Have you ever heard someone say, “I am spiritual, not religious”? This seemingly pious statement is usually used for the purpose of someone affirming they believe in some type of spirituality, possibly even Christianity, but without any involvement or commitment to a local group which believes the same. In other words, people want spirituality without accountability. They want spirituality without the local church. While this line of thinking is deceiving, what disheartens me even more is how those in the church may be deceived themselves. If not held up against the light of Scripture, some in the church are bound to figure they are good and their salvation is assured because they attend Sunday worship services week-in and week-out. Yet, when it comes to understanding what the Bible teaches, on their own they are next to clueless. Without knowing what Scripture teaches, how can one apply it to their life? Without knowing what Scripture teaches, how can one be discerning?
One particular area where discernment is needed in the church today is in discussions on the Holy Spirit. Sayings like “the Spirit told me” or “the Spirit is leading me” are often too subjective. To be clear, I am not saying the Spirit does not lead us. He does. Nor am I say the Holy Spirit does not speak to us. He does but the way He speaks is through the Word of God. This is crucial because in our discernment we need a standard and we must understand our standard is the Word of God. The Holy Spirit does not lead in ways that are contrary to the Word of God. Rather, the Holy Spirit leads in ways that are in conjunction with the Word of God. This is most supremely seen in the truth of Jesus Christ. The Apostle John assures us of this when he says, “By this you know the Spirit of God: 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. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already” (4:2–3). The Spirit of God will point people to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Any spirit which does not see affirm Jesus Christ as God in the flesh is not from God but from the devil. Because there are such false spirits out there, we are commanded to not believe every spirit but to test the spirits (4:1). We test the spirits by the standard of God’s Word.
If deception is possible and discernment is needed, then some Christians may likely be concerned how they can be sure they are not the deceived. The simple question to ask them in response is, “What do you think about Jesus?” If they place their faith in what the Bible says about the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, then the Apostle John gives these encouraging words: “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (4:4). For those who are in Christ, they can overcome the deception because they are from God. God is greater than the one who is the world, the devil. Those who are not in Christ will listen to the world. They will believe in the lies. For those who are in Christ, they will be the ones who listen to God and listen to those who share His Word (4:6). They believe in the truth. The question to ask yourself is, “Who do I listen to?” For it is in answering this question from the text “we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (4:6).
- Why is discernment for the Spirit of truth or spirit of error centered on the person of Jesus Christ?
- Who do you listen to and take counsel from? Based on this passage, what does it say about who and what you are following?