Testing the Spirits

 By Prof. Johan Malan

Christians should be able to test all doctrine in creeds, sermons, books, articles, as well as statements made during discussions, to determine if they are a true reflection of Scriptural truth: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

Every religious message has a spiritual dimension to it – either the Spirit of truth who wants to guide us into all truth (John 16:13), or Satan’s spirit of error who is intent on deceiving as many people as possible, also within churches (1 John 4:6; 2 Pet. 2:1-2).

The testing is done by carefully comparing a particular statement or message with biblical pronouncements to determine its authenticity. If this is not done, false teachings will naively be accepted by those who are ignorant of what the Bible teaches (cf. 2 Cor. 11:3-4). Rather follow the example of the Berean Jews who welcomed Paul’s message with great eagerness but examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul had said was true (Acts 17:11). Their enthusiasm for the gospel, as well as their high regard for the apostle, did not preclude them from critically examining Paul’s message to ensure that what they believed was in full agreement with God’s Word.

Spiritual discernment

One needs spiritual discernment to be able to correctly understand God’s Word. When the Holy Spirit convicts a person of his sin, the righteousness of Christ, and the sinner’s need to be spiritually born again, He enlightens his mind to understand the basics of the gospel message (John 16:8).
However, newly converted people do not immediately understand all aspects of the more comprehensive “doctrine of Christ” (2 John v. 9), as they are babes in Christ who have to be fed with the milk of the basic principles of the Word (1 Cor. 3:1-2; Heb. 5:12-14). During this phase they are still “children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14).

The main problem with spiritually immature people is that they experience an inner conflict between the uncrucified flesh (their old, sinful nature which has been established through the force of habit) and the indwelling Holy Spirit who regenerated them during conversion (Gal. 5:17). They might understand certain principles of the gospel of salvation but still have to go a long way to become truly spiritual people.

A full surrender needs to be made to crucify the “old man” and to fully put on the new nature of Christ (Eph. 4:22-24). This deeper work of the Holy Spirit will sanctify the believer and give him enlightened eyes of the mind to better understand the rich heritage of the saints in Christ Jesus (Eph. 1:18).

The experience of sanctification will set in motion a process of spiritual growth which should continue for the rest of our lives, moving further away from deception by being firmly established in God’s truth (2 Pet. 3:17-18). During this ongoing process of sanctification we should make sustainable progress towards ultimate perfection and complete holiness.

Although we will not reach this level of completeness during our earthly lives we must nevertheless move in that direction. Christ said to His disciples: “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). God says, “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16)

It is important to notice that the commands towards perfection and God-like holiness are written in the aorist tense, which is “an unqualified past tense of a verb (esp. in Greek), with reference to duration or completion” (Oxford Concise Dictionary). It is an imperfect tense denoting an action which is still in progress and therefore not completed.

Those who can testify of walking in the Spirit have made different degrees of progress on the way of growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ towards attaining the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. That is the reason why there would be differences among Spirit-filled (but imperfect) disciples of Christ – they are all still learning and should continue striving after perfection.

Paul says, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Phil. 3:12). He was crucified with Christ and therefore emptied of self-interest, personal prejudice and human agendas (cf. Gal. 2:20), but final perfection was not yet achieved.

While we are in a human body we are subject to weaknesses and limitations imposed upon us by our humanness – these include physical, emotional and intellectual weaknesses which somehow impede our ability to reach the perfection to which we are called. We sometimes become weary and despondent, or inclined to taking shortcuts by neglecting our quiet times as well as a proper study of Scripture, which will certainly manifest as weaknesses in our interpretation and presentation of God’s Word.

Because of these factors, as well as the vested interests of our “own church” (a typical human way of seeing things, often entrenched in ecclesiastic tradition) we know in part (1 Cor. 13:12) and often misrepresent the Word in one or other way. The Word of truth should be rightly divided (2 Tim. 2:15) in order to avoid distorted and deceptive presentations of it.

The bottom-line is while sanctified disciples of Christ may be able to fully comprehend with all the saints the width, length, depth and height of the love of Christ (Eph. 3:18-19), they may still differ on a number of other matters. It is up to the individual believer to conduct a serious and impartial study of the Bible in order to gain clarity on controversial issues, even if it means breaking away from a long-standing family or national tradition.

The problem of the carnal and the unsaved

As for carnal believers, there is virtually no limit to their fantasies. They would agree to certain basic Christian tenets, but for the rest rely more on human reasoning than on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. They are more easily influenced by the theological constructions of certain church fathers and “leading theologians” than on the basic meaning of Scripture itself. The spiritualising and allegorising of Scripture, as well as replacement theology, offer them the opportunity to exalt human reasoning above the basic meaning of Scripture, thereby ending up with doctrines that are fraught with erroneous assumptions.

Many of these carnal theologians are academically well qualified and therefore in an ideal position to influence the thinking of students and other believers who listen to them or read their books. They take the lead in producing deceptive doctrines such as predestination, baptismal regeneration, covenant theology, dominionism, mysticism, and the denial of the literal, end-time fulfilment of biblical prophecies – including Israel’s restoration, the rise of a personal Antichrist, the rapture, the tribulation period, the second coming of Christ, and the subsequent Messianic reign of peace on earth.

Some of those who pose as great spiritual leaders are not even saved and only maintain a form of godliness. Their reasoning is also carnal, based upon human wisdom, but they do not even confess basic Christian beliefs such as the virgin birth and deity of Christ, the significance of His atoning death on the cross, as well as His physical resurrection and Ascension; neither do they honour the literal, divine inspiration of the Bible as God’s Word. Paul says, “And from such people turn away!” (2 Tim. 3:5).

It remains a tough challenge to grow up in the grace and knowledge of Christ without being spiritually deceived or derailed by the proponents of false doctrines – regardless of whether they are partially wrong or altogether wrong. The doctrines and teachings of those who mix truth and error are more difficult to discern. It is for good reasons that the Lord Jesus said: “Take heed that no one deceives you” (Matt. 24:4).

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Thank you Prof Johan Malan !!!

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One thought on “Testing the Spirits

  1. It is not unexpected that from the author of this piece, we read that he opposes the Biblical doctrines of predestination, election and salvation by Grace alone through faith alone. As in many of his previous (and in most cases valuable) articles, that fact is once again emphasized here.

    While he correctly writes in the article,

    The bottom-line is while sanctified disciples of Christ may be able to fully comprehend with all the saints the width, length, depth and height of the love of Christ (Eph. 3:18-19), they may still differ on a number of other matters. It is up to the individual believer to conduct a serious and impartial study of the Bible in order to gain clarity on controversial issues…

    , he follows that statement with

    Many of these carnal theologians are academically well qualified and therefore in an ideal position to influence the thinking of students and other believers who listen to them or read their books. They take the lead in producing deceptive doctrines such as predestination, baptismal regeneration, covenant theology…

    . In this he places all the theologians, historical and current, who hold to the biblical doctrines of salvation by grace alone through faith alone (election and predestination), into the category of carnal, in other words, worldly and unsaved.

    Prof Malan also rightly warns in the above article

    It remains a tough challenge to grow up in the grace and knowledge of Christ without being spiritually deceived or derailed by the proponents of false doctrines – regardless of whether they are partially wrong or altogether wrong. The doctrines and teachings of those who mix truth and error are more difficult to discern.

    I would question whether that statement does not also hold true for those who, like himself, oppose the biblically clear and precious doctrines which emphasize the perfection and sufficiency of the atonement of our Lord Jesus and the Sovereignty of our Almighty God the Father.

    While we must surely agree with the statement from the article:

    Some of those who pose as great spiritual leaders are not even saved and only maintain a form of godliness.

    , we must just as surely take heed of the fact that our method of identifying those who are simply professing Christians, cannot be based on that which denies the absolute perfection of the salvation message which is proclaimed clearly in the Gospel.

    It is true that, as Prof Malan writes:

    Christ said to His disciples: “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). God says, “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16)

    , but we cannot even begin to attempt to achieve those ends by our own means. These things are only achievable and made possible by the work of the Holy Spirit in the regenerated life of the saved believer and through the Blood of the Saviour.

    We certainly do need spend much time in prayerful request surrounding the warning in 1 John 4:1, as even our understanding of that is often used by Satan to deceive.

    Like

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