Try The Spirits
June 24, 1962 / No. 3727
Dear Radio Friends,
Today, as the church of Jesus Christ, we celebrate one of the greatest gifts that Christ has ever given: the outpoured Holy Spirit, given to work in the church and in our children, bringing all the blessings of our salvation that Jesus won for us upon the cross. Today is Pentecost Sunday. Fifty days after Jesus arose from the dead, ten days after He ascended up into heaven, He poured out the Comforter, as He promised, even the Holy Spirit of truth, to abide with us forever.
It happened at 9:00 in the morning. Acts 2:1-13 tell us that the hundred and twenty disciples were gathered together in Jerusalem and that suddenly there was a sound as of a mighty rushing wind. There were cloven tongues as of fire that sat upon the head of each of the disciples. And they all spake in different tongues the wonderful works of God. The Holy Spirit, as the Spirit of the risen Lord, was poured out upon the church with irresistible power to cleanse us from our sins and to gather by the Word all of Christ’s own out of all nations and thus form the one church of Jesus Christ.
If someone were to ask you as a Christian: “What is Pentecost?” were you aware it is today? If someone were to ask you, “Who is the Holy Spirit? What does He do?” would you be able to answer with more than just a sentence or two, with more than just a “Hm-m-m, I’m not sure”? Young people, would you be able to answer? Children, what about you? Who is the Holy Spirit? What does He do? You say, “Well, I could say something about the birth of Jesus, and the death of Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus, and maybe even something about the ascension of Jesus. But Pentecost? The outpouring of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ? Hm-m-m.” You do not know much about that?
I can give you a little excuse. The work of the Holy Spirit, according to the Scriptures, is self-effacing, that is, the Holy Spirit always covers Himself. Jesus said, “He shall not speak of himself; …he shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you” (John 16:13, 14). But, nevertheless, if you and I do not know the work of the Holy Spirit, we dishonor Jesus Christ. We dishonor God. We show that we are not appreciative of the greatest gift, the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Still more. If we do not appreciate the work of the Holy Spirit being poured out upon the church, then we are exposed to being deceived by the spirit of the antichrist, the spirit of falsehood, because one of the most important and crucial works of the Holy Spirit in the church is the work of leading the church into all the truth. Jesus emphasized this almost exclusively when He told the disciples that the Spirit was going to return after He left. He said, in John 14-16, that the Holy Spirit would comfort them, but repeatedly He emphasized that the Holy Spirit would lead them into the truth. “But when he is come (the Spirit of truth), he will guide you into all the truth.”
The Holy Spirit does that through the Scriptures, the Bible, the Word of truth. You see, it is not the Spirit guiding us or the Word of God guiding us, but it is the Spirit and the Word; or, better, the Holy Spirit works through the Scriptures. In this way, and in this way alone, He keeps the child of God from being seduced, from being led astray by error, which is so great and prevalent today.
It is the work of the Holy Spirit, through the Scriptures, to teach the church to confess the truth of Jesus Christ. It is the work of the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures to keep you, as a child of God, from falling away and being swallowed up by error. It is the work of the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures to work in your heart, as a child of God, to know the truth and to be blessed in it.
There is a passage in the Bible that speaks of the work of the Holy Spirit in this regard. It is found in I John 4:1-3 where we read, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into this world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.” There the Scriptures tell us about the work of the Holy Spirit of guiding the church into an understanding of the truth. The apostle says, “Try the spirits whether they are of God.” It is the calling of every child of God who has received the Spirit of Christ to be trying the spirits.
Now, by the word “spirits” there is not meant ghosts or devils or demons, but teachings, and specifically false teachings, brought by flesh-and-blood men. He goes on to say: “Because many false prophets are gone out into this world”—the spirit of error. The apostle John is talking about ideas, attitudes, thoughts that gain acceptance among men, that begin to infiltrate people’s thinking and take hold upon the mind and the heart; teachings that, in fact, we pick up on and that would move us in one direction or another. In one word: the spirits that we are to try are every teaching, every idea, every attitude that would attempt to lodge within us in our thoughts—specifically, every thought, every teaching, that is contrary to God’s Word. Try the spirits!
Sometimes those teachings, attitudes, or thoughts are seemingly insignificant and minor, something, you might say, that does not matter—it is insignificant. It may be the subtle nuance of a TV commercial. It may be a joke about marriage that was told you in the office. It may have come through something you read in the paper or heard on the radio. It may filter down into your mind and heart through the lyric of some song. Not necessarily something abrupt, but an idea, a teaching, an attitude confronting you day after day after day, attempting to gain acceptance in your mind and to regulate how you will think, how you will act, and how you will view life. That attitude, that thought that is attempting to infiltrate itself into you, may appear to be harmless, non-threatening. It may even come as something that is apparently good and passionate, and something that is yearning for your acceptance.
But the Word of God tells us that these spirits are false prophets who are gone out into the world. And we are to test, by the Word of God, in dependence upon the Spirit’s work in our heart, every teaching, every idea, and every attitude—because false spirits are gone out into the world. The idea is this: As the church sends out into the world teachers, ministers, and missionaries; and as the ordinary believer goes forth into his job to speak the truth of God; so also the kingdom of darkness, Satan, sends out into the world false prophets. False prophets are those who contradict the Word of God. They do not take their starting point saying, “Thus saith the Lord. The Lord has spoken.” But they take their starting point with the words, literally, of Satan: “Hath God said? Is that really true? Is not the Word of God somewhat repressive and restrictive? Is it not misguided at certain points? Is it not really a compilation of various myths and traditions? Doesn’t it really, at times, express a bigoted attitude?” These spirits, these false ideas, these false, heretical teachings can come forth even from the church. When the church begins to allow (and say) that the Scriptures are not the sole authority; when the church says that creation did not happen, as God’s Word plainly says, in six 24-hour days but it was over a long period of time; when the church begins to say that those doctrines of an eternal predestination, of an unconditional election and reprobation, those are unbiblical and not taught in the Bible—then out of the church itself are coming false spirits, false prophets.
Especially there is the false spirit going forth, which has claimed a place in the hearts of a vast multitude, that says, “Religion is all about you and your feelings. It’s all about community and meaningful relationships. It’s all about connecting with yourself. It’s all about fulfillment.” These are false spirits. These false spirits can come to us from the world. They can be, perhaps, the idea that there is no ultimate truth, there is no one code of behavior. There are many ways of approaching God. There are many ways of identifying God. There is one God, but everybody worships Him in different ways and calls Him by different names. These spirits go forth into the world. They are false spirits. And the Bible says, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God.”
That means that when the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the church He says to that church, “The Scriptures are the foundation of all truth.” And the church and the believer must subject all things to the teaching of the Scriptures. Therefore, the church on earth is a thinking church. The believer on earth is a thinking Christian. The church must reason from the Scriptures. The believer must learn from the Scriptures to be discerning. That is the exercise of the mind. Is it not a striking thing today that men and women can think, and think well, on almost every topic except religion. Then, it seems, that the brain is turned off and we have to be spoon-fed. But the Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit, are telling us the very opposite: “You must first of all think.” If you are inclined to spiritual laziness, if you think, “Well, you know, if you want me to have religion, you had better make it pretty easy, because if it’s not easy, I’m out of here, I’m not going to listen,” then you are set up for destruction. The Holy Spirit makes you a discerning spirit, makes you a discerning Christian. Lethargy is a sin, it is spiritual pride.
Very often there is in the church the attitude, “Well, I really don’t concern myself with doctrine. Our minister, evidently, is a great man. He’s an inspiring leader. He probably knows what the truth is.” Do you discern? Do you read the Scriptures? You are called to be a discerning Christian. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. The work of the Holy Spirit is not some type of emotional upheaval bringing you to where you know not. But it is the work of the intelligent Holy Spirit giving you to understand the mind and the thoughts of God as they are revealed to you in the sound doctrines of the holy Scriptures. What do you believe from those Scriptures? You say you have the Spirit? Well, what do you believe, then?
If you do not know, then you had better get on your knees with an open Bible and find out. You had better come under instruction, sound instruction, from the holy Scriptures. That is your need. That is the need of your family. That is where you have to have your family. You have to bring your family under the truth, the truth of God’s Word.
That is a calling for all of us, every one of us. The apostle says, “Beloved, believe not every spirit.” Do not believe every spirit that is going around. You have to try those spirits by the Word of God. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. That is certainly the work of ministers and of elders. That is certainly their work in the church of Jesus Christ. The work of a faithful minister and the work of faithful elders is to take heed to the doctrine, the teachings of the Word of God, and to know them and to preach them and to teach them faithfully to the people of God. Is that what your pastor is doing? Is that what you elders are doing? If so, by the grace of God, then you ought to be today profoundly thankful to God. You had better have your eyes open for what a blessing that is. That is the evidence that you are a church of Pentecost, that the Holy Spirit is in your midst. Do nothing to grieve the Holy Spirit, then, through pettiness and bickering and raising up side issues, issues among the people of God that are hard, perhaps, to discern, that is, issues related to things of spiritual maturity. Do not cause division in the church over your own opinions. But if the Word of God is being taught faithfully, then be thankful to God for that.
It is the calling, nevertheless, of all of us. Each child of God must discern the truth. Each child of God is now filled with the Holy Spirit. Joel prophesied that the Holy Spirit would be poured out upon sons and daughters, upon old men and old women. The idea of being filled with the Holy Spirit is not a life of being swept up in the clouds of spiritual utopia. But to be filled with the Holy Spirit is to be waked out of stupor, out of indifference, and to be made alert on the battlefield and strengthened for the fight.
The words that we are looking at from I John were written by the apostle John. John’s purpose in this epistle was that we have fellowship with God. He says, “I write of those things that we have seen and heard, and we declare them to you.” Why? In chapter 1:3 we read, “That ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father; and with his Son Jesus Christ.” The purpose of John in writing this epistle is that we have fellowship with the Father and with His Son. And now he tells us that error, false teaching, is destructive of fellowship with God. Those spirits lead us away from the presence and the experience of God’s fellowship. As a child of God, you must try the spirits, you must repudiate error, in order that you might experience fellowship with God and with one another.
So this applies to all of our life. To try the spirits is to subject all things to the teaching of the infallible Scriptures. It means that you will become a humble and diligent student of those Scriptures. You will love the biblical and Reformed faith. You will attend that church which preaches the truth. And under the preaching of that truth you will listen and grow. You will read sound, biblical expositions. You will read good, sound material. And you will teach your children how to read. You will teach your children how to be critical in their thinking. You will explain things to them from the Word of God—not simply tell them the do’s and the don’ts. You will seek to train up your child to be a discerning Christian, able to understand, able to think biblically, able to think the thoughts of God after God.
That means that you will not say to your child, “Well, sheer enjoyment and relaxation shall be our goal.” But you will teach your child to say, “What does God say about this? What is being said in this book? What is being said by this documentary you are watching? Child, you have to be on your guard. You must examine. You must not simply accept something on its face value. You must be discerning in the Word of God.” In college, when you are assigned to read a book, and when you listen to a lecture, you must discern them according to the truths of God’s Word.
You will then be busy, if you are filled with the Holy Spirit, with the holy Scriptures. You will be found in a faithful church. You will come under the faithful preaching of the Word of God. And you will be humble, because, as you stand before the Scriptures, you will stand before the revelation of the wisdom of God. You will see that, although those are clear, that is, that you can understand and you can discern the truth, nevertheless, they are profound, they are a great depth. For the Spirit is showing to you the deep things of God.
Discerning the spirits of your day, the attitudes, the trends, the thoughts in the light of holy Scripture—that is the proof of the outpoured Holy Spirit. Has the Spirit been given to you? Here is the test: Do you take the Scriptures as the only authoritative truth? And do you bow humbly before them, seeking to have all of your thoughts, and all of your actions, all of your heart, and all of your desires in conformity more and more with the Scriptures? That is the fruit of the outpoured Spirit.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word. We thank Thee for the wonder of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that we celebrate on this day. We pray, heavenly Father, that He may dwell in us, and that through Him we might come to know the truth. In Jesus’ name, Amen.