Testing the spirits?
“Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world. This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here.” – 1 John 4.1-3 (NLT)
Testing the spirits simply means to test the other truth claims of this world against the standard of Scripture. Almost immediately after Jesus’ death, false views and doctrines about His life and teachings started sprouting up. Some said He was simply a spirit being of lesser order from God, some just said He was a good teacher who died for stirring trouble, others claimed that He was a prophet and not the Messiah. Whatever the claim was, John tells us that if it doesn’t match up with what we know, then we are to reject it! Claiming that Christ is the Son of God come in flesh is the truth, and everything else is a lie. Some claims, however, may sound right and good yet contain some subtle lies that if not examined properly, could lead one astray. How are we to know if this “spirit” or claim lines up with the truth of Scripture? We must know what the Scripture says in order to do so!
The Duty of Study
“If the Bible were the most boring book in the world, dull, uninteresting and seemingly irrelevant, it would still be our duty to study it. If its literary style were awkward and confusing, the duty would remain. A duty is not an option. If you have not yet begun to respond to that duty, then you need to ask God to forgive you and resolve to do your duty from this day forth.” – Dr. R.C. Sproul, “Knowing Scripture“
Dr. Sproul challenges us to know scripture despite what our initial feeling about it may be. Sometimes it seems too much to handle, an overwhelming task when you break open your Bible and start to read. Certainly, the Bible is a large book full of all kinds of different texts and styles, but it is knowable! There is no way we can know the entirety of Scripture in just one sitting, it takes persistent and concentrated study. Starting small and continuing to press on is the best way for studying Scripture. Think of it as building a wall. Each little amount of study time is a brick being placed in that wall. Sometimes, God will grant you the grace of understanding a passage of Scripture and it’s as if He allowed a work crew to come in and put up a big chunk of the wall! Either way, we are called to build that wall and grow in our understanding of His Word. Even though it might seem like a duty initially, it will produce joy as you pray and ask God to show you His truth through the Word. It’s not a boring book! It’s a practical and knowable book that reveals the truth of God, the salvation of Christ, the history and future plans for humanity, and how to live righteously in order to serve and please God! What a book!
Tools of the Trade
“So I know we need to study the Bible, but where do I start?” Well, my suggestion is, from the beginning! The Bible is a true story, written by the Holy Spirit of God, with creation as it’s beginning, a new creation as it’s end and Jesus Christ as the hero that saves the day! So begin to read the Bible as if it’s a story that you read from beginning to end. You can’t read a good book by starting in the middle and expect to know the whole story. Also, supplement that reading with some time in Psalms and Proverbs. These books are part of the story, yet they also stand alone in the middle of Scripture as books that have practical and devotional purposes that can greatly enhance your faith and daily living in the pursuit of righteousness. What else do you need? While this isn’t completely necessary, it is helpful to have a good study bible. Here are a few that I have looked at/used and have enjoyed:
I would recommend having a couple versions, one for study and memorization and one for daily reading with the family. For study I recommend a more literal “word-for-word” translation such as the NAS or ESV, and for daily reading with the fam, try a “thought-for-thought” translation like the NIV or NLT. Both are great for reading time with the family! It would also be beneficial to have a pocket dictionary and journal. A dictionary for defining new and unknown words, and a journal for recording your questions/thoughts/prayers that you encounter as you read. It also helps to write verses out as you look to memorize them! The book I quoted earlier, “Knowing Scripture” by R.C. Sproul is a good book to get you started and encourage you as you begin a life of studying and knowing Scripture.
Have you heard of the names John Wycliffe or John Huss? Maybe or maybe not. Either way, these are two names every modern-day Christian should know. Wycliffe was responsible for the first English translation of the Bible in the 14th century. He believed that the Bible should be available to people of the common language, and not just the privileged few who knew Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Eventually, he was burned at the stake for doing so. John Huss followed Wycliffe with the same views, and the same fate. So what does that mean? That means that there was a day when people were persecuted and killed for trying to get the Bible into everyday people’s hands. Because of their efforts, and the continued efforts of the Reformers, we have the luxury of owning a copy of God’s Holy Word. Having a Bible even today in some countries is a dangerous notion that can lead to persecution. This is a sacred task. Knowing Scripture and knowing God’s Word is a duty that all believers should partake in. How can we discern truth from error if we don’t know what the truth is? Family reading time is vital, personal study followed with community interaction is vital as well, knowing God’s Word is a sacred task that we must be serious about. Not because we feel guilty, but because we have the privilege and honor of studying His Word! Knowing His word produces joy beyond measure and studying in the context of community will allow each one of us to test the spirits, and know the truth!
By His grace,