21 Days in the Word - tool 5 - Discern Between Truth and Error
One of the very important purposes of studying the Bible is to help us to be able to discern between truth and error. We are warned over and over in Scripture that in the last days many sincere people will be seduced to believe false teachings, teachers, and prophets. We are told over and over to test everything that we hear against the clear revelation of Scripture. Don’t swallow it until you’ve tested it. In Acts 17:11 the Bereans Jews were commended for this. It says, “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed…”
Not only the Lord, but true teachers and prophets will be delighted to have you test and challenge what they are saying. If they are defensive and threatened that is a warning sign.
The Bible is sometimes referred to as scales that balance much like the symbols we see in our legal system. Amos talked about God’s Word being like a plumb line (Amos 7:8). We have an instrument today called a “leveler.” it is like ruler with a bubble in the middle. You put it on a table and the bubble tells you if it is level or not. We know that there is a “way that seems right to a man but the end thereof is destruction.” You can hear things that sound right, but perhaps of the 99% that’s right 1% is strychnine. In Isaiah 8:20 we read, “Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.”
When the Scripture is rightly used as a tool of discernment it has supernatural power to expose lies and reveal truth. Hebrews 4:12-13 says, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing souls and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
How do we use the Bible to test truth and error? Here are some principles:
1. We look for the bigger context. Like that scale many statements in the Bible have a balancing truth that must be considered. It has been said “a text without the context is a pretext” for error. In other words you can take a scripture out of context and prove almost anything you want to believe. Satan did this when he tempted Jesus. He quoted a Scripture about the angels having charge over him as proof that Jesus should jump off the temple wall. Jesus responded that it is also written, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” We need to consider the whole counsel of God.
The Lord promises that His word will be like a razor sharp sword that will help us discern what is sometimes a fine line between truth and error. Here are some examples of truths that can have fine lines:
- Faith and Presumption - By his stripes I am healed therefore I should quit all medicine?
- Fear and Caution - God is going to protect me so I should skydive without checking my parachute?
- Reason and Unbelief - If I save and have a great spending plan I’m leaning on my understanding instead of trusting the Lord?
2. Have the right attitude when you are discerning truth. James 3:17 tells us that wisdom and discernment has a certain attitude or spirit that it operates in. It says, “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” We have all seen people misuse truth when they are angry, selfish, or greedy. One of the most common examples is a “political spirit.” When people move in that spirit they give the impression that their view is perfect and people who disagree with them are stupid or evil. A political spirit is a stronghold that causes people to live with spiritual blindfolds preventing them from accurately seeing truth.
One of the reasons Paul, in 2 Timothy, warns Timothy over and over not to get caught up in futile arguments where people are spouting off their opinions is because those discussions almost always are fueled by a wrong spirit. You can’t come to a right conclusion with a wrong spirit. So when we are going to discern something we must be sure our spirit is controlled by the humble attitudes that James describe as proof that the Holy Spirit is in charge.
3. Stay within the boundaries of what God has revealed and don’t go into things that are “above our paygrade to understand.” Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of the law.” Job admitted that he and his friends sinned against the Lord when they tried to “subpoena God to answer to the court of their own reasoning.” God has intentionally left many questions unanswered to test us. The beginning of wisdom is that reverential respect and humility that acknowledges, He’s God and I’m not I can never know even a trace of what He knows. What I can know is everything I need to know to do His will so I will focus on that.
This is crucial in a culture that we live in. There is a fine line between having a conviction and becoming a critic that has a need to prove everyone else who doesn’t agree with us wrong. For example: I had a parent in despair questioning how they can believe what God says about sex only being allowed within the boundary of a monogamous heterosexual marriage when their son is gay and wants a gay marriage? Immediately all kinds of questions arose about whether someone is born with same sex attraction or that is demonic... Whether people in gay marriage will go to Heaven. As someone said, there is proof that polygamous men are in Heaven: Jacob, David... why not people in a gay marriage.
There are so many difficult and painful issues that we can be tempted to dive into and draw painful lines. The other option is to affirm what we can affirm that is clear and Scripture without having all answers or condemning people who think differently. It is tragic that love doesn’t control these discussions. Many who argue against Christianity are arguing out of deep wounds. Our focus shouldn’t be to prove them wrong but to love them to life. Praying for their wounds and gently sharing God’s truth and God’s grace and love for them.
4. Recognize that there are two other witnesses that are there to help us use God’s word to define and discern truth: the Holy Spirit and the Church. We know Jesus said He gave us the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. We should constantly ask for His help. He will show us in our hearts by giving us a check inside when something is error and peace when we are moving towards truth. I think of the game, “You’re getting warmer…” The Holy Spirit is active in those who honestly seek His help.
At the same time we are not to just discern truth by ourselves. Scripture says it is by the mouth of two or three witnesses that every word is confirmed. False prophets always try to isolate followers and demand that they only look to their opinion as a truth source. This is one of the “fruits” Jesus told us to judge. By the way, the fruit of a life that justifies their own sinful behavior is another major way you can tell a false teacher. It won’t take long with a false teacher before it is clear that he is justifying some kind of immoral behavior.
We are told in I Timothy 3:15, “If I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” God puts us in a church to give us people to help us walk in discernment. God wants us to look to proven pastors and teachers in the church to help us discern what we should believe about controversial questions. This includes not just what we hear from other people but what we may believe we are hearing inside of us as the voice of God or an angel. The enemy will disguise himself as an angel of light and will use spiritual feeling impulses to deceive people. Every intuition or thing we think might be a revelation is something God requires should be tested before we believe.
“Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.” (I Thessalonians 5:19-22)