Sunday, July 24, 2022

Testing the Spirits

The biblical injunction to test the spirit behind a religious teacher or doctrine requires more of us than merely weighing the worth of a teaching by its popularity. Nor should we allow the smile, charisma or demeanor of the one presenting a message to influence our judgment.

In the apostle John’s three letters, the word “Spirit” shows how believers are equipped to detect unseen and intangible forces, even though they are more accustomed to living by what they see and feel.

We cannot see spirits, but they reveal themselves when they speak through fellow humans. What they say about Jesus Christ indicates what sort of spirit is directing them, whether the spirit of truth or the spirit of error and of the antichrist.

The Ultimate Test

Nearly 70 years ago two youthful preachers were visiting an isolated community in Northern Ontario. They were somewhat discouraged to find so little interest in the gospel of Jesus Christ until they knocked on the door of Mrs H’s house. She listened kindly, then warmly welcomed them into her front room and offered a cup of tea. Two other preachers had called at her door earlier, but she had firmly dismissed them.

From her behavior, conversation and appetite for the word of God, the evangelists concluded she was born again, perhaps brought to faith via a Christian radio program. They were curious as to why she had not received the other men who quoted many Bible verses and offered free literature.

Her answer was not an exact quotation, and did not have reference to God’s Spirit but her own and that of the earlier visitors. The way she applied her version of Romans 8:16 was instinctive rather than inspired. Her reason for showing them the road was, “My spirit did not witness with their spirit.” Of course, if one’s spirit is kept tuned to God’s Spirit through the Word (and it seems it was largely true in her case), one is on safe ground.

“What think ye of Christ is the test,
To try both your state and your scheme,
You cannot be right in the rest,
If you do not think rightly of Him.”

What You Don’t Need

The Apostle John wrote three letters that support this lady’s reaction to teachers of religion who profess to be followers of Christ. The statement “You have no need that anyone should teach you” might seem strange when you think of people like Mrs H, cut off from those who could help her. But one of the signs that you are being confronted by a false spirit is that it will try to persuade you that you will not be fulfilled or complete in your faith unless you incorporate the philosophy being offered. It seeks victims among unsatisfied Christians as well as the lost. Instead of urging you to abide in what you know to be the truth, it offers something in addition to it.

Whether you realized or not, when you trusted in Christ “when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, [you] were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit”; he began to dwell within your body. You also received from him the anointing.

The Anointing

In Old Testament times, oil might be poured on the head of a privileged person — a prophet, priest or king — one who was authorized and equipped to represent Jehovah’s interests and serve the nation as God directed. Their anointing gave them that privilege, a symbol of things to come.

The apostle Peter testified to how “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” This clearly fulfilled Isaiah 61:1-3; Jesus claimed it did. He is the only one who fulfills the prophetic, priestly and kingly offices in perfection.

Our risen Lord has not left his own without everything we need; his word and his grace are sufficient. “His divine power has granted to us … his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature.” The anointing now is not limited to certain classes of persons as it was in Israel, nor to so-called ‘anointed’ preachers or persons of exceptional gift today. It is true of all established “in Christ” (but in nothing more or less than Christ); and they benefit from the presence of the Holy Spirit who by his indwelling seals them.

We need to know about each of these aspects of the Holy Spirit’s work within all who trust in Christ and be grateful for them, whether or not we always sense them. “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” It is natural to us now to address God as our Father; we have received the Spirit of adoption. His anointing gives us that privilege.

— Colin Anderson, “Trying the Spirits and the Anointing”, September 2016

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