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.

How we Respond to Christ’s People when they are Oppressed Reveals the condition of our Heart

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:41-46)

The Scripture virtually applies itself, right? Think about it. How many of those adjectives fit the Christian who is being terrorized by an abuser? –

  • Hungry
  • Thirsty
  • Stranger (isolated by her abuser)
  • Naked (another sign of economic oppression)
  • Sick (most victims suffer from poor health)
  • In prison (abuse is a prison, and the legal abuse so often effected by the abuser through the courts is a kind of prison)

Who is it that Jesus has a beef with in this Scripture? Answer: “Christians” who blew off such a person’s needs. Notice carefully (read the entire passage to see this more clearly) that Jesus is saying that the acid test that discerns a sheep from a goat is how a person treats one of Christ’s true people when they are in need or distress. This passage is not about the typical social ministries churches so often carry out and even boast of (prison ministries, feeding the poor, etc). Those are actually easy things to do and they earn society’s praise. No. Jesus is speaking here of true Christians who are oppressed for being Christians and of how a person who claims to be a Christian responds to them.

This Scripture would indicate that there are lots and lots and lots of pastors and church leaders and church members who CLAIM to be followers of Jesus Christ but who, indeed, are not. How do we know? Because the typical response of churches to abuse victims is… well, you all know the answer, don’t you?

And therefore, there are many people today who claim the name of Jesus Christ for themselves who ought to be doing some serious soul-searching about the reality of their professed salvation. After all, they are flunking the very test our Lord has set out here.  Pretty sobering, huh?

Some Thoughts on Broadway, the Narrow Way, and Abuse

The Large Majority of Professing Christians Travel on Broadway, and thus are not Christians at all

Matthew 7:12-16  “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.  “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?

Now here is a point that I am trying to emphasize more and more lately.  These kinds of warnings in Scripture are primarily addressed to people who claim to be followers of Christ.  Christ is speaking primarily to the Jews here. “He came to His own…I have come to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  Go back through the Old Testament and you will find that the prophets were sent to Israel with few exceptions. The same is true in the New Testament Scriptures which primarily address people who profess to be Christians.

And so it is here in Matthew 7. Christ is telling us about two ways: the narrow gate, and the way that leads to destruction.  He compares and contrasts the two:

Narrow Way    
Narrow (difficult)
Leads to Life
Few travelers
True prophets

Broadway Wide and easy
Leads to destruction
Packed with traffic
False Prophets

These two ways, I suggest to you, are pictures of the true church versus the apostate church.  Not so much the church vs the world, but rather two churches, one true and the other false.  From Christ’s words here we can confidently conclude then:

  1. Most people who profess to be Christians do not belong to Christ at all. We must, therefore, stop assuming that most everyone who claims the name of Christ really belongs to Him.
  2. Most people who claim to be Christians are going to end in hell (destruction).
  3. Most of what claims to be the church of Jesus Christ, is not. That is to say, most visible churches, “christian” denominations, etc are on Broadway, packed with false believers, taught and led by false prophets.

How can we tell the difference?  By their fruits. Not so much by what they say (though that needs to be examined as one “fruit” as well) but by their practice.

Matthew 7:20-23  Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

See it again?  I cannot emphasize strongly enough how important this is for us to all get hold of. ALL the people the Lord is speaking of judging on that Day here call Him Lord and spent their lives claiming to serve Him.  Yet MANY are not known by Him at all.

If you have at all bought into the notion that infects the visible church today that assumes most all who say they are Christians surely are, that most everyone is surely going to end in heaven, then you need to seriously re-examine your thoughts in light of Scripture.  It seems that in so many local churches and “Christian” organizations today, the only thing regarded as heresy is to doubt someone’s salvation!

The fact that oppressed people like domestic violence victims and sexual abuse victims are being dealt rank injustice in what claims to be the Christian church today, and that the wicked such as domestic violence abusers and sexual predators are being enabled and allowed to remain in the pews, is strong evidence of a widespread denial of the faith once and for all delivered to the saints.