Easter 5 – "Test The Spirits" – 1 John 4:1-3 – 5/3/15

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“Beloved, do to believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

Anytime you’re reading your bible and you come to words that say, “DO NOT BELIEVE,” it always gets your attention. It’s like, ‘what? Did I read that right? The bible is telling me that I should NOT believe…?”

The Bible is filled with one admonition TO BELIEVE after another. In fact, John concludes his gospel by saying that the whole purpose of the bible is that we might BELIEVE. “These things are written that you may BELIEVE… and that by believing have life in his name.” (John 20:31)

But here, like a cymbal crash in the middle of a lullaby, John writes, “DO NOT BELIEVE.”

Sometimes our problem is not that we BELIEVE TOO LITTLE but that we BELIEVE TOO MUCH. GULLIBLE is what we are. We lack DISCERNMENT.

Since the season of Lent has concluded, I’ve had a little time tie a few flies in anticipation of fishing season. It’s been my experience, that no matter how well I tie these things, most trout seem to be able to discern that they’re not the real thing and they have nothing to do with it. Sometimes you and I are not as smart as a trout.

We believe what we WANT to believe. Whether it’s actually TRUE hardly seems to matter if we want it to be true. I BELIEVE people who tell me that the Lord will heal my sore knee if I pray hard enough because I WANT my sore knee healed. I BELIEVE people who tell me that the Lord will make me successful or rich because I WANT to be successful and rich.

Jesus knew that people would desperately WANT the LAST DAY to come when He will bring an end to the chaos and suffering that our departure from His Word and sin has caused. And because we WANT it so badly we will believe anyone who predicts that the END IS NEAR.

I know this may sound strange, but UNBELIEF can be as just as much a mark of SPIRITUAL MATURITY as BELIEF.

Jesus warns, “If anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ DO NOT BELIEVE IT. (Doesn’t that just grab your attention when you hear Jesus say, DO NOT BELIEVE?) “For many false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.” (Mark 13:21-22)

So as John learned from Jesus, he know teaches us, “Test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

The word that John uses for “TEST” comes from the banking industry. “Dokimadzo.” It’s the word that was used to TEST a coin to see if it was real or counterfeit. The ‘COUNTERFEITS’ can look a lot like the ‘REAL THING.’ But there’s a ‘TEST’ that you administer that reveals the ‘counterfeit.’ For coins, you drop a drop of acid on the coin and see how it reacts. If it’s not real gold, it’ll turn green.

But of course, we’re not talking about coins here. We’re talking about the GOSPEL, which is far more precious than all the gold in the world. So, what’s the ACID TEST for determining whether or not something is the true GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST or a COUNTERFEIT?

“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.”

Every preacher or teacher or evangelist knocking on your door, every co-worker or neighbor who wants to tell you about his faith or his church, is the spokesman of one spirit or another. No matter how solid his credentials or how good the ‘god-talk’ or the ‘spirit-talk’ may sound, you need to discern, WHAT ABOUT THE ‘SON-TALK’? That’s the ‘acid test’ that tells you whether they are of the Spirit of God or not.

John warns, “There are many false prophets in the world.” Many of them say that Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all, basically the same religions since they all come from ‘father Abraham.’ So, let’s TEST that spirit.
• Judaism says that Jesus came in the flesh but he was not the Christ, nor the savior of the world but was, in fact, a heretic and blasphemer.
• Islam teaches that Jesus was not the incarnate Son of God, nor did He die on the cross and that no one is saved by faith in Him.
Both Judaism and Islam fail the test and so are NOT FROM GOD.

The Latter Day Saints desperately want you to believe that they are in line with orthodox Christianity because they have a book that is even better than the bible. So, let’s test it. What does they say about Jesus?
• They say that everyone has a ‘spirit life’ in heaven before they are born and receive a body. Jesus was one of those who had a ‘spirit life’ in heaven and who was given a body as a child of the virgin Mary. He however lived a perfect life. His suffering and death on the cross was FOR US, because He shows us what we must do if we want to return once again to heaven where we all used to live. Mormonism fails the test.

We could go on and on. It really doesn’t matter whether it’s a well-respected academic theologian or an attractive young person with a Jehovah’s Witness name tag or a pastor in a clerical shirt. ‘TEST THE SPIRITS.’

But, how shall we ‘test the spirits?’ What is the ‘test’ that we should apply? Not too long ago after a funeral service someone came to me and told me that they knew I spoke the truth because I was so sincere. I didn’t say it, but ‘false prophets’ are also very sincere.

Over the years, the Christian Church has developed some very fine tools to help its members ‘test the spirits.’ They’re called ‘CREEDS.’ The three ‘ecumenical creeds,’ the Apostles, the Nicene and the Athanasian Creeds are the ‘acid tests’ that tell you if you’re dealing with a “false prophet.”

Would you turn in your bulletin to the Nicene Creed on page 9. First, compare the three Articles. In the 1st Article, not much is said about GOD THE FATHER except that He is the Creator. In the 3rd Article about GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT, all we’re told is that He is Lord and giver of life, and then what follows is a list of the ways that the HOLY SPIRIT gives us life.

Now, compare all of that with the 2nd Article about GOD THE SON. Notice the amount of detail about Jesus Christ. What do you think has been the BIG PROBLEM that people have had with Christianity over the years? It is with ‘who is Jesus?’ ‘Who is Jesus’ is the ‘acid test’ to identify a ‘false prophet.’

Let’s speak the 2nd Article together again:
[I believe] in one Lord Jesus Christ
The only begotten Son of God
Begotten of the Father before all worlds,
God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God,
Begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father,
By whom all things are made;
Who, for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven
and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary
and was made man.
and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.
He suffered and was buried.
and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures
and ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of the Father.
and he will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead,
Whose kingdom will have no end.

If I can speak of the Nicene Creed like this, here is a HANDY TOOL that the church has carefully developed for it’s members to ‘test the spirits to see if they are from God.’ If you count the lines, there are 16 points in the 2nd Article that each say something ‘ESSENTIAL’ about Jesus Christ. If you can’t check all 16, then the spirit is not from God and you should run for your life.

In John’s day, it wasn’t the crazy cults that presented the real problem for the Christian Church. It was those who CALLED THEMSELVES CHRISTIANS. They claimed that they received a SPECIAL MESSAGE, or SPECIAL REVELATION from God, or that God had given them a DEEPER WISDOM than the Apostles.

It’s the same for us today. There are those who CALL THEMSELVES CHRISTIANS, and even worse, who CALL THEMSELVES CHRISTIAN CHURCHES, yet DENY JESUS CHRIST IN THE FLESH by saying that the ‘virgin birth of Christ’ is just a myth or that ‘His resurrection from the dead’ never actually happened. ‘There’s no need to take those things LITERALY,’ they say. ‘It’s the SPIRIT of Jesus and His EXAMPLE that’s really important.’

There are those who CALL THEMSELVES CHRISTIANS and CHRISTIAN CHURCHES, and yet say that although His Word was TRUE and GOOD in His day, it’s not always TRUE and GOOD for our day. What Jesus called SIN, we’ve come to understand better and now it’s a matter of CHOICE. What really matters is that the LOVE of Jesus is alive in us.

John urgently warns the holy Christian flock, that “Every spirit that does not confess Jesus (THE WHOLE JESUS) is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist.”

The “antichrist” is just what his name says, the one who is ‘ANTI CHRIST.’ A famous disciple of John was a man named Polycarp. Polycarp wrote, “Everyone who does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is an antichrist, and whoever does not confess the testimony of the cross is of the devil. Whoever perverts the oracles of the Lord to his own desires and says that there is neither resurrection nor judgment – this one is the firstborn of Satan.”

Just as it was in John’s day, it is CRITICAL in our day to “TEST THE SPIRITS TO SEE IF THEY ARE FROM GOD.” The writer to the Hebrews says that the ‘mature in faith,’ “are those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:14)

‘Constant practice’ begins by knowing the Apostles and Nicene Creeds by heart so that we can ‘test the spirits’ whenever we are confronted by them. In the banking industry, tellers are trained to detect counterfeit bills by handling lots and lots of the real thing. It takes “constant practice” to detect the phony baloney.

We believe in Jesus Christ,
• who has always been fully God from eternity and who became fully man in time.
• The fully divine Son of God shed His fully human blood on the cross to atone for the sins of the world to reconcile God.
• He rose from the dead in the flesh to publicly demonstrate His victory over sin and death and the devil,
• with the promise that He will likewise raise all who believe in Him in both body and soul to eternal life.
• Fully God and fully man, He ascended into heaven where He rules over all things, and all for the good of those who love Him.
• And He will come again and draw this age to a close, separating once and for all, the true from the false, the good from the evil, the living from the dead.

It’s a complete package and every piece is held together by every other piece and the whole is made up of all of its parts. Take away or change any one part of Jesus Christ, and the whole thing falls apart and you loose everything.

“Beloved, do to believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

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