“Testing the Spirits”
1 John 4:1-11
May 9th & 10th, 2009
Testing of some sort is common at many levels of our society. Obviously there testing going on in schools, something our students experienced this week in taking the Iowa tests. One cannot to my knowledge get into college without either an ACT or an SAT test. Even retrieving information involves some sort of test. You need to give the right social security number, a password, your mother’s maiden name, etcs. Today, God in his Word exhorts us not to believe every spirit, but tests the spirits to see if they are from God. It means we are to stand firm for what is true, and recognize the “untruths” concerning Jesus that are out there. There is an old adage which goes like this if you stand for nothing you’ll fall for everything. We stand for the truth of Jesus Christ, true God, true man. This Jesus is the third person of the Trinity. He lived a sinless life, and by his sacrificial death he atoned for the sins of the whole world. He rose again, conquering death; he ascended bodily into heaven and promises to return again. These are not just empty formulas or historic statements; rather they are the actions of a God who is bound and
determined to connect to you and me.
However, Jesus also says that there will be other spirits, other proclamations about versions of himself. “Mathew 7:15-16 says “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” This verse itself shows us that sometimes these teachings are not obvious, but subtly different. Matthew 24:24 says “For there false Christ’s, and false prophets, will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible.” In the age of the internet, and in a world that is shrinking, other “teachings” about God, Jesus, and his church are all around us. I’ve noticed when I hand the store clerk a 10 or 20 dollar bill; they will hold it up to the light and mark it with a special marker. What are they looking for? Counterfeit money, which is by nature of this practice tough to see. Today, we are holding up what we teach and confess about Jesus, as found in the scriptures and comparing these truths to others out there. One note before we tackle this subject, notice that it says “By this you know the Spirit of God,; every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. It isn’t just that one believe these truths or even a that a prophet believe it. For one can believe something but if he or she never talks about it, what really is being proclaimed? To a certain extent I think this is the case with shows like the Hour of Power, with Robert Schuller. It’s not so much what is said that matters, it is what is not said. Little discussion of sin, and often (not always) little discussion of the redeeming Savior. A sinner stuck needs to hear two truths the reality of our need for a Savior (ie sin), and the greater reality of a Savior who does not hesitate to come our way. The true spirit makes the truths of Jesus known over and over again.
When I was on vicarage there were two Mormon missionaries who visited me in my Tulsa apartment. In our conversations I finally asked them to explain the gospel. I still remember one of the young men saying that is a tough one, and he proceeded to give me five points which mostly had to do with following or obeying some proscribed religious action. I did not hear once in that message of the completed work of Jesus on our behalf. I’m convinced the Jesus these two young men were presenting was a different Jesus from the biblical Jesus. At best it was an unclear message. There are other religious groups that speak of Jesus, but he is not the Jesus from the Bible. Jehovah Witnesses do not believe he is God, and Islam merely sees Jesus as a great prophet, but again not the son of God himself. A few years back there was a book titled the Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown and while it was stated to be a work of fiction, he did bring forth the following views. He attacked the deity of Christ, the reliability of scripture, and goddess worship comes off as a positive alternative. According to a survey done by the national Geographic channel in Canada, a full 32% believed the theories underlying this best selling novel are true. 2 Peter 2:1 says “There were also false prophets among the people, just as there will b e false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them……
Now this all may sound kind of alarmist, and frankly saying someone’s teaching is not correct is simply not the way things are to be done in our society. “Each to his own, is the theory of the day, and if it helps them great. I’ll be honest there is a part of me that would rather just speak what is true, and not speak against what is not true. Yet God in his word has another idea. God loves us to much to let us walk around with our heads in the sand as to what is out there. God wants you and I to know that Jesus really has come in the flesh, and for reasons of great importance he covers the whole you, and the whole me. He doesn’t come just spiritually into our world, but he comes to be part of the whole deal, body, soul, and spirit. In the Old Testament it was real sacrifices that “covered” in way or spoke for the sins for the people. Jesus really did sacrifice his body, and he really did rise bodily, and he promises those who confess his very name the same thing. He even gives us his Body and Blood. This real Jesus gives us the Spirit which allows us to confess Jesus is Lord. This Spirit is much stronger than he who is in the world. Our battle is not against flesh and blood but against spiritual powers. This Jesus is the true vine, and we are the branches. We are interconnected to him. Notice also that proper teaching, real teaching about Jesus leads to true living. The second paragraph shows how doctrine and truth leads to a life where love predominates. Love that starts from the real Jesus, then flows for us, and then through us into the lives of those around us.
How can these false prophets be seen? Through their message. Often it is a message that speaks of Jesus as primarily our example. While Jesus is this, if this is is the only emphasis, we miss the greater truth that our Jesus is the Savior. “He came not to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many. Other spirits intersperse good works a way to get right with God. Again, we were created in Christ Jesus to do good works, but inevitably the false prophets will emphasize behavior over belief. Again they are not mutually exclusive. So what two things can we look for in false prophets. Jesus as mere example, and salvation by some wort of action on our behalf. Secondly one whose love can be obtained or kept by our efforts.
I’m reminded of that game show some years back titled “To tell the truth”. Here three contestants come out and each stated they were one person. Hello my name is “Roger Hugo”. Hello my name is “Roger Hugo”. After many questions and comments finally the real named person comes forward. One person was true, while the other true were imposters. It took question, study, and time for people to get that right. How do we tell the true spirits from the false spirits. From hearing, studying, and participating in the truths of God’s Word, and the Savior it conveys. This Word, yes the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ gives us power not only to make it through the day, but he also provides truth in a world of deceptions. This truth is that love, real love has found us, and it’s a truth worth holding on to. Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ our living, interceding, Saving Lord. Amen.