Detecting Spirit Fraud (1 Peter 1:10–12)

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…inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.” —1 Peter 1:11 (ESV)

Where the Spirit is so emphasized that there is little to no emphasis on Jesus, it’s not the Holy Spirit who’s involved. Many churches are all kinds of spiritual, in a bad way. A way that grieves the Spirit of Christ. In his great book, The World-Tilting Gospel, Dan Philipps sets forth the litmus test.

“Show me a person obsessed with the Holy Spirit and His gifts (real or imagined), and I will show you a person not filled with the Holy Spirit.

Show me a person focused on the person and work of Christ—never tiring of learning about Him, thinking about Him, boasting of Him, speaking about and for and to Him, thrilled and entranced with His perfections and beauty, finding ways to serve and exalt Him, tirelessly exploring ways to spend and be spent for Him, growing in character to be more and more like Him—and I will show you a person who is filled with the Holy Spirit.”

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. He is sent by Christ. He ministers Christ. He puts us into union with Christ. He is the witness of Christ, the Scriptures are His recorded testimony, and through them He speaks of Christ still (John 15:26). If this is too opaque for you, J.I. Packer stings together a slew of similes that should make things clear.

“We may multiply the illustrations. The Spirit, as we said, is the floodlight, or the searchlight, picking out and illuminating the Lord Jesus for us; also, he is the contact lens that enables us to see him clearly; also he is the matchmaker, drawing us close to Christ for a permanent union; also, he is the intercom, making communication between Christ and us a reality of our experience; also, he is the spiritual pacemaker, implanted to ensure heart-healthy functioning in love to Christ; and with all this he is the channel through which Christ pours his life and power into us for worship, sanctity, and service. But in all that he does he keeps himself out of sight. When he works in us, Christ, not the Spirit, is the center of attention. Spiritual experiences that lead away from Christ, or bypass him, are not from the Holy Spirit at all.”

Any kind of spirit that draws attention away from Jesus, towards itself, isn’t holy, but demonic. You don’t want to be filled with such spirits. You don’t want to be empowered by such spirits. You don’t want gifts from such spirits.

Silly Spirituality (Colossians 2:18–23)

“Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

…These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” —Colossians 2:18–19, 23

False teachings, like the teachers themselves, travel as a pack of dogs. Where you find one, the others are likely present. Do you sense an unbiblical esteem for the spiritual and disdain for the physical that leans toward asceticism? If so, you’ll likely find an unhealthy fascination with angels and demons. Is spiritual warfare concerning said angels and demons made much of in an extra-biblical way? Then there will likely be talk of visions to justify such nonsense.

The irony of this false teaching is that their qualifications disqualify. Their severity to the body strengthens the flesh. Their show of humility is fuels pride. Worshipping angels, they’re enslaved to demons. Seeking higher spiritual knowledge, their minds are fleshly and of this world. By starving the body they’ve only fed the flesh.

Paul is ridiculing these false teachers in the light of the gory of Christ. They are a joke, but not one to be taken flippantly or casually. Laugh at heresy with the utmost seriousness. Let no one disqualify you insisting on something so stupid and silly. See Jesus Christ the Lord, supreme as Sovereign, Savior, and Sanctifier.

Let No One Pass Judgement on You (Colossians 2:16–17)

“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” —Colossians 2:16–17

As far as Scriptures that are loosely referenced and alluded to, Matthew 7:1 has likely usurped John 3:16 for the top spot. “God loves you,” has been replaced by “Don’t judge me!” In this context, a context-less Colossians 2:16 is met with a hearty “Amen!”

In lieu of this, it’s critical to recognize that Paul does not fall prey to the postmodern predicament. The postmodern premise is that there is no absolute truth, which is a self-defeating lie stated as an absolute truth. Based on this premise is the self-defeating lie, “You can’t judge me,” which is itself a judgment on other’s judgment. The reason Paul’s warning is different is because it has an absolute reference point—Christ.

Christians are not immune from all judgment, take 1 Corinthians 5:11–13 for one example, but they should be zealous that no one judge them in a way that is ultimately a judgment on Christ. For the false teachers to insist on the observance of diets and days is to say that Jesus isn’t sufficient.

So, whereas “Don’t judge me!” rings of an arrogant love of self, “Let no one pass judgment on you…” shouts of a humble zeal for Jesus. You may rightly judge me an undeserving sinner. You may not judge Jesus as an inadequate Savior. You may judge my works as lack, but I refuse for you to disdain Jesus’ substitutionary obedience in my stead. I am lacking, He is not.

The Exegetical Systematician: Incompatible Power Adapters

“Oftentimes as an accompaniment of this [Arminian] conception of the message and of the response to the message there has been fostered a certain type of high-pressure appeal and of emotional excitement that is scarcely compatible with the sobriety and dignity that ought to characterize the preaching of the gospel, and scarcely consistent with the deliberateness and intelligence appropriate to the exercise of faith in Christ as Saviour and Lord.” —John Murray, The Message of Evangelism

Why Beg for Crumbs when you Have the Bread of Life? (Colossians 1:24–29)

The mystery of the gospel isn’t very mysterious for the saints, therefore, beware of the mysterious. The mystery religions of Paul’s day had a hierarchy of knowers. One ascended the ladder by means of rites, experiences, and acts of piety. It seems that false teaching blending pagan mystery religion and Jewish mysticism was attempting to make inroads at Colossae (i.e. Colossians 2:18–19). Be certain, it’s made its way well into the church today. Beware of spiritual Christian caste systems.

You don’t need the mysterious when the mystery entrusted to the apostles has been revealed to you. Jesus is sufficient. This means the Scriptures are sufficient. You don’t need angels, saints, or oil to get a spiritual high. Talk of second blessing is laughable when the first one gave you everything. Prophecies are puny compared to the revelation of the mystery given to the church through Christ’s apostles. Anxiety for a fresh word is like the billionaire worrying if his social security will come through. Why beg for crumbs when the apostles hold forth the Bread of Life?

Sarah Young says she hears from Jesus. Like a modern apostle, she passes along her revelation in a book she titled Jesus Calling. It’s sold over ten million copies. Therein she says, “This practice of listening to God has increased my intimacy with Him more than any other spiritual discipline, so I want to share some of the messages I have received. In many parts of the world, Christians seem to be searching for a deeper experience of Jesus’ Presence and Peace. The messages that follow address that felt need.”

Jesus is the final word and His apostles are His final word on Himself as the final Word. No others are necessary.

In contrast consider John Piper’s testimony of hearing God speak to him. He begins, “Let me tell you about a most wonderful experience I had early Monday morning, March 19, 2007, a little after six o’clock. God actually spoke to me. There is no doubt that it was God.” After many paragraphs that could cause concern that Piper is siding with the likes of Young, he clarifies:

“And best of all, [these words] are available to all. If you would like to hear the very same words I heard on the couch in northern Minnesota, read Psalm 66:5–7. That is where I heard them. O, how precious is the Bible. It is the very word of God. In it God speaks in the twenty-first century. This is the very voice of God. By this voice, he speaks with absolute truth and personal force. By this voice, he reveals his all-surpassing beauty. By this voice, he reveals the deepest secrets of our hearts. No voice anywhere anytime can reach as deep or lift as high or carry as far as the voice of God that we hear in the Bible.”

You don’t need more than Jesus. You don’t need more than His word.

The Apologist: Higher Criticism is Lower Scholarship

Before we take up the details, however, we must stress the fact and the reason that we reject liberal theology, old and new, is not that we are opposed to scholarship. Constantly through the years great Bible-believing scholars have engaged in what is usually called lower criticism–the question of what the best Bible text really is. It is natural that biblical Christians should find textual study important, because since Scripture is propositional communication from God to mankind, obviously we are interested in the very best text possible. Consequently, Christian scholars have labored through the years in the area of lower criticism.

Higher criticism is quite a different matter. Picking up where lower criticism leaves off, it attempts to determine upon its own subjective basis what is to be accepted and what is to be rejected after the best text has been established. The “new hermeneutic” is a case in point, for here there is no real distinction between text and interpretation; both are run together.

The real difference between liberalism and biblical Christianity is not a matter of scholarship, but a matter of presuppositions. Both the old liberalism and new liberalism operate on a set of presuppositions common to both of them, but different from those of historic, orthodox Christianity. —Francis Schaeffer, The Church Before the Watching World

Where to Deposit the Deposit (1 Timothy 6:20–21)

“Guard the deposit entrusted to you…”

“He killed it.” It matters a great deal if I am talking about a boy and a baseball game, or a boy and his dog. Likewise, when you understand what the “deposit” is, it shades your meaning of “guard.”

What is the deposit entrusted to Timothy? In 1:18 Paul told Timothy to “wage the good warfare.” Paul later tells Timothy to “fight the good fight of the faith.” Fighting for the faith isn’t fighting for faith, though we must do that. Nor is is fighting by faith, notwithstanding, that is how we fight. Fighting the good fight is more fundamental than these. It is a fight not for belief, but beliefs; not to believe, but for that which we believe. The fight for the faith is foundational because if we don’t have the gospel, we can’t have faith (Romans 10:17). If we don’t have the faith, we don’t have anything to have faith in.

In Timothy, and throughout Paul, “the faith,” often references those truths and doctrines we believe. Deacons are to “hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience (1 Timothy 3:9).” Persons who believe false teaching “depart from the faith (1 Timothy 4:1).” Paul instructs Timothy “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.”

A part of fighting for the faith is guarding the good deposit. The faith is the deposit. “I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” The deposit is the faith. The faith was received, by the apostles and the prophets, and, through them, by the church. It is entrusted to the church in one way (1 Timothy 3:15), and to elders as the leaders of the church in another.

When a CIA agent is entrusted with precious information and told to guard it I assume that means he is to keep it secret. Likewise, when I entrust the bank with a deposit, I want them to restrict access to it. Not so this deposit. To guard this deposit is to let it loose, to proclaim it. The safety deposit box that the faith is kept safe in is the hearts of men. The faith, the deposit, is guarded not when it is merely in our confessions, or in out heads, but in out hearts.

B.B. Warfield fought for the faith. he fought against the theological liberals who were infecting the mainline denominations. Theological liberals were using the same terminology but hollowing out the words so that one left their theology market ripped off. One such word was redemption. In their dictionary it meant little more than “God delivers.” But completely absent, and intentionally so, was any idea that a holy God delivers us from His wrath by giving His Son to pay the ransom, the redemption price of His own blood. Warfield knew how to guard the faith—by fighting for the belief of the saints.

I think you will agree with me that it is a sad thing to see words like these die like this. And I hope you will determine that, God helping you, you will not let them die thus, if any care on your part can preserve them in life and vigor. But the dying of the words is not the saddest thing which we see here. The saddest thing is the dying out of the hearts of men of the things for which the words stand. As ministers of Christ it will be your function to keep the things alive. If you can do that, the words which express the things will take care of themselves. Either they will abide in vigor; or other good words and true will press in to take the place left vacant by them. The real thing for you to settle in your minds, therefore, is whether Christ is truly a Redeemer to you, and whether you find an actual Redemption in Him,—or are you ready to deny the Master that bought you, and to count His blood an unholy thing? Do you realize that Christ is your Ransomer and has actually shed His blood for you as your ransom? Do you realize that your salvation has been bought, bought at a tremendous price, at the price of nothing less precious than blood, and that the blood of Christ, the Holy One of God? Or, go a step further: do you realize that this Christ who has thus shed His blood for you is Himself your God? —B.B. Warfield