As our shared journey of exploration into those things that make for an authentic life in Christ draws rapidly to a close, it is my hope, gentle child of God, that you are aware of the great culture wars that have gripped our society and that are raging all around us here in America and around the world. How to deal lovingly, compassionately, and truthfully with people who are caught up in these skirmishes can be a great source of heartache and concern for any sincere heart. And yet, I do not believe our Lord calls us to run from the fray or skirt the pain; but to embrace the tempest for the sake of those precious hearts who need us.
As we have noted in various passage of scripture, there are spiritual forces at work in this world that are continually bent on reforming human society; and not in a good way. Their goal is to call humanity away from God, away from righteousness, away from all that is bright and beautiful, and into deeper and deeper realms of darkness. It is a pattern repeated time and again down through the annals of history. How many mighty civilizations have risen to seemingly indestructible heights, only to be corrupted and eventually destroyed by wanton godlessness from within? The Bible says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34, NASB).
These culture wars include matters of morality that directly impact virtually every child of God on a daily basis: persistent sexual immorality and violence in the public media and entertainment industry; the constant pursuit of wealth and materialism, and the ensuing greed and idolatry it generates; the desecration of marriage and the rising percentage of single parents and children with no meaningful father figure in their lives; increasing domestic violence, child abuse, human trafficking, and the exploitation of women and children at every level of society; the ever rising tide of illicit drugs and substance abuse sweeping western civilization and many other parts of the globe; war, repression, the abuse of human rights and the ensuing poverty and pestilence it promotes; and even the wide-spread propagation of atheism, agnosticism, humanism, evolution, and one lofty philosophy after another seeking to malign the truth of God’s word. It seems as if, at every turn of the road, our “adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8, NASB).
Sometimes the front lines of battle may seem distant and far removed from us. At other times the battle rages right at our doorstep; even within our own homes. But, as disciples of Christ, this shouldn’t surprise us because Jesus has told us:
Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.
(Matthew 10:34-36, NASB)
Our Lord wants us to know what to expect; He doesn’t want us unprepared. Jesus warned His disciples in the 1st century, saying:
But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, and you will be hated by all because of My name.
(Luke 21:16-17, NASB)
If we remain true to our hearts, true to our values, true to our Lord, there is going to be conflict in our lives; it’s just part of the deal, it comes with turf. People whose hearts are not surrendered to the Lord—who are not His covenant children—will not share our values and, in fact, will often seek to challenge them. But why would we expect anything different from them? Some people will resent us and feel threatened by us; while others will become enraged and threaten us. The Bible says, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12, NASB).
We have to accept the fact that Messianic kingdom culture—the ekklesia—is diametrically opposed to the darkness of this world. The Apostle Paul challenges us with these words:
Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light.
(Ephesians 5:7-13, NASB)
We shine the light and expose the darkness when we “walk in the light as He Himself is in the light” (I John 1:7, NASB). We shine the light and expose the darkness by “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15, NASB). We shine the light and expose the darkness by presenting our bodies as “a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God” and by not being “conformed to this world,” but being “transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2, NASB). We shine the light and expose the darkness by celebrating the distinction between our kingdom culture and surrounding worldly culture, and reveling in the fact that we are “a people for God’s own possession” (I Peter 2:9, NASB). And, if necessary, we shine the light and expose the darkness through our suffering for righteousness sake, in order to exemplify our commitment to Christ. As Paul said, “for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8, NASB).
The Apostle Peter admonishes us to prepare ourselves for battle by making up our minds ahead of time that we are ready and willing to suffer for Christ if need be, when he says:
Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.
(I Peter 4:1-2, NASB)
But Peter goes on to comfort us with the thought that our suffering with Christ will result in great rejoicing, saying:
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.
(I Peter 4:12-13. NASB)
When Jesus first chose His original twelve apostles, and sent them on their first mission, He said to them, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd [wise] as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16, NASB). I think that’s a pretty good thing for God’s children to remember in today’s world, too, as we go about our daily lives seeking to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19, NASB). We must not only duly prepare ourselves with the spiritual mindset and mental toughness that we need to be able to withstand whatever the adversary throws at us, but we must also adorn ourselves with a gentleness and innocence that is becoming of the children of God.
The Apostle Peter, knowing that the ekklesia—the called out children of God—were already, and would forever be, beset by many varieties of false prophets and deceiving spirits, exhorts us with these words:
…our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness!
(2 Peter 3:15-17, NASB)
So what can we do to heed Peter’s warning and not be “carried away by the error of unprincipled men”? Going back to the Apostle John’s admonition, we must be able and willing to, “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (I John 4:1, NASB). The Bible does not succinctly set forth a specific outline for testing the spirits. However, while we cannot possibly imagine or prepare for every false doctrine, moral issue, or social-political agenda that might assail us, we can employ our working knowledge of the scripture to help us arrive at some legitimate ways to accomplish this goal.
Please remember, as we consider each of the following points concerning how to “test the spirits,” that we are not in the business of judging or condemning people. People are not the enemy. The Apostle Paul makes this clear when he says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12, NASB). Let me say it again, people are not the enemy; in fact, we must embrace people with the love of Christ—love them, serve them, counsel them, teach them, and be there for them to help bear their burdens. I sometimes fear that our combative attitudes do nothing to aid the cause of righteousness, but only play right into the enemy’s hands. This is why I continually remind myself that our prime directive is to be, “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15, NASB).
To be a true warrior for Christ means that we shed our warlike characteristics, that we let go of our pride and any desire to conquer or win by reason of our own force of will; and that, with the sacrificial attitude of Christ our Lord, we battle for precious hearts with Holy Spirit induced “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23, NASB). It also means that we must each be “diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB) so that we can take up “the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” and wield with accuracy “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:16-17, NASB).
Our very motivation for even engaging in this spiritual warfare to which we’ve been called is our love for people. Yes, there are a lot of ungodly, immoral, hateful, mean, rude, and even violent people out there. But, ultimately, people are not the problem; people are the victims. We are in a battle for hearts and minds; and for the eternal destiny of precious souls for whom Christ died.
So, for this reason, I choose not to focus on the false teachers or false prophets themselves, but rather, on the false spirits—ideology, theology, doctrines, traditions, attitudes, mindsets, even social and political philosophies—under whose influence people have fallen. I encourage you, dear child of God, to try to do the same; to look beyond the surface, beyond the immediate issue, beyond the person, and to see what it is that is controlling people and compelling them to believe and behave the way that they do. Here is a brief outline to help us “test the spirits”:
1.) The Scripture Test: The ability to “test the spirits” requires that we have a working knowledge of God’s inspired written word. As noted above, it requires “accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB). We need to ask, “Is this particular spirit—idea, doctrine, teaching, interpretation, or application—consistent with the plain teaching of the scriptures?” Remember those noble minded Bereans who “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11, NASB).
2.) The Jesus Test: We need to question the position of the spirit, or teaching, or philosophy relative to the identity of Jesus. Remember, John says, “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God” (I John 4:3, NASB). Does the spirit, or idea, or philosophy exalt Jesus as the incarnate Word—God in the flesh? Does the spirit, or interpretation, or teaching acknowledge and confirm His righteousness—the “One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15, NASB)? Does the spirit, or philosophy, or doctrine acknowledge and confirm the sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection of Christ on our behalf—who, in accordance with “the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23, NASB), at the right time, “died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6, NASB)? And does the spirit, or teaching, or theology acknowledge and confirm the ascension and glorification of Christ—that “God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11, NASB)?
3.) The Salvation Test: We need to ascertain whether or not the spirit—idea, theory, philosophy, doctrine—is in agreement with God’s calling us into a covenant relationship with Him. Does it agree that “both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one,’ for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:9-10 & 23), and therefore, “by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, NASB)? And, while declaring the fact that we cannot put our faith in our works because, inevitably, our works “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NASB), does it, at the same time, acknowledge that “faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself” (James 2:17, NASB). And, with that in mind, does it, therefore, agree with Jesus when He said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15, NASB)? Does it agree with Jesus’ teaching concerning confessing Him as Lord and repenting from sin when He said, “everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32, NASB) and that, “repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47, NASB). Does it agree with and advocate Jesus’ teaching concerning the “one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5) when He said, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16, NASB); and with the Apostle Peter’s teaching when he said, “baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh [not a legalistic work of law] but an appeal to God for a good conscience [an internal expression of saving faith]—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 3:21, NASB)?
4.) The Unity Test: In what name or names does the spirit—philosophy, doctrine, teaching—come to us; and who or what does it seek to exalt and glorify? Jesus said, “I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?” (John 5:43-44, NASB). We need to clarify whether or not the spirit—idea, philosophy, doctrine, or teaching—is a divisive or unifying influence. Is it exclusive—exalting divisive dogma and the traditions of men—or is it inclusive—promoting the unity for which Jesus prayed? Remember, we are called to be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3, NASB). Any true and godly spirit will align itself with, and advocate for, the “one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-5, NASB).
5.) The Character Test: We need to remember to look at the lifestyle and standard of morality that the spirit—philosophy, interpretation, concept, doctrine, attitude, or mindset—promotes. Does it seek to “turn the grace of God into licentiousness” (Jude 1:43), or does it pursue “the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14, NASB)? Is the spirit, or teaching, or lifestyle motivated by self-serving interests; or is it motivated by love for God, love for truth, love for every child of God, and love for the lost who need to know God’s love? Is the ekklesia strengthened or weakened by the spirit, or theology, or ideas being espoused? Jesus said:
Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.
(Matthew 7:15-20, NASB)
Authentic Christianity is unlike any other religion, philosophy, or political system known to humanity. Our mighty King did not come to claim any physical turf or to establish political boundaries. Instead, He said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21, NKJV). He did not come to conquer and subdue by the exertion of His mighty power. Instead, the scriptures state, “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28, NASB) It was His intention all along to become a servant to humanity and, thereby, to win with love.
Likewise, as “warriors for Christ,” we are called not to takes lives so that we may conquer, but rather, to give up our lives—our personal wants, desires, rights, freedoms, and, if necessary, yes, even our very existence—that we may win hearts to Christ. Unlike some religions and other political entities, we do not kill to win; we die to win!
Thinking this way definitely requires spiritual discipline because this mentality goes against the wants and desires of the flesh. Paul admonishes us to:
…be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
(Ephesians 1:1-2, NASB)
I sometimes have to stop and ask myself, “To what degree do I really seek to be an imitator of God? As I seek to ‘fight the good fight of faith’ and ‘contend earnestly for the faith,’ am I really walking in love? Am I really concerned about the eternal destiny of other precious souls for whom Christ died, or have I made the battle too much about me and my theological positions?”
I remember also, that Paul said:
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
(Philippians 2:5-8, NASB)
Jesus’ love for us and His surrender to the will of the Heavenly Father allowed Him to empty Himself—set aside all His rights, His power, His glory and grandeur—and become obedient to the point of allowing Himself to go to the cross and die there for us. And that is how we win; by following Jesus’ example and dying to ourselves, denying ourselves, emptying ourselves of self, and taking up our cross.
Does that kind of vulnerability sound a little bit scary? It does to me. But, Jesus reminds us:
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
(Mark 8:34-36, NASB)
I do not know, because it is not my place to know, the extent to which God’s grace will extend to those who are not walking according to Bible teaching. I do believe that there is a difference between being wrong about something and in being willfully wrong. I think there is a big difference in being ignorant of God’s will and in remaining deliberately ignorant. There is a huge difference between “sinning” because we are human and, therefore, we fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23), and in walking in darkness (I John 1:6) and continually practicing sin (I John 3:8).
My tendency is always give people the benefit of the doubt. Regardless of what sin or false spirit they may be enslaved to, I try to look for the good in people’s hearts. However, I also remember that the Apostle Paul said:
Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.
(Acts 17:30-31, NASB)
Ultimately, a person’s heart is only as good as it reveals itself in submission to the will of God. We, therefore, cannot allow the people we love to continue to buy in to the false teachings of false spirits without our “speaking the truth in love” to them. Furthermore, no matter how much we may desire to give people the benefit of the doubt, we must acknowledge that evil is in this world and that there are many who have fallen prey to its influence. We must not forget the Apostle Paul’s warning to be careful of those who are far more deliberate in their attempts to take people’s eyes off of Jesus:
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.
(2 Corinthians 11:13-15, NASB)
Child of God, you have been called to spiritual warfare. You have been called to do battle with dark, sinister forces. There will be times when it hurts to be a Christian, when it’s scary and threatening, when it seems overwhelming. There will be times when you’ll think, “This is the toughest decision I’ve ever made.” You may feel all alone at times. You may feel the blast of physical hardship, social pressure, and emotional turmoil. You may even be seriously tempted to quit and just go along with crowd. But always remember, whenever you feel this great spiritual war raging all around you, and even within you, that it is in those moments that you, as a gentle warrior of the cross, are poised to do the most good and make the most difference in this world for Christ. So don’t be afraid to let your colors fly, to let the commitments in your heart be known, and to let your faith be seen! Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NASB).
As I gaze out over battlefield Earth, contemplating the immensity of our struggle and the possible consequences that may result by our daring to take a stand for truth and righteousness, I’m comforted, and I hope you will be, too, by these words from the prophet Isaiah:
Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.
Behold, all those who are angered at you will be shamed and dishonored; those who contend with you will be as nothing and will perish.
You will seek those who quarrel with you, but will not find them, those who war with you will be as nothing and non-existent.
For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’
(Isaiah 41:10-13, NASB)
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