To Discern Good from Evil, You Must be Born Again

[The following is excerpted from July 6, 2014 sermon  at Christ Reformation Church. You may listen to or read the entire sermon at sermonaudio.com/crc]

Faith is the means by which we overcome the world, by which we resolve to not love the world, by which we have eyes to see that the world is indeed passing away, that the Day of the Lord is coming, and by which we do the will of God.  This is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith – because it is by faith that we are justified in Christ. By faith we discern His Word from the lies of the evil one. By faith we follow Him.

Let’s think our way through Paul’s words here in 1 Thes 5:19-22  –

1 Thessalonians 5:19-22  Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.

  • Do not quench the Spirit.  Now normally we think that this means we should not sin and grieve the Holy Spirit, which certainly is true. However, in this context I suggest that not quenching the Spirit is directly connected with the recognition of and reception of the Word of God as truth and the rejection of lies by which the enemy tries to deceive us.  In other words, as you will be hearing in the Sunday School study of Acts, not quenching the Spirit means receiving God’s Word as God’s Word and rejecting man’s word as nothing but man’s word.
  • Do not despise prophecies.  It is the Spirit, you see, by whom the Lord gives prophecies – ie, gives us His Word. The Spirit is the One who inspired and inerrantly directed the human authors of Scripture. Quenching the Spirit is to reject the Spirit’s word (and in our day, that means Scripture) and embrace falsehood that claims to be from God.  Despising prophecy, that is to say, despising God’s Word is to quench the ministry of the Spirit.
  • Test everything. Hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.  Do you see how this flows?  Not quenching the Spirit, not despising the Spirit’s Word, is effected then by testing everything. That is to say, everything that comes our way claiming to be of and from God. We must be able to discern good from evil, hold to the good, and reject the evil.

And I am suggesting to you that what this requires is this gift given us by God called faith.  It is by faith that we recognize God’s Word for what it is and by which we reject falsehoods. Where this faith is absent, Christ is absent. Eyes remain blinded and ears stopped.

Isaiah 6:8-10  And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”  (9)  And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’  (10)  Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”Isaiah 29:10-14  For the LORD has poured out upon you a spirit of deep sleep, and has closed your eyes (the prophets), and covered your heads (the seers).  (11)  And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.”  (12)  And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot read.”  (13)  And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,  (14)  therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”

No eyes and ears of faith, you see. Thus no discernment, and thus the embracing of commandments taught by men and a rejection of the Word of God.  And all of this, remember, by a people who were called God’s people. People who claimed to worship him. Who “honored” Him with their mouths. Religious people. The “Christians” of that day.  But there was no faith in them, thus no life in them, no obedience to the Lord.

I must conclude that an absence of this faith, and thus an absence of justification before God, a void of the regeneration of hearts, is largely why the visible church is in the sad condition it is in today. And the reason why abuse victims are given such sore treatment while the wicked remain enabled and justified by their churches. Because by faith, Noah (see Hebrews 11) “saw” the flood that was to come and built the ark. By this faith Abraham packed it up, left his home country, and set out to a place he had never seen. Noah and Abraham believed God. They had the eyes and ears of faith.

By faith we discern God’s Word from man’s counterfeit religion and tradition. By faith we sort out good from evil, clinging to the former and rejecting the latter. Faith – the real article that is a gift of God to every single one of His people – enables these abilities in us. By this faith, as described in the London Confession of Faith –

… the Christian believes to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word for the authority of God himself, and also apprehends an excellency therein above all other writings and all things in the world, as it bears forth the glory of God in his attributes, the excellency of Christ in his nature and offices, and the power and fullness of the Holy Spirit in his workings and operations: and so is enabled to cast his soul upon the truth consequently believed; and also acts differently upon that which each particular passage thereof contains; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life and that which is to come; but the principle acts of saving faith have immediate relation to Christ, accepting, receiving, and resting upon him alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.

Therefore I recommend to you that wherever you see a void of discernment between good and evil, where the wicked are enabled and the oppressed are rejected, you will also see an inability to recognize God’s Word and Truth and instead an embracing of man-made religious traditions which parade as God’s Word. You will have disobedience to Christ’s commands, a lack of fear at His threatenings, and a disbelief in His promises.

Are these not the very things we are seeing in so many, many local churches today? A vacuum of faith.

If you are a Christian, then this faith IS in you. By it the Holy Spirit enables you to recognize Christ’s voice as He speaks to His sheep (John 10) and to reject the voice of a counterfeit stranger. By faith, we understand God’s word to be real wisdom and we reject the “wisdom” of this world as foolishness. By faith we discern the spirits (1 John 4:1) to see if they are from God or not. And it is this faith operating in us that will set us apart from those “sheep” who do not have it. Ultimately, this is the reason so many of us have found ourselves walking a different path than the religious crowd around us.

1 Thessalonians 5:19-22  Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.

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