Try The Spirits

by Dennis Michelson
(Painesville, Ohio)

I John 4:1-6


Introduction: We live in a time when it seems people would rather miss the boat than rock the boat. Jonathan Edwards said, "If a minister be driven with a fierce and intemperate zeal and vehement heat, without light, he will likely kindle the like unhallowed flame in his people and to fire their corrupt passions and affections, but will make them never the better, nor lend them a step towards heaven, but drive them apace the other way."

There is much wildfire and strange fire abroad in the land and over the air waves. The Apostle John says to test the spirits. The following are biblical principles for trying or testing the spirits to see if they be of God.

1. Test By The People Of God - Confession

I recently started a series based upon the London Baptist Confession of 1689. Most people who claim to be Baptist have never heard of it. There are several very well written orthodox confessions and most preachers today stand on the shoulders of some of these great men of the past.

Mark it down - if it's new then it's not true! A great deal of the popular teaching of the past 100 years is foreign to - or in contradiction of - many of the historical confessions. The Bible alone is our ultimate standard for faith and practice but many preachers today seem to give more credence to the notes in their study Bible rather than the text.

Woe be unto the preacher or teacher who contradicts something written in so and so's study Bible. If it appears that some contemporary writer or theologian has gained insight totally unseen by his father or grandfather in the ministry then one had better "test the spirit."

Some say, "well they must be right since they are growing." So are the Mormons. So is Islam. So is oriental mysticism. Read II Peter 2:1-3; 10-11 very carefully. Beware of the Word of Faith and Positive Confession movement so popular in our time.

It is nothing more than a revival of the ancient gnostic heresy which gave some lip service to the Bible plus additional insight equal to, or superior to the Bible itself. The following are direct quotes from famous (and popular) preachers. Test what they say against what our predecessors believed:

"Just as dogs have puppies and cats have kittens, so God has little gods."
"We cannot communicate with God mentally, for He is a Spirit."
"I was sucked into the Spirit . . .into the presence of Almighty God."
"I have revelatory dreams so critics begone!"
"The believer is as much an incarnation as was Jesus of Nazareth."
"God has a Spirit body and I believe His body is in one place at one time."

If you are not familiar with the Monophysite error, the Nestorian controversy or the Arian heresy then curl up with a copy of the 4th century confession of Nicea or a 5th century copy of the proceedings of Chalcedon. You will learn a lot more from those documents than a week's viewing of Christian television or a ton of books from the local Christian bookstore.

Test the spirits by the confessions of the people of God. Secondly,

2. Test By The Spirit Of God - Unction (I John 2:20,27)

Unction is that gift of discernment or spiritual lie detector God installs in the believer at salvation. You may not know exactly why something is wrong but you sense something is just not right.

A preacher and writer recently reported that a particular social movement "has already begun bringing together the postmillennial Christian reconstructionists and the positive confession charismatics so we now have unlimited faith, health, wealth, power, divinity and dominion!" How does that sit with you? (Matthew 24:24)

3. Test By The Word Of God - Revelation

The Bible contains truths which are easily reshaped by subtle distortion (II Peter 3:15-16) The following are seven biblical tests for trying the spirits:

(1) By what authority? - Jeremiah 5:31

(2) What is their track record? - Deut. 18:22 and Jer. 23:25-36

(3) What is their message? - Isaiah 30:8-11 The ancient prophets had prosperity ( weal ) and destruction ( woe )

(4) Are they man-centered? - Isaiah 29:16

(5) Are they anti-historical? Jeremiah 6:16-17

(6) Are they greedy? - Jer. 6:13/II Peter 2:3;14-15

(7) Are they priestly mediators? I Timothy 2:5 That means "do you have to go to them (or send something to them) in order to secure the promised blessing?"

Conclusion: Jesus said "My sheep hear my voice." Are you following the Shepherd of your soul or a modern, mercenary herder of goats? These are interesting times indeed!

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