Spiritual Discipline Series
This year, Expository Files will features 12 articles on Spiritual Disciplines For Every Christian. Our writers will convey to us from the Bible, the simple disciplines that need our attention, to please God and be effective, disciplined people.
By “spiritual discipline” we mean those things God has given us to do. When done consistently, we not only glorify God and serve others well, we build discipline and long-term strength into our lives.
“…Test everything; hold fast what is good.”
1 Thessalonians 5:21
If I may begin like this: Not everything we see and hear is good. We have to sort things out so we can hold fast only to what is good. God enables us to do that, through the consistent use of His Word.
To that I will add something else true today: You can’t believe everything you SEE!! On social media and YouTube videos - something looks like it is real and it sounds good. But, have you ever heard of Photoshop and audio manipulation processes? Not everything you see, read or hear is true.
So here is a valuable blessing: God enables us to see how things differ and He does that through His written Word. We can open the Bible, read, learn and discern.
And, that can be called the discipline of discernment. Using the Word of God to discern between right and wrong; correct and incorrect; truth and error. Heb. 13:9 says, “Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings.” The discipline of discernment is critical to our spiritual survival. That’s the subject of this chapter in Twelve Spiritual Disciplines series.
How False Teaching Reaches Us
1) Through Reading. Not reading the Bible. But reading the writings of men who were not directly inspired by God, and who are not telling you the truth from the Bible.
I’m not going to tell you: don’t ever read anything except the Bible. You are reading this book, which is not the Bible, though it is about your discipline derived from that book. The editors and writers of this book are not asking you to read this book like you read the Bible. We are fallible men attempting to help you and encourage you to apply Biblical discipline in your lives. We are not authoritative originators of the message; we are helpers and teachers tasked to call your attention to the message.
I’m going to remind us, when we read the books and articles of uninspired men, those words could contain error or deception. We have full confidence in what the Holy Spirit gave the writers of the Bible. We do not have that same confidence when reading other books – so, there must be the discipline of discernment.
I’m an author but I never think when I’m writing, that what I write has the same authority and power as Scripture. I certainly want to take people to Scripture. But what I write isn’t Scripture.
As a reader it is your responsibility to know that and guard against error or deception in what you read. Much religious error has been spread through the printed page and certainly now, the digital page.
The digital marketplace has given a great advantage to false teachers. It has made it easier to spread error. Thus, enhancing the urgency of searching the Scriptures to make certain what we are reading is true – or, worthy of rejection.
2) We can be tempted into something false, through personal conversation or discussion. I haven’t kept track so I don’t know how many times someone will call or email me, and their first words will be, “ I was just talking to a friend at work who told me that next week is the end of the world … OR – that baptism really isn’t necessary.”
The devil certainly uses people who - in ordinary conversion - will say something that isn’t biblical. Your responsibility (discipline) kicks in here: the discipline of discernment.
I’m not going to suggest the drastic measure, of never talking to anyone who isn’t a Christian. But there is a caution filter that should be active – in all conversations and discussions. Personal conversation is a means the devil can use to spread what isn’t true.
3) False religious teaching is spread from pulpits. The fact that a professionally dressed man with public speaking skills is standing in a pulpit holding a Bible – never means, you can automatically accept everything he says! (And, no good preacher will ever ask you to accept what he says, unverified.) When you listen to preachers in person or via audio or video, the discipline of discernment must be applied – using Scripture to verify what is said.
4) SOCIAL MEDIA. Several years ago – I think it must have been around 2007 or so - when I first signed up for Facebook, I thought – This is going to be great.
· I can connect with friends I haven’t seen in years.
· I can share photographs with relatives.
· I can see how people are doing.
· All kinds of good possibilities came to mind, back then.
I still believe Social Media like Facebook can be applied to good purposes. But I have been so disappointed by how vulnerable and naďve and … well … ignorant people are.
People read something or see something, and there is no discernment; no checking; no effort to open the Bible and see if something is right or not. It just looks good; it seems interesting; it may be dramatic in some sense. So, the send or share button is slammed down – after just a few seconds of thought … if that. Which means – if you didn’t check it out; and if it is false teaching … you have shared it; you have become a distributor.
People are being deceived by error and led away from Bible truth – by 140 characters; by graphics that contain a phrase that at first, sounds good. No checking of sources. No consulting God’s Word. No discipline of discernment.
5) False doctrine can come into our thinking through personal vulnerability. Here’s what I mean. You have some weakness or temptation; or – there is something you really want to do, though you know it may be wrong. Under pressure of your own vulnerability, you quickly embrace something that is not Scriptural – simply because, it is attractive to you at the time; it caters to something you like or want to do. Humility, objectivity and the discipline of discernment – needs to be at work in the heart of every child of God!
This is not an exhaustive list but these are some of the primary ways Satan can get into our minds, and gradually lead us and deceive us.
Whether it is TV Evangelist, Social Media, conversations at work or personal situational temptation, we need to fill our minds with Scripture; hear Bible preaching and teaching – review; pray; apply; study more … all of that … Believing – God has given us ways and made us capable of having this discipline of discernment.
The Imperative Is Directed To Each One Of Us: “…Test everything; hold fast what is good.”
Passages That Challenge Us To
The Discipline of Discernment
Read Matt. 7:15-20
When you see this word “Beware,” you know it is about some danger, some risk, some threat; in this case a threat to our relationship with God. Jesus places responsibility on us, to watch, to beware, to discern.
And He wants us to know that false teachers don’t look like false teachers! They may not sound like false teachers. False teachers can be handsome, personable, flattering, ingratiating, humorous … and, they can sound knowledgeable and may have a good reputation.
Jesus says – BEWARE; take what they say, and open your Bible; inspect the fruit. This is one of the first warnings like this in the New Testament. We have to take this seriously.
There is something every Bible reader should see here – even if you don’t know much about the historical background or New Testament history.
The simple part of this is – There is only one gospel, for all and it was delivered through the apostles of Christ. There is not a gospel for the Jew, and another for the Gentile. There is not an American gospel, a European gospel, an Asian gospel. There is not a black gospel and a white gospel. There is not a Baptist gospel and a Methodist gospel and a Catholic gospel. There is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and Paul was astonished and grieved that some in the churches of Galatia had turned to a different gospel.
Today, what will keep us from turning to a different gospel? The discipline of discernment – received from God through His Word, accompanied by prayer, applied in life, reviewed until you die. Trust God and verify everything with His Word.
Search the Scriptures, to see if these things are so! And in the verse, this searching of the Scriptures is marked as having noble character. To open your Bible to find out if something is actually there, is a sign of noble, pure character.
What you are doing now (reading this book and checking your Bible) is noble. When you listen to sermons and attend Bible classes and check what you hear against the standard of Scripture, that’s noble.
I want you to notice – when you look at verse 9 – what is stated just previous, in verse 8: Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday and today and forever.
Stay with Christ, abide in Him, live in His teaching and you have stability and permanence that you do not have with diverse and strange teachings.
There are some kinds of false teaching which have some play with people – for a time, sort of like a fad … a strange teaching will come into prominence, then disappear.
It reminds me of what Paul wrote in Ephesians 4 – about people being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine.
The promise of Hebrews is: Remain focused on Christ; stay with Him, abide in Him, who is the same, yesterday, today and forever. With Him we are strengthened by grace; nourished and benefited.
1 Jno. 4:1-6
What we are dealing with in this chapter is well punctuated right here, at the end of this paragraph: NOTICE, “the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” Our society is rapidly moving away the principle of ABSOLUTE TRUTH. Our secular society seems to be walking or running away from the foundational premise – that there is ABSOLUTE TRUTH FROM GOD. So, what I’m writing here is nonsense to the world. Most people want to believe that the only absolute is – THERE IS NO ABSOLUTE TRUTH.
But we are not “most people.” We are God’s people. We not only believe in God. We believe He has communicated truth to us. And that we are obligated and should consider it a blessing – to adhere to the truth He has given.
And that means – as John says in verse 1 – we don’t just believe anything people say … or write … or post … or tweet.
We understand the reality that many false prophets have gone out into the world. They are from the world, therefore, they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. We listen to God – and use His Word, to discern to distinguish truth from error.
“…Test everything; hold fast what is good.”
Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 23.10; October 2016