DISCERNMENT FOR SPIRITUAL TEACHING, INTERPRETATION, AND EXPERIENCE
We are often surprised at the notion that Christendom has been infiltrated with deception, yet Jesus tells us that there will be many who deceive…and He tells us to be cautious.
Furthermore, God’s word lays out specific principles and guidelines to keep us from deception, which we will explore in this handout.
Let us encourage one another to be like the Bereans: Paul praises the Bereans who, upon hearing him speak, searched the scriptures to confirm his and Silas’ teachings with the word of God:
10As soon as night had fallen, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went into the Jewish synagogue. 11Now the Bereans were more noble-minded than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if these teachings were true.a 12As a result, many of them believed, along with quite a few prominent Greek women and men. 13But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that Paul was also proclaiming the word of God in Berea, they went there themselves to incite and agitate the crowds. 14The brothers immediately sent Paul to the coast, but Silas and Timothy remained in Berea. 15Those who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then returned with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible.
Reasons Why People Deceive:
Some people deceive others because they themselves are deceived. Despite their genuine feelings and attitudes, they are led astray and lead others astray because they do not use the word of God as their standard for truth.
Some people deceive others because they want your money.
Some people deceive because they are purposefully trying to deceive believers and thwart God’s purposes.
The purpose of this handout is to provide believers with a biblical foundation for discerning spiritual teachings, personal biblical interpretations, and experiences. Remember, the bible tells us to be on the lookout, to be cautious of experiences and teachings. As you read through this handout, it would be most beneficial to have your bible with you, to open to each verse and read it in context.
Galatians 1:6-9 I am amazed how quickly you are deserting the One who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is not even a gospel. Evidently some people are troubling you and trying to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be under a curse! As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be under a curse!
2 Corinthians 11:11-15 The devil comes as an angel of light
1 Peter 5:8 Be cautious..the devil prowls.
Matthew 24:4-5 See to it that no one leads you astray
Matthew 24:11-25 Many false prophets will arise and many people will be led astray…
Matthew 7:15-23 Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing…
1 John 4:1 Do not believe every spirit but test the spirits…
Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit…
2 Corinthians 11:3-4 for if someone proclaims another Jesus…
2 Timothy 4:1-5 Be ready…for a time is coming when people will not endure sound doctrine…
Discerning tips at a glance:
Test all teachings, interpretations, and experiences by scripture.
Never test a teaching based on the gifts of the teacher.
Instead, test all teachings by fruit.
Test teachings by God’s standard of love.
Compare all teachings to Jesus’ teaching, nature, and character.
Test teachings, interpretations and experiences using Tozer’s seven questions.
TEST EVERYTHING BY SCRIPTURE
This is the number 1 test, and a test upon which all of the tips mentioned below are founded upon. How do we test teachings, interpretations, and experiences by scripture? By reading it and meditating upon it. Remember, when Jesus faced satan in the wilderness, He fought Him, not with emotions, not with the teachings of wise men or even with experiences, but the Word of God (Matthew 4).
In fact, Paul describes the Word of God as the SWORD of the Spirit, an offensive weapon in the armor of God (Ephesians 6). If we are to stand against the wiles of the devil we must know scripture. Lastly, remember that as we read God’s word, He will write it on our hearts (Hebrews 10:16)
DO NOT LOOK TO GIFTS
The bible speaks of gifts. The Spirit gives gifts as He sees fit and He uses them to accomplish God’s purposes (1 Corinthians 12). HOWEVER, we are not to look to those gifts to gauge someone’s spiritual maturity or as an affirmation that they are necessarily doing God’s will or in God’s will. If we look solely to the gifts for confirmation, we can be deceived (Zac Poonen).
Here are two passages that illustrate this point:
Casting out demons, prophecy, and miracles are not a confirmation that a person knows the Lord and his or her teachings can be blindly trusted with no discernment.
(Matthew 7:22-23) There will be some who cast out demons, prophesy, and perform miracles in the name of Jesus and will be turned away. Christ will say to them, “I never knew you.”
Tongues, prophecy, special gifts of knowledge, the gift of faith, special giving is not a confirmation that a person’s teachings can be blindly trusted with no discernment.
1 Corinthians 13 says, If I speak in the tongues of angels but have not love,
I AM A CLANGING SYMBOL (I am just making noise).
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge
If I have faith that can move mountains and I don’t have love,
I AM NOTHING.
When discerning, do not even look at giving as the test:
If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but I don’t have love,
IT MEANS NOTHING.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
The main point in this passage is that if love is not behind the action, even if it’s a miracle, it means NOTHING. This is powerful and noteworthy when discerning.
INSTEAD, OBSERVE THE FRUIT:
Any teaching, experience, or biblical interpretation should encourage fruit of the Spirit in the believer. Galatians 5:22-23
Love (see above)...not hate
Joy…not despair (godly joy, not human giddy happiness which is quick to change due to circumstances)
Peace…not confusion or anxiety
Gentleness…not harshness (free of pride)
Matthew 7: Remember, Jesus said that a good tree produces good fruit and a bad tree produces bad fruit. We will know them (not by their gifts), but by their fruit.
TEST ALL THINGS BY GOD’S STANDARD OF LOVE:
Any teaching, experience, or biblical interpretation should pass the test of love. That is, the teaching should embody the following characteristics of God’s love, as seen in 1 Corinthians 13:
Not boastful (does not exhibit pride)
Not self-seeking (free of the love of money) (no ambition for oneself)
Not easily angered
Keeps no record of wrongs (holds no grudges)
Does not delight in evil
Rejoices in the truth
DOES IT ALIGN WITH CHRIST’S CHARACTER, NATURE AND PRINCIPLES (WHICH WE SEE REPEATED OVER AND OVER IN SCRIPTURE)
This will become easier to practice as you continue to read God’s word, but the following is an example:
Example: You may hear something like this: “This is a time like no other. Girl, God is calling you out to be to realize your hopes, your dreams. This is your time to shine!”
Jesus was a servant who exhibited humility. He was not proud. While Jesus was zealous over respect for His father, He himself was not easily offended. Jesus was free of the love of money. Jesus was free of the love of possessions. Jesus was about doing the will of His Father, not self-fulfillment or self-realization. In other words, when Jesus came to earth, he made his life about God, not about himself. Even the son of God was not about his own self, dreams, goals, but about accomplishing God's purpose, loving God, loving others, and serving others.
TOZER’S SEVEN-FOLD TEST:
The following has been taken from Chapter 29 of A.W. Tozer’s book, Man: Dwelling Place of God. An electronic version of the book can be found HERE (chapter 29). In the interest of time and page space, I have taken excerpts from Tozer’s work. However, if you review the actual chapter above, you can see a more detailed explanation, along with scripture.:
Does it magnify God the Father?
The big test is, What has this done to my relationship to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? If this new view of truth-this new encounter with spiritual things-has made me love God more, if it has magnified Him in my eyes, if it has purified my concept of His being and caused Him to appear more wonderful than before, then I may conclude that I have not wandered astray into the pleasant but dangerous and forbidden paths of error.
Does it magnify Christ the Son?
…There are psychic experiences that thrill the seeker and lead him to believe that he has indeed met the Lord and been carried to the third heaven; but the true nature of the phenomenon is discovered later when the face of Christ begins to fade from the victim's consciousness and he comes to depend more and more upon emotional jags as a proof of his spirituality. If on the other hand the new experience tends to make Christ indispensable, if it takes our interest off our feeling and places it in Christ, we are on the right track. Whatever makes Christ dear to us is pretty sure to be from God.
Does it give me a LOVE of God’s Word?
If the new doctrine, the influence of that new teacher, the new emotional experience fills my heart with an avid hunger to meditate in the Scriptures day and night. I have every reason to believe that God has spoken to my soul and that my experience is genuine. Conversely, if my love for the Scriptures has cooled even a little, if my eagerness to eat and drink of the inspired Word has abated by as much as one degree, I should humbly admit that I have missed God's signal somewhere and frankly backtrack until I find the true way once more.
Does it puff up and focus on the self?
Again, we can prove the quality of religious experience by its effect on the self-life. A good rule is this: If this experience has served to humble me and make me little and vile in my own eyes it is of God; but if it has given me a feeling of self-satisfaction it is false and should be dismissed as emanating from self or the devil. Nothing that comes from God will minister to my pride or self-congratulation. If I am tempted to be complacent and to feel superior because I have had a remarkable vision or an advanced spiritual experience, I should go at once to my knees and repent of the whole thing. I have fallen a victim to the enemy.
Does it make me love my fellow believers?
Our relation to and our attitude toward our fellow Christians is another accurate test of religious experience.As we grow in grace we grow in love toward all God's people. "Every one that loveth him that begot loveth him also that is begotten of him" (I John 5:1) . This means simply that if we love God we will love His children. All true Christian experience will deepen our love for other Christians. Therefore we conclude that whatever tends to separate us in person or in heart from our fellow Christians is not of God, but is of the flesh or of the devil. And conversely, whatever causes us to love the children of God is likely to be of God. "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:35).
How does it affect my attitude toward the world?
Another certain test of the source of religious experience is this: Note how it affects our relation to and our attitude toward the world. By "the world" I do not mean, of course, the beautiful order of nature which God has created for the enjoyment of mankind. Any real work of God in our heart will tend to unfit us for the world's fellowship. "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (I John 2:15). "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?" (II Cor. 6:140. It may be stated unequivocally that any spirit that permits compromise with the world is a false spirit. Any religious movement that imitates the world in any of its manifestations is false to the cross of Christ and on the side of the devil and this regardless of how much purring its leaders may do about "accepting Christ" or "letting God run your business."
How does it affect my attitude toward sin?
The last test of the genuineness of Christian experience is what it does to our attitude toward sin.The man of honest heart will find no difficulty here. He has but to check his own bent to discover whether he is concerned about sin in his life more or less since the supposed work of grace was done. Anything that weakens his hatred of sin may be identified immediately as false to the Scriptures, to the Saviour and to his own soul. Whatever makes holiness more attractive and sin more intolerable may be accepted as genuine. "For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee. The foolish shall not stand in thy
sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity" (Psa. 5: 4, 5). Jesus warned, "There shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they should deceive the very elect." These words describe our day too well to be coincidental. In the hope that the "elect" may profit by them I have set forth these tests. The result is in the hand of God.
LASTLY: A WORD OF ENCOURAGEMENT
As you read this, you may think: I cannot do all of this, and you would be correct. By yourself, you will never be able to discern the truth from all of the deception in the world today. However, there are a few things to remember:
God does not want you to be deceived, so ask Him for wisdom. James 1:5
If you know the Lord, Christ has sent the Holy Spirit to be your guide. John 14:26
God says that He will write this words on our heart (As we spend time in the word, He will write His words on our heart). Hebrews 10:16
And LASTLY, please do not live on a devotion or teacher-based diet. While you may be taking in good instruction, unless you read the Word of God for yourself and test it against God’s word, how will you know? The Holy Spirit helps us with discerning truth (John 16:13). However, it is important for us to be obedient and read God’s word, as it is essential to LIFE (Deuteronomy 8:3, Matthew 4:4)
Take your time. Read God’s word in context, slowly, book by book. He will enlighten you.
Psalm 119:18 Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Your law.
Psalm 119: 130 The unfolding of your Word gives light. It gives understanding to the simple.