Truth and Freedom
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, (immature) tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16)
Not carried around by every wind of doctrine. But how can we know what doctrines are correct for they can sometimes all seem equally valid when viewed from their perspective contexts presented by their proponents?
The question then shifts to, how do we know what is the correct context by which to check if doctrines can be validated. It is not enough to simply be able to string texts together, for the fact that texts exist in the Bible does little to prove what their intended purpose is or what their context should reveal. However, context certainly needs to be considered, both Scripturally as well as the context of how someone views the big picture behind the issues being discussed.
Note too from this passage the importance of each one growing up into Him who is the head, into Christ. It does not say we need to grow up under the authority of another person subservient to their control; it states clearly that each one is responsible directly to Christ and is to grow into Him and no one else.
We absolutely must know how to effectively test every spirit. And that must be done with care and caution for there are many spirits out there meant to deceive us, and deception almost always involves making us feel good and making apparent logical sense through constructing their own context and providing compelling logic.
And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us. 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. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world. Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 3:23 - 4:4)
What is it that we must test a spirit against or compare it to in order to validly test it? Many people claim to have the right spirit; many people even demonstrate what appears to be love, and nearly everyone, especially religious instructors, affirm that they have the right spirit. Yet take into account that there are many claiming to speak on God's behalf, i.e. prophets, yet are false and may not even realize it themselves. So how are we to know if a spirit is in harmony with God or is deceptive and false? We simply do not have the skill and wisdom to arrive at safe conclusions on our own. Is it simply enough based on this passage to check if a spirit agrees that Jesus showed up on our planet as a human? Or was John referring to something much deeper and more profound here?
What is the irreducible basic principles that might be used to detect error when it can be masked so effectively as God's working that it passes off as truth? As I thought and prayed about it I was led to notice possibly the most fundamental element of God's government.
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion-- to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory. They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. (Isaiah 61:1-4)
Before I discuss this foundation of liberty or freedom, I want to address something else in this passage. It is a scheme of Satan to get us immediately distracted by the word vengeance and get so caught up arguing about its meaning that we miss the more important stunning truths in this passage. But if we closely examine this passage with a willingness to let go of previous assumptions or abuses of this word, we can begin to see that this passage itself provides a definition for this term right within the context. Notice that God's kind of vengeance as described here is comforting and providing, giving gifts of kindness and blessing and bringing true joy in the place of all that has gone wrong.
But back to the element of liberty. It is crucial to see that this passage provides clear insight into the kind of spirit that will mark the lives of all those reflecting the mission of the One who is described in this prophecy, for every doctrine and every spirit must be measured meticulously against the only safe standard of truth, the explicit revelation of real truth about God by His only Son Jesus Christ. What can we learn from or about Jesus that might prove invaluable in testing every spirit?
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)
Here is the vital truth that can provide safety against deception and subtle errors or emotional enticements designed to detract us from the true gospel. In fact, this is a distillation of the true gospel. What is spelled out here is that every true doctrine and every true spirit will value and respect each individual's freedom as the underlying foundation that undergirds all of God's government. Individual freedom of choice will be respected and fiercely protected by all who are true followers of the Lamb just as He demonstrated that same attitude while here on earth while mingling with sinners and hypocrites alike. This means that no individual can be coerced, guilted, pressured, threatened or condemned as a means of compelling them to adopt another person's opinion or way of life, even if that way is true. Agape love from God alone will be the hallmark of a true Christian and without freedom to choose otherwise without coercion or threat of punishment makes it impossible for love to even exist.
Now take this standard of measure, genuine love in the context of complete individual freedom, and use it as the gold standard by which to examine every system of doctrine and their explanations of salvation. Ask penetrating questions using the standard of agape love and freedom as taught by Jesus as the template by which to test every doctrine, every assertion and particularly every spirit. Is this doctrine or spirit in harmony with God's methods of respect for freedom, for reason and a display of selfless love? Or does it at some point impose other methods to achieve unity and conformity?
Freedom is a very messy proposition as God can attest to more than anyone. The reason we find ourselves in such a messed up world is because of God's infinite respect for the freedom of each of us. But no matter how risky freedom may be, God is committed to sticking with it despite all the assertions of His enemies that it is a bad idea. God insists that His love, His agape kind of love, will in the end be fully vindicated as the best and only way to live in harmony and peace and that all other methods will be proven inferior and worthless in the end.
We are naturally very suspicious of freedom. We often think it is too dangerous of a proposition to allow it to be granted to others, especially those we disagree with. We assume that freedom only goes so far at which point force and control must kick in to fill in where love falls short. But is this the reality that God operates within or is it simply the reality we are so used to we don't believe any other option will be effective? Has God made a mistake in granting us too much freedom, or does He know something about reality that we are as yet unwilling to embrace?
For it is God's will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use (abuse) your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:15-17)
Freedom means you can choose evil without fear of retribution from God. But it does not mean that there are no natural self-destructive, inherent consequences from making such choices. The huge difference between these two philosophies is in how consequences come about, whether they are imposed as some form of punishment inflicted by God on evil-doers or whether God respects our freedom so much that in the end He accepts our rejection of His grace and His prevention of natural consequences. When He sees that our decision to reject Him is irrevocable, He is forced through respect for us to remove His hand and allow built-in consequences to take their full effect in our lives.
As we come to have greater appreciation for the truth about how God intends to resolve the sin problem by respecting every person's freedom without the use of threats or coercion, then we begin to know how to effectively test every spirit to see if it aligns with this same method and Spirit of God.
Does freedom mean stepping back to allow someone to be deceived or maybe hurt without attempting an intervention? Not at all. Freedom and love are never a means of encouraging wrong or empowering the kingdom of darkness, though at times it may be construed to be that way. Rather, understanding the fundamental nature of true love and its vital dependence on freedom means that we too must respect the freedom of each person to make their own choices while at the same time doing everything possible within our freedom to influence and encourage and assist them toward making better choices. But none of those methods can ever include any of the counterfeit techniques utilized by God's enemy.
We cannot resort to the use of deceptive methods or arguments to accomplish God's will. Neither must we ever resort to using threats, force or intimidation to compel anyone to follow God, for God is love and this love only exists in the atmosphere of complete freedom to resist it without fear of retaliation. That means that like God, and like Jesus who showed us the real truth about Him, we must only offer love, truth and freedom to all around us as persuadingly and attractively as possible, yet always leave them free to choose for themselves whether they will embrace truth or will cling to their fears and lies that prevent them from entering into a saving trust of God's heart of passionate love for them.
So, how might this apply in practical applications to discern whether someone is sharing God's authentic truth with us or whether they maybe are themselves deceived and have become involved with cunningly devised fables that sound cohesive and seem to make sense? It would be useful to consider some good illustrations.
But for now I will close with this testimony from Peter.
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." (2 Peter 1:16-17)
The freedom that Jesus accorded to every individual He met as God's Son and representative for Him on this earth was phenomenal. Peter witnessed this and eventually learned to practice it himself. And as his own life came to reflect this gospel about God he wrote these words to assure us that it was no myth. God really does respect our freedom for He knows that without complete freedom His Spirit cannot reproduce His love in our hearts to reflect His character before the watching world.