GOD DIDN’T SAY THAT! (The Importance of Discernment)
About two weeks, I received a strange call on a Monday morning. “Pastor, how do you want us to help you buy these gift cards for this cancer patient?” I told the person I didn’t understand what they were talking about. To my angst, I discovered someone had hacked into my church email address and sent a false letter asking people, in my name, to use their credit cards to buy this product. It was a scam! When I understood what was happening, my response was to tell my friend, “I didn’t say that.” It bothered me because I realized my reputation and even my relationships with friends could be affected if they believed this lie.
This was a confirmation that I should do a sermon series I’ve been thinking about for a while called, “God Didn’t Say That: Myths we believe that can cause us to miss what God wants and make us miserable”.
We hear a lot about fake news these days. The Bible warns that in these last days there will be many who will preach a fake gospel. There will be a flood of counterfeit truths, using God’s name and language. They may be close to the truth but are just enough off to stumble our faith and keep us from growing in an authentic relationship with Jesus. In I John 4:1, John writes, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
Testing and weighing what we hear, from people, preachers, blogs, and even impressions in our mind are not only crucial for us to consider but commanded by Jesus. It is so critical because what we believe, we empower and partner with in our life. When we believe the truth of God, we empower that truth to set us free. When we believe a lie of the enemy, we empower the enemy to rob and destroy in our lives.
This was the case with Adam and Eve in the garden. The serpent had no real authority or power to harm Adam and Eve. All he had was the tool of deception. But the moment they believed the lie (which at its root said God wasn’t good, He didn’t have their best interests at heart) they fell. They lost everything. They could have said, “Satan, God didn’t say that. He said we can eat of every tree, including the tree of life, just not this tree. We won’t believe your lies because God is good. He is the only God who is God. So, leave this second before we stomp you in His name!” Then, they would have stayed free.
As we look at several examples of these myths and assumptions that can become deceptions, I want to encourage you with a few tools for developing discernment.
I. Don’t just react to things you hear that cause you concern; take the time to gather and consider the facts. As we listen to sermons or read articles, we will come across statements that are unsettling. In our instant information age, it is easy to react emotionally. There may be error or there may just be a misunderstanding of what is being said, or even a truth of God that you weren’t ready to hear. If you google most preachers today, you can instantly find some “heresy hunters” quick to tear them apart and give all kinds of negative reports. The more popular the preacher, the more critics they have. Some criticism may be deserved but often this is unfounded, based on hearsay and the people haven’t done the research or let that speaker answer for themselves about the concerns. If we react, we may just add to the great amount of division already in the Body of Christ.
II. Test the words and the spirit.
In I Thessalonians 5:19-22 (NLT), Paul gives us this insight, “Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. Stay away from every kind of evil.” Again, he is saying don’t be quick to judge but weigh everything carefully. Look before you swallow spiritual food.
There are a couple of ways we do this.
1. We do our best to define the “truth” that is being said and test it against scripture. We know that one of Satan’s favorite things to do is to twist a scripture. He actually uses scripture to deceive people. If he can disguise a lie in a package of truth, people are more likely to believe it. This is what he did with Jesus, when he tempted him in the wilderness and told him to jump off the temple. Satan quoted scripture saying, “angels will hold you up”. Of course, Jesus responded, “It is written you shall not tempt the Lord your God.”
What we learn is that it is important not to just look at “proof-text” (a scripture passage used as proof of a belief) but to look at the context and the overall emphasis of scripture. Scripture is given in a way that there is balance. Someone said it is like walking on a road between two ditches; Satan doesn’t care which ditch you fall into just as long as you don’t stay on the road. For example, legalism and hyper-grace, on the one side you have the false teaching that we are saved by keeping God’s law. On the other side, you have the teaching that it really doesn’t matter what you do; sin doesn’t really exist because Jesus paid for it. Both have elements of truth, but taken to either extreme there is error and danger. If we are struggling with a question about some aspect of truth, we should research both sides of the argument, compare that with the scripture and ask the Holy Spirit, perhaps with the counsel of mature Bible teachers to help us understand the proper interpretation.
2. The other key way of testing things is by their fruit. Jesus in Matthew 7:15-20, told us to watch out for wolves in sheep’s clothing. He tells us to look at fruit. Bad trees may not look bad but if you wait and watch what fruit they bear, you will discover the true nature. As you examine the fruit of an idea, possibly whether something in your mind is coming from the Holy Spirit, your flesh, or the devil, it is helpful to follow through on where that thought leads you. For example, if it leads you to isolate yourself from church or Christians that’s bad fruit. If it leads you to become anxious, fearful, full of strife, it’s not from God. If it makes you judgmental or have a sense of spiritual superiority, it isn’t from God. If it is coming from a person, watch over time to see what motives show up. Watch for motives of greed, self-glory, impurity, or a desire to pull people into being their follower. That is all bad fruit.
I believe if we are sincere in our hearts and are watchful, God will keep us from error. Stay close to believers who have a track record of long-term faithful integrity and obedience and walk with them. Avoid tangents, and anything that seems like a fad or a new gimmick. There is nothing new under the sun. If someone seems to come across like they have a new truth, unique and special, let the warning sirens sound in your heart. Let questions and concerns drive you to study to show yourself approved a workman that needs not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Tim. 2:15)
Be accountable for your conclusions. James 3 talks about God’s wisdom as wisdom that is easily entreated. It means it is a wisdom that isn’t paranoid and unwilling to submit to dialogue, reason, and humbly considering other points of view.
III. Finally, realize and appreciate that there are many “disputable matters.” There are many things that good, faithful God-fearing believers will disagree on. Paul talks about this in Romans 14 and tells us we should all be convinced in our own consciences about these matters and agree to disagree without judging one another, for the sake of unity. How you interpret the events surrounding the second coming of Christ may differ slightly from others. You shouldn’t write people off because of that but continue in fellowship, comfortable that the Bible has lots of places where there is room for more than one opinion. I like the adage that says, “In essentials agreement, in nonessential flexibility, and in all things charity and love.”