We're turning to 1 John chapter 4, and our title this evening as we look at the first six verses of this new chapter 4 is 'Discerning Christianity'. So, 1 John 4 verse 1: "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error".
'Discerning Christianity' - what John is now telling us in this great epistle of assurance is that a true Christian ought to be able to discern between truth and error. I wonder how you figure, weighed up by that statement? Now that does not mean that you have to be an expert in the cults, or in world faiths, it doesn't even have to mean that you're well read in the great systematic theologies of Christianity, but it does mean that every true child of God should have enough of a grasp of Christian doctrine to discern between truth and error.
Now John addresses, I would cause you to note, all the members of this church. He uses this familiar phrase in verse 1, the very first word: 'Beloved' - 'agapetoi' (sp?) in the Greek - and he has used it frequently, showing his loving concern as a pastor towards these sheep. But notice that he's not addressing the overseers, or the elders, or the pastors in this little church, he's addressing all the members and he's expecting that all of them, as true believers, the true sheep hearing the Shepherd's voice - He knows them, they have followed Him - they are to be able to discriminate between truth and error.
Now there is today, sadly, an obvious absence of such discernment in the church of Jesus Christ. It would have to be said that, in microcosm, that lack of discernment is also found in the personal lives of many Christians. John understood in his own day and age that there was a similar predicament. People didn't know what was right or wrong, outside the church of course that's what we would expect, but now inside the church they couldn't tell what was truth and what was error. Specifically in the church that John is writing to, and also the other churches where this circular letter would have gone round, the Gospel of Jesus Christ was threatened by false teachers who were propounding their false doctrine. Often they would do it by claiming that they were giving inspired utterances from God, it might have been in some form of tongues they claimed, or maybe prophetic utterances by the Spirit they were claiming, but nevertheless they were claiming that they were speaking for God and that God was inspiring them to teach their error. For that reason, true believers then and now, John says, need to beware.
Now the big question is: how can we beware of something we perhaps do not recognise? It would have to be said that often false doctrine is not obvious, it is not glaring us in the face. False prophets, by their nature, don't come along to us with a lapel badge saying 'I am a false prophet'. So John exhorts us that we should learn to discern between truth and error. So what he does is, he revisits this doctrinal test of what true Christianity is. As I taught you in previous weeks, he continually revisits his themes within this book, each time adding a little bit more truth to our understanding. We found in chapter 1 and verses 1 to 4, that was the first time we visited this doctrinal test. Then we saw it again in chapter 2 verses 18 to 27, and now is the third occasion where he teaches us that there are doctrinal distinctives of Christianity whereby we can discern what is truly Christianity in the Bible sense, and what is not of God.
So let us look at what he tells us first of all in verse 1, there he reinforces for us the need to discern: 'Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world'. Now there are three things here that he wants us to know: the need to discern, first of all, because not every spirit is of God. Now John had spoken in the last verse of chapter 3, verse 24, about the Holy Spirit. He tells us that every child of God ought to have the Holy Spirit abiding in him, and therefore we realise that there is a Holy Spirit - the third person of the Trinity - God the Spirit. But John is warning us that we must not think that the Holy Spirit is the only spirit that there is. Of course there's a whole realm of spirits in a spiritual world. In Hebrews 1 and verse 14 we read that there are good spirits who are called 'ministering spirits' to meet the needs of God's elect, but we also read in Ephesians 6 and verse 12 that there are deceiving spirits, 'principalities and powers, the rulers of this world in heavenly places', powers and principalities of darkness that are demonic, deceiving spirits.
So right away John is telling us that there is a need to discern, because not every spirit is of God. We ought not to be naive and gullible to believe that all who claim to speak for Almighty God are genuine and are speaking on His behalf. So right away, he's warning this church, and consequently warning us, that just because a man talks about God, or a man preaches from the Bible, or even speaks of the Lord Jesus, it does not mean that he is of God nor speaking on behalf of God. We've got to waken up to the fact that, even today, there are spiritual forces who seek to deceive God's children and those outside in the world.
Now John leads on to this point that if these deceiving, evil, demonic spirits exist, these spirits chiefly work through false teachers. Now you've no need to turn to it, because I'll be looking at an awful lot of passages this evening as we progress, but you can turn to this one if you wish initially - 1 Timothy and chapter 4, the apostle Paul tells us: 'Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron'. This is what we're talking about, these are false teachers who are proliferating their lies and heresies, false doctrines - but John wants us to realise that there are demonic devils, spirits, that are motivating these folk to teach their lies.
So we need to discern because not every spirit is of God, and then secondly he tells us that many false teachers are gone out into the world - and that's the reason why we need to discern, because these false spirits work through false teachers, and we need to be aware of this. As we go through the whole Bible from Old to New Testament, we find that it has always been this case. We read of Moses in Deuteronomy chapter 13, that he warned the children of Israel right back there at the beginning: 'If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them' - do not heed him! So, Moses told the Old Testament Israelites in Deuteronomy 13 that even if a prophet comes along, and the wonders and the predictions that he makes actually come to pass, if his motivation clearly is to turn you away from seeking the Lord, don't listen to him - indeed, Moses gives an injunction that such a prophet should be stoned to death.
Then when we turn to Deuteronomy 18 we find that Moses again gives an instruction to the people of Israel regarding false prophets. He says: 'But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him'.
So first of all he says in Deuteronomy 13, if the thing actually happens but the motivation is to turn you away from the true and the living God to false gods, don't listen to that prophet. Then in Deuteronomy 18 he says that if the thing spoken doesn't come to pass, the prophet has spoken presumptuously and you should ignore him, do not be afraid of him. Then we read from the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 8 and verse 20: 'To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to my word', God's word, 'it is because there is no light in them'.
So, if a prophet speaks something that is contrary to what is already in God's revealed word, it is a sign that there's no light in them, they're not of God, they're a false prophet, and it is an evil spirit working in them. Now then when we come to the New Testament, the Lord Jesus teaches us in Matthew 7:20 that it is by their fruits that good or evil prophets shall be known: 'By their fruits ye shall know them'. In other words, if a man's life does not measure up to what he is claiming, it doesn't matter whether what he is claiming comes true, or whether he performs great and mighty works or wonders, he is not of God. Then the Lord Jesus clarifies for us again in Matthew 24 and verse 24: 'For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect'. There will arise false Christs, false prophets, they will try to deceive, they will even have the ability - some of them at least - to do great signs and miraculous wonders. Then when we come to Peter's second epistle he tells us that often their motivation will be for money, or even sexual gratification.
When we come to Acts chapter 20, if you care to turn to it, we find that Paul the apostle actually warns elders and overseers in one of the churches that there would arise from within their ranks such false teachers. Acts 20 verses 29 and 30: 'For I know this', Paul says, 'that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after themselves'. So these are not outsiders who come in, these are insiders who go out, and by showing that they were insiders going out, they betray the fact that they were never children of God in the first place - although they professed faith in the Lord Jesus.
Now I don't know whether folk ever say this to you or not, but they say it to me: 'If Christianity is true, why are there so many versions of it?'. Often people from a Roman Catholic background ask that question, because they don't have the plethora of denominations and sects that there are in Protestantism. But you know, that in itself is a deceiving question; because the very reason why there are so many versions, it is claimed, of Christianity, is proof that attests to the fact that Christianity is, in its biblical sense, true. We have all the more reason to believe in it, because the Lord Jesus and the prophets and the apostles of old prophesied that there would be many many counterfeits, many many anti-Christianities and antichrists, false prophets and false teachers that would arise - because the truth is true!
Some of them, as Paul would tell us later in 1 Timothy 4 and verse 3, will forbid to marry. Some will command to abstain from foods, and Satan's strategy is to contaminate the church from within, to divide and conquer. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 11 and verses 3 to 4, and verses 13 to 15, that these false teachers will preach Jesus, but they will preach a different Jesus. They will preach about the Spirit, but they will preach a different spirit. They will preach a gospel, but it will be a different gospel. Indeed, he goes as far as to say that they will appear to be angels of light, angels who minister God's light, but deep down they are emissaries of the evil one. As we've already seen, some will even perform miracles - so much so, with great signs and wonders, that if it were possible they shall deceive the very elect. Many will be convinced, especially through these great miracles, of the authenticity of these false prophets' claims, and the supposed truth of their teaching.
You've even heard it said today, haven't you? 'That man can do miracles, he must be of God'. You do feel a measure of pressure, don't you, if a man can do a miracle? If you know anybody like that you feel pressure to accept them. You don't know too many people, even preachers, who can do any miracles - but do you know what John is saying? Not every spirit is of God! There is a need to discern because there are many false teachers gone into the world, and a great number of those false teachers can do great signs and great wonders. Now there are a lot of con artists and charlatans out there, I think most of them on the TV channels are just like that - but there are those who, it would appear, can do genuine miracles...but we should not be surprised at that, neither should we take it as evidence that they are of God and we should embrace them as being such.
In the Old Testament, for instance, the magicians in Pharaoh's palace were able to counterfeit the miracles of Moses, but they were not of God. Going right to the other end of the scale, near the end of time, we read from 2 Thessalonians 2 that the Antichrist himself, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, will deceive many! Miracles, great works and signs, are not in any way a measure of authentication of whether or not a prophet is of God. Indeed, in Matthew 7, which is often quoted in many other contexts, Jesus said: 'Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied? Have we not cast out devils? Have we not done many wonderful' - the word is 'miraculous' - 'works in your name?'. Jesus says: 'I will profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity'. Please don't miss the import, He's actually saying that the prophesying, the casting out of devils, the wonderful works were iniquity - because God wasn't in it! There was another spirit behind it!
Now, there is a great present-day problem, because there are many false prophets around today, as there were in John's day and even Moses' day, and some of them prophesy. Many Christians are running around taking their prophecies, prophetic word, as the actual word of God. They are behaving and obeying the commands of what, supposedly, God is telling them through this prophet. There are healers running around claiming, supposedly, to have a gift to touch and to heal. There are miracle workers claiming great and mighty feats for God - and I'm telling you now: many of them, if not the majority of them, are not of God! They are creating havoc not only in churches through splits, confusion, but in individual lives where people feel that God has told them that something is going to happen and it doesn't, or it does; or God has told them that they should be healed, or the prophet has, and they haven't - and maybe some of them die. My friends, we have to be real concerning these things. It's alright living up in a spiritual world that is airy-fairy, and we just brush all these inaccuracies and contradictions and inconsistencies under the carpet and say: 'Well, God moves in mysterious ways'. If the prophet speaks the word, people's lives are hanging on every syllable!
The fact of the matter is, what John is saying is: if there is such a thing as truth, there is also such a thing as falsehood; and if there are true prophets, true teachers of God's word around, you can be sure that there are many teachers who have gone into the world who are false. God's word says it. Just as you had Jeremiah prophesying that the children of Israel in bondage in Babylon would be exiled after seven years, you had Hananiah running around saying, 'No! Not seventy! It'll be two years!'. My friend, don't you think that this was two sides of the one coin, or just a different way of looking at the matter - Jeremiah was proclaiming God's truth, and Hananiah was lying in the name of God. There's a lot of that going on even today.
So there is a need to discern, because not every spirit is of God, many false teachers are gone into the world, and verse 1 teaches us also: 'Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits'. Now you say to me: 'But David, what if a man claims to have raised the dead?'. I know it's not easy, somebody comes along to you and tells you that they've raised the dead, what do you say to them? What if they claim to have healed the sick by their own touch? Some of them are running around claiming to have gone to heaven and come back again several times, some of them have made the claim that they've got rich quick on God and you can do the same. Well, I say to all those things: so what? So what? If a man claims this, that doesn't matter - what matters is the truth. There's nothing that says that a Christian has to be gullible and naive, and accept everything and anything that a man says. In fact, the opposite is true: there's a need to discern because not every spirit is of God, there are false teachers out there in the world, and so we shouldn't believe every spirit but try them.
I was reading today a story that Jay Adams relates, and he tells about how on one occasion in his travels he was driving through the state of Texas in the United States of America. He heard a preacher on the radio, and the preacher was inviting his listeners, I quote: 'Stay tuned to the end of this message, because if you stay tuned I'll tell you how to obtain' - wait for this - 'an autographed picture of Jesus Christ' - an autographed picture of Jesus Christ! This is over the radio in Texas. You might think, 'That's not possible!' - it's factual, this is what's going on in our world. You might say, 'Well, that's obvious!', and some false spirits are obviously false, but some are not. Indeed, the majority of them are not, and that is why the Lord Jesus warned that though we may see that so obvious, there are wolves that are in sheep's clothing, and they're there, and they're planted by Satan to devour the lambs, God's sheep. That's why we need to discern and try the spirits, to prove all things and hold fast that which is true - and it doesn't matter what a man claims, and I don't care who the man is! We're to try all the spirits!
Now, you've heard of private detectives, well there's a great need today for prophet detectives - people who will detect the false prophets. Now let me say just a word of warning before I go on any further, that we have to be careful that we don't become cynical of everything that is done in the name of Christ somewhere else - and that's a danger. We can become censorious, looking for faults in everyone else that doesn't look or sound like us. But nevertheless, the fact of the matter is: we've got to be real, this is John's warning. As we go into the book of Revelation we find that the risen and ascended and exalted Lord Jesus Christ addresses the churches there, and one of the churches He speaks to is Ephesus - and He had a lot to criticise them for, one thing was that they had left their first love - but there's one aspect that He did commend them for. He said to them in chapter 2 verse 2: 'Thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars'.
The Lord Jesus commends us when we try the spirits and find out the false prophet. Of course, our question tonight is a practical one, and it's simply: how do we distinguish when the differences, at times, are so subtle between truth and error? So John gives us a yardstick to examine and to prove all spiritual phenomenon. Not only does he tell us that there is a need to discern, but he gives us secondly the test for truth and the test for error in verses 2 and 3. 'Hereby', verse 2, 'know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world'.
The question is: is there a litmus test, is there a check and a balance whereby we can apply some rules or principles generally to anything that raises its spiritual head, to know whether or not it is of God? Is there a, if you like, 'one size fits all' analysis by which we can try every spirit? Because, when you think about it, there's a wide range of beliefs out there from the New Age Movement, to the Masons and the Mormons, and even under the umbrella of Christendom - in the church there is a great variety of opinions. There are the liberals who deny the supernatural and the miracles. There are the ecumenists that want us all to join together even though we have grave differences fundamentally, especially the gospel of by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus. Then there are the charismatics who want to add to the Bible their new revelations. Who is right? How can we find out who is right? How do you go about establishing who is right and who is wrong? Is there a test?
Well, yes, John tells us there is. Here's the first test in verses 2 and 3, the great test of any teacher is: 'What think ye of Christ?'. What do you think of Jesus Christ? Indeed we have visited this one already in chapter 2, if you look at it, and verse 22: 'Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son'. Now Paul the apostle put this his own way in 1 Corinthians 12 and verse 3: 'Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost'. So the first test of whether you are of God or not, and whether the spirit that is motivating your prophecy and your teaching us of God, is what you are saying, what you believe about the Lord Jesus. John Newton, the hymn writer of 'Amazing Grace', put it this way in another poetic verse:
'What think you of Christ? Is the test
To try both your state and your scheme;
You cannot be right in the rest,
Unless you think rightly of Him'.
What do you think of Jesus Christ? That is a criterion that eliminates a host of heresies. You consider the Gnostic heresy that is here in embryo in this book. 'What is that?', you say. Well, they believed that the Lord Jesus had not come in the flesh, literally, as a man; but Jesus the man was anointed by the Christ Spirit, the Spirit of God's Son there at His baptism - but the man Jesus was not literally the Christ and the Son of God. They believed that it was a sort of 'phantom' affair, He only appeared to be God's Son in the flesh, but not literally so. But right away we see that this eradicates it - if there's anyone that does not believe that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, he's not of God, John says.
The descendant of the Gnostics in our world today is the New Age Movement. They believe a very similar thing, that there is this Christ Spirit, the Baha'i Faith believes it as well, that it inhabits many religions, this 'spirit of life and truth'. Then there are the liberals, and many of them are saying in theological circles and seminaries, and even Bible colleges, that Christ was not God and neither did He claim to be God or act as God, nor was He the one mediator between God and men - there are other ways that can bring us to God. But right away this litmus test does away with the liberals: anyone who does deny that Christ came in the flesh is antichrist.
Then there are the cults, many of them deny that the fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily in the Lord Jesus Christ in all of His deity. The Mormons, the Jehovah's Witnesses, they're all the same, the Oneness group, they're denying some aspect of the personality of the Godhead, either an aspect in Jesus' personality, or the Godhead's three personalities. 'Now hold on!', you might say, 'Wait a wee minute! Don't you start ruling out everybody now in all these other faiths, whether it's the Gnostics, or liberals, or the cults, or other denominations. Is there not some common ground?'. This is what people are saying today: is there not something that we can all adhere to, and say we're going to unite on this?
I would say, well, there is: we can unite with the Unitarians over the fact that there is one God, but we can't unite with them because the Bible teaches that that God is described and displayed in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We can unite with the Jehovah's Witnesses that this world is coming to a swift end, but we can't unite with them in their evil teachings concerning the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, along with the Mormons denying that He is the true and only begotten Son of God. We could go on - we could unite with the Muslims over their moral code, believing that many are falling around us into sin - but is it not true that, though there is some common ground, even a clock that is broken is right twice a day? Twice a day it's right, but it's dead! What John is saying is that if you get who Christ is wrong, everything else is wrong, you're all wrong - it doesn't matter what else you believe that's right, everything else is contaminated! For to believe in the wrong Christ, to believe in one who is less than the Christ of history and the Christ of the Bible is to belong, the Bible says, to antichrist. 'Antichrist' meaning 'in place of Christ', or 'against Christ' - probably here mostly meaning 'in place of Christ'.
Do you know what John is going as far to say? To believe in the wrong Christ is to perish! To not believe in Jesus Christ, the man who was Jesus but also the Christ, who came from the Father as being the pre-existent Son taking upon Himself human flesh, like our flesh apart from sin, dying on the cross, is to deny the faith - for you deny the incarnation. By denying the incarnation you deny the atonement, for it had to be flesh and blood that died and atoned for our sin. You deny the resurrection which gives us new life, because it was not a physical resurrection if Christ did not come in the flesh. What a litmus test this is, and we could spend time which we don't have going through all the different cults and faith and beliefs and sects, and weighing them up according to this first test. If you want to do that, get our series on the cults that we did recently.
Then in verse 4, almost as an aside, John says: 'Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world'. It's a bit reminiscent of what we read from Deuteronomy 18:22, where Moses said about the false prophet: 'Thou shalt not be afraid of him'. John is saying to these believers: 'It doesn't matter what these false teachers have taught you, what they have claimed to spout from the Spirit of God when it has been from the spirit of the evil one himself - don't you be intimidated by their superior knowledge, by their charismatic powers!'. You know, there are many running around today, they may have degrees, PhDs, and all the rest - and because of that many people listen to them - and that's dangerous - because of their superior knowledge and their intellect, people bow to them and submit to them. There are others who are claiming revelations from God, new truth, and folk can do nothing but say: 'Well, God has never shown me anything like that, and I know that this is a good man and he's such a powerful preacher I have to listen'. There are others who are claiming great experiences, and you can be intimidated if you haven't had them.
What John is saying is: don't be afraid, for you have an advantage as a Christian, 'Ye have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world'. You remember in chapter 2 and verse 20 John told them: 'Ye have an anointing from the Holy One'. These false teachers were saying: 'You haven't got what we've got! We've got the Spirit, and you haven't got Him!'. John says: 'You have an anointing of the Holy One, don't you be in an intimidated state, for greater is He that is in you, then he that is in the world'.
I think it recalls to our minds the story of Elisha and his servant. You remember his servant became so afraid of the armies of the enemies around him, and Elisha said to him: 'Fear not, for they that be with us are more than they that be with them', and God opened his eyes to see the host of the armies of the Lord round about. Can I tell you: it's easy to be intimidated by the false teachers in our world. Maybe you say: 'Well how can John in verse 4 say that we have overcome them? If we have overcome them, there's an awful lot of them about'. False teachers are still rampant in our churches. Do you know what he means when he talks about us overcoming them? He simply means that they have not got the true believers over to their cause. Of course they're still around us here, but John is saying whether it's persecutions from without, or perversions and heresies that arise from within, the Lord Jesus Christ's word shall stand for ever - Matthew 16:18: 'I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it'. That's refreshing tonight: though the walls of the church seem to be falling down all around us because of the trends of modernism and false doctrine in our midst, whatever the political opposition may be in our land or world, whatever the religious opposition even from the establishment may be, even if the media turns against us - it's a pity the BBC weren't here! - whatever they try to do, the church is still here in 2006! Isn't it?
With all the attacks of spirits that are not from God, God's Spirit is still at work. As Paul said in Romans 8: 'Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us'. So John is trying to say to us: be strong, be confident, that's what you need for discernment. It's not just a knowledge of who Christ is, but it's a confidence in who He is - be strong in this knowledge! You see, if you're one of God's sheep, in John 10:5 the Lord Jesus said: 'A stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers'.
Now that gives us a bit of a clue to the fourth point that he gives us in verse 5, and that is the origin of error: 'They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them'. You see, the world is the source of all that they teach, and therefore the world hears and listens to them. If you're one of God's sheep - though for a moment or two you might consider it, and though you might have been waylaid by it - you'll listen to your Master's voice, and you should seek the ability through who Christ is and the Holy Scriptures, as we'll see in a moment, to discern what spirit that teaching is of. But the fact of the matter is: it is the world who hears such teaching, because the world is its source.
Now there are two implications that I want to give you from the origin of the error that we find in verse 5. The first implication is: the world's approval should never determine our message - did you hear that? The world's approval should never determine our message. Whether the world accepts what we say or not does not matter! It doesn't matter whether our Prime Minister, and our government, and the Labour Party, and maybe every political organisation now has the 'focus group' mentality to find out what the people want, and then to direct their policies according to it. It doesn't matter whether the philosophical mindset is one of relativism, that 'your truth may not necessarily be my truth, but I live and let live, and there's no absolute right or absolute wrong'. The world's approval must mean nothing to us in relation to our message. Our message is historical, our message is eternal, it is rooted and grounded in the truth of who Christ is, the Christ of history, the Christ of God.
But secondly we must therefore beware of courting popularity and acceptance with the world. Now listen: I believe in being all things to all men, and I think sometimes that we need to do a bit of bridge-building in our evangelism, of course, especially in this area - but evangelism can often be regulated by what is acceptable to people in the world, rather than what is faithful to God's word. Sometimes, more often than not, when you are faithful you face the disapproval of the world. You see, false teachers usually tell people what they want to hear. That's what you have right throughout the Old Testament: the false prophets were saying 'Peace! Peace!', where there was no peace. Whilst we don't be offensive for the sake of it, or put stumbling blocks in people's way, we need to beware that we don't see popularity as a test of our truth - it is not! The spirit of falsehood is the spirit of deceit, but we are not of darkness, we are of the truth.
Again this word 'truth' - you might say: 'Here, you're hammering this word 'truth' over and over again', but, as Pilate said, what is truth? That's the great question of the hour. The first test is Christ, what the Bible teaches about Christ is the truth - for He is, as He said, the way, the truth, and the life. He is the incarnate Word, He is the first test. What do you think of Christ? Is your Christ the Christ of the Scriptures and the Christ of history? If the first test is the incarnate Word, the second test that John gives us in verse 6 as the authentication of the truth is the written word: 'We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error'.
Now when John speaks of 'us' collectively in verse 6, he is speaking representing the apostles. What he means is this: all who are truly born of God will accept the teaching of the apostles found in the New Testament, and those who are not of God will reject and refuse the testimony of the apostles and the apostles' doctrine in the New Testament scriptures. Or if they don't reject it, they will seek to add to it, or adulterate what is already included in it. So that means this: there is no second edition of the New Testament! Do you understand? It doesn't matter whether the Mormons say that there is a new testament from the latter-day saints, it doesn't matter whether the charismatics are prophesying and it's advertised on the God Channel that this is a new revelation, and we could almost appendix it in at the back of our note-taking Bibles. It doesn't matter! It doesn't matter that somebody comes up and says: 'I've got God's word for you'. My friend, that cannot be of God - I'm not saying God doesn't move, God doesn't speak today, I firmly believe that He does in many respects - but the New Testament apostles' doctrine is the only validation of what truth is, it's the only thing we've got! Mark you, my friend, it is not what men claim, it is not what they may or may not perform, for it was the apostles who received the Holy Spirit that Jesus sent, and it was that Spirit that inspired them to write the sacred page - and so the implication is: if you reject the sacred page, add to it, adultery it, you reject the Spirit that was sent to inspire it and the Christ who sent Him!
So the second test is the written word. Do you know what troubles me a little bit today? I don't want to sound superior in saying this, but there are very few pulpits in our land, or indeed across the Western world at least, that engage in expository, consecutive teaching of God's word. In a lot of churches that thrive on false doctrine and heresy, you'll get sermons from different parts of the scripture week after week, and they'll pluck things out of context, a lot of it out of the Old Testament - not that we despise that, of course - but they're not taking the apostles' doctrine as it is written, and understanding it in its historical and literary context, and grammatically grappling with the truths of God's word - because if they did it, they would have to throw out a whole heap of their doctrine!
That was not the practice of the New Testament church, to avoid problems like that. Indeed in Acts chapter 17 we read that those who Paul spoke to in Berea were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily whether those things were so. The question begs: where do we look to discern truth? How do we know? Where do we find spiritual enlightenment? Here's the sure thing, my friend: you don't look to those who deny our Lord Jesus Christ, either in His full deity or His full humanity, or in any aspect of His Godhead. You don't look to academic theologians who deny the miraculous and the supernatural. You don't look to the cults who deny the realities of the soul and of our Saviour. My friend, do you realise, as John preaches in his day, and as I preach in ours, that the problem is not just in the world out there, but it's here in the church - for there are those who think they know better than Christ and the Bible!
I'm being serious: they're saying salvation is for everyone, and damnation is for no one. Homosexuality is accepted, and it's not just in big issues that they're rejecting God's wisdom for their own, it's in the minor things - but it's everywhere. I was listening to Christian radio today, and it wasn't UCB, it was another radio station. They were interviewing a man who was in some city in England planting a church, and here were his opening remarks when they were talking about the church that he had planted, he said: 'We decided that we wanted to do church differently'. I was walking out the door at the time with a cup of coffee, and I nearly spilt it! I thought to myself: 'Isn't that the arrogance of modern man?' - we're going to do church differently! How about doing church God's way? How about doing everything God's way? John Wesley lamented in his day: 'If a man will not believe God, he will believe anything!'. If you don't stand for something you'll fall for everything! Do you know what we need a revival of today in the church? We need a Holy Ghost revival, but we need a revival of biblio-centric Christianity - Bible-centred faith!
I don't want to finish on a negative note - praise God that whatever the world does, whatever the devil does, or for that matter whatever the church may stoop to do - the truth will always win the day! My friend, do you believe that? I read a story today about a proud lion who was walking through the jungle, and as he was on his journey he came to a little rabbit. He went 'Grrr! Who's the king of the jungle?', and the rabbit trembled in his boots - if he was wearing them! - 'Oh you are, mighty lion! You're the king!'. The lion moved on and travelled a bit more, and he came to a monkey, and he said 'Grrr! Who's the king of the jungle?', and the monkey said, 'You, it's you, you're the king of the jungle!'. Then he came to a big old bull elephant, 16 feet tall with 6 foot long tusks, and the old bull elephant looked down at him, and the lion went 'Grrr! Who's the king of the jungle?' - and he put his big trunk down, wound it underneath his belly, lifted up his body and threw him against an oak tree that was opposite. As that lion was sliding down the oak tree like melted butter, he looked up at the bull elephant and said: 'Well, just because you don't know the answer you don't have to get uptight about it!'.
Friends, listen: the devil is deceiving many that he is the strong one, but greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world. We have the truth, the truth will win the day - and we know that when time and the world passes away, God's word shall forever endure. An old black preacher put it like this: 'The greatest friend of truth is time'. When Joseph Smith is dead a thousand years, God's word will still endure, Jesus Christ will still be on the throne in His glorified, holy, divine flesh. Does that not make you rejoice tonight? Oh yes, there is a need to discern, and there are tests for truth and tests for error. There is an awful origin in evil, but praise God we've got the truth in Christ and the truth in His word, and we have the advantage - for greater is He that is in us, that he that is in the world. May the Lord bless His word to all our hearts this evening.
Our Father, we thank You that we have one Head to our church, Jesus Christ the Lord. We have one rule of faith and doctrine, the Holy Word of God. Lord, help us, with our eyes fixed upon Christ, and our hearts and lives filled with the practical truths and doctrines of Your word, to go into the battle and to overcome, overcoming those evil spirits, false doctrines and false prophets and teachers that would deceive the elect of God and deceive those who are lost and heading to a damnation in hell. Lord, we pray that we will realise, as we go forward, that if God be for us, who can stand against us? - and that greater is He that is in us, than he that is in the world. Lord, fill us with confidence and give us discerning spirits in these awful days; but give us, Lord, within our breast just now, the encouragement to know that we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the twelfth recording in his '1, 2 and 3 John' series, entitled "Discerning Christianity" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.
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