“But the natural man receiveth not the things of
the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto
him: neither can he know them, because they are
spiritually discerned.” – 1 Corinthians 2:14
Thus far we have touched on how to discern if a person knows the real Jesus or not. People with an antichrist spirit may quote Scriptures, talk about Jesus according to their own definition of who He is, live upright lives, do good works, sing in the choir, sit in church, engage in religious activities, donate money, and yet remain unsaved. Some can even display counterfeit fruit. This is why it is imperative to exercise discernment, pray for wisdom, and know the Bible, from cover to cover and (here we go again) using the Authorized King James Version if at all possible because it is still the most accurate translation from the original manuscripts that we have in print today, is the easiest to read, as well as memorize. (And, as a side note, don’t be surprised if it isn’t outlawed in America in the not-too-distant future, depending on how much power and control is given to those who hate God, hate Christians, and hate the Bible.)
The Word of God is a powerful discerner, but it does little good if a person takes a verse here and there out of context, turns it into a neat little platitude and sticks it on others as if it was somehow a cure-all Band-Aid. Those who do not know how to use the sword of the Word of God, and how to “rightfully divide it” are about as unfit to discern spirits as a Zorro fan who purchases a sword and enters a fencing contest even though the closest thing to a sword he or she has ever handled is a bread knife. Hebrews 4:12 tells us what a powerful discerner the Word of God is, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” 2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” [Emphasis added.] Therefore, in order to rightly discern the intent of the Word of God, a person must study it, comparing Scripture with Scripture, while also availing him or herself to Strong’s Concordance, Vine’s Word Studies, Smith’s Bible Dictionary, and a Halley’s Handbook of the Bible. (NOTE: Be sure that you find a pre-1965 edition as the newer editions have removed vital information such as the persecution of Christians by the Roman Catholic Church, and have altered other aspects of Halley’s original work.)
A superficial, shallow, and literal reading of the Word of God is akin to the valley of dry bones. What it amounts to is a lifeless pile of disjointed, dry, depressing, dead-letter dogma which desperately needs the living waters of the Holy Spirit. To put it another way a mere surface reading of Scripture is like surfing on the ocean where everything depends on staying “on top” for a smooth ride, while under the surface, the depths with all of its wonders, beauty, and treasures remain undiscovered. The wonders, beauty, and treasures that “Christian surfers” miss are the riches and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ in whom “dwelleth all the fullness of the godhead bodily.” (Colossians 2:9). I am convinced that a surface reading of the Bible produces surface Christians. Consider Who the Word is: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” John 1:1, 2, 14. Dry bones need to be quickened by the Spirit if they are to come alive. Jesus said, “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” John 6:63. “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” 2 Peter 1:20, 21. [Emphasis added.] The Word of God is spiritually discerned and quickened to our spirit by the Holy Spirit if we are truly born again. God’s Word is our spiritual food. Jesus said, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” Matthew 4:4. Job said, “I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food” Job 23:12b.
Christians must be vigilant to discern the spirit behind anything, because it is altogether too easy to get off the “track of truth” by running Scripture through preconceived personal perceptions, divisive dogmas, wayward worldviews, immature imaginations, undisciplined emotions, out-of-bounds opinions formed by misinformation and religious conditioning, and a liberal worldview, not to mention one’s pride and prejudice. Is it any wonder then why false teachings floating among Christians are commonplace nowadays and the number of cults is on the rise? The bottom line is, fallen man naturally resents, repudiates, and rejects coming into agreement with God Almighty because of pride. To come into agreement with God means that I am willing to humble myself before Him, pay the price by denying myself the right to my own life, mortify the flesh by “picking up my cross” and determine to believe, trust and follow Him no matter what the cost. Jesus said “to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away” Luke 9:23-25? [Emphasis added.]
Many years ago when I was young, inexperienced, and zealous for the Lord, I was blessed to be able to meet, and come to know, many powerful evangelists (who, sadly, are a thing of the past in our post-modern American churches), missionaries and other Christian workers. I simply couldn’t “get enough” of these people. I took advantage of every speaking engagement they held in my area, and entertained many of them in my home. There was something about them that was “different” from the average churchgoer, and that “something” drew me like a magnet. I discerned that they knew and had experienced God in ways that I never had. They had authority, power, sobriety, and humility—everything about them was real. Finally, after following one visiting evangelist from one meeting to the next, and watching the power of God in action as healing and salvation were silently and reverently received by people, along with deliverances, I found myself in a home where this evangelist was a guest. Quietly, I popped the question: “Where…um, that is, how…did you get your power?” The whispered answer staggered me, for it came in one word, and that word was, “Suffering.”
After that encounter, I drove home and spent a week wrestling with this aspect of the cost of discipleship and service to the Lord. I desperately wanted what these men and women of God had, but…suffering wasn’t something I embraced in any way, shape or form. In my spirit I knew that the only way the door to really knowing God would open for me was through total surrender. But, after tossing about on my bed one night, I finally gave in, and said something to this effect, “Lord, if this is the only way to really know You, and serve You in authority and power, then so be it.” The cowardly “chicken” part of my flesh really wanted to plead, “Lord, I just love You so much and I long to be “great” in Your kingdom, so instead of having to carry the heavy cross of suffering, could you please just make the cross I have to bear out of Styrofoam?” Thankfully, God bears with us in the weakness of the flesh when our hearts are fixed on Him. The truth is Christians who walk about with a “Styrofoam” cross are far removed from experiencing and comprehending Philippians 3:10, 11 which states, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” That is identification with Christ. And, I might add, it involves servitude.
The question is what is wrong with being a lukewarm “Christian” as long as you have “accepted” Jesus, and believe God loves you, and that you are going to heaven? Vance Havner adequately answers that question in his book, When God Breaks Through. He said, “Our personal problems and our church problems today boil down to the denial of the supreme lordship of Christ. Early Christianity demanded a clean break with the world, the flesh, and the Devil, and that lasted until Constantine became a church member and tried to Christianize paganism and wound up ‘paganizing’ Christianity. The church tried to control the culture. It was ‘Constantinized’ but not Christianized. We have never gotten over that mistake, the mistake of Constantine. And to this day, although Nero is dead, too many church members try to serve two lords. Our churches have been filled with baptized pagans living double lives—fearing the Lord and serving their own gods, drawing nigh God with their mouths and honoring Him with their lips while their hearts are far from Him, calling Him ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not doing what He says.” He also stated, “But it is an authentic mark of the work of the Holy Spirit to truly confess Jesus as Lord, for the old Adam never bows to the lordship of Jesus Christ.”
It is crucial that every born again believer knows how to discern between those who are Christians in name only—those who have “accepted Christ” intellectually but have not been truly born again by His Spirit. People who are genuinely born again have not only received Christ as their Savior, but also as their Lord. Vance Havner nailed it when he wrote, “I think we preachers have unwittingly created an artificial distinction between accepting Jesus as Savior and confessing Him as Lord. We’ve made two things out of it, and it’s not two things; it’s all one thing. A great many people today have the idea that, ‘I can take the free part, salvation. I’ll take Jesus as Savior. I don’t want to go to hell. I’ll take Jesus as Savior. I’ll not take Him as Lord now. I’ll think it over, and maybe sometime at a dedication meeting I’ll go forward and take Him as Lord. In the meantime, if I never do, I’ll go to heaven anyhow. The only thing I’ll lose will be my reward. That’s very strange doctrine. It certainly isn’t New Testament doctrine. Salvation is not a cafeteria line where you go along and take what you want and leave the rest. You don’t get saved on the installment plan with your fingers crossed and inner reservations. You can’t take Jesus on approval like you buy a stock of goods. To be sure, we may not understand all that’s involved. And all the rest of our lives, fresh areas are opening up that need to be subjected to the lordship of Christ. If we take Jesus for all we know Him to be at that time, God will save us. We don’t have to be theologians. But no one can take Jesus as Savior and at the same time willfully and deliberately and knowingly refuse Him as Lord, and be saved.”
Here is just one example: Years ago when Rayola, Krista and I lived in the Bothell-Kirkland area of Washington, a woman called our office desperate for help. She stated outright that she had demons and was tormented. She also told us that she had been diagnosed as having “Multiple Personality Disorder.” To make a very long story short in light of the subject of the Lordship of Christ, after several sessions of casting out many demons (that each had a different voice), getting her down to the fact that she was a witch who had “married Satan,” she became clear headed enough to understand that only Jesus could save her. She was agreeable to Him being her Savior from tormenting demons. However, when she was told that the Holy Spirit needed to fill the vacancies left by her many demons, and that Jesus had to become her Lord instead of her familiar spirit, she pitched a fit and would have none of it. Wailing and screaming, she blurted out, “No, no! I don’t want to give up the power they give me.” As with so many tormented people like her that we have dealt with through the years, they only want relief from the torment, but not complete deliverance so they can be set free to love, follow, and serve Christ as their Lord. As the saying goes, “Either Christ Jesus is Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all.”
Looking back on that earlier time when I was compelled by an insatiable hunger and thirst for more of God and the reality of His presence in greater ways than the church “culture” had to offer, I realize that it was the Holy Spirit who was drawing me so that I could learn how to discern the difference between that which is of God in Spirit and in Truth, and that which is of the world, the flesh, and counterfeit spirits of the devil. When you become truly born again, you are under “new management.” Vance Havner explains it this way: “I didn’t understand much about trusting Jesus, but I understood one thing. No theologian had to explain it to me. I understood that I was under new management. That was perfectly clear. I had a new Lord. I believe that the sad state of our Christians in churches today is due to a cheap believism that doesn’t believe and a cheap receivism that doesn’t receive. After all, the word Savior is found only 24 times in the New Testament, and the word Lord is applied to Jesus 433 times. He is Lord. A Christian is a believer, a disciple, and a witness. You ought to become all three at the same time and be all three all the rest of the time.” I might add, nowhere in Scripture does it say that 2 Timothy 2:3, “Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” was only written for others living somewhere else on the other side of the world.
Someone may ask, “That is all very fine and well, but how do you discern who is truly born again and who is not?” This is a very good question. If you have some doubts or reservations about someone you meet who claims to be saved, you need to ask the Lord to show you what you are sensing, or perceiving. Perhaps their personality or attitudes rub you the wrong way up front, but, of course, you cannot come to a definitive conclusion based on personality. After all, we all have our good days and bad days. Nevertheless, there are certain indications or signs that give people away as to whether they belong to the Lord or not beginning with what kind of a testimony they have.
When we meet or are introduced to Christians, one of us invariably asks, “Can you tell us your testimony?” What we are looking for is a real salvation experience that includes humbling of self, confession of sin and repentance, believing the Gospel, receiving Christ as Lord and Savior, and a changed life in both attitude and action. Sadly what we often hear is, “I’ve always been a Christian,” or “I was brought up a Christian,” or “I know God loves me” or “I’ve been in such and such church for 40 years,” and sometimes their so-called “testimony” veers off into a confusing jumble of “spiritual experiences” that make your skin crawl.
It also pays to listen to what professing Christians talk about the most—is it primarily about the Lord Jesus Christ, and what the Scriptures say (in context) or is it about themselves, their religious accomplishments, or what they think they are “destined” for, their favorite “Christian” celebrity or author, or how terribly misunderstood and ill-treated they are? If such people beat the same old drum at every opportunity in order to get attention, gain a following, propose their agendas, or subtlety put down a godly leader, you can rightly conclude that discretion on your part is definitely called for. In such a case it becomes evident that the person is exhibiting the wrong motivation, and that you are indeed discerning not only a person who lacks the Holy Spirit, and who needs to be truly born again, but one who is operating under “another spirit.” In such a situation, I usually take note of the nearest exit!
What about discerning fruits? Jesus said, “Ye shall know them by their fruits” Matthew 7:16a. This means both good fruit and bad fruit. This reminds me of “the good old days” many years ago before man began destroying food by trying to “improve” it for monetary gain and control (that is another subject). Back then when you bit into a big, beautiful, juicy peach, it would be bursting with an indescribable depth of delicious flavor and delightful sweetness. The same held true for other fruits. Nowadays, no matter how lovely peaches may look in a grocery store, or even from some produce stands, when you go to eat them you generally end up with a mouthful of tough, pithy, flavorless blah that isn’t worth a pit. You get my point. It’s all so very disappointing.
The same is true of many professing Christians. Outwardly they seem to have it all together, but in time it is truly the “pits” when you discover that the “good fruit” they appear to put forth lacks substance, is self-serving, and is all show. This reminds me of the dream (more like nightmare) Rayola had recently. She found herself in a church somewhere, but what should have been the sanctuary was all a stage, or platform, and all the people were dressed up as actors and actresses, who were playing different parts. The whole thing was nothing but a show. While some might blame the record-breaking heatwave for this impressionable dream, the fact remains that this is what many churches have encouraged through lack of discipleship, lack of love for God Almighty, lack of obedience to the Word, and lack of love for truth. A cavalier attitude toward God’s Word, failure to believe and obey it, while putting on a performance so the “show must go on” is nothing but hypocrisy in action. The “fruit” on display may be deceptive to some, but not for those who do know their God, know His Word, know the Holy Spirit, and are discerning. Hebrews 5:14 is clear, “But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, [even] those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”
Bad fruit that is of the world, the flesh, and the devil is listed in Galatians 5:19–21, “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” How is it that so many churches fail to properly discern these works of the flesh within the local body, and confront them according to biblical instruction? How can the church function as the Body of Christ in purity and power if “PCCP” (Political Correctness of Church Politics) is activated behind the guise of “love” and “tolerance”? How can a local church claim that Christ is its Head if the Body is full of the “old leaven of sin?”
An astute Christian friend sent me the following quote which sums it up well (note the date it was written): The following was written in 1929 by I.M. Haldeman, A King’s Penknife, or, Why I am Opposed to Modernism: “Another word flung cheaply at those who stand for the integrity of the Bible, not only as a rule of faith, but practice, is the easy epithet: ‘Narrow.’ There are Christians, even in the pulpit, good enough and wanting to be faithful to their calling, who shiver whenever the word is uttered in their neighborhood. … But as I recall the preaching of the Son of God, I find it was along the line of a NARROW positivism: It was he who said: ‘Narrow is the way that leadeth unto life.’ … To raise a hue and cry against this as ‘divisive;’ to appeal to compromise for the sake of ‘brotherhood’ and ‘Christian charity’ and to talk about LOVE BEING MORE IMPORTANT IN THE CHURCH THAN CORRECTNESS OF DOCTRINE, IS EMOTIONAL WEAKNESS AND FALLACIOUS FOLLY. … The word ‘toleration’ must be cut out of the church vocabulary. You cannot find it in the Bible. It is not a nice word. It is not to be found in good company. It is a word much used by middle-of-the-road men. It has in it, no matter how much dissimulated, the crawling, creeping movement of surrender. … Why should the Church tolerate men who no longer tolerate the Bible as God gave it to us?”
Even though the list of the works of the flesh in Galatians is, and should be, as obvious to the members of Christ’s Body as a dead skunk in the middle of the road, people who pride themselves in their “tolerance” will simply look the other way and “steer around it”. After all, it doesn’t take much discernment to see the obvious outward sin in the lives of people, but what does take some perception is discerning those fine folks whose underlying belief system of tolerance will lead to compromise with the wrong spirit. Usually people embrace tolerance because it benefits them in some way, but eventually their fruit will tell on them.