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.

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