Eureka! was the cry of the ‘49er’ who found pay dirt in the California gold fields. It’s a Greek word—meaning “I have found it!” It summed up every treasure hunter’s dream and expressed the thrill of striking it big. For James Marshall (the first to discover the precious metal in 1848) and the 49ers who followed him, the term eureka meant instant riches, early retirement, and a life of carefree ease.
But would-be prospectors quickly learned that not everything that appeared to be gold actually was. Riverbeds and rock quarries were full of golden specks that were entirely worthless. This “fool’s gold” was iron pyrite, and miners had to be careful to distinguish it from the real thing. Many an amateur miner would labor for days only to be told by the local assayer that his pouch full of golden dust was worthless.
Experienced miners could usually distinguish pyrite from gold simply by looking at it. But, in some cases, the distinction was not quite so clear. So, they developed tests to discern what was genuine from what was not. One test involved biting the rock in question. Real gold is softer than the human tooth, whereas fool’s gold is harder. A second test involved scraping the rock on a piece of white stone, such as ceramic. True gold leaves a yellow streak, whereas the residue left by fool’s gold is greenish black. In either case, a miner relied on tests to authenticate his finds.
Spiritually speaking, Christians often find themselves in a similar position to the California “49ers” of the mid-1800s. When confronted with various doctrines and religious teachings, all of which claim to be true, believers must be able to tell those that are biblically sound from those that are not. As was true in the gold rush, just because something glitters doesn’t mean it’s good. Christians need to be equally wary of spiritual “fool’s gold.” They must not accept something as true without first testing it to see if it meets with God’s approval. If it fails the test, Christians should discard it as false and warn others also. But if it passes the test, in keeping with the truth of God’s Word, believers can embrace and endorse it wholeheartedly.
California gold prospectors would cry “Eureka!” only when they found true gold. When it comes to spiritual things, Christians should be careful to do the same. So how do we discern false prophets from true prophets and false Gospels from The Gospel?
I. THE TRUTH TEST (v. 1)
- “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.” (1 John 4:1, NIV84)
- the command to not believe every spirit is in the present tense
- it literally means stop believing every spirit
- it indicates that some in the congregation had been too gullible and accepting of false prophets and different gospels
- it’s important to have a healthy skepticism when it comes to spiritual claims
- to that end, the Apostle tells his congregation, "Listen friend, don't believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. Not everyone who talks about God comes from God. There are a lot of lying preachers loose in the world."
- we must examine, we must prove, and we must scrutinize the claims of those who say they have a word from God
- the term translated test used in v. 1 refers to a metallurgist’s assaying of metals to test their purity and value
- is also in the present imperative and indicates that believers are to continually test the spirits to see whether they are from God
- the urgency of John’s command resides in the fact that not a few but many false prophets have gone out into the world
- this is still true today
- from this verse two truths should be embraced
- 1st, We Must Be a Student of the Scriptures
- 2nd, We Must Evaluate All Speakers, Teachers and Preachers by the Word of God
- how do we recognize false teachers?
A. 1st, FALSE TEACHERS WILL DENY FUNDAMENTAL CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE
- they will claim to have a new teaching or new revelation that you’ve never heard before
- the Apostle Peter said “there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them” (2 Peter 2:1 NKJV)
- many false teachers will claim they are the only ones who have the truth
- ILLUS. One of the early claims of Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints—better know as Mormons—was that Mormonism was a new truth from God, and that all other Christian denominations were corrupt. All were believing in incorrect doctrines, and none of them were acknowledged by God as being a true church. In a supposed vision, Smith was told not to join any of the churches that then existed, but that the "fulness of the gospel" would be revealed to him at a later time.
- unfortunately, Mormonism is a false gospel that is ensnaring many, many people
- people have asked me over the years, “Are you a fundamentalist?”
- usually I will ask them to tell me what they think a fundamentalist is before I answer the question
- if, by fundamentalist, you mean that I am a red-necked bigoted, racist, woman-hating, homophobic, intolerant, anti-intellectual, anti-scholarly, anti-science, anti-cultural, conspiracy-theory-obsessed, King-James-only bible thumping, snake-handling fanatic, then No, I am not a fundamentalist
- if, by fundamentalist, you mean that I believe in a strict adherence to the Bible as the sole source of our faith and practice as a church and as individual believers, that I am a biblicist who believes in the inerrancy of the Scriptures, that there are some biblical doctrines that are simply non-negotiable, and that I oppose the accommodation of Christian doctrine to modern scientific theory and philosophy, and culture then Yes I am a fundamentalist—guilty as charged!
- between 1910 and 1915, R. A. Torrey—an American Pastor, theologian, and biblical commentator—wrote 90 essays published in a series of 12 paperback volumes containing scholarly essays on the central doctrines of the Bible
- they came to known simply as, The Fundamentals
- the books delineated some of the non-negotiable truths of the bible: They included
- The Trinity
- The Inerrancy of the Scriptures
- The Deity of Jesus Christ
- The Virgin Birth and the Miracles of Christ
- The Substitutionary Atonement of Jesus Christ for Men
- Salvation by Grace Alone Through Faith Alone
- The Visible Second Coming of Jesus Christ to Earth to Establish His Kingdom
- ours is a definite faith and there are some doctrines of the faith that are non-negotiable for Bible-believing Christians
B. 2nd, FALSE TEACHERS WILL DISPLAY AN EXCLUSIVE SPIRIT
- they will pull away from other evangelical groups and orthodox denominations because they are unorthodox or even heretical
- the Apostle John spoke of this
- "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 they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us." (I John 2:19 NKJV)
- ILLUS. Some of you will remember the mass suicide that took place in the Jungles of Guyana almost 35 years ago at a place called “Jonestown”. The incident began in November 1978 when US Representative Leo J. Ryan of California visited the People's Temple Christian Church—a California-based religious cult—in Guyana, South America. His group went to investigate reports that some of the people there were being held against their will. After visiting with Temple leader, Jim Jones, the congressman and his party dove back to the airstrip were they were ambushed and murdered by church security guards. A few days later, Guyana soldiers were horrified to find hundreds of bodies of cult members who had been shot or committed suicide by drinking cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. The Rev. Jim Jones lay near the altar of their worship shelter with a bullet wound in his head. The final death count was 918. The mass suicide and killings at Jonestown resulted in the greatest single loss of American civilian life in a non-natural, non-accidental, non-military disaster prior to the events of September 11, 2001. Jim Jones had stared the People’s Temple in 1955. He was a charismatic figure who demanded total loyalty from his members. Members were required to be exclusively committed to the political and social goals of the church. Members were required to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with fellow Temple members rather than their families. Eventually, Jones demanded “religious communalism” where members donated all their possessions to the Temple in exchange for the Temple meeting all the member’s needs equally. During the 1960s, he preached that the United States was the Antichrist and that capitalism was "the Antichrist system," and that America would soon come under nuclear attack. Jones began deriding traditional Christianity as "fly away religion," and rejected the Bible. In 1974 Jones and almost 1,000 followers eventually moved to Guyana where the tragedy of mass suicide eventually played out.
C. 3rd, FALSE TEACHERS WILL MINIMIZE THE AUTHORITY AND PERSON OF JESUS CHRIST
- one of many false teachings about Jesus in the first century was Docetism
- the word comes from a Greek word meaning, "to seem"
- the Docetics said Jesus only seemed to be human and that his physical body was a phantom or an apparition or spirit
- it’s this philosophy that John may be countering when he writes, “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 ... “ (1 John 4:2, NIV)
- like most false teachings, Docetism is still with us—it’s just morphed into different forms, but all these forms deny the authority and person of Jesus
- other world religions minimize the authority and person of Jesus
- the Qur'an—the Muslim holy book—refers to Jesus twenty-five times
- they accept his virgin birth
- they believe that he performed miracles
- they believe that he ascended into heaven
- however, they do not believe that he was crucified, nor do they believe that he was God incarnate
- though the Qur'an contains some truth about Jesus, it has a docetic or gnostic Christology and cannot be trusted to provide truth about the Christ
- pseudo-Christian cults minimize the authority and person of Jesus
- Jehovah’s Witnesses are post-resurrection Docetics
- the Jehovah’s Witnesses state that Jesus did not have a physical body after the resurrection
- the Scriptures teach that he clearly did
- secular institutions will minimize the authority and person of Jesus
- ILLUS Let me share with you some tidbits from the history of university education in America. The very first institution of higher learning in America was Harvard. It was founded in order: "To lead a student to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life" and to establish Christ "As the foundation of all sound learning and knowledge." (I don't think you'll find that in their student handbook any longer). Princeton University's founder and first president, was Jonathan Witherspoon, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He wrote: "Cursed be all learning that is contrary to the cross of Christ." Dartmouth University was founded to train missionaries. An early advertisement for Columbia University read: "The chief thing that is aimed at in the college is to teach and train children to know God in Jesus Christ." Yale came into existence in 1701 because conservative Congregationalists believed that Harvard had strayed from its traditional Calvinist orientation. During the 20th century, Yale abandoned its evangelical distinctives altogether. Today, every single one of these institutions is a stronghold of secular humanism, post-modern thought, and political correctness. In most, Christianity is not only not taught, but conservative, orthodox Christianity is openly ridiculed and sneered at.
- they deny his divinity and deny that he said most of what the Gospels claim he said
- ILLUS. Robert Funk, who died in 2005, was considered by many as one of the most influential New Testament scholars of his generation. He served on the faculties of some of the most distinguished universities in America. Yet listen to some of the things he believed. These are all verbatim quotes: 1) We should give Jesus a demotion. It is no longer credible to think of Jesus as divine. 2) A Jesus who drops down out of heaven, performs some magical act that frees human beings from the power of sin, rises from the dead, and returns to heaven is simply no longer credible. The notion that he will return at the end of time and sit in cosmic judgment is equally incredible. 3) The virgin birth of Jesus is an insult to modern intelligence and should be abandoned. 4) The doctrine of the atonement—the claim that God killed his own son in order to satisfy his thirst for satisfaction—is subrational and subethical. [It’s a} monstrous doctrine. 5) The resurrection of Jesus did not involve the resuscitation of a corpse. Jesus did not rise from the dead, except perhaps in some metaphorical sense.
D. 4th, FALSE TEACHERS WILL GENERALLY HAVE A STRONG CHARISMATIC PERSONALITY
- in most false religions, it’s all about the leader and rarely about God
- ILLUS. Jemima Wilkinson is one such example. (I love American religious history) She was born in Rhode Island in 1752. She was raised by Quaker parents who provided a religious education, but she later became a religion unto herself. She was a very charismatic speaker who convinced a following of 350 people that she had been raised from the dead at age twenty. She claimed to be a “holy vessel of Jesus Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit.” She renamed herself the “Publick Universal Friend” and thereafter never answered to her birth name, but only to the “the Friend.” Her followers thought she was the Messiah. At one point in her ministry she took her flock to a lake and begged the question, "Do you think I can walk on this water like Jesus did?" When they all affirmed she could, she said, "Well then, there is no point in me doing it." When she died in 1820, the sect followed her strict orders not to bury her. She had told them, "Don't bury me, because God is going to raise me from the dead." As Wilkinson's body decomposed over the next several days, her following died off as well. (Pun intended).
E. 5th, FALSE TEACHERS WILL EMPHASIZE A SALVATION BY WORKS
- they minimize the grace of God
- this is the Jesus-plus Plan
- salvation is Jesus plus baptism
- salvation is Jesus plus living right
- salvation is Jesus plus good works
- salvation is Jesus plus church membership
- salvation is Jesus plus nothing!
- “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” (Romans 10:9–10, NIV84)
- “for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13, NIV84)
- Monergism—(the word means one work) states that the regeneration and salvation of the sinner is the work of God through His Holy Spirit alone
- it sees salvation as the work of God alone, from first to last
- it means that we’re saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to the Scriptures alone, for the glory of God alone
- this is the historic Baptist position and anyone who says otherwise simply does not know their Baptist history
- ILLUS. Listen to what our Baptist Faith and Message affirms about the Doctrine of Salvation: Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer. In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God's grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace. Repentance is a genuine turning from sin toward God. Faith is the acceptance of Jesus Christ and commitment of the entire personality to Him as Lord and Savior.
- this is essentially the view that God and humanity work together, each doing their part to accomplish salvation in and for the individual
- it’s faith plus works
- unfortunately it’s what the vast majority of Americans believe about salvation
- ILLUS. In a 2009 religious survey of American adults by Christian pollster George Barna, 74% deny the biblical teaching of original sin. Half of all adults (50%) argue that anyone who "is generally good or does enough good things for others during their life will earn a place in Heaven." Although that view is generally considered to be Catholic doctrine and is one of the core beliefs over which the Protestant Reformation was waged, four out of ten Protestants accept this view of salvation ensured by good deeds.
THE JESUS TEST (vv. 2-3)
- “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, 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.” (1 John 4:2–3, NIV84)
- the first diagnostic of determining false prophets from true prophets and false Gospels from The Gospel is the truth test:
- What does an honest and systematic study of the Bible teach?
- the second diagnostic of determining false prophets from true prophets and false Gospels from The Gospel is the Jesus test:
- What does a preacher, prophet, priest or group teach about Jesus?
- if a group doesn’t get their teaching about Jesus right, nothing else matters
A. JESUS IS FULLY GOD AND FULLY MAN
- any system, any theology, any Church, any preacher that belittles His deity or dishonors His humanity is not worth following
- the Apostle John says that those who deny either have the spirit of the antichrist
- the cornerstone of Christian theology, the awesome event upon which hinges the entire impact of Church doctrine, is the Incarnation of Jesus into the world, and His actual physical death upon the Cross of Calvary
- except for the passion and death of the Savior, there could be ...
- no remission of sins for the wayward
- no hope of salvation for the faithful
- no promise of resurrection for the dead
- in spite of the mystery that surrounded this fateful episode of religious history, the Gospels contend four great truths about Jesus ...
- One, Jesus is eternal, He was not created
- Two, Jesus is God in the flesh
- Three, Jesus is God the Son, and is as “God” as God the Father
- Four, Jesus is the only way to God
Years ago there was a television game show entitled “Truth or Consequences.” Most people who are old enough to remember will associate that show with Bob Barker. The contestants on the show were given the responsibility of determining the truth about people, places, events or things by answering a series of questions. At the conclusion of each show they would reveal the truth about the topic of discussion.
Believers have been give the task of discovering truth or facing the consequences.