Discerning the Truth
Text: 1 John 4:1-6
Defining Truth Truth is an accurate statement of reality
In today’s culture the concept of objective truth is becoming obsolete. Much of our culture views truth as personal, the individual decides what is truth for themselves. This has brought about the loss of definitive understandings of truth. For example, today the broader culture is pushing for the acceptance of a new reality that has multiple genders which are undetermined by biology and subject to change at the feelings of the individual. Just a few years ago our nations highest court redefined the concept of marriage to include unions of same gender couples. Now, proceeding forth believing that we no longer have definitive genders, it is not unthinkable that the concept of marriage will soon lose any semblance of the life-time monogamous union that is spoken of in Genesis between a male and female. Truth is negotiated, subject to the loudest cries of the largest mob, and malleable to the spin of mass media.
Testing for Truth
TRUTH is OBJECTIVE
-It is not a matter of opinion
-it is not a social construct of consensus or agreement
-It is a statement of genuine reality
Much of what we regard as truth is speculation
built on our present (limited) understanding of reality
As Christians we hold forth that truth is not changeable, but rather it is objective. That truth is true in all places at all times. Mathematics is the closest form of objective truth evident in our world today. Science for all it’s efforts to define reality simply cannot hold claim to truth, because much of what science claims (especially historically) is unverifiable, unobservable, and unrepeatable.
The Need for Truth
TRUTH is NECESSARY
-It provides a way to describe and discuss reality
-It enables the possibility of establishing a base of knowledge
-It provides a means to reasonably predict future outcomes
One evidence that TRUTH really exists,
is the evidence of statements that are clearly FALSE.
So, what can be said about SPIRITUAL TRUTH? What tests can we offer to discern true teachings and false teachings concerning spiritual matters? John in his first epistle offers some guidelines to help us identify false teaching, to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Statements that accurately reflect SPIRITUAL reality
Testing the Content of Spiritual Truth
What does it claim about Jesus?
-Jesus was the Christ (The anointed chosen One)
-Jesus was from God
-Jesus was truly human (flesh)
John emphasizes the great need for discernment. He commands us to “test the spirits” to see if they are from God. His concern is due to the many false teachers, and false teachings that are threatening the churches of his day.
Here are his three tests.
What does the teacher/ teaching say about Jesus?
The teaching must affirm that Jesus is the Christ. This means that the teaching agrees that Jesus was the Messiah, and the fulfillment of all that the prophecies foretold about the character, conduct, and glory of the Messiah.
The teaching must affirm that Jesus is from God. This means that the teaching about Jesus must identify His divinity. Jesus was God in the flesh, not that He was “sent” from God, but that He was “from” God, of the same essence and substance. He was God.
The teaching must also affirm that Jesus was fully human. This means that the teaching must identify Jesus as a being of full humanity. He would naturally feel all the same sensations of humanity including, hunger, pain, loneliness and grief. Only if He was made fully human could He identify with our true condition, then He could show an example of a redemptive life.
Testing the Connection of Spiritual Truth
How does it connect with knowing God? -It conforms to the self-revelation of God -It has been reflected in reality by experience -It is often dismissed and unheeded by the world.
How does the teaching connect with God?
John writes that “you are from God.” This is the claim that we who are believers have become partakers of the divine nature. This is the underlying reality that helps us to understand spiritual truth (1 Cor. 2:14). False teachers will often deny the power of God to reveal Himself personally to mankind.
He further writes that “we have overcome them.” This is the claim that as children of God we have experienced a level of spiritual victory that should be recognizable in our own lives. Teachings that dismiss or diminish the reality of victorious Christian living deny the power of God.
Finally, he notes those who are of the world (false teachers) will find a listening ear amongst those who are of the world. This is further evidence that their teaching is not connected to God.
Testing the Consistency of Spiritual Truth
Is it consistent with the teachings of believers?
- It meets the test of historical longevity
- It is widely accepted by the community of faith
Is the teaching consistent with that taught by believers?
Anytime someone professes a “new” teaching, or that they have “discovered the secret” related to living for God, we should be alert to the possibility of false teaching. John writes, “he who knows God listens to us.” The teachings of Christ have been known for nearly 2000 years, there is not likely much “new” to be “discovered.” When a teaching is heard we need to consider how the teaching fits with the teachings that have been passed down to us through the ages.
Secondly, look to see how others respond to the teaching. If the world (those far from God) embrace the teaching, then beware. If those who are walking with Christ accept the teaching, there is a greater likelihood that it is truth.
Together these tests: What does it claim about Jesus?
Does it connect with God? Is it consistent with established teachings? Can it help us to discern that which is true from that which is false.
This is how we can know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. We are obliged to discern whether a teaching is from God. Further we are equipped with the Spirit who helps us to discern the matter.
Responding to Spiritual Truth
(based on facts, history, and experience)
(based on the presumption of current human wisdom)
Finally, when spiritual truth is presented, each person makes a choice. Either the truth is accepted by faith, or the statements are considered foolish, and irrelevant. To discern the truth, you must first be born of the Spirit. A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. (1 Cor 2:14)