Monday, October 21, 2013

Distinguishing Strange Fire from a True Work of the Spirit (Part 1)

Last week I participated in live streaming the Strange Fire conference. Lots of controversy ensued as cessationists made their case. One of the saddest displays, for me personally, was the appearance of Mark Driscoll to hand out books as a kind of publicity stunt. In the midst of it all, I began to get questions from members of my own church about the biblical understanding of the Holy Spirit and his work. I thought it would be interesting to begin discussing this by working through "The Distinguishing Marks of a work of the Spirit of God," by Jonathan Edwards.

Edwards begins his work by pointing out that true works of the Spirit have always been accompanied by counterfeit works. As the Holy Spirit blows, so too do Satan and his emissaries. Therefore, the church needs rules to distinguish between a true work of the Spirit and a counterfeit. Edwards takes us to 1 John 4 as the fullest treatment in the Bible on marks for discerning a true Spirit from a false one.

Edwards begins by pointing out that believers must be on the alert for false spirits. We must not be those who readily admit that every ordinary, or extraordinary, claim of a move of the Holy Spirit is true. We must be ready to examine every such claim against the signs of a true work of the Spirit given to us by the apostle John in 1 John 4.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.--1 John 4:1

We are commanded by the apostle to not believe every spirit, but to test the spirits. We must be on guard against false spirits. False moves of the Spirit claim to be from God. They appear to look like a true Spirit. Those who perform them look like real sheep and real shepherds. However, we are to be on guard and to test. Why are we to test them? Because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 

We live in a day when we are told not to question someone's sincere experience. However, the apostle is clearly commanding us not to believe everyone's experience, not even our own. We must test every spirit against the rule of the Word of God. Everything must be examined according to the Word the Spirit superintended. Reserving a positive judgment on someone's "experience of the Spirit" is not cynicism. It is obedience to the apostle's command. Test the spirits. Test them against the Word.

The apostle lays out several marks of the work of the true Spirit of God. Edwards works through those marks. However, Edwards begins by making a negative case. He begins by demonstrating what are not signs or evidences of a work of the Spirit of God. We will turn to those negative signs in the next post.

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