to the original Apostles who saw Jesus and were commissioned by Jesus (cf. 1:1-4).

If anyone did not listen to the Apostles, they were not from God.

God revealed himself in Jesus.  Jesus, in turn, commissioned the Apostles to write down his words and teach his people.

We don’t have the Apostles with us anymore, but we do have their teachings in the New Testament.

Therefore, the second test of true teaching is this: Is it in line with what the New Testament (by implication, the Bible) teaches?  It’s the “Scriptural” test.

True church 

God has built the church’s foundation on the Apostles and Prophets (Ephesians 2:20).

Our job now is to read, study, obey and teach the Bible.

God speaks through what he has spoken.  God’s Spirit works together with God’s Word.  God’s Spirit works powerfully to help us understand and obey what God says in his Word.

A Spirit-filled church is not a church that sings songs a certain way, or has a certain vibe, or has a smoke machine, but a church that loves Jesus and explains what the Bible says.

If someone says to you, “The Lord told me to tell you…”, you should be very suspect.