Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Distinguishing Strange Fire from a True Work of the Spirit (Part 7)

Edwards provides 3 more positive signs to know if a work is a true work of the Spirit. I want to give a brief overview of those 3 positive signs in today's post.

1. "The spirit that operates in such a manner, as to cause in men a greater regard to the Holy Scriptures, and establishes them more in their truth and divinity, is certainly the Spirit of God." Commenting on 1 John 4:6 Edwards rightly establishes that a true work of the Spirit is a work which causes us to love his word more and to gain a clearer understanding of his word. If you see a work of a spirit which is not bringing about a greater hunger for the word of God in Scripture, and a greater illumination of God's word to the mind, then you are not seeing a true work of the Spirit of God. Satan may appear as an angel of light but he never points people to the light of God in the Word. Rather, he leads them to increasing darkness. He confuses their minds and leaves them with strange and novel interpretations of what God has said. Satan started this practice in the Garden and he continues it to this day.

2. "...if by observing the manner of the operation of a spirit that is at work among a people, we see that it operates as a spirit of truth, leading persons to truth, convincing them of those things that are true, we may safely determine that it is a right and true spirit." A true work of the Spirit of God leads men away from error into truth. Satan is a deceiver. The Spirit of God is the truth teller. If a work of a spirit is leading us away from the lies of Satan and to the truth, that spirit is the Spirit.

3. "If the spirit that is at work among a people operates as a spirit of love to God and man, it is a sure sign that it is the Spirit of God." Edwards draws this mark from the rest of 1 John 4, but particularly from v. 12-13, "No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit." Edwards presses us to define love as it is so in 1 John 4. This kind of sacrificial payment of great cost to self for the sake of showing kindness to others is the work of the Spirit of God.

However, Edwards warns us that there is a counterfeit of this love which often appears among those with a spirit of delusion. "Indeed there is a counterfeit love, that often appears among those who are led by a spirit of delusion. There is commonly in the wildest enthusiasts, a kind of union and affection, arising from self-love, occasioned by their agreeing in those things wherein they greatly differ from all others, and from which they are the objects of the ridicule of all the rest of mankind. This naturally will cause them so much the more to prize those peculiarities that make them the object of others' contempt." Edwards names groups such as the Gnostics, and fanatics like the Quakers. He goes on to argue that true love is marked by humility which arises from an apprehension of the free grace and sovereignty of God's love to us in Christ.

Let me conclude by reminding my brothers and sisters in Christ that we are not cynical, or quenching the Spirit, when we don't believe every spirit. We are being obedient! We are commanded by God to not believe every spirit but to test them, for many false spirits have gone out into the world. I pray we will take the apostle's admonition seriously and test claims of a work of the Spirit. We are commanded to do no less.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Distinguishing Strange Fire from a True Work of the Spirit (Part 6)

Today we turn to the second positive sign that a work is of the Spirit of God. Edwards said, "when the spirit that is at work operates against the interests of Satan's kingdom, which lies in encouraging and establishing sin, and cherishing men's worldly lusts; this is a sure sign that it is a true, and not a false spirit."

Working through 1 John 4, Edwards has come to v. 4-5 in which John says, "Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them." Edwards wants to drive home the point that a true work of the Spirit causes us to overcome worldliness, not to press further into worldliness. He argued that his readers need to understand John's use of "the world" as defined by 1 John 2:15-16.

Edwards rightly argues from his understanding of 1 John that a spirit that is at work "after such a manner, as to lessen men's esteem of the pleasures, profits, and honours of the world, and to take off their hearts from an eager pursuit after these things; and to engage them in a deep concern about a future state and eternal happiness which the gospel reveals--and puts them upon earnestly seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and the spirit that convinces them of the dreadfulness of sin, the guilt it brings, and the misery to which it exposes, must needs be the Spirit of God."

As a short summary, we have learned so far that 2 positive marks of a true work of the Spirit are that He causes in us (1) a growing esteem for the biblical Jesus, and (2) a growth in holiness as defined by turning away from worldliness and the vileness of sin unto Christ and his righteousness.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Distinguishing Strange Fire from a True Work of the Spirit (Part 5)

Today we turn to consider the sure marks and evidences of a work of the Holy Spirit. Edwards used 1 John 4 as his text and confined his marks of a true work to that text. We will consider those marks from 1 John 4 with him. Let me remind you of the command to be cautious and to "test" claims of a work of the Spirit. Let's be careful to remember that we are not quenching the Spirit, nor being cynical, when we are cautious and test claims. Instead we are being obedient to a direct command.

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

Mark 1~ "When the operation is such as to raise their esteem of that Jesus who was born of the Virgin, and was crucified without the gates of Jerusalem; and seems more to confirm and establish their minds in the truth of what the gospel declares to us of his being the Son of God, and the Saviour of men; is a sure sign that it is from the Spirit of God." Edwards points to this mark of a true work of the Spirit from 1 John 4:2-3. When a claimed work of the Spirit of God is such as to "convince them of Christ, and lead them to him--to confirm their minds in the belief of the history of Christ as he appeared in the flesh--and that he is the Son of God, and was sent of God to save sinners; that he is the only Saviour, and that they stand in great need of him; and if he seems to beget in them higher and more honourable thoughts of him than they used to have, and to incline their affections more to him; it is a sure sign that it is a true and right Spirit."

The apostle John is likely rebuking docetists as he writes this in 1 John. Docetists would claim to believe in Jesus. They denied he had an actual physical body. They believed he only appeared to have physicality. Edwards understands properly that John is arguing that a true work of the Spirit leads us to a greater understanding and affection for the true biblical Christ (though he would also be clear to say that the Holy Spirit could point you to the true Christ as he hardens your heart). Edwards points out the false Christ extolled among the Quakers. He is basically arguing the Holy Spirit leads us into a true biblical understanding of Christ, as best expressed historically in the great Christian creeds.  

Here is the nub of this point: If your "experience of the spirit" does not lead you to a truer understanding and affection for the biblical Jesus, as he is faithfully expressed in the Christian creeds, then your experience can't be trusted. The Mormons claimed great experiences of the spirit, including speaking in tongues, emotional experiences, hearing from God, and healings. Satan is capable of of counterfeits. We must not believe every spirit. We must test them. Tomorrow I will turn to more of Edwards' marks of a true work of the Spirit.