Yesterday I preached from 1 John 4:1-6 in continuing our series through John’s epistle. As we read John’s statement—”test the spirits,” we immediately sense the urgent call to biblical discernment. Not only is this essential for the churches surrounding Ephesus in John’s day, but it remains the same for our present day as well.
John used the vocabulary of assurance in different ways at least 30 times in his short epistle. He is not the apostle of ambiguity—he is driving the people to grasp a true biblical assurance of their faith in the risen Savior Jesus Christ. However, beyond moving the Christian community to a place of assurance is his desire to defend the faith—namely, the doctrine of Jesus’ deity from the false teachers who were assaulting the deity of Christ.
Suddenly, at this juncture, we are reminded that doctrine matters—and the strength of discernment is directly connected to the depth of doctrine. Everything from church membership to missions is built upon a firm foundation of biblical doctrine. Without a robust grasp of what you believe, you will end up making life decisions through a lens of pragmatism and this leads to a shallow and unhealthy life. For those who would suggest that doctrine is for the esoteric elite seminary classroom as opposed to the local church, we must test the spirits.
John says, “test the spirits” – so here’s a question to consider:
- Do you believe that a demonic spirit would want the church to be less serious or more serious about doctrinal teaching from God’s Word?
- Do you believe that the Holy Spirit would want the church to be less serious or more serious about doctrinal teaching from God’s Word?
The church in John’s day was to stand opposed to the assault on the deity of Christ. In our day, we continue to experience land mines and attacks upon key Christian doctrines from all angles through the Internet and other media outlets. How can we stand against the false teaching of Kenneth Copeland and Benny Hinn if we lack doctrinal depth and biblical discernment? What about the false teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and other modern day cult groups? Can you accurately defend the faith once delivered to the saints?
Immediately, we are left with a healthy reminder that the Holy Spirit would never lead a church to lower the seriousness of biblical teaching in the context of the local church. Discernment is necessary to navigate the paths of this present evil world. The depth of doctrine will also directly impact the moral standards of a local church.
John says, “test the spirits” – so here’s a question regarding moral purity:
- Do you believe that a demonic spirit would want the church to be less serious or more serious about moral purity?
- Do you believe that the Holy Spirit would want the church to be less serious or more serious about moral purity?
It’s abundantly clear that the Holy Spirit would be driving us to pursue holiness, but it’s the work of the devil to cause us to lower standards in order to enjoy sin, experiment with immorality, and to be entertained by the very things that God hates. The Holy Spirit is not leading His people in that direction. Discernment matters.