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All Scripture is God-breathed and is profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
In this passage, Paul is writing to Timothy – a young pastor Paul discipled – and he is speaking of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament). But the authority Paul speaks of is also in the New Testament because the New Testament is based on the authority of Jesus, Himself. Jesus, as God incarnate, commissioned the Apostles to take the Message to the world and this has been preserved for us in the New Testament.
Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21)
As Peter says, the prophets spoke by the power of the Holy Spirit. It was not their own ideas. This is the concept of “divine inspiration” – God guiding, leading, and directing people to communicate truth to the world. And remember what JP Moreland said about truth: “A true statement matches or corresponds to reality.”
Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:17)
This portion of John’s Gospel tells of Jesus praying to the Father, and part of His prayer says that God’s word is truth. Of course, at this moment, Jesus is thinking of and speaking of the Hebrew Bible – the Old Testament; as well as His own word, since He speaks the word of God; and of course, the New Testament that will develop the definitive final witness to Christ Jesus as the one true Mediator and Lord.
But the Scriptures warn us about error.
For example, in Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus tells us:
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
So, He is warning us to be careful, awake and alert. Know the truth and be able to discern truth from lies. At the end of His Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus says that if you build your house on His teachings, it will be like a rock that can withstand anything. But if you don’t, you’re building your house on sand. And when the storms come, it will fall.
Likewise, Paul’s farewell address to the elders of the church in Ephesus emphasizes the reality of spiritual counterfeits and errors. Paul declares that he had been faithful to the word in loving the church at Ephesus. And then in Acts 20:29-31. Paul tells them:
I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.
Paul warns these Christ-followers ahead of time to stay true to the Gospel that he gave them because many will come denying the Gospel, Scriptures, and even Christ Himself. So, like the church at Ephesus, we are also warned. We need to be rooted in the word of Christ.
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5 They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. (1 John 4:1-6)
John is explicitly telling us to test the spirits to see if they are from God or not. He knew that many false prophets and anti-Christs have gone and will go out into the world. So, we are supposed to evaluate teaching and consider the doctrines we hear.
Now, how do we do so?
By a warm feeling in your chest? No.
You test the spirits by what they say about Jesus Christ. Anyone or anything that says that Jesus has not come in the flesh is not from God, but is actually an anti-Christ. What is incredibly amazing and encouraging for us is verse four of this passage, which tells us that God (who is in us) is greater than His enemy (who is in the world). But, we must be warned, even still, that as a follower of Christ, you will face anti-Christs (people who deny the Gospel).
Anyone who denies that Jesus truly came to earth in the flesh as God incarnate is teaching an anti-Christ doctrine. No matter how mellow or winsome or polite they may seem to be, it is still an anti-Christ message.
So, we are called to test the spirits, and we test them in terms of their worldview, or doctrine. One good way of addressing any non-Christian religion (whether it’s Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witness, Christian Science, New Age, Islam… the list goes on and on) is to ask “What do they say of Jesus of Nazareth?” Or, as Jesus Himself asked in Matthew 16:13,
“Who do people say I am?”
AND THAT’S WHAT WE’RE GOING TO FOCUS ON.
First of all, let’s ask the question, “What is a cult?”
Historically, a cult – with respect to Christianity – is a “splinter group” or schismatic group that breaks off from historic Christian teaching (orthodoxy), and rallies around a certain leader who claims to have a new revelation of who God is. So, they leave the historic Church and claim that they will “straighten things out”.
This is different from Christianity’s different denominations.
If someone is a Bible-believing, Christ-centered follower of Jesus, they are going to believe in the Trinity, in salvation through faith alone by grace, in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and in the inerrant Scriptures.
Now, there are some disagreements about interpretation of these Scriptures, as well as disagreements about the practice of baptism, Church government, and so on. But, if you go to an Evangelical Lutheran Church, Baptist Church, Anglican Church, or even non-denominational Evangelical Church, you will see that the people there believe in the Trinity, Jesus’ divine incarnation, and salvation through Christ alone. Their differences are not schismatic. They do not deny the great received truths of Christianity. They simply disagree on some issues.