Abiding in a Spirit of Discernment

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 ~

Troubling times. It is a trope which has been repeated for a number of years, yet, even more magnified in modern times. With the unraveling of society and families and faith, “troubling” seems an understatement.

What is most troubling, however, isn’t ‘the times’, rather, it is the spirit of deception running through Christendom at alarming rates. It is as if the 1st century church and it’s Gnostic infiltration has been transmitted into the 21st century. People flock to ideas and teaching which seem good, though in practice and held against Scripture, are minimizing - if not completely overtaking the truth of the Gospel.

Now, more than ever, we can relate to John’s teaching in his epistle to the early church.

In chapter 4, John makes one last big push to caution believers: watch out for false prophets and teachers. He calls them to “test” those teachings…. test, in its original context, was likened to “a metallurgist’s term for assaying metals to determine their purity and value” 1 And what is this test?

1) Does the teacher acknowledge AND proclaim that Jesus IS God incarnate; real, fully human, and fully God? (v2)
2) Do they teach God’s Word in accordance with apostolic and Biblical doctrine as found in God’s Word?

Seems simple, doesn’t it?

Back then, even as now, many teachers/preachers in the church, on radio, online, seem to check these two simple boxes. Yet, as one digs down it can be seen where they don’t actually hit the mark.

In the early church this looked like:

1) distortions or flat-out denial of Jesus’ true character often wrapped in wording which acknowledged him as from God but not that he IS God... or other convoluted ideas which marginalized his deity and the nature of spirit vs. flesh and

2) either rejecting certain teachings in God’s Word or changing/adding to it, maybe even taking it out of context and building a belief system on that.... or using it out of context to try and refute truth which ultimately caused confusion.

John, interestingly, didn’t blame the teachers/”prophets” directly, rather, he drew the contrast between the Spirit of God/Holy Spirit and the spirit of the antichrist (lower-case!). Just like a follower of Christ will be led by the Holy Spirit – one who is not truly following Christ (or flat-out denying Him) will be led by demonic spirits. Yes, some teachers would deliberately lead others astray of their own pride and volition, incited further by evil – while others may not even realize the nuances of their belief system and how they are not, in fact, following after the God and Christ of the Bible.

Hence, the test.

We see this same test in Acts 17 where the Bereans are honorably noted for the marks of their faith and diligence in testing:

Now these Jews [in Berea] were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. ~ Acts 17:11 ~

The Bereans were 'testing' the message of the apostles themselves!! It doesn’t matter who the teacher is, how long they have been teaching, or what wisdom they are acclaimed to carry – we are called to test all messages, big and small, official and unofficial. To be the fact-checkers of truth vs. error… whether the error is deliberate or accidental. Even Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians concurs with John:

Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 ~

Interestingly, John will close the letter we are currently studying in a similar fashion (Little children, keep yourselves from idols -5:21)!

MacArthur, in his commentary on 1 John 4, duly notes how “Christians are to have a healthy skepticism regarding any teaching” and not to be just willy-nilly open minded to anyone claiming a new teaching about the faith. He also asserts how “Scripture presents stern warnings against false doctrine. Ever since his temptation of Eve, Satan has sought to distort and deny God’s Word. He is the ultimate demonic force behind all false teachings and doctrines.

Not only does that last statement bring to mind the serpent hissing, “Did God really say…”, it also prompts a reminiscence of Jesus being tempted by Satan in the desert. Satan’s statements to the Christ were from Scripture – only each version was either out of context or slightly twisted… and each time, Jesus corrects him. How many today are being duped by these cleverly disguised doctrines? An ever-so-slight tweak… or a schtick to draw more followers… perhaps even an excuse to make one feel better about themselves, their life, or their choices. I find the most pernicious in a recent craze which claims a certain show “does not go by the Bible but it is about the Bible”, leading masses to some of the most subtle yet powerful misconstruing of Christ and his disciples in our time – minimizing doctrinal power, skewing true brotherly love, and creating what I like to call, ‘Club Jesus’ where everyone can join, no dues or confessions necessary. Click your tv on and be dazzled, be a member - no repentance + acceptance necessary - assume Jesus and carry on.

Yet – as the ever-eloquent John continues, lest these dismal prospects cause us to tremble – we need not fear….

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 an the spirit of error. ~ 1 John 4:4-6 ~

We are called to BE ALERT not afraid.

Many will ignore our warnings and pleas... many will ditch true and sound doctrine... but some will listen, some will turn around - we must keep carrying the witness of Truth.

And what’s more:

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. ~ 1 John 5:4-5 ~

Stand against false teaching.

Stand on Truth.

Don't be afraid if the world hates you for it - the world hated the earlier believers for not making concessions - (the world hated Jesus, too). Abiding in God means abiding in what is true and teaches true - it means being strengthened by an the abiding Spirit of God to guide us in discernment - that we all might overcome the world with our faith and companionship in Jesus Christ our Lord.

How can you be more discerning? Be a devoted student of the Word of God - not just of other people or other ideas - but of the text itself.

I began writing Bible studies over a decade ago because I was tired of being burned by wolves in sheep's clothing. Whether they themselves simply didn't understand or they were deliberately trying to spread false teachings, I do not know. However, I saw it as a travesty in women's ministries (and men's, but that is not my ground) how so many people do not know how to simply pick up their Bible, read, and study for themselves. God put a call in my heart to help. Every study I share does NOT hold your hand and spoon-feed you tidbits - rather, I give you outlines and tools and encourage you to dig for yourself - to discern and be equipped and ready in season and out of season; [to] reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Timothy 4:2)

Our plan with the Abiding Love series had been to study through 1 John and post 2-times a week throughout February here on the blog with pared graphics on social media. However, we hit some personal snags and posting has been scaled back. Abiding Love is a timeless study though, not just beneficial through 'the month of love', but applicable for all seasons of life. Be sure to click on the in-photo link above or visit our Resources page to get your FREE copy! I will be back next week with some final thoughts on our study of 1 John and a look towards Resurrection Sunday and the power and truth of WHO Jesus is as we celebrate His sacrifice and return.

Blessings as you abide,

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