[This is a message that I shared at my church on May 25, 2008.]
My first scripture this morning is 2 Corinthians 11:3:
But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.
This is also my fear, and I figure if Paul could admit to it, so can I. I’ve been talking for a while about God moving in Glen, sending His Holy Spirit in power, Christ using our hands to heal people, and our mouths to boldly proclaim His Truth.
So why am I afraid? Well, I lived through this process once before, and it wasn’t always a smooth road. I’m not an expert, by any means, but I did learn some things the hard way. I thought if I shared some of those today, perhaps the church in Glen could avoid some of the pitfalls.
The first big lesson I learned is this: not everything that is spiritual is from God. When the Holy Spirit moves, so does Satan. Now, we don’t like to talk about Satan, and some people think he doesn’t even exist. If you’re in that group, I have a little stat for you. In the New American Standard Version of the New Testament, the words devil or satan or demon or antichrist are used 146 times. Now I can’t believe God’s Word would talk about something that much if it didn’t exist, so I’m a believer. Satan is real.
He’s called by many names in the Bible. Jesus said he’s the father of lies. He’s called a murderer, the evil one, the tempter, an unclean Spirit, the accuser, the adversary, the deceiver. He doesn’t show up with horns and a pitchfork. He disguises himself as an angel of light, all the better to deceive us.
“Well, so what?” you say. “I still don’t want to know about Satan. I’d rather hear about something uplifting.” Well, listen again to the words of our Lord:
Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves.
Many other times the Bible tells us to seek wisdom and discernment. Here are a couple more:
(Proverbs 2:2-5) Make your ear attentive to wisdom, Incline your heart to understanding; For if you cry for discernment, Lift your voice for understanding; If you seek her as silver, And search for her as for hidden treasures; Then you will discern the fear of the LORD, And discover the knowledge of God.
(Hebrews 5:14) But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.
So in the spiritual realm, there is good and there is evil, and we’re instructed to learn the difference between the two. So how do we do that? How can we keep from being deceived by the father of lies?
Some people just say, “Well, God will protect me.” That’s true, of course, but is that what our response should be?
Many, many years ago, when I was being a bratty little kid, as I often was, my darling older brothers used to say to me, “Why don’t you go play in traffic?” Obviously, I didn’t take their advice. But what if I had? Would God have protected me when I was a 4-year-old? Maybe. But what if I ran out in traffic when I was 10 or 18? What if I did it today? Would God protect me? I wouldn’t want to test Him on it.
The point here is that God teaches us things, in the same way that our parents taught us not to play in traffic. We are supposed to become mature Christians. We are supposed to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, that we may prove what the will of God is.
And when He’s taught us something, He expects us to walk in it. When Jesus says “Beware of the wolves,” He expects us to beware, to be cautious and alert and discerning. So I think throwing your hands up in the air and saying, “God will protect us” is a lot like running out to play in traffic.
Other people say discernment is simply a feeling they get, an inner witness of the Holy Spirit. In fact, that’s what I used to think, until I found out the hard way that it’s not always easy to tell my own feelings from the witness of the Holy Spirit.
When I was a new Christian, I was dying to self on a regular basis. Every Sunday morning like clockwork, our pastor would preach his sermon, I would be convicted, and find myself once again at the altar confessing to God and asking for forgiveness. There were 39 years of things I had to unlearn, and at the time, I didn’t think the process was very enjoyable. I got tired of continuous repentance. My knees were sore. After a few months of this, I prayed and asked God if His people weren’t allowed to have fun. I wanted to have some fun. God answered that prayer within a week. A Christian man at church came into my life, and we had a lot of fun together: going canoeing, going hiking, building a train set for Aaron. While we were having all this fun, he lied to me and to the whole church. It turns out he was still married to someone else. He lied to me about many other things, too — and I believed him.
More importantly, the exposure of his lies drove me back to my knees before the Lord.“God! Why did You allow this to happen? Why didn’t You protect me?” I was distraught, and it took quite a while for me to understand. After a tough lesson in forgiveness, though, I did finally understand. The bottom line? I was in rebellion against God. I didn’t want to repent any more. I was tired of looking at my faults. I wanted to have fun. Fun became an idol that was more important to me than following Jesus. I laid down my cross, and was deceived by another voice. This is the scripture that I applied, from John 15:4.
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
My heart was not abiding in the vine, so the fruit of discernment was missing. Only when I was abiding in the vine would I be able to discern.So I repented, again, and Jesus was once more on the throne in my heart. It wasn’t long after, that God brought Tom into my life … but that’s another story.
So let me summarize to this point:
- not everything spiritual is from God.
- When God moves, Satan moves.
- Mature Christians learn to discern the difference between good and evil.
- We need to apply the things God has taught us. Don’t play in traffic.
- We need to abide in the vine to have discernment. Rebellion leaves us exposed.
If that’s what not to do, where do we go from here? How do we keep from being deceived and led astray? Well, let’s see how our Lord and Savior did it.
(Matthew 4:1-4:11) Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.’” Then the devil took Him into the holy city; and he had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘HE WILL GIVE HIS ANGELS CHARGE CONCERNING YOU’; and ‘ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, LEST YOU STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.’” Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.’” Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory; and he said to Him, “All these things will I give You, if You fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Begone, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.’” Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.
Jesus responded to the devil with scripture. If you remember nothing else that I say today, remember that. You might also note that in order to be able to respond with scripture, Jesus had to be familiar with scripture. You might want to remember that, too.
There are many other things in the Bible that I know God will gladly teach us about discernment if we ask, but I’m going to share just one more idea: seek God’s truth, love God’s truth, hold fast to God’s truth.
This isn’t a popular stand these days. It’s not politically correct to say that Jesus is the only way. We’re supposed to say instead that there are many roads to a higher power and spiritual enlightenment, and everybody should follow their own path. But Jesus said this:
I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.
If we believe anything that Jesus said, then we have to believe this.
There is good and there is evil. There is truth and there are lies. We must love the truth and cling to it, because 2 Thessalonians says that if we don’t receive a love for the truth, then God will send a deluding influence on us. Here’s the passage:
And then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved And for this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.
Spiritual discernment is a big topic that we could study for years, so today is only a small introduction. But being familiar with the truth of God’s scriptures is a big part of discernment. Loving God’s truth above our own selfish desires is another big part. I encourage you to pick up your Bible this week and ask God to show you something you need to learn about discernment. He’s faithful. He’ll answer you.
Benediction: May we all seek God’s truth, and abide in the Vine that saved us on Calvary, and saves us still. Amen.
 2 Corinthians 11:3
 2 Corinthians 11:3
 John 8:44
 Matthew 10:16
 Proverbs 2″:2-5
 Hebrews 5:14
 Romans 12:2
 John 15:4
 John 14:6
 2 Thessalonians 2:9-11