Discerning the Word of God

Publication:Pastoral Letter, December 2011

Dear Friend in Christ:

I recently read about a hunter who was hunting at night and fell into a deep hole; it took several days for him to get out. Meanwhile friends and family thought he was dead. Many people have walked out into the darkness and have fallen into some deep pit – and never got out.

The world without “The Light of the World” is indeed a dark and dangerous place, but thanks be to God, we need not walk in darkness (see John 8:12; 12:35; 1 Thessalonians 5:4). It is vital for us to know light from darkness, truth from lies, and the real from fantasies. Sadly, there is false guidance that is only darkness disguised.

Nothing is more treacherous than a false guidance that causes us to stumble and robs us of life, righteousness, peace, and joy. The cost of false guidance is indeed incalculable in terms of lives and resources. It is the cause of death on a massive scale. The economic impact alone cannot be measured.

The notion that “truth” is whatever we want it to be is the cause of immeasurable sorrow and national destruction. Living our own way is a sure path to death (see Proverbs 14:12).

The current worldwide collapse of the financial system is a glaring case in point of how false guidance, greed, and immoral behavior have led to terrible disappointment, poverty, deprivation, and even suicide. The last “domino” has not yet fallen.

Given that guidance is so vital to our decisions, the enemy of our souls seeks to destroy us with false guidance and empty assurance. He is called, “the deceiver of the whole world” for good reason (see Revelation 12:9). He is constantly removing the warning signs, changing the “street signs”, and imitating truth with beautiful, but false, promises (see Jeremiah 6:14; Isaiah 57:21).

The book of Lamentations is but one example of what happens when deception succeeds. World War II, the Holocaust, or the USSR would be more modern examples. Failure to hear and see the truth leads to our lamentations.

The problem is that there are many ready to aid and abet our destruction by telling us things that make us comfortable when we should be preparing and making necessary adjustments to our lives. We call those people “false prophets”. The problem is that they operate in every realm of life: spiritual, economic, social, and physical.

Books have been written on this topic and are often written after the damage is done. But here are some characteristics that will help us to recognize false prophets:

  • They are not God seekers but approval seekers
  • They are personally untested
  • They are not authorized by God – not sent
  • They have a self-invented vision (see 2 Peter 2:10-22).
  • They proclaim peace and prosperity without a change of direction
  • When their words fail, they simply move on to the next popular topic
  • They lead an unholy life and are unaccountable for their errors
  • They are motivated by personal rewards and self-promotion (see 2 Peter 2:1-3; 15)
  • Because prophecy and prognostications are revered; they aspire to a platform
  • They cater to a constituency rather than seek to please God alone

The bottom line is that false prophets, whether knowingly or not, promote destruction to the naive and simple-minded. Those characteristics could be taken into any realm: social, spiritual, financial, political, or physical. No facet of life is exempt from false and destructible guidance.

The best answer to that question is to study those who have been proven right over time. Prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the others in the Bible are models to observe. Here are some characteristics of a true prophet.

  • They are a God seeker who only wants His approval, not applause
  • They are inspired by the Holy Spirit
  • They have been personally tested by the truth that they are speaking(see 2 Peter 1:16-21)
  • They have authority, are sent by God, and affirmed by the Holy Spirit(see Matthew 7:29)
  • Their words bring conviction, like a fire and hammer (see Jeremiah 23)
  • Their words cane to pass (see Deuteronomy 18:21,22)
  • They are not deterred in persecution (see Isaiah 6:9-13)
  • They live a godly life and are not self-serving
  • They are passionate about truth
  • They are not smooth, slick, or affirming of bad behavior
  • They are not afraid of being challenged and do not back down on the Word of God

True prophets do not have to look for persecution; their only task is to be true to the truth, even to their own hurt. Remember, we worship Jesus now, but His generation crucified Him. We laud the apostles now, but most were martyred. In both cases, with Jesus and the apostles, they saved many souls and lives by their sacrifice. Next to obeying God, salvation is their passion. They are usually not appreciated by contemporaries, but memorials are built in their memory by future generations.

The Bereans are remembered for searching the Scriptures to validate the message that they heard. We should do no less. Ultimately, we are personally responsible for what we believe; we have a mind and we are priests.

  • We should study the Word of God. If we are good students of God’s Word, we are better armed to discern truth from error.
  • We should seek the Lord for His help in discernment. We have the Holy Spirit who will guide us into truth (see John 16:13)
  • We should know those who seek to give guidance. What is the outcome of their words in their own lives? (see 1 Thessalonians 5:12)
  • We should test the Spirit that is motivating the word that is being given(see 1 John 4:1)
  • We are to prove all things and hold fast to the good (see 1 Thessalonians 5:21)
  • We should allow other proven followers of Christ to confirm what we are hearing (see 1 Corinthians 14:29)
  • Because there is false guidance, we must not reject all guidance but rather learn to discern. Our own trials will enhance our discernment (Malachi 3:16-4:2)
  • We should trust God with all of our hearts and lean not to our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-8)
  • We should seek wisdom (Proverbs 4:5-13)
  • We should seek to live a godly life and be merciful to others; those two pursuits will preserve us (Proverbs 18:23)
  • We should walk humbly. Humble people are hard to deceive.

One more thing: when you know that you have heard from God, obey. If we hear and hear and hear again, yet fail to obey, we open ourselves to deception – the deception of being a connoisseur of the Word rather than a doer of the Word(see James 1:22).

We are hearing a lot these days from innumerable sources: media, pulpits, experts, educators and politicians. We desperately need a filter. We need the ability to sort out the true from the false. We cannot simply shut our ears to all of the prognosticators; we must be informed and of a keen understanding. God still speaks through many sources; some secular, some spiritual. Truth is true, no matter the source. Of course, it helps if it comes through a proper source. But we have to ask ourselves two questions: Was that from God? And, what will I do about it?

The first question, I have dealt with … how we can discern. But the latter question, each person must answer for themselves. Truth demands action or else it doesn’t matter what you have heard. Apathy and complacency destroy as many now as error does. “Be doers of the word,” is Jesus’ command to us.

When we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we are in fact celebrating the entrance of truth and light in human form. Truth brought light into the night; angels and shepherds celebrated it. Wise men came to offer gifts to Him. Simeon and Anna prophesied over Him. Herod tried to kill Him. Later, He was crucified, but He rose again. Truth is like that; darkness cannot put it out!

So, let’s celebrate the Word of God made flesh. Truth came as a baby, but didn’t remain one. He grew in wisdom, stature, and favor. Truth now reigns at the Father’s right hand. Truth conquered and still conquers. Truth is marching on!

Have a very joyful Christmas, and a blessed New Year!

In Truth,
Charles Simpson

P.S. As we approach Christmas and the end of the year, please consider a special gift to support the work of CSM among the nations. You can give through our website at www.csmpublishing.org. Your support is vital and deeply appreciated!

Scripture Reference: John, 1 Thessalonians, Proverbs, Revelations, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Lamentations, Deuteronomy, 2 Peter, Matthew, Acts, 1 Corinthians, Malachi, 1 John

About the Author:

Charles Simpson

Charles Simpson is an internationally-known author, Bible teacher, and pastor, serving in ministry since 1955. He is also Editor-in-Chief of One-to-One Magazine and ministers extensively throughout the United States and the nations.