ISSUE: 2018, Volume 15, Issue 2
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It’s not uncommon to find, outside a railway station or a shopping centre, a well-presented stand offering literature. The titles immediately appeal to Christians: ‘Is the Bible true?’, ‘What will happen in the end times?’ However, it is important to make sure the answers are faithful to the Bible. Many such stands are peddling the doctrines of cults such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christadelphians, and Mormons. The believer is privileged to possess not only the truth of God in the scriptures but also the ideal teacher in the person of the Holy Spirit. It has never been God’s intention for His people to be stranded, much less so to be ignorant.
It is said that an FBI forgery team will never spend time analysing fake notes, but only ever become deeply familiar with the genuine – this is what enables them to be able to spot the counterfeit. In some regards, this is true of the Christian life. Ever since God spoke the world into being there have been enemies of His word. In the Garden of Eden, Satan undermined the authority of what God had commanded, and throughout the Bible we see people doubting, disputing, and disobeying His word. Sadly, even those of us who are His children can be guilty of this.
It is clear that false teaching is no new phenomenon; neither is it a dying trade. A great enemy of the early churches was a group known as Gnostics. These people taught that the spiritual and the physical are unrelated, meaning it doesn’t matter how you live. They went on to deny that the Lord Jesus’ body was real, consequently undermining His genuine manhood. These false teachers were also caught up with mysticism and emotionalism, which encouraged a subjective approach to the apostles’ doctrine.
It is with this error in view that the apostle John writes, ‘Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world’, 1 John 4. 1. From the time John was writing to the present, many have continued to go down the path of false teaching. This means we need to be discerning Christians, testing everything we hear or read. Not everyone who claims to be a Christian is to be trusted and not every group that looks as if it is Christian should be followed. On the other hand, this is no reason to assume that every teacher is a heretic until proven innocent. The word John uses for ‘try’ was used of metals – putting them through a test to prove that they are genuine. The goal of testing is to demonstrate that both the teaching and the teacher have their roots in God.
Just as Deuteronomy records the test of an Old Testament prophet, so John’s first letter explains the criteria for testing the teacher – ‘Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God’, 1 John 4. 2. The fundamental issue is truth about the person of Christ. Many false teachers will come close in other areas, majoring on their similarities with true Christianity, yet hold serious error concerning the Lord Jesus. In his Gospel, John records the affirmations of deity made by the Lord Jesus – ‘I and my Father are one', 10. 30, ‘He that hath seen me hath seen the Father', 14. 9. At the same time, not only is the Lord Jesus God, but He is also fully man. Again, it is John who records the Saviour being wearied with His journey and, later, thirsting on the cross.
Someone has said, ‘Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right’.
Knowing the truth of God, wearing the belt of truth, and testing the spirits will allow us to identify those that are of God, and give us confidence as they teach and encourage us.
Could it be said of each of us that we are diligently reading the Bible in order to know truth, as well as getting to know the Giver of it?