Below are the notes I prepared for the message I gave at City of Refuge on Saturday December 17th, 2016:
1 Cor 12:10
Acts 5:3-6; 16:16-18
1 John 4:1-8
2 Peter 1:3-4
1 Thes 5:21-22
We speak in code sometimes in Churches and in the way we interact with one another as a body of believers. We’ve developed our own language and references in a subculture that can be confusing and even a bit unnerving for someone that’s new to the party. It’s not that we’re trying to be deliberately obtuse or to hide behind a set of phrases and call signs to prevent the uninitiated from getting to close and learning all of our most closely guarded secrets. Christianity is not a secret society or underground club that you have to know the current password for in order to be permitted access. Still, we say things that will come off as sounding strange to someone that doesn’t have any past experience or knowledge to correlate with what they’re hearing. “Have you been washed in the blood of the lamb?” can sound rather scary to someone with no biblical background. Do you mean you’re going to kill a lamb and I need to bathe in its blood?
That’s just one example. One of the other things that is brought up is a need for discernment. It’s the one thing that I think more people (including myself) need to devote more time and effort towards in order to experience a deeper connection to the person and presence of the Holy Spirit. Discernment is a funny word though and tends to trip some folks up.
So, what is it exactly? By definition, discernment simply means to judge well. It’s the practiced ability of reviewing information in context and deciding on a course of action. This applies to all areas of life, not just to what we would consider spiritual matters. That makes sense too right? If we take the call of Christ on our lives seriously then it also applies to every aspect of our life and by that logic there’s no reason that a developed ability to be discerning would be a part of that call. Our relationship with Christ is alive and (hopefully) deepening each day as we spend time in prayer and in Scripture and also together in a gathering of the body. It’s in these moments that discernment is most necessary.
We’re admonished throughout scripture to test the spirits and determine if what’s being presented as a truth is in line with what Scripture teaches us. There are a lot of people out there vying for your attention and trying to convince you that what they have to say has value and merit and is the ultimate answer to success in your life. Some of these people are well meaning, God fearing individuals who may just have let their focus shift a bit too much onto something non-essential…and some of these people are complete charlatans just looking to make a buck. How do we know the difference between the two?
- The Holy Spirit is governed by love (1 Cor 13) – not the Beatles ‘all you need is love’ sort of sentiment but a true and genuine love that flows from the heart of the Father for His children.
- The Holy Spirit will be centered on Christ (1 Cor 12:3) – the Spirit won’t deviate from the message of Christ and Him crucified for the sake of our sins and the renewing of our relationship with the Father through that sacrifice.
- The Holy Spirit will direct us to Scripture (Isa 8:19-20) – The Spirit will encourage us to seek out the truth in the Word, not pull us away from it.
- The Holy Spirit will seek to build up the Church (Eph 4:11-12) – The Spirit will seek to expound on the gifts given to edify the body as a whole and to bring light and life into us all by encouraging a love of righteousness, providing a heightened awareness of sin, and provoking a repentance from evil.
You shouldn’t just accept what anyone presents to you as being right and true without reviewing it for yourself in light of the Scriptures. Indeed, the Bereans were praised for this very thing. They heard the message presented and then they went back and reviewed it themselves to see if it lined up with what was written. I think that’s one of the biggest issues in the church today – people show up on a Saturday night or a Sunday morning, they hear some music and listen to someone talk for a bit, and then they either just accept it or let it ride in one ear and out the other…. but they don’t spend any time mulling it over and reading the scripture passages themselves to see if they agree. They don’t question anything.
Beyond that, discernment becomes about being the ability to judge well through more than just the big issues. Scottish Theologian Sinclair Ferguson put it this way:
“True discernment means not only distinguishing the right from the wrong; it means distinguishing the primary from the secondary, the essential from the indifferent, and the permanent from the transient. And, yes, it means distinguishing between the good and the better, and even between the better and the best.”
This is where I think a lot of Christians get hung up. We’re not necessarily having a hard time distinguishing in the big areas. We recognize the cultic overtones of Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. We can see the Secular Humanist influence on Modern science and philosophy. We struggle and stumble over the secondary things of the subculture that’s been created around Christianity – especially western Christianity. We’ve isolated ourselves within this sanitized bubble and replaced all of the “things of the world” with filtered versions that are “safe.” We’ve embraced behavior modification as a means to maintain and achieve holiness. In short – we’ve let the secondary get in the way of the primary. I’m not saying that all of the things within the Christian subculture are bad or useless, or that we shouldn’t be careful about the things we allow into our lives and what we allow to influence us. I am saying that we need to give up on the “field of dreams” mentality that seems to have become prevalent in a lot of church communities. We’re not building it so they will come to hear…we’re going out with the message to be told.
A.W. Tozer provided some great insight on testing the spirits, and I wanted to share those with you now:
- How does the teaching affect my relationship with God? Is He magnified and glorified, or diminished?
- How does the teaching affect my attitude toward the Lord Jesus Christ? Does it magnify Him and give Him first place? Or, does it subtly shift my focus onto myself or some experience?
- How does the teaching affect my attitude toward Scripture? Did the teaching come from and agree with the Word? Does it increase my love for the Word?
- How does the teaching affect my self-life? Does it feed self or crucify it? Does it feed pride or humility?
- How does the teaching affect my relationships to other Christians? Does it cause me to withdraw, find fault, and exalt myself in superiority? Or, does it lead me to genuine love for all that truly know Christ?
- How does the teaching affect my relationship to the world system? Does it lead me to pursue the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life? Does it lead me to pursue worldly riches, reputation, and pleasures? Or, does it crucify the world to me?
- How does the teaching affect my attitude toward sin? Does it cause me to tolerate sin in my life or to turn from it and grow in holiness? Any teaching that makes holiness more acceptable and sin more intolerable is genuine.
Read the first part(chapters 1 to 3) of ‘The Restoration of Hell’ by Leo Tolstoy, 1903.