Pages 124-130 of The Salvation Meter book describe the “A Believer Possesses Spiritual Discernment” test of salvation. Chapter 6, which deals with a believer’s post-conversion spiritual condition, contains this test.. This article at https://thesalvationmeter.com website is a revision of the discussion and questions in the book. There are two basic reasons I wrote this revision.
First, a sermon is never finished, merely preached. In the same way, there will always be ways to revise and improve the discussion of the “A Believer Possess Spiritual Discernment” test of salvation. Second, I hope this revision will assist anyone who reads, teaches, preaches, or merely considers the substance of this test to appreciate better the principles taught in this test of salvation.
The “A Believer Possesses Spiritual Discernment” is a revealing test of salvation that indicates a person’s spiritual condition. Spiritual discernment increases the longer a believer is in the menō relationship with God. Therefore, it is evidence of a lost condition if a person does not possess spiritual discernment. But, on the other hand, it is evidence of salvation if a person possesses spiritual discernment.
Discussion of 1 John 4:1
When he wrote 1 John 4:1, the Apostle John presented the “A Believer Possesses Spiritual Discernment” test of salvation. A believer possesses spiritual discernment to scrutinize whether teaching or doctrine comes from God. In other words, a believer has sufficient spiritual discernment to ascertain if a teaching is consistent with the Bible. 1 John 4:1 (ASV 1901) reads:
1 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
In verse 1, John gave his audience two commands and the underlying reason. The underlying reason was numerous false prophets in the world vying for followers. This condition exists in the 21st Century, where there is a lot of spiritual “noise” trying to divert believers from the truth and entice them to follow many lies.
John first commanded his audience “believe not every spirit.” The ASV 1901 translates the Greek verb pisteuō as “believe.” It means to believe to the extent of complete trust and reliance—‘to believe in, to have confidence in, to have faith in, to trust, faith, trust.’ See Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). In Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 375). United Bible Societies. The Logos 9 sense is to believe (trust) – to have faith; put one’s trust in something. The verb is in the present tense, which is the verb tense where the writer portrays an action in process or a state of being with no assessment of the action’s completion. See Heiser, M. S., & Setterholm, V. M. (2013; 2013). Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology. Lexham Press. The verb is in the imperative mood which is the mood that normally expresses a command, intention, exhortation, or polite request. Heiser et al. Id.
When he wrote 1 John 4:1, John intended to convey to his audience that they were to continually not believe (i.e., trust or rely on) every spirit meaning every teacher or doctrine. They were not to be gullible and accept as true every slick teacher and fall into the error described by Paul in Ephesians 4:14, which falls within the block of text comprising Ephesians 4:11–14 (ASV 1901) [emphasis added]:
11 And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ: 13 till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a fullgrown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: 14 that we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error;
To be tossed about here and there upon hearing every new doctrine paints a picture of being at the mercy of the waves of a strong storm. It represents the result of spiritual instability, as well as spiritual immaturity.
Because of the deceptiveness of “every wind of doctrine,” irreparable damage occurs to those who adopt a “theological flavor of the month” approach to spiritual matters. A brief word study reveals the evilness of “every wind of doctrine” of Ephesians 4:14.
The ASV 1901 translates the Greek noun kybeia as “sleight.” The Logos 9 sense is trickery ⇔ dice-playing – any type of misrepresentation intended to take advantage of a person in some way. It means trickery that results from craftiness (κυβεία literally refers to dice playing)—‘trickery, craftiness. See Louw et al. supra at Vol. 1, p. 759). The ASV 1901 translates the Greek noun panourgia as “craftiness.” It means trickery involving evil cunning—‘craftiness, treachery. See Louw et al., supra at Vol. 1, p. 770. The Logos 9 sense is cunning – deceitfulness usually characterizing an especially wicked character.
The ASV 1901 translates the Greek noun methodeia as “wiles.” It means crafty scheming with the intent to deceive—‘deceit, scheming. See Louw et al., supra at Vol. 1, p. 759. The Logos 9 sense is method – a way of doing something (deceptive), especially in a systematic way; implies an orderly logical arrangement (usually in steps). The ASV 1901 translates the Greek noun planē as “of error.” The Logos 9 sense is deception – a misleading falsehood. It means (derivative of πλάνηa ‘to deceive,’ 31.8) the content of that which misleads or deceives—‘misleading belief, deceptive belief, error, mistaken view. See Louw et al., supra at Vol. 1, p. 366.
Paul’s use of methodeia and planē reveal the intentional deception on the part of the crafty tricksters who are kybeia and panourgia. These people profess to proclaim the truth, but, in reality, advance false teaching. These people are especially evil.
In 1 John 4:1, after giving his readers a negative command, John gave them the contrasting positive command to, “but prove the spirits.” The ASV 1901 translates the Greek word alla as “but.” Alla is an adversative conjunction which is a conjunction used to express contrast between the immediate clause and the one (“believe not every spirit”) preceding it. See Lukaszewski, A. L. (2007). The Lexham Syntactic Greek New Testament Glossary. Lexham Press.
The ASV 1901 translates the Greek verb dokimazō as “prove.” It means to try to learn the genuineness of something by examination and testing, often through actual use—‘to test, to examine, to try to determine the genuineness of, testing.’ See Louw et al., supra at Vol. 1, p. 331. The Logos 9 sense is to examine (check out) – to observe, check out, and look over carefully or inspect. Like with pisteuō, dokimazō is in the present tense and imperative mood.
By his second command, John intended to tell his audience that they were to continuously examine the substance of the teaching to see whether it came from God. They were to examine or test or prove the spirits to ascertain their source by actual examination and testing like a metallurgist assaying metals to determine their purity. John’s second command is along the line of Acts 17:11 (ASV 1901):
11 Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of the mind, examining the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so.
If their analysis confirmed that God was the source of the teaching, then they were to accept it. But, if their examination disproved the truth of the teaching, they were to reject it.
Discussion of 1 John 4:6
John elaborated on the “A Believer Possesses Spiritual Discernment” test of 1 John 4:1 by what he wrote in 1 John 4:6 (ASV 1901):
6 We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he who is not of God heareth us not. By this we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.
The ASV 1901 translates the Greek verb ginōskōas “he that knoweth.” It means to indicate that one does know—‘to acknowledge.’ See Louw et al., supra at Vol. 1, p. 368. The Logos 9 sense is know (experientially) – to know or have knowledge about (someone or something); normally as acquired through observation or the senses. The verb is in the present tense. The ASV 1901 translates the Greek verb akouō as “heareth.” It means to believe something and to respond to it on the basis of having heard—‘to accept, to listen to, to listen and respond, to pay attention and respond, to heed.’ See Louw et al. supra at Vol. 1, p. 372. The Logos 9 sense is to listen – to hear with intention.
By 1 John 4:6a, John intended to convey to his audience that a saved person would accept the substance of what they (John et al.) were saying. By 1 John 4:6b, John intended to convey to his audience that a lost person would not accept the substance of what they (John et al.) were saying.
The ASV 1901 translates the Greek preposition ek as “by.” Here, ek is a preposition of means, which uses a preposition to express the means of an action. See Lukaszewski, Id. It functions as a marker of cause or reason, with focus upon the source—‘because of. See Louw et a., supra at Vol. 1, p. 779. John intended to tell his audience that those who accepted the message they were proclaiming could discern between “the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.”
For a 21st Century believer, the reference to “us” in 1 John 4:6 correlates to the biblical authors of the Bible and those persons who accurately proclaim the Word of God. To accept the biblically accurate means to believe the message and accept it and respond to it. These actions demonstrate possession of spiritual discernment, and hence, salvation.
To reject the biblically-accurate message reveals an absence of spiritual discernment, which indicates that a person is lost. A lost person does not have the ears to hear. Paul’s description of Israel in Romans 11:8 (ASV 1901) characterizes lost people in the 21st Century:
8 according as it is written, God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear, unto this very day.
The ability to discern allows a believer to know the source of a teaching. Spiritual discernment is a revealing test of salvation because the substance of what a person believes very often reveals whether they are saved or lost.
Discussion of 1 John 2:26-27
The Apostle John again articulated the “A Believer Possesses Spiritual Discernment” test of salvation when he wrote 1 John 2:26–27 (ASV 1901):
26 These things have I written unto you concerning them that would lead you astray. 27 And as for you, the anointing which ye received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any one teach you; but as his anointing teacheth you concerning all things, and is true, and is no lie, and even as it taught you, ye abide in him.
Verse 26 described a dangerous situation for John’s audience; namely, there were people “that would lead you astray.” It was vital for his audience to realize that some people spoke lies and not biblical truth. The same is true today. Each believer must be on alert for those people who promote an unbiblical theology. An evaluation of a teacher must include their practice of spiritual disciplines (e.g., Bible engagement, prayer, etc.). Also, do these teachers treat people in a way consistent with biblical guidance?
In verse 27, the ASV 1901 translates the Greek noun chrisma as “anointing.” It means (figurative extensions of meaning of χρίω and χρῖσμα ‘to anoint,’ not occurring in the NT) to assign a person to a task, with the implication of supernatural sanctions, blessing, and endowment—‘to anoint, to assign, to appoint, assignment, appointment.’ See Louw et al. supra at Vol. 1, p. 483. The ASV 1901 translates the second occurrence of the Greek verb didaskō as “teachest.” It means to provide instruction in a formal or informal setting—‘to teach, teaching.’ See Louw et al., supra at Vol. 1, p. 412. The Logos 9 sense is to teach and impart skills or knowledge. Through verse 27, John counseled his audience that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit taught them the basics of the Christian faith. Therefore, these believers possessed a spiritual filter (i.e., the Holy Spirit) to discern what was biblically true or false. In other words, these believers possessed spiritual discernment.
The indwelling of the Holy Spirit does not mean that a person is to not listen to faithful teachers and pastors. Otherwise, it would not make sense for there to be a calling of a teacher for the church per Ephesians 4:11 (ASV 1901), which reads:
11 And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
To disregard a faithful teacher would run counter to the admonition of James 3:1–2 (ASV 1901) that teaching is a serious role in church:
1 Be not many of you teachers, my brethren, knowing that we shall receive heavier judgment. 2 For in many things we all stumble. If any stumbleth not in word, the same is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also.
1 John 2:26-27 should never be used to downplay Bible teaching because faithful teachers and Pastors can help a believer spiritually grow in many ways.
Examples of Unbiblical Teaching
Possibly, the most common characteristic of false teaching is to undermine the authority of Scripture. This error can deny the authority of parts or even all the Bible or advocate an additional source of truth. It is error to contradict 2 Timothy 3:16–17 (ASV 1901), which reads:
16 Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness: 17 that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work.
In his book The Truth War – Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception [(2007), Thomas Nelson, Inc, Nashville, Tennessee 37214], Dr. John MacArthur discusses the religious movement called the “Emerging Church” (see pages ix-x) [italics in the original]:
Who would have thought that people claiming to be Christians – even pastors – would attack the very nature of truth?
But they are.
A recent issue of Christianity Today featured a cover article about the “Emerging Church.” That is a popular name for an informal affiliation of Christian communities worldwide who want to revamp the church, change the way Christians interact with their culture, and remodel the way we think about truth itself.
One dominant theme pervades the whole article: in the Emerging Church movement, truth (to whatever degree such a concept is even recognized) is assumed to be inherently hazy, indistinct, and uncertain – perhaps even ultimately unknowable.
Each of the Emerging Church leaders profiled in the article expressed a high level of discomfort with any hint of certainty about what the Bible means, even on something as basic as the gospel.
The gotquestions.org website (link: What is the emerging / emergent church movement? | GotQuestions.org ) discusses the emerging church movement:
False doctrine seems to abound within the emerging / emergent church movement, though, as stated previously, not within every group espousing emerging / emergent church beliefs. Because of this, care must be taken when deciding whether or not to become involved with an emergent church group. We all need to take heed of Matthew 7:15-20, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
Another church movement is the “progressive Christianity” movement. The basic principles of the “progressive Christianity” movement are found at the website https://progressivechristianity.org/the-8-points/. These eight points (2012 version) are:
One: Believe that following the path and teachings of Jesus can lead to an awareness and experience of the Sacred and the Oneness and Unity of all life;
Two: Affirm that the teachings of Jesus provide but one of many ways to experience the Sacredness and Oneness of life, and that we can draw from diverse sources of wisdom in our spiritual journey;
Three: Seek community that is inclusive of ALL people, including but not limited to:
Conventional Christians and questioning skeptics,
Believers and agnostics,
Women and men,
Those of all sexual orientations and gender identities,
Those of all classes and abilities:
Four: Know that the way we behave towards one another is the fullest expression of what we believe;
Five: Find grace in the search for understanding and believe there is more value in questioning than in absolutes;
Six: Strive for peace and justice among all people;
Seven: Strive to protect and restore the integrity of our Earth;
Eight: Commit to a path of life-long learning, compassion, and selfless love.
While they may use the word “Christianity,” in no way, shape, or form does the “progressive Christianity” movement encompass what the Bible teaches about salvation through repentance and trust in Christ’s finished work on the Cross. The “progressive Christianity” movement does not promote biblical sexual morality.
Some who profess to be “Christian” use a flawed hermeneutic to justify their acceptance, and essentially, promotion of sin. For example, the Rev. Adam Hamilton, the Pastor of a large UMC church that is pro-LGBTQ, presents a hermeneutical approach that pigeonholes Scripture into one of three “buckets.” According to Rev. Hamilton, the three buckets into which Scripture falls are: (1) Scriptures that express God’s heart, character, and timeless will for human beings, (2) Scriptures that expressed God’s will in a particular time, but are no longer binding, and (3) Scriptures that never fully expressed the heart, character or will of God. According to Hamilton, the issue about homosexual practice is “whether the handful of scriptures that condemn same-sex sexual activity belong to bucket one, two, or three.” See his March 11, 2014 blog entitled “Homosexuality, The Bible, and the United Methodist Church” [ link: Homosexuality, The Bible, and The United Methodist Church · Blog from Author & Methodist Minister Adam Hamilton · Homosexuality, The Bible, and The United Methodist Church · Adam Hamilton].
Per Rev. Hamilton’s April 27, 2016 post entitled “The Bible, Homosexuality., and the UMC – Part One” [link: https://www.adamhamilton.com/blog/the-bible-homosexuality-and-the-umc-part-one#.YeLFxNHMIdU], the pro-LGBTQ faction does not adopt an evangelical hermeneutical approach:
But in truth, I don’t believe that we are picking and choosing. I think we’re appropriately interpreting; we’re asking the question, “What was the historical and cultural setting of these words, and do they appropriately express the heart of God for us today?” And how do Christians make that determination? We consider the words and actions of Jesus, we think of what he described as the great commandments, and we consider the major themes of Scripture. Then we bring our intellect and experience of the Spirit to bear on our reading of Scripture.
Also, his book Making Sense of the Bible – Rediscovering the Power of Scripture Today advances the “three-bucket” approach. In essence, the “three-bucket” approach permits a person to accept what parts of the Bible they like and discard what parts they do not like.
A believer has sufficient spiritual discernment to recognize error of the magnitude of the errors practiced by the “Emerging Church,” “progressive Christianity”, and a church that adopts the “three bucket” approach. These groups challenge, diminish or recast the Scripture to suit their needs. These groups embody the “itching ears” mentality of 2 Timothy 4:3–4 (ASV 1901):
3 For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables.
If a person attends a church that challenges the authority of the Bible, and wants to remain, they ought to revisit their conversion. No matter how many friends a believer has at such a church, spiritual discernment will motivate them to leave.
Another common trait of unbiblical teaching is to boast about special revelation or secret truth. Such “revelation” can take the form of a book in addition to the Bible and said to be on par with Scripture. This “revelation” may be outside of the Bible like the “Book of Mormon,” or comprise a distorted corrupt interpretation of a biblical text. No matter how it is packaged, such a false teaching contradicts biblical instruction and orthodox Christian doctrine. Sometimes, it can move away from or diminish Jesus Christ per Colossians 2:8 (ASV 1901):
8 Take heed lest there shall be any one that maketh spoil of you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ:
A believer must be careful not to be deceived by a teaching that requires works to be saved or keep one’s salvation. For example, if water baptism is an absolute requirement for salvation, you are in the wrong church! Instead, you need to move on to a church that teaches the truth about the gospel of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, to teach that water baptism is essential to salvation runs counter to the teaching of Ephesians 2:8–9 (ASV 1901), which reads:
8 for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not of works, that no man should glory.
Finally, the same warning exists with respect to groups that deny the Trinity. These groups teach heresy about the very nature of God and contradict a plethora of passages that support the doctrine of the Trinity. For example, the Trinitarian baptismal formula Jesus gave in the Great Commission per Matthew 28:18–20 (ASV 1901):
18 And Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying, All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: 20 teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.
The Apostle Paul described the Trinity in 1 Corinthians 12:4–6 (ASV 1901), which reads:
4 Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are diversities of ministrations, and the same Lord. 6 And there are diversities of workings, but the same God, who worketh all things in all.
The Apostle Peter described the Trinity in 1 Peter 1:2 (ASV 1901):
2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.
Jude described the Trinity when he wrote Jude 20–21 (ASV 1901):
20 But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.
A believer has spiritual discernment. Spiritual discernment will motivate a genuine believer to depart from a church that denies the Trinity. A person who remains at length in a church that denies the Trinity should revisit their conversion.
The “A Believer Possesses Spiritual Discernment” is a revealing test of salvation that indicates a person’s spiritual condition. Spiritual discernment increases the longer a believer is in the menō relationship with God. The Bible teaches that a believer has spiritual discernment to distinguish between biblically correct and incorrect theology.
It is evidence of a lost condition if a person does not possess spiritual discernment. On the other hand, it is evidence of salvation if a person possesses spiritual discernment.
The “A Believer Possesses Spiritual Discernment” test of salvation raises the following questions for you to answer.
Question 6-12: Can you recognize whether or not a theological doctrine is correct or in error? Please explain your answer and describe the steps you take to evaluate a theological doctrine for biblical accuracy.
Question 6-12A: Do you adhere to all of the following basic principles: (1) the Holy Scriptures are to be received as the authoritative Word of God, (2) that Scripture, having been given by divine inspiration, is infallible, so that, far from misleading us, it is true and reliable in all the matters it addresses, (3) that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit. If you disagree with any one of those principles, please explain your answer. Please include any sources you rely on to support your disagreement in your explanation.
Question 6-12B: Do you (or did you ever) agree with the assumption that truth is inherently hazy, indistinct, and uncertain – perhaps even ultimately unknowable? Please explain your answer. Please include in your explanation the sources that support your answers
Question 6-12C: Do you (or did you ever) possess a high level of discomfort with any hint of certainty about what the Bible means? Please explain your answer. Please include the source that helped or encouraged you to have a high level uncertainty in your explanation.
Question 6-12D: Do you (or did you ever) agree with the totality of the eight points of “progressive Christianity?” Please explain your answer. Please include in your explanation the sources that support your answer.
Question 6-12E: Do you (or did you ever) agree with the second point of “progressive Christianity:”
Affirm that the teachings of Jesus provide but one of many ways to experience the Sacredness and Oneness of life, and that we can draw from diverse sources of wisdom in our spiritual journey;
Please explain your answer. Please include in your explanation the sources that support your answer.
Question 6-12F: Do you (or did you ever) agree with the “three bucket” approach as described above? Please explain your answer. Please include in your explanation the sources that support your answer.
Question 6-12G: Do you (or did you ever) believe that there is “special revelation” on par with Scripture that is outside of the Bible? Please explain your answer. Please include in your explanation the sources that support your answer.
Question 6-12H: Do you (or did you ever) believe that water baptism is absolutely necessary for a person to be saved? Please explain your answer. Please include in your explanation the source(s) from which you learned that water baptism is absolutely necessary for a person to be saved.
Question 6-12I: Do you (or did you ever) reject the Trinity? Please explain your answer. Please include in your explanation the source(s) from which you learned that you should reject the Trinity.
Question 6-13: Have there been instances in your life in which you have encountered someone who you considered to be a false teacher? Would you please explain your answer?
Question 6-14: Did that false teacher have a good knowledge of the Bible? Did that person have a surface knowledge or a proof-texting kind of knowledge of the Bible? Would you please explain your answer.
Question 6-15: What caused you to conclude that the person was a false prophet or teacher? Please explain your answer and include a description of the steps you take to evaluate a Bible teacher.
Question 6-16: Based upon your experience, what are the most common theological areas from which false teaching or doctrine arises? Why do you think that is the case? Please explain your answers.
Question 6-17: What is the root cause of false teachers? Please explain your answer.
Question 6-18: In your experience, have you ever been deceived by a false teacher? Describe the circumstances, including a description of how they gained your confidence and then how you came to realize that person was a false prophet. What action did you take once you came to realize that person was a false prophet or teacher? Please explain your answer.
Question 6-18A: Are you a Mormon? If you answered in the affirmative, do you believe you are saved? If so, please explain why you believe you are saved?
Question 6-18B: Are you a Jehovah’s Witness? If you answered in the affirmative, do you believe you are saved? If so, please explain why you believe you are saved?
Question 6-19: When you first meet “religious” people, would you say you keep them at “arm’s length” until you can discern if they are from God? What things cause a “red flag” to go up with respect to religious teachers or religious people in general? Please explain your answer.
Question 6-20: Are there any “hills to die on” you use to evaluate if a person is a false teacher? Please describe those indicia. Are some of the indicia weightier than others? Please explain your answers.
Question 6-20: Do you believe you satisfy the “A Believer Possesses Spiritual Discernment” test of salvation? Please explain your answer and include evidence that supports your answer. Do you strongly agree, moderately agree, moderately disagree, strongly disagree or are neutral about the statement that you satisfy “A Believer Possesses Spiritual Discernment” test of salvation? Please record your answer at Indicator 6-B of your Personal Salvation Assessment in the Appendix.