Which is the real thing?

“Since you seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you. For though he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you. Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you – unless indeed you are disqualified. But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified” (2 Corinthians 13:3-6 NKJV).

I once had my email hacked while I was out of the country, then used to try to raise money fraudulently by writing to my home congregation in my name, saying I had an emergency and needed several thousand dollars to be sent to me immediately. Those in the church office recognized the appeal as false because, as one reported to me later, they asked, “Have you ever seen anything written by Mike with that many grammatical mistakes in it?” Maybe all that high school and college English had some value after all.

When men of the tribe of Ephraim attacked Jephthah’s army because they were not invited to participate in the battle against the Ammonites (Judges 11-12), survivors from Ephraim’s defeated army sought to escape across the Jordan River. Jephthah’s men guarded the fords and asked each one who came to cross to say the word “Shibboleth.” Those who were Ephraimites could not pronounce it correctly, but said “Sibboleth” instead. Those were killed at the crossing points, being unable to hide their true identity as enemies.

The church in Corinth was troubled by teachers of the circumcision party who sought to undermine Paul’s teaching by claiming that he was not a genuine apostle (2 Corinthians 10:7-11). They demanded proof of his authority (13:3). In turn, Paul suggested that they would better examine themselves to see if their faith was genuine (verse 5).

Similarly, John commanded, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1). Many teachers were visiting early churches, each claiming inspiration by the Holy Spirit. John warned that some of those claims were false. How were they to determine genuine prophets from those who were counterfeit? “By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God” (1 John 4:2-3).

How do we identify the truth, or distinguish it from falsehood? Today, just as in John’s time, there are many “spirits” (different teachers) abroad in the world. One may be easily confused by the various doctrines that abound. John showed that first we must compare all teaching against the proven standard of Scripture.

The Spirit does not contradict himself. If one who comes today is not preaching the same gospel originally taught by the Apostles of Christ, he is not to be believed or accepted (Galatians 1: 6-10). Anything not preserved for us by God’s Spirit (i.e., anything not taught in the Bible) is of men and is fleshly, not spiritual (1 Corinthians 2:6-16).

This is not a new tactic, developed in modern times. Even as the Gospel was being preached for the first time in Europe we find sincere believers comparing the apostle’s message with Old Testament prophecy “to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).

A second test of truth is to examine the results of what is taught. Paul wrote to Titus to confront false teachers who “profess to know God, but in works they deny him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work” (Titus 1:16). God’s grace has taught us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live “soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12), not in strife, laziness, and immorality.

Jesus is “the Truth” (John 14:6). He is genuine and real. His disciples must follow truth and deny all that is false. By doing so we are able to “save [ourselves] and those who hear [us]” (1 Timothy 4:16). But if we believe and teach that which is false, we find ourselves under a curse (Galatians 1:8-9). May that never be.

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Michael Brooks

Since 1988 Mike and his wife Brenda have been involved in foreign missions in South America, Africa, and South Asia. Beginning in 1999 they devoted full time to missions, primarily in Bangladesh and Nepal.

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