In the first article I discussed the importance of doctrinal discernment. In this second installment, I will discuss the importance of building a doctrinal framework for the purpose of knowing which theological hills to die on. Every Christian should develop the ability to think rightly about spiritual matters. Every Christian should be like the Bereans of Acts 17 who examined the Scriptures to see what is true and what is false.
In this post, I want to explain the essential issues that Christians should think about when choosing a church, buying a book, tuning into a sermon or listening in to Christian radio. In other words, I will explore in this post what Christians should focus on in terms of non-negotiables when evaluating a Christian ministry, philosophy, or program.
There are three basic doctrines that should motivate believers in order to build a basic framework for discernment. The first of these is a high view of God’s Word. Second, is to have a high view of God’s Person. Obeying God is far more important than obeying man (Acts 5:29). The allegiance of the Christian should be to the Sovereign Creator of the universe. The result of this is to please God, even if it displease one’s neighbors. The third is to have a high view of God’s salvation and the gospel.
It is these three elements- a high view of God’s Word, a high view of God Himself, and a high view of the gospel that comprise the biblical framework for determining what hills Christians should die on. Because these three categories are of primary importance, believers should be careful to evaluate every ministry and every message they encounter through this theological grid. What books you buy, where you go to church, how you respond to the sermons you hear, and with whom you associate and minister- each of these should be primarily evaluated on this basis. With this in mind, let’s consider each of these three theological categories.
A high view of God’s Word
Crucial to developing biblical discernment is having a high view of Scripture. After all Scriptures constitutes God’s written revelation to man. Without them, we would know nothing about God’s specific desires for us or about His plan of salvation. We would be unable to please Him, to know Him, or to follow Him- being destined instead to spiritual ignorance, decay, and death. Yet God, in His mercy, revealed Himself to us in this one book we call the Bible.
For this reason, God’s Word to the Christian should be like bread to the hungry man (Matthew 4:4) or like water to the thirsty deer (Psalm 42:1). By keeping its commands, we keep ourselves pure (Psalm 119:9). By following its guidance, we have a light for our paths (Psalm 119:105). By meditating on it, we find blessing and joy (Psalm 1:1-2). By wrestling with the Scriptures, we find our own lives being changed and sanctified (Hebrews 4:12). It is our perfect guide and our ultimate authority (Psalm 19:7-11- because it is the very Word of God.
Churches, sermons, books, and articles may claim to be Christian. But if they undermine or contradict God’s Word in anyway, you can be certain they do not meet God’s approval. Sometimes these errors take away from what God has taught (like the Jesus Seminar, which denies the historical authenticity of large portions of the Gospels).Other times they try to add to what God has taught (for example, cult groups who place the teaching of their leaders on the same level as the Bible). In either case, the Scriptures itself respond with strong condemnation. Christ’s final warning in the Book of Revelation in Revelation 22:18-19, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”
Without question, maintaining a high view of Scripture is a hill that every Christian should die on. If God’s Word is undermined such that God Himself is no longer given the final say, then the door is opened to all kinds of error. A high view of Scripture is absolutely indispensable to the discerning Christian, and this high view must uphold at least three elements.
First, a proper view of Scripture necessitates a full understanding and acknowledgment of the Bible’s authenticity- namely that the Bible is indeed the inspired Word of God. Scripture, of course ,makes this claim about itself in numerous places (1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Peter 1:20-21; 1 John 5:10). In the Old Testament alone, the text claims to represent the very words of God over 3,800 times. It’s no wonder that, when we come to the New Testament, the apostle Paul can say, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that he man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2Timothy 3:16-17).
Despite the clear self-claims of Scripture, contemporary Christianity is fraught with attacks on the inspiration and authenticity of the Bible. Some claim that only parts of the Bible are inspired. Others suggest that “inspiration” doesn’t actually refer to divine authorship but rather to human intellectual achievement. These are only futile attempts to deny that God Himself stands behind every word of both the Old and New Testaments (Matthew 5:18; 24:35). It is at this foundational point that many so-called Christians condemn themselves to lives of perpetual confusion- doomed to wallow in the mire of man-made musings, simply because they have rejected the true source of divine wisdom. True wisdom begins with the Word of the Lord. “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Prov. 2:6). Unless one acknowledges that the Bible is indeed His Word, we forfeit all possibility of learning discernment.
Second a high view of Scripture must accept the accuracy and inerrancy of the Bible. After all if the Bible is God’s inspired Word in every part (meaning that He is at the author), then it must also be truthful in every part (including the passages regarding science and history) because He is a God of truth (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:17-18). Thus, the Scriptures can be wholly trusted because they come from a God who can be wholly trusted.
This means Genesis should be believed when it states the world was created in seven days. It means that Adam should be accepted as a real human being, that the Flood was a global event that Sodom and Gomorrah were literally destroyed by fire from heaven and that Jonah was, in the belly of a fish for three days. Even Christ and the apostles reflect this same attitude toward the Old Testament when they refer to Adam (Romans 5:14), Noah (Matthew 24:37-38), the inhabitants of ..Sodom.. and ….Gomorrah…. (Matthew 10:15), and Jonah (Matthew 12:40) as historical figures. It is not enough to accept the Scriptures as true in matters of faith in practice but then deny its truthfulness in matters of history and science. If the God of Truth has spoken (no matter the subject), then He has spoken truthfully.
Too often Christians accept false teachings because they trust the latest scientific or literary theories over the very Word of God. In doing so, believers relinquish their ability to discern truth from error. Why? The reason is simple: It’s because they have let go of the truth, without which they have no standard for deciphering what’s wrong form what’s right.
A high view of Scripture also demands submission to its absolute authority. Because the Bible comes from God Himself, and because it reflects His perfect truthfulness, it also bears His authority as the final say in our thoughts, our words and our actions. Because we submit to Him, we likewise submit to His Word, through the power of His Spirit (John 14:15).
God should be our ultimate authority in discerning truth from error. This is why He gave us His Word- so we can know what He thinks about any given topic and thereby know the truth (John 17:17). Second Peter 1:2-3 indicates that the knowledge He’s given us in the Scriptures include everything we need for life and godliness. This means that we don’t have to supplement the Bible with human philosophy. Nor do we need business principles to learn about successful church growth. God has given us His authoritative word on all of those matters- and it comes complete with everything we need to live the Christian life successfully. Those Christians who desire discernment should stop endorsing or entertaining any teaching that undermines, redefines or rejects the clear teaching of Scripture. It also means that the Bible is the first place you should go if you want to receive a heart of wisdom (Proverbs 1:1-7).
A high view of God
Another essential component in developing a framework for biblical discernment is a high view of God Himself. In order for this view to be correct, it must flow from the revelation He has given about Himself. We must rely on the Word of God to inform our understanding of who He is.
Throughout church history the doctrine of God has faced many attacks. Questions about the Trinity, divine attributes, Christ’s deity, and the personhood o the Holy Spirit have each been the topic of at least one church council. More recently, questions about God’s sovereignty and the gifts of the Holy Spirit have sparked controversy. In each of these areas, as believers make their way through the maze of theological rhetoric, only a biblically-informed view of God will allow them to think rightly.
God’s greatness quickly emerges from the pages of Scripture as one of His primary characteristics. It is seen in the first verse of the Bible- His creative power and His eternal preexistence. It continues in Genesis 3 with His judgment on the human race, a judgment that culminates in Genesis 6-8 with the Flood. At Sinai the mountain trembles because God is there. Even Moses, after requesting to see the Lord, is only given a sheltered glance- and he barely survives the experience.
In Psalm 115:3 we are told that, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” In Isaiah 40:18 the Lord asks rhetorically, “To whom will you liken God?” But the answer to this question leaves Job dumfounded (Job 40:4-5), and the thoughts of God’s transcendence leaves Nebuchadnezzar to decree in Daniel 3:28-28, “Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.”
Yet despite God’s majestic self-portrait, many Christians today minimize His greatness and God’s glory. In some miracles His sovereign power is denied (as with openness theology). In other circles it seems Satan and his demons are feared more than God Himself (in some charismatic contexts). But the Lord whom we serve is not like us. He made the sun, moon and stars (Psalm 8:3). We are not at liberty to mold him into our own image.
In discerning truth from error, we must ask ourselves, “Does a particular teaching, accurately depict the God of the Bible? Does it correctly represent His character essence and being?” Refuse to accept any teaching where the answer is other than yes.
God’s greatness and majesty is not only seen in His sovereign power, but also in His mercy and grace. In fact it was because of the Father’s great love for us that He sent His Son to die for our sins (John 3:16).
As God in human flesh (John 1:1, 14, Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8; 1 John 5:20), Jesus Christ lived a perfect life before sacrificing Himself on the cross. As the spotless lamb (1 Peter 1:19) and once- for all sacrifice (Hebrews 10:12), He not only paid the price for our sins but also clothes us in His righteousness (2 Cor 5:21). As the risen Lord (1 Cor 15:1-8), He sits enthroned at the right hand of God the Father (Acts 7:56) waiting for the day when He will return to earth to set up His kingdom (2 Thess 1:7-10; Rev 20:1-6), In the meantime, all who trust Him as their Savior and choose to follow Him as Lord will be saved (Romans 10:9-10).
Despite the biblical evidence, false teachers stir up confusion about who Jesus is. Many deny this outright. Others are more subtle, agreeing that Christians must accept Jesus as Savior but not as Lord. Some suggest the resurrection was spurious or that the true Christ has been misrepresented by the Church. All such accusations fall flat when compared to the testimony of Scripture. This is why a biblical view of the Savior is important to those who want to be discerning.
A proper view of God the Father and God the Son would not be complete if it did not include a right view of God the Holy Spirit. Before Jesus left, He promised that He would send a Helper, the Holy Spirit, to guide Christians throughout the church age (John 14:26)- a promise that was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:2-8).
The Bible clearly distinguishes the Spirit as a separate Person (John 14:26; Romans 8:11, 16, 26; 1 John 5:7), who is equal with the Father and the Son (Matthew 28:19;; 2ndCor 3:16-18; 13:14; Eph 4:4-6). His ministry is one of teaching (John 14:26; Luke 12:12), interceding (Romans 8:26), leading (Matthew 4:1), giving life (John 6:63), filling (Eph 5:18), and sanctifying (Gal 5:16-22). As believers study God’s Word the Spirit aids us in the process (John 14:26; 16:13; 1 Cor 2:14). Ephesians 6:17 tells us that “the sword of the Spirit” the weapon He uses to help us fend off deception, is the Word of God. It’s no wonder, then, that to be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18) is parallel to “let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” (….Col…. 3:16).
Confusion about the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is almost as old as the Church itself. In Acts 8 a man named Simon incorrectly assumed that he could buy the Holy Spirit’s power with money. Over the centuries, various cult groups- such as the Jehovah’s witnesses- have simply denied the Spirit’s personhood or deity, choosing instead to see Him as an impersonal force. The unbiblical practice of some charismatic groups (such as slaying in the Spirit, laughing in the Spirit, barking in the Spirit, etc) have only increased confusion on the work of the Holy Spirit.
The discerning Christian is spiritually unaffected by heretical trends. He is like a tree, firmly planted (Psalm 1:3) because his view of God (including the Father, the Son and the Spirit) is firmly founded in the truths of Scripture. By letting God’s self-portrait inform his own thinking, the discerning Christian compares what he hears with what he knows to be correct. In other words, he refuses to replace a high view of God (one that is biblical) with any type of cheap substitute.
A High view of the Gospel
Biblical discernment demands a third theological component, which is a right understanding of the gospel. Building on the previous two categories, the gospel answers the question for us, “What must one do to be saved?” This, in fact is the most important question human beings can ask, for our answer to that question determines both our present choices and our eternal destinies.
Sadly, many Christians today downplay key aspects of the gospel message. As a result false professions of faith are commonplace in the contemporary church, where belief is redefined as mere assent, and repentance is missed altogether. Discerning Christians are not impressed with water-down gospel presentations, nor are they fooled by the false promises of prosperity preachers. Instead they have a clear grasp of the gospel, always being ready to give an account for the hope that is in them (1 Peter 3:16).
The good news of Scripture begins with the bad news that all men are sinners before a holy God (Romans 3:23), unable to save themselves (Isaiah 64:6) and therefore worthy of His condemnation (Romans 6:23). Because Adam and Eve broke God’s law (Genesis 3:6-7), and because all of their descendants (with the exception of Jesus Christ) have also broken His law (James 2:10), human beings deserve to be punished. As a perfect Judge, God’s judgment for sin is death- both physical (Genesis 3:3) and spiritual (Romans 5:12-19). Scripture teaches that men and women are not only sinners through their actions (1 John 1:8,10) but also because they inherited a sin nature from Adam and Eve (Psalm 51:5; 5:12-19).
In light of Scripture emphasis on sin, it’s disheartening to watch contemporary Christians purposefully deemphasize the subject. Rather than addressing man’s true need (to be forgiven), too many modern evangelists focus on the felt needs of their audience. In the end, God is misrepresented as a loving grandfather rather than a holy Judge, and the listeners are given false expectations about the wonderful life Jesus has planned for them. New “converts” spend the rest of their Christian lives trying to meet their own felt needs and never deal with the sin in their lives- choosing instead to ignore it or redefine it as “honest mistakes” or “unhealed wounds.” In contrast, the discerning Christian is all-too-familiar with his own sinfulness, having cried out to God for God’s mercy and daily battling the flesh (Romans 7:13-8:4).
If you have a biblical view of sin, you will have a right view of yourself. Isaiah cried out “Woe is me!” (Isa. 6:4) or the publican who pleased, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13), those who recognize their sinfulness before a holy God realize how wretched and unimportant they really are. With this in mind, the apostle Paul commands his readers not to think more highly of themselves than they ought to think (Romans 12:3). Instead following the example of Christ they should regard others with “humility,” putting the wishes of their neighbor above their own (Phil 2:3-4). Past success and achievements are deemed as worthless compared to knowing and serving the Savior (Phil 3:7-8).
For the Christian, self-esteem is replaced with self-denial. After all, “we “have been crucified with Christ,” meaning that we no longer live, but rather Christ lives in us (Gal 2:20). The Lord Himself instructs us along these lines saying: “If anyone would come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). Clearly, then this attitude of self-denial is intimately tied to the gospel, since we can do nothing, in and of ourselves, to earn salvation (Eph. 2:8-9). In embracing Christ’s work on our behalf, we abandon any form of self-sufficiency, choosing instead to thank God that He has chosen us- the weak, the foolish and the unimportant (1 Cor 1:26-29).
In an age where self-esteem and self-promotion are prevalent it’s not surprising to find many in the church who have embraced their own self-worth. This problem is only compounded by the fact that sin is emphasized, leading many pew-sitters to overestimate their own inherent goodness. God’s holiness, of course, is also overlooked, resulting in Christians who have a high view of themselves and a low view of their Creator. The messages they hear and the books they read are evaluated by their own man-made standards- in terms of felt needs and innovative programs. Because of their diminished reverence for God, they do not look to Him for His approval. As a result they fail to cultivate true discernment in their lives.
Having underestimated and having overestimated themselves, these same Christians fail to properly understand salvation. In some cases, they begin to view salvation as nothing more than heavenly fire insurance- as though God is obligated to save them without any repentance on their part. Others misunderstand grace, including cults who teach works-righteousness is added to the free gift of salvation. Key concepts, such as justification and imputation (Christ takes our sin, and we take His righteousness) are sometimes misunderstood or redefined (as with the New Perspective on Paul). There are even some, such as Seventh-Day Adventists, who claim Christ’s atonement on the cross was not His final work of atonement- despite verses such as Hebrews 7:27 and 1 1peter 3:18.
What is the biblical plan of salvation from sin? The apostle Paul answers this question in Romans 10:9-10 when he says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” He reiterates this truth in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.
Thus the call of salvation is a call to believe in the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and to publicly submit (“confess”) oneself to him as Lord (thereby repenting from sin). Of course, this is a gift of grace and not of human effort or merit (Eph 2:8-10). It also involves other theological truths- such as regeneration (John 3:3-7; Titus 3:5), election(Romans 8:28-30;Eph 1:4-11; 22 Thess 2:13), sanctification (Acts 20:32; 1 Cor 1:2, 30; Eph 6:11; Hebrews 10:10, 14), and eternal security (John 5:24; 6:37-40; 10:27-30; Romans 5:9-10; 8:31-39). The heart of the gospel is this: By dying on the cross, Jesus took the penalty for all who believe in Him. By trusting in Him, the believer is seen as righteous (or justified) in the sight of God.
Thinking rightly about the gospel is something that God takes very seriously. Scripture severely condemns those who preach another gospel as false teachers (Gal 1:8). Christians would do well, then, to arm themselves with the true gospel- one that maintains a biblical view of sin, self, and salvation. Only then will we be able to fulfill the Great Commission with which we have been tasked (Matthew 28:18-20).; and only then will we be able to discern the message of life from any counterfeits. False gospels cannot be tolerated because eternity is at stake.
Mountains and Molehills
Are there other hills that Christians should die on? It depends on the circumstance and the individuals involved. Questions about end times, about the church and about other areas of theology are important. Why focus on the Bible, God and the gospel? The New Testament portrays an accurate understanding of these three doctrines as essential.
Peter discusses all three in the first two verses of his second epistle- an epistle that spends its time refuting false teaching. He begins with a right view of salvation (faith by the righteousness of Jesus Christ). He moves on to a right view of Jesus Christ (as “Our God and Savior” and “our Lord”). He mentions a right view of the Scriptures (“the knowledge of God”) a subject he unpacks in the rest of chapter 1. Other New testament writers agree, responding to false gospels (Gal 1:6-7; 2 Cor 11:4), false Christ’s (1 John 2:22; 2 John 7), and mishandled Scripture (2 Peter 3:16) with the harshest of criticisms (Matthew 24:24; 2 Peter 2:1-22; Jude 4-19). Because Christ and the apostles took a firm stand on these issues, we should be careful to do the same.
We should also take note of those issues that Scripture does not lists as hills to die on. Preference issues such as the length of a sermon, the style of music used in corporate worship, the church’s building program, and other pet grievances are not issues on which we should refuse to budge. Although we live in a day when everyone demeans his or her personal rights, opinions and choices, our testimony as Christians should be different, seeking to give preferential treatment to our brothers and sisters in Christ (Phil 2:1-4).
When it comes to developing a doctrinal framework for discernment it cannot be overstated enough about the importance of a theological grid through which every message is filtered. Without sound doctrine you will not be able to protect your own heart from the doctrinal errors that exist today. By looking to the Scriptures (as your ultimate authority) for a right view of God and a right view of the gospel, you can safeguard your mind- “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).
Good theology that comes from God’s Word allows one to discern between what is right and what is wrong. This clear biblical teaching lifts high the holiness of God, which stands for the Truth. It is most important that Christians be faithful to God. If you want to be faithful to God then stand on God’s Word which dictate the issues that Christians should fight for and the hills we should die on.
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Discernment is a word that many Christians today need to get a better hold of. What exactly is discernment? How does discernment relate to spiritual growth? These are some of the questions which I will discuss in this three-part blog series on discernment.
1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 says, “Test everything hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” Testing everything is a call to discernment. In the context of very basic Christian commands, Paul says that it discernment is crucial to the effective Christian life.
Many people view discernment in the wrong way. Some Christians think discernment is just the pastor’s job as he watches the flock. This would be partially correct as most of the calls to discernment in the New Testament are issued to church leaders (1 Tim 4:6-7, 13, 16; Titus 1:9). Every Pastor is required to be skilled in teaching the truth of God’s Word and able to refute unsound doctrine. Discernment, however, is not only the duty of pastors and elders. The same careful discernment Paul demanded of pastors and elders is the duty of every Christian. First Thessalonians 5:21 is written to the entire church to examine everything carefully.”
The Greek literally reads in 1 Thessalonians 5:21, “examine everything.” The idea conveyed by the word “carefully” is included in the Greek word translated “examine,” dokimazo. Elsewhere in the New Testament this word is translated “analyze,” “test,” or “prove”. This word refers to the process of testing something to reveal its genuineness, such as in the testing of precious metals. Paul wanted believers to scrutinize everything they hear to see that it is genuine, to distinguish between the true and the false, to separate the good from the evil. In other words, Paul wants them to examine everything critically. The discernment that Paul is calling for in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 is a doctrinal discernment.
Often Christians are told not to judge. After all, they reason Jesus said in Matthew 7:1, “To not judge.” Was Jesus forbidding Christians from judging what is taught in His name? What Jesus condemned was the hypocritical judgment of those who held others to a higher standard than they themselves were willing to live by. Elsewhere in Scripture we are forbidden to judge others motives or attitudes. We are not able to discern “the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Only God can judge the heart because only God can see it (1 Sam 16:7). He alone knows the secrets of the heart (Psalm 44:21). He alone can weigh the motives (Psalm 16:2). He alone according to Romans 2:16 will judge the secrets of men’s hearts through Christ Jesus.
The Scriptures make it clear that hypocritical judging and judging others thoughts and motives is not what Christians are to do. Throughout Scripture, the people of God are urged to judge between truth and error, right and wrong, good, and the devil. Jesus in John 7:24 said, “Judge with right judgment”. Paul wrote to the Corinthians believers in 1 Corinthians 10:15, “I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. God requires Christians to be discriminating when it comes to matters of sound doctrine.
Christians are to judge one another with regard to acts of sin. 1 Corinthians 5:12-13. This speaks of the same process of discipline outlined by Jesus Himself in Matthew 18:15-20.
Most importantly every Christian should examine themselves to see if they have judged rightly according to 1 Corinthians 11:31, “if we judged ourselves truly, we ourselves would not be judged.” This calls for the believer to search their own hearts. Paul calls for this self-examination every time believers partake of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:28). The discernment Christians are called to engage in is doctrinal discernment.
The testing of truth that Paul calls for is not merely an academic exercise. It demands an active two-fold response. First there is a positive response to whatever is biblical: “Hold fast what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). This echoes Romans 12:9, “Abhor what is evil; hold fast what is good.” The expressions hold fast or cling to speak of jealously safeguarding the truth. Paul is calling for the same kind of watchfulness that he demanded of Timothy every time he wrote him (1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:13-14). The truth is given into our custody and we are charged with guarding it against every possible threat.
This describes a militant, defensive, protective stance against anything that undermines the truth or does violence to it in any way. We must hold the truth securely, defend it zealously, and preserve it from all threats. To placate the enemies of truth or lower our guard is to violate this command.
“Hold fast” also carries the idea of embracing something. It goes beyond just that which is good and speaks of loving the truth with all of one’s strength. Those who are truly discerning are passionately committed to sound doctrine, to the truth, and to all that is inspired by God.
Every Christian should have this attitude of discernment. Paul defined salvation as loving the truth (2 Thess. 2:10), and he told the Corinthians they proved their salvation by holding fast to the gospel he delivered (1 Cor 15:2). Those who fail to hold fast to the saving message of Christ are those who have believed in vain; that is, their faith was empty to begin with. The apostle John in 1 John 2:19 said, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they are not all of us.” All true believers hold fast to the gospel.
Paul was urging the Thessalonians to nurture and cultivate their love for truth and let it rule their thinking. He wanted them to cultivate a conscious commitment to all truth, faithfulness to sound doctrine, and a pattern of holding fast to all that is good.
This attitude this calls for is incompatible with the suggestion that we should lay doctrine aside for the sake of unity. It cannot be reconciled with the opinion that hard truths should be downplayed to make God’s Word more palatable for unbelievers. It is contrary to the notion that personal experience takes precedence over objective truth. God has given His People His Truth objectively in His Word. It is a treasure that we should protect at all costs.
This is the opposite of undiscerning faith. Paul leaves no room for rote tradition. He makes no place for a blind, irrational faith that refuses to consider the authenticity of its object and just accepts at face value everything that claims to be true. He rules out the kind of faith that is driven by feelings, emotion, and the human imagination. Instead we are to identify “what is good” by examining everything carefully, objectively, rationally using Scripture as our standard.
No human teacher, no personal experience, no strong feeling is exempt from this objective test. Experience and feelings, no matter how powerful, do not determine what is true. Rather, those things themselves must be subjected to the test.
“That which is good” is truth that accords with the Word of God. The word “good” is kalos, meaning something that is good. It isn’t just something that is nice to take in or behold. It speaks of something good in itself- genuine, true, noble, right and good. It does not refer to satisfying the flesh. It refers to that which is good, true, accurate, authentic, dependable- that which is in agreement with the infallible Word of God.
The other side of Paul’s command is a negative response to evil: “Abstain from every form of evil’” (1 Thess. 5:21). The word abstain is a very strong word meaning to hold oneself back, keep way from, or shun. It is the same word used in 1 Thessalonians 4:3, “abstain from sexual immorality,” and 1 Peter 2:11, “abstain from the passions of the flesh.” It calls for a radical separation from “every form of evil.” This includes evil behavior. In this context it is speaking to evil teaching- false doctrine. When you find something that does not line up to the Word of God- something that is untrue, erroneous, or contrary to the Word of God- shun it.
Scripture does not give believers permission to expose themselves to evil. Some people believe the only way to defend against false doctrine is to study it, become proficient in it, and master all its nuances- then refute it. The problem is when one immerses themselves in false doctrine they will become influenced by it. Some Christians immerse themselves in philosophy, entertainment, and the culture of society. They feel such a strategy will strengthen their witness to unbelievers. Our focus as Christians should be on knowing the truth. Error is to be shunned!
Believers cannot recede into a monastic existence to escape exposure to every evil influence. Neither are we supposed to be experts about evil. The Apostle Paul wrote, “I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil” (Romans 16:19).
A secret service agent does not need to study counterfeit money in order to spot it. They study genuine bills until they master the look of the real thing. Then when they find bogus money they recognize it. Detecting spiritual counterfeits requires the same discipline. Master the truth to refute the error. Study truth. Hold fast to the faithful Word. Then you will be able to exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict it (Titus 1:8). Paul wrote, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Paul also rules out syncretism. Syncretism is the practice of blending ideas from different religions and philosophies. Many people I have witnessed to over the years have said, “I believe in Christianity plus I believe in this philosophy.” This is the wrong idea! It’s not whatever we believe that matters it’s what the truth is in the Word of God.
The only proper response to false teaching is to shun it. Erroneous doctrine is not a place to look for the truth. Satan is subtle. He often sabotages the truth by mixing it with error. Truth mixed with error is far more effective and more destructive than a straightforward contradiction to the truth.
Believers we should use discernment with regard to what we listen to on Christian radio and television. If you do not use discernment then you are a prime target for doctrinal deception. If you think everyone who appears to love the truth really does, then you don’t understand the wiles of Satan. 2 Corinthians 11:14-15, “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light, so it is not surprise if his servants, also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.”
Satan also disguises his lies as truth. He doesn’t always wage war openly against the gospel. He is much more likely to attack the church by infiltrating with subtle error. He uses the Trojan horse stratagem by placing false teachers in the church where they can “secretly bring in destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1). He puts his lies in the mouth of someone who claims to speak for Jesus Christ- someone likable and appealing; then he spreads his perverse lies in the church where they can draw away Christ’s disciples (Acts 20:30). He attaches Bible verses to his lies (Matthew 4:6). He uses deception and hypocrisy. He disguises falsehood as truth. He loves syncretism. It makes evil look good.
That’s why Christians are to examine everything carefully and shun whatever is unsound, corrupt, or erroneous. It is deadly. Millions in the church today are being overwhelmed by the Trojan-horse ploy calling for the integration of secular ideas with biblical truth. Others are being duped by anything labeled Christian. They don’t examine everything. They don’t hold fast to the truth. And they won’t shun evil. They are left vulnerable to false doctrine and have no defense against theological confusion.
The apostle Paul’s clear teaching in 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 cannot be avoided or ignored. As in the days of the early church, doctrinal error is all around us. Dr. Mohler said, “The tragedy that evangelicals have lost the art of biblical discernment must be traced to a disastrous loss of biblical knowledge. Discernment cannot survive without doctrine.” God gave us His Word so we would have a measuring stick by which to examine every spiritual or theological message we encounter.
In this series of three posts on discernment you will learn how to be discerning. The goal in doing so is not be unloving but rather to preserve that which is “first pure, then peaceable” (James 3:17). In fact, Scripture makes it clear that this type of examination is inherently loving, as God’s people are called to think biblically and exercise discernment. To do anything less will only result in spiritual anemia (Hosea 4:7).
The role of discernment in spiritual growth is clear. If one is not discerning then they will be lead astray by false doctrine. In today’s Church many people think that doctrine does not matter, but in fact it’s the opposite. Doctrine that comes from God’s Word matters supremely because God gave His Word to His people, so they would know His Son. This makes God’s Word supremely important to study, meditate, learn and grow in. Discernment is tied to spiritual growth because without discernment one cannot grow to be like Christ which is the goal for spiritual growth.
My prayer for you in this series is that as you encounter doctrinal teaching that you will be like the Bereans who were more noble because they were ”examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).
Albert Mohler, “The Shack, the Mission Art of Evangelical Discernment”, 27 Jan 2010, accessed 27 Jan 2010.http://www.albertmohler.com/2010/01/27/the-shack-the-missing-art-of-evangelical-discernment/
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A fellow minister in our Presbytery recently preached a sermon series called, “Things Jesus Should Not Have (I Wish He Hadn’t) Said!” The crux of the series was that Jesus said many hard sayings that–if we are honest–we would have to admit we find uncomfortable. The fact of the matter is that so much of what Jesus said makes people uncomfortable. In a day when the “cult of nicenesss” has permeated the church, and politeness and tolerance has taken a front seat to truth and the fear of God, we need to be reminded that the Savior of the world often corrected the errors of his enemies in a less than winsome manner. Many times He also corrected His disciples in shocking and uncomfortable ways. As we study the life of Jesus in the Gospels we see very clearly the way in which the Savior of the world corrected people when they said or did things that needed correction. Consider the following:
How Jesus Corrected and Confronted His Opponents and Hypocrites
1. Jesus Corrected and Confronted Publicly: Jesus corrected the false teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees by teaching His disciples to be on constant guard against it. He corrected their misinterpretations by appealing to His own authority. He repeatedly said, “You have heard it was said…but I say to you…” Jesus would often speak with His disciples, and the crowds around Him, about the dangers of false teachers’ doctrine. It is not, as many suppose, godly not to talk about the problems with false teachers and teaching.
2. Jesus Corrected and Confronted Directly: Jesus directly confronted false teachers in the church with the repetitious, “Woe to you…hypocrites.” When they came to trick Him, Jesus frequently silenced the Chief Priests, Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees by putting them in their place with Scripture. On one occasion. He came right out and said, “You’re wrong, not knowing the Scriptures or the power of God.” Jesus was not afraid to tell people–in the most confrontational way–“You’re wrong.”
3. Jesus Resorted to Metaphorical “Animal” Name Calling: Jesus often exposed the true nature of the wickedness of false teachers by using animal names to metaphorically describe them. He called the Pharisees the “offspring of serpents,” Herod “a fox,” false teachers “wolves,” and unregenerate Gentiles “dogs.”
4. Jesus Corrected and Confronted by Means of Comparison: Jesus rebuked the unbelief of the covenant people by singling out the faith of a Gentile centurion who said to Jesus, “Only speak and word and my servant will be healed” (Matt. 8:5-13). Christ compared the greatness of their unbelief with the greatness of this man’s faith. He then went on to explain the eternal punishment those who did not believe would undergo.
5. Jesus Corrected and Confronted Wrong Motives and Excuses: A self-seeking man boastfully promised to follow Jesus anywhere because he thought it would mean political or financial gain for him. Jesus corrected his wrong motives by telling him that he would be following a homeless Messiah (Matt. 8:18-22). He then corrected another man who used his aging father as an excuse about why he could not follow Jesus at that time, by telling him that he was as spiritual dead as his father would soon be physically. An outstanding treatment of this passage can be found in Sinclair Ferguson’s sermon “The Cost of Discipleship.”
6. Jesus Resorted to a Physical Act of Righteous Anger: Jesus corrected the greed and corruption of the money changers in the Temple by making a whip and physically driving them out. He also threw their tables over. I’m sure that many in the church today would say that Jesus was “emotionally unstable” and “erratic.”
How Jesus Corrected His Beloved Disciples
When we see how Jesus corrected His own disciples (who gave Him plenty of opportunities to do so!) we find that there is a great deal more tenderness and patience. Jesus characterized Himself as being “gentle and lowly in heart.” While this was the characteristic mark of the Savior, it was often accompanied by strong, unexpected and confrontational rebuke of their actions. Consider the following:
1. Jesus Rebuked in Order to Correct Role Relations: Jesus corrected his mother at the wedding in Cana of Galilee by telling her “Woman, what of you and Me?” when she told Him “They have no wine.” He was rebuking he for thinking that she had authority over Him. The meaning of Jesus’ response was essentially, “This concern of yours is My work, not for you and I to take care of together. I am not under your authority in this matter.” (See George Hutcheson’s Exposition on John, p. 32 ff. for a good treatment of this text.) Jesus also confronted James and John when they tried to use Him to get to the top. Jesus responded to their request by saying, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with.” Basically, Jesus was telling them that He would pave the way to heaven for all His disciples by drinking the bitter cup of the wrath of God at the cross.
2. Jesus Rebuked Unbelief in His Disciples: Jesus corrected His disciples on a boat in a storm by showing off His power and rebuking their unbelief. He told them, “O you of little faith.” He then stilled the wind and the waves with a rebuke (Matt. 8:23-27) . He also rebuked the unbelief of the two on the road to Damascus, as well as the disciples in the house, after His resurrection.
3. Jesus Rebuked By Means of Comparison: Jesus corrected Martha’s anxious heart by pointing to her sister sitting at His feet and listening to His word. He basically said, “You should be more like your sister.” This might strike some as being a psychologically harmful way to correct people, nevertheless, the Son of God did it! (Luke 10:41-42). Jesus also pointed to a woman putting a few pennies in the offering box to teach His disciples the value of having a generous heart, as over against the rich who putt in a little out of their abundance.
4. Jesus Used Tragic Circumstances to Call People to Repentance: Some people told Jesus that Herod had mingled the blood of some Galileans with animal sacrifices. Instead of telling them how tragic this was–and how sorry He was to hear about it–He reminded them about the tower that had tragically and unexpectedly fallen on 18 people. He then made the most unlikely application, saying, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish!” (Luke 13:1-5).
5. Jesus Corrected Bickering Men with a Child: Jesus confronted His disciples when they argued about who was greatest among them by taking a child and sitting him in their midst. Correcting grown men with the mere presentation of a child was a seriously humbling rebuke.
6. Jesus Corrected Envy By Saying, “Worry About Yourself”: Jesus corrected Peter’s jealousy of John by telling him, “What if he remains until I come. You follow for Me.” (i.e. “Don’t worry your pretty little mind about what I’m doing with anyone else. Just worry about your own relationship with Me.”)
This post first appeared at Nick’s blog and is posted here with permission.
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We hiked through the tangled woods searching for something beautiful. The trees had changed. We started on an open path with towering trees and far reaching boughs. As the path made its way closer to the water, the trees changed becoming smaller and reaching over the path which narrowed. These branches were bent and gnarled like the hands of my grandmother.
As the path descended, the air become cooler. We also heard the gurgling of water which grew into a growl as we approached our destination—a magnificent waterfall with a devastating 420-foot drop. This natural wonder is not the kind you walk by without awe at its beauty and danger. It demands you stop. We found a rock at the edge of the river looking over the waterfall and sat. We admired the beauty and danger of this tour de force of water.
Christians above all should be the kind of people who stop in awe of beauty. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). The earth below and heaven above teach us how to declare the glory of God. They are beautiful for him. Yet some Christians think very little of beauty. Or maybe it’s not that they think little of it, but they don’t see where beauty intersects with their ordinary life. Our world is full of beauty. We have just lost the eyes to see it all around us. We are like a man who can only see the world in muted colors. We cannot live without beauty. We shouldn’t live without it.
In a recent article “Why Do We Experience Awe?” in The New York Times, Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner get at just this, “Why do humans experience awe?” Years ago, one of us, Professor Keltner, argued (along with the psychologist Jonathan Haidt) that awe is the ultimate “collective” emotion, for it motivates people to do things that enhance the greater good. Through many activities that give us goose bumps — collective rituals, celebration, music and dance, religious gatherings and worship — awe might help shift our focus from our narrow self-interest to the interests of the group to which we belong.
They go on to introduce new research that may backup this initial thesis. In the research, people who regularly experienced awe in their life were more willing to help others. And it didn’t have to be ridiculously hard to reach Mount Everest type beauty. One group in the study spent time “on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, which has a spectacular grove of Tasmanian blue gum eucalyptus trees, some with heights exceeding 200 feet — a potent source of everyday awe for anyone who walks by.” This research tells us what Christians have been teaching for millennia, but many have forgotten: Beauty empowers love of neighbor. Let’s smooth the wrinkles even more: Beauty energizes love of God and, therefore, love of neighbor—because God is beauty and all beauty ultimately has its origins in his divine perfections. In the third century, St. Basil wrote, “Let us recognize the One Who transcends in His beauty all things.” And in the sixth century, St. Maximus the Confessor states,
Nothing so much as love brings together those who have been sundered and produces in them an effective union of will and purpose. Love is distinguished by the beauty of recognizing the equal value of all men. Love is born in a man when his soul’s powers—that is, his intelligence, incensive power and desire—are concentrated and unified around the divine. Those who by grace have come to recognized the equal value of all men in God’s sight and who engrave His beauty on their memory, possess an ineradicable longing for divine love, for such love is always imprinting this beauty on their intellect. (Philokalia, II)
Seeing the beauty all around us opens our eyes to seeing the beauty of the imago dei in all humans. In The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis plucks this same string:
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.
Beauty Must Not be Ignored
Some Christians today might consider spending a day hiking through the woods a waste. Some might be too busy to stop to gaze at 200-foot-tall trees. They might finding reading great fiction boring or might say, “I just don’t have time.” They might scoff at spending money at a museum. Or laugh off traveling to the Grand Canyon to sit and wonder at its terrible beauty. Others may want to do these things, but not have the means. Others might not see the importance. Beauty, however, is all around us and must not be ignored. It is essential for making, maturing, and multiplying disciples of Jesus Christ.
The same New York Times article ends:
We believe that awe deprivation has had a hand in a broad societal shift that has been widely observed over the past 50 years: People have become more individualistic, more self-focused, more materialistic and less connected to others. To reverse this trend, we suggest that people insist on experiencing more everyday awe, to actively seek out what gives them goose bumps, be it in looking at trees, night skies, patterns of wind on water or the quotidian nobility of others — the teenage punk who gives up his seat on public transportation, the young child who explores the world in a state of wonder, the person who presses on against all odds.
Christians, we must insist on experiencing more beauty—even in the smallest ways like sharing acts of kindness or admiring that “mundane” summer lightening storm. Find beauty wherever you can and stand in awe.
Beauty and Sadness
But what do we do when the most beautiful things in our world are littered with sadness? What happens when a mother dies giving birth to a child? What happens when a terrorist group destroys an ancient and awe inspiring cultural artifact? What happens when war breaks out and priceless art is destroyed? What happens when a loved one dies and you cannot see the beauty in that thing you once shared with them? Because truth and beauty cannot be divorced for now, Christians must acknowledge this uneasy union between beauty and brokenness. Sometimes we need permission to experience beauty in the midst of our sadness and suffering. When sadness intersects with beauty, gaze at the cross of Christ for permission. It embodies beauty and brokenness. J. R. R. Tolkien called the cross the ultimate eucatastrophe (eu = good and catastrophe you know). There we have the brutal, de-humanizing Roman cross and the Savior of the world sacrificing himself for our sins. The truth is we live in that kind of world and our Savior came to show us how to find joy in its midst. The writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” –Hebrews 12:1-2 (italics mine)
This tension then between beauty and brokenness creates more longing for a true and lasting beauty, for the kingdom of Jesus Christ to come fully to this earth. Until that day, we cry out “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is heaven.” When the Kingdom is fully realized, all sadness will be undone and all things beautiful will be eternal. We will gaze at the beautiful unfiltered by sadness. We will truly see beauty because in the new heaven and new earth the King will return in all his beauty and majesty and his presence on earth will change everything forever.
Until that day, we pursue the beauty we have. Not just for its own sake, but because God himself is beautiful, because beauty moves us with compassion for our neighbors, and because it creates longing for true and lasting beauty. Do not treat beauty as a luxury or something far off. Find beauty where you are and take the time to stand in awe of it. Consider how much more work we have to do in the world as we strive for the Kingdom coming.
It is meet and right to hymn Thee,
to bless Thee, to praise Thee,
to give thanks unto Thee,
and to worship Thee in every place of Thy dominion:
for Thou art God ineffable, inconceivable,
ever existing and eternally the same,
Thou and Thine Only-begotten Son and the Holy Spirit.
— St. John Chrysostom
 All quotations from the Church Fathers come from http://www.antiochian.org/node/23896
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Father’s Day comes every year and with its arrival, many young men and women struggle. They struggle with absent fathers who may live at home but who aren’t present. They struggle with a father who has abandoned them completely, leaving them to be part of the foster care system or to live with a family member or friend. This Father’s Day I’m in the Seattle area with my wife visiting my father for Father’s Day as well as visiting my family. I look forward every three to six months visiting my family in Seattle and visiting the city where I spent the first twenty-six years of my life.
This Father’s Day is special. We’ll all gather around and enjoy a BBQ at my mom’s house. Time with family is precious. I remember it was not more than three years ago when my dad wasn’t around. He was living in Eastern Washington, but no one knew where. I remember three years ago today praying for him and asking the Lord to bring him back into my life. I’m so grateful my heavenly Father heard my plea. I know for many young men and women they don’t get their prayers answered in the way they wish for having their parents back. So, I’m grateful to my heavenly Father that He heard my pleas and answered my prayer.
Father’s Day for some brings up memories of pain and heartache for many people. I know those pains well. For the first seventeen years of my life, I didn’t have a relationship with my earthly father, until one day when we went on a walk where the Lord restored us to one another. You see God desires to bring reconciliation to families. God is in the reconciliation business. He reconciles sinners through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Furthermore, through the work of the Holy Spirit, God empowers His people to be agents of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:20-21).
We live in a world of broken promises. After all, we’re sinners by nature and by choice. I remember my dad telling me how his dad abandoned he and his brother (my uncle) when they were young. This story isn’t a new one. In fact, it’s one that happens every day and perhaps has even to you reading this. I want you to know you are not alone. You have a Father in heaven who truly loves you and cares for you. He is a Father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5). He is not distant as you might think or uncaring as you may feel. Instead, He is faithful and loving. He reaches out to you.
Remember the Prodigal Son story in Luke 15. The father gives his son his inheritance only to have his son squander everything he had been given in a foreign land. Then the son comes home after living in a pig pen and the father sees the son and runs towards him. The father running towards his son was something old men in that culture didn’t do. This father loved his son and didn’t care what people thought about him. Even so, the father ran to the son and embraced his son whom he loved. This is a beautiful picture of the love of our heavenly Father God. He loves us so much that he runs towards us. Jesus leaves the ninety-nine and goes after the one lost sheep who needs to be found (John 10:1-21).
The story of the Prodigal Son is the story of all of us. You may not have gotten your inheritance and squandered it, but each one of us has sinned and fallen short of our Father’s commands. We have, whether consciously or unknowingly violated His laws, commands, and statues. This is why Jesus had come to die in our place for our sin. He came to die because He loved us. He knows the depths of our sin and came to die for our sin so we could be redeemed and reconciled to God. Jesus came to take us out of the pig pen of our lives and give us a seat at His royal table, with royal privileges, and rights as a son and daughter of God.
I remember growing up how much I wanted to have a close relationship with my dad. When my dad left and I didn’t know where he was, I remember how lost I felt. I remember how much I wanted him back and how I tried everything to find him but to no avail. Yet, the Lord knew where my dad was, and He was loving me and showing me His love on a daily basis through His Son Jesus.
You may not be able to see your need for your heavenly Father right now and I understand. You may feel abandoned and unloved. Yet in the midst of those feelings I want you to read the Prodigal Son story in Luke 15. Note the love of a father for his son. This is the love of your heavenly Father for you. This is why your heavenly Father sent Jesus to die the death you deserved. This is why we can have hope, healing, redemption, and reconciliation with Jesus.
I don’t know if your father will return. I can’t promise that, but I can promise you that there is a Father in heaven who knows your name. He created you in His image and likeness. He sent Jesus His only Son to die for you so you could have life in Him. I don’t know your story, your hurts, and your pains this day, but I do know One who does. He loves you and cares for you.
This Father’s Day by God’s grace decide that you are going to look to your Father in heaven—the One who created you, sustains you, and who sent His Son to die for you for your hope and healing. Life goes so fast. Living a bitter, empty, and hollow life is no life at all. God desires more for you. Run to your heavenly Father who loves you and cares for you. There you’ll find hope and healing for your broken heart. There in the arms of your heavenly Father you’ll find redemption, reconciliation and be able to enjoy the royal privileges of a son or daughter of our Father in heaven.
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“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” (1 Thess. 5:21)
We live in an age that has a lot of ideas about a great many things even when it comes to matters of theology. Peruse many of the latest titles in your Christian bookstore and you will find series of books that compare and contrast various viewpoints on any number of theological issues with scholars presenting their position and then commenting on the pros and cons of the assertions noted by their fellow scholars. I will admit that I do enjoy these types of books at times, especially when they are on a subject matter that peaks my interest.
With that said, what is of greater interest to me is the variety of positions that continue to remain on a great many biblical subjects. For example, if we take the issue of the beginning portion of Scripture (i.e. creation), one can find a variety of positions on the when, why, and how of creation to include Young Earth Creationism, Old Earth Creationism, Intelligent Design, Theistic Evolution, and many other combinations. How is one to select which viewpoint to take? There are after all passionate pleas by scholars on all of these viewpoints and since most all positions use Scripture, how does one go about selecting a position, if any of them? Perhaps this is a reason far too many believers fail to engage in theology as a whole and leave the Bible study to their pastor and academics, hoping that what they are being taught is biblically sound.
Is the throw your hands up in the air and hope what you are being taught is biblically sound how Scripture desires us to approach our understanding and application of Scripture? Are we just supposed to read Christian books and blogs under the impression that what we are reading is correct? Are we supposed to affirm everything our denomination teaches or what a particular church creed asserts as being completely correct?
I do not see anywhere in Scripture that states we are to accept the words of finite man as the final arbiter of truth. Conversely, what we do find are commands such as found in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 which states, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” So what does this mean to prove all things? Is “all” really “all” when it comes to the need to prove the validity of a position?
The word translated prove is the Greek verb dokimazō which means “to test, examine, prove, scrutinize (to see whether a thing is genuine or not); to recognize as genuine after examination, to approve, deem worthy”. Since this is a verb, it connotes the reality of action on the part of the individual. As we move to the next word in this verse we find the word translated all which is the Greek adjective pas meaning “each, every, any, all, the whole, everyone, all things, everything”. So clearly we have the command to investigate and test every single thing we hear, read, or think.
The standard by which we are to investigate everything is not what our favorite Christian author, pastor, denominational creeds, or what some scholar has stated at some point in church history. Certainly such individuals and writings are informative on matters of truth; however, they are not the ultimate source of truth as that honor resides with God’s Word. Thus, we have to be quite careful as to how we conduct our examination. The setting aside of presuppositions and personal opinions, much of which has been impacted to a large degree by our experiences, where we worship, what we have read, and what we have heard over the years, is arguably one of the most difficult tasks to accomplish. Even so, it is absolutely necessary. If we are commanded to prove all things, our presuppositions also fall into the category of all the things which must be scrutinized.
The end goal is to find out what is genuinely true and what is not. That which is truth and only that which is truth is what we are to hold fast. To hold fast is to “to hold fast, keep secure, keep firm possession of”. Anything that does not pass muster must be jettisoned. It is not deemed worthy according to Scripture as being truth and thus should not be something we keep secure.
This process takes effort and an honest assessment of the things we hold dear as being the truth. Furthermore, this is a constant process of refinement. What I find more often than not with believers is the willingness to allow for 10 different views on a theological matter as all being equally correct. Returning to the aforementioned example of the Genesis creation account, all of the various positions noted and the many I did not note cannot all at the same time be all equally valid positions. The universe cannot be both old and young at the same time. There is a single correct position to be had that perfectly aligns with everything revealed in the pages of Scripture.
Now I am a firm believer in Young Earth Creationism. I believe based on the approach of proving from the pages of Scripture that such a position is most closely aligned with Scripture. However, there are likely elements of this position that continue to and will continue to need to be refined. Certainly scientific discovery plays a part in the overall analysis, but ultimately the decision on whether this view can continue to be stated as being genuine after examination rests on whether it consistently aligns itself with God’s Word. Again, there is the constant need for refinement and evaluation. That which continues to be true, can continue to be held fast to, and that which is proven to be false needs to be rejected.
I have found over the years that after serious reflection and investigation, there have been a number of positions I have taken on matters of Scripture that have been refined and adjusted. As I have come to realize this reality, it has done much to spur further investigation of Scripture and analysis of my beliefs in many areas. Many things I continued to hold onto, at least for the time being, and many things I have had to let go in favor of a more consistent approach to Scripture. In my humble opinion, this is what being a Berean and growing in the Word of God is all about. To simply accept everything you read or hear as being the truth without going to the Word of God and doing serious Bible study to prove all things is not what God demands. In fact, taking that approach could make you susceptible to falsehood given you have not done the requisite investigation to obtain an understanding of that which is good and that which is false.
We live in an age where falsehoods abound. The tickling of the ears has become the sad hallmark of the day in many corners of Christianity with little pushback or research being done on the part of the hearer. Does this mean we should never trust that our pastor or favorite author is preaching or writing the truth? In the words of former President Ronald Reagan, “Trust but verify” as that is what Scripture demands of us. Church creeds, the writings of many wonderful men of God and most certainly the passionate preaching of your pastor are all great and definitely can be a starting point for further Biblical study, but they are all just that – a starting point. The end point must be Scripture and the fervent examination of whether such things meet the ultimate standard of God’s Word. Don’t take my word for it. Dig into Scripture and find out for yourself under the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
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