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41. Testing and discerning for truth

Christian theology in a Sudanese context. God the Holy Spirit and our Christian experience.

Every Christian believer has the responsibility to ‘test’ the claims of people preaching the Christian gospel. Not all of them come from God (1 John 4:1). I have been very worried when I have seen Sudanese Christians accepting any Westerner who arrives in the country with a Bible under his arm. Pastors invite them to preach from their pulpits without asking many – if any – questions. I would never put my congregation in such a danger! Any financial support that a false prophet can contribute towards my church, would be completely outweighed by the poison of false teaching. The word ‘test’ (Greek – dokimazo) means to prove, to try out, to put on trial, with a view to approving (or otherwise). You may need to carry some water from the river to your plot of land a walk away. You look around for a suitable bucket or plastic jerry can. When you plunge the bucket into the water and lift it out, it is full up to the top. But there is something you should sensibly do before you start carrying the water to your plot of ground. Look around the bottom of the bucket carefully, to see if any of the water is leaking out through cracks or holes. If there is a leak you may not have any water left in it by the time you arrive back at your land! If testing is sensible for a water-carrying bucket, how much more so for any person who claims to be carrying the ‘living water’ of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Here are some good questions to ask: 1. Does the person clearly believe in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit? (Exodus 20:2,3). Is the Holy Spirit for him a person, or just a power? (Acts 8:9-24).

2. What do they believe about Jesus Christ? Does it include His virgin birth, incarnation, death on the cross, resurrection and return to earth one day? Is Jesus the only and all sufficient Saviour? (Hebrews 1:1-3).

3. Does the person follow the Bible and obey all its commands? Do they add anything to it? Do they distort it by concentrating only on some parts of it? (2 Timothy3:16,17). Emotion does not guarantee truth.

4. Does the person live to a high moral standard, showing genuine love for God and for his or her neighbour? (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew22:37-40). Actions prove a person’s real beliefs. (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

5. Does the person show a genuine desire to follow the Holy Spirit, or is there any legalism or shallow ritual being substituted for real Christian discipleship? (Romans 8:13,14).

6. Are ‘followers’ allowed freedom to have their own views, or is the leader beyond challenge? (2 Corinthians 3:17).Never give any human leaders uncritical allegiance.

7. Where does this ‘teaching’ fit into the church and Christian history?(Acts 2:42). Avoid the temptation to say ‘It’s all of God’, or ‘It’s all of the devil’. It is often some of one and some of the other. Discernment can pick which is which.

8. Are all the claims being made, easily seen to be true? Beyond dispute? Is there any exaggeration – which amounts to lying? (1 Corinthians 14:29-33; 14:37-38). Be careful in the use of words and meanings. Popularity does not make anything right, or wrong necessarily. Being new, or being old, does not make something necessarily false, or true. Be careful of the latest Christian fashion. Fashions may make us fit in with other people, but not necessarily fit in with God. Tradition is not always right, but it can be right. We must learn to choose between what is of God and what is not. Discerning takes time. Our knowledge of both the Bible and the Holy Spirit will help us discern. To discern is ‘to clearly recognise something’. Discernment separates what has come from God and what has not. There is a special spiritual gift given to some as necessary, to be able to distinguish between spirits (1 Corinthians 12:10). But every Christian is able to use objective questions similar to those above, in order to build up evidence and make a subjective decision over the ‘Christian-ness’ of any individual, a group, or a movement. Christians in fellowship with each other can help each other over this, using biblical discussion and honest testimony (see, from Acts 15:13-19: Simon Peter’s testimony, the agreement of the Old Testament prophets, and a concluding judgement from James).

Discernment is not always easy. But it is always necessary. We are in a spiritual battle and our enemy is clever. When the devil knows that he can pass undetected into our churches and congregations, he will do so. We must be on guard in love (Acts 20:31;

1 Corinthians 16:13-14; 1 Timothy 6:20-21; 2 Timothy 1:14). We must be discerning.

Thinking it through.

(a). How do you “test which spirits are from God”? (1 John 4:1) What does the text mean?

(b). Why should we “be careful of the latestChristian fashion”, or Christian visitor?

(c). What practical steps are you able to take to discover a person’s answers to my

suggested questions 1-8 above?


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