Discerning truth from falsehood

How do you know is something is true or false? How do you discern whether a teaching is true or false? We are called in various parts of the Bible to stand firm in the gospel and denounce false teaching. But how do we go about doing that?

Picture this scene. Bob is sitting at church listening to a sermon. He is looking at the passage that the sermon is being preached from with a confused look on his face. What is being said at the pulpit seems to be completely unrelated to what is written in the Biblical passage. Even worse it seems to be at odds with other passages in scripture. The congregation responds enthusiastically to the sermon because in truth the preacher is a charismatic and an eloquent speaker. At the end of the service, Bob’s friend comes over to him:

Bob’s friend: “Chaley, the message was powerful ooo”
Bob: “Hmm, I’m just confused about the verse he was using”
Bob’s friend: “Chaley, don’t worry. Didn’t you hear him say it was a revelation. Spiritual levels dey oo. This guy is powerful”
Bob: “But didn’t that point contradict that verse in Romans”
Bob’s friend: “My friend stop all this. The man of God said it, of course it must be true. Do you know the anointing on his life?”

This is how Bob’s friend discerns whether a message is “powerful” or not. The messenger authenticates the message. The anointing on the messenger is what validates whether what he teaches is true or false. The more anointed the messenger the less his words come under any scrutiny. And when challenged the messenger only has to appeal to his calling, his anointing or his ability to perform miraculous signs and wonders. But is that how we are to go about discerning truth?

The Unchanging Gospel

 In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he tells us of how he heard the gospel as revelation from Jesus Christ himself (For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ – Galations 1:12). After many years he goes to Jerusalem (Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also … I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain – Galations 2:1-2). He seems to suggest here that even though he received the message as a direct revelation from God, if the gospel that he had been preaching was different from what the other Apostles preached, he would have been running his race in vain.  This is in line with what he says earlier in chapter 1 (But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. Galations 1:8-9)
 

The gospel Paul preached had to be in line with what was preached by the Apostles. The gospel the Apostles preached was what they were taught by Christ Jesus himself. Therefore both gospels must ultimately be the same message since they are from the same source. The gospel we preach today must be in line with that old gospel.  Those who stand behind our pulpits and preach are held to that old standard.  It’s not about how eloquent they are, what feats of the supernatural they can do, or how “powerful” they are but whether what they preach is in line what the Apostles taught in the Scriptures.

The Berean Attitude

The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so; Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.” – Acts 17:10-12

Paul is in Berea and goes to preach at the synagogue. The Bereans are commended for not only listening to what Paul had to say with eagerness but also examining the Scriptures to see if what Paul was preaching was in line with what the Scriptures said. The mark of an authentic message is that it clearly states what is in the Scriptures. The Scriptures authenticate the message. So let us receive the Word with all eagerness but let us also examine the scriptures and ask questions when we don’t understand or aren’t clear about what is being said. As counter-cultural is this might seem, that is a commendable attitude that will help us discern truth from falsehood.

Here are some helpful questions we can ask when listening to a message. They are further expanded here.

1. Is God’s Word the most important part of this sermon?
2. Do you leave understanding the main point of the text?
3. Did the preacher preach Jesus?
4. Did the preacher apply the sermon to my life?
5. Does he speak as one who knows God or knows about God?

Fellowship with God

By receiving the message that the Apostles proclaim, we join them in fellowship as they are in fellowship with God.

1 John 1:5-10 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (6) If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. (7) But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (8) If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (9) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (10) If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

John continues from the previous passage where he encouraged us to join him and the other Apostles as they are joined in fellowship with God. He gives a summary of the message that they have heard and now proclaim to us. God is Light and in Him there is no darkness (v5).

He then expands upon the imagery of light and darkness and uses it as a means to start describing what it means to have fellowship with God. It means having fellowship with one another(v7). It means having our sins cleansed by the blood of Jesus (v7). It means acknowledging our sin (v8). It means confessing our sins to the one who can cleanse us from all unrighteousness (v9).

To have fellowship with God, who is the Light, is to first realize that we are sinful and lost in the darkness.  If we continue in the darkness (v6) and say we have no sin (v8 and v10), we are liars and deceive ourselves.  And the worst part is that we remain in the darkness. Truth is acknowledging that we are sinful, unrighteous and lost in the darkness.  Truth is acknowledging our state before God who cleanses us from all unrighteousness.  Truth is having fellowship with God and walking in the light.

 

A Twist in the Tale

We all know the story of the paralytic who was healed by Jesus Christ. His friends take him to see Jesus and because of the crowd they decide to go up to the roof and make a dramatic entrance. Jesus heals the paralytic, the crowd is amazed and everyone goes home. At least that is how most of us will remember the story. But there is one important aspect of the story that can be completely missed. One way by which we can get a clearer idea of what the author’s intent is in writing any passage is by carefully noting things that are out of the ordinary in the passage. When the author adds some detail or omits some detail that would have ordinarily not been there. Or when a statement seems out of place or odd given the flow of the rest of the passage.

Let’s look at the passage about the paralytic (Mark chapter 2:1-12) to see what I am getting at. But first picture the scene in your mind. Jesus is in the room surrounded by people. They hear some noise above their heads, look up and the roof is removed and this paralytic man is lowered to the ground (verse 4).  Jesus sees the faith of this man and his friends (verse 5) and says, “Son …”.  Ordinarily I would expect him to say “Rise, pick up your bed, and go home”. We already know he has the power to heal; he healed a man with leprosy, Simon’s mother-in-law and many others in the last chapter. It is also quite obvious what the paralytic man and his friends are expecting after going through all this trouble. The man has come to be healed and that is what we would have ordinarily expected to happen next. But there is a plot twist, Jesus says “Son, your sins are forgiven“.  At this point, let me suggest to you that the author is trying to let us understand that Jesus is not just a man who can heal but Jesus is able to do what only God can do; forgive sins. The scribes understand this that is why they question in their hearts “Why does this man speak like that?… Who can forgive sins but God alone?” If we miss the significance of what Jesus says to the paralytic man, we miss the entire point of the passage.

We could talk about the faith of the man and his friends. We could talk about the virtues of not giving up and pushing ahead even if it means making a hole in the roof. We could even talk about Jesus the miracle worker who can heal even the paralytic. But to do so will be to miss the heart of the passage which is easy to identify when you realize the strangeness of Jesus’ comment given the circumstances. Sometimes our familiarity with a particular story makes us read it less carefully than we ought to. We easily gloss over details that should be the light that makes the rest of the passage clearer.

The point of the passage is further made when Jesus heals the man to prove that he has the power to forgive sins. It is easier to say “Your sins are forgiven” than it is to heal. Because with healing there is physical proof of the result while with forgiveness there is no such physical evidence. So Jesus does what is easier to proof, the healing of the paralytic, to show that he has the power on earth to do what is easier to say, the forgiveness of sins. You see the whole passage is about the fact the Jesus Christ has the power on earth to forgive sins and he shows this by healing the paralytic. The primary miracle is that the man was forgiven of his sins by Immanuel (God with us).  And I think closely linked to that is the fact that Jesus saw that the man’s greatest need at that moment was that he didn’t have his sins forgiven. Which is not how most of us would have read the situation. We seem not to realize what a wonderful thing it is to be able say that our sins are forgiven. We seem not to realize that our greatest need is to be reconciled with God and the only one who has the power to do that is Jesus Christ.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. – (Col 1:15-20)

The man came because he couldn’t move but he was given something more precious, he was given forgiveness.

Sin, like a venomous disease,
Infects our vital blood;
The only balm is sovereign grace,
And the physician, God.  – Isaac Watts

 

Seeing the Bible as a whole

The Bible is made up of 66 books and connecting those books together and seeing how the tell one story is an extremely helpful tool when it comes to studying the Bible.   Justin Tayler provides Graeme Goldsworthy’s summaries on the main divisions in the Bible here.  

Too many times, we think of the gospel as a story that jumps from the Garden of Eden (we’ve all sinned) right to the cross (but Jesus fixes everything). On its own, that works fine in communicating the systematic points of our need for salvation and God’s provision in Christ, but from a biblical theological perspective, it doesn’t do justice to what’s actually in the text. Once a person becomes a Christian and cracks the Bible, they’re going to wonder what the big deal is about Israel and the covenant, since that storyline takes up roughly 75% of the Bible. Getting people into that story is important. As D.A. Carson says, the announcement is incoherent without it.

 

Every story has a main character. The Bible does too. It’s God. Specifically, it’s God as He reveals Himself to us in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Here’s what happens if we learn individual Bible stories and never connect them to the big Story. We put ourselves in the scene as if we are the main character. We take the moral examples of the Old and New Testament as if they were there to help us along in the life we’ve chosen for ourselves.

But the more we read the Bible, the more we see that God is the main character, not us. We are not the heroes learning to overcome all obstacles, persist in our faith, and call down fire from heaven. We’re the ones who need rescue, who need a Savior who will deliver us from Satan, sin, and death. It’s only in bowing before the real Hero of the story that we are in the right posture to take our place in the unfolding drama. Bearing in mind the big story of Scripture helps us keep our focus on Jesus, and off ourselves.

Quotes from http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2013/11/05/4-reasons-to-teach-the-bibles-storyline/

 

 

The Bible’s Big Picture

The opening chapters of the Bible clearly teach that, as Creator, God is the owner of all things (Ps. 89:11). All wealth therefore belongs to him (Ps. 50:10) and is to be used to rule the earth and bring glory to him through the worship of his Son and service to his people.

As the owner of all, God desires that we, his creatures and rulers on earth, desire relationship with him, rather than fixating on the things he created to serve us (Matt. 6:31-33). However, mankind has consistently worshipped created things rather than the Creator, and used material things for selfish purposes.

This has the been the norm throughout history, so it came as a huge surprise when God acted graciously towards Abram, promising him and the generations that followed a magnificent kingdom which he would bless materially, so that they could do what God intended for Adam: to rule over creation for the purpose of worshipping God and serving others, as well as being a light to the nations (Gen. 12:1-315:1-18). The nations were meant to look at Israel and see them as a wise and blessed people, and then turn to their God for inclusion amongst his people (Deut. 4:1-8).

To prepare them to be this light, and to prepare them for life in the Promised Land, God gave his people the Law (Ex. 19-20), after which he promised that those who submitted to his rule would receive material blessing, while those who rejected his rule would face his curse, often described in terms of material poverty (Deut. 28:1-68).

However, despite that warning, the prophets were still required to preach words of warning to those who chose to pursue their own wealth rather than being rich towards God (e.g., Isa. 5:8-10). Even after they suffered the punishment of exile for refusing complete allegiance to God, the people of God continued to choose their own comfort and pleasure over the glory of God (Hag. 1:4).

Throughout the Old Testament period the wisdom writers taught God’s people that there was no wisdom in choosing anything over the Creator. Wisdom, based on the character of God, dictated that generosity would have positive outcomes in the giver’s life, while self-centeredness would result in futility.

Only one man heeded the warning and had the wisdom to obey God’s call to obedient submission. Jesus, despite Satan’s temptations, lived in perfect obedience to the law of God (Matt. 4:1-11). As a result, he exercised perfect dominion over all creation as seen in his calming of storms (Matt. 8:23-27), healing of the sick (Matt. 8:14-17) and even by having dominion over death (Matt. 28:1-20).

Jesus’ call to people was, and is, that we act wisely and obediently and submit to God’s plan for our lives: repenting of sin and exercising faith in Jesus, God’s revealed King. His death on the cross offers the forgiveness that self-centered humanity so desperately needs and his resurrection assures eternal life with him.

The New Testament writers echoed Jesus’ teaching, who, by his perfect obedience had become Israel’s wise man and prophet. They warned of the love of money and urged God’s people to pursue contentment and generosity for the sake of the growth of God’s kingdom (1 Tim. 6:6-1017-19). Through their teaching, we know that those who gather around Jesus (the church) are promised God’s daily care and provision (Phil. 4:19). But this promise of material provision and even blessing is not assured in the same way as it was with Israel, who revealed that material possessions were not an indication of their faithfulness or obedience. In fact, Jesus taught that he may lovingly call the church to suffer for his glory as a witness to a self-obsessed world, by displaying its desire to treasure him above all else (Matt. 5:3-12). For any believer, this suffering will be a joy, for he knows that Christ is his treasure, and that nothing can ever separate him from Christ (Rom. 8:35-39).

For the believer, eternity is the enjoyment of Christ his treasure, which even surpasses God’s promise of great abundance and blessing being poured out on his people forever. …..

-Except from Prosperity Gospel and Biblical Theology

See also this video on the Big Picture of the Bible… Entrust: Bible Overview

Helpful resources for studying the Bible

I have been seeing quite a few helpful articles around that speaks on how we study the Bible.

Thats all for now 🙂

Helpful questions for studying the Bible

Found this very useful guide for Bible Reading and study.

Our desire was to create a simple, reproducible strategy that would facilitate this process. This led us to develop a simply strategy for small clusters (2-3 people) to meet together regularly and talk about the Scriptures and apply them to their lives.

The seven arrows of Bible reading were an attempt at developing a tool for proper hermeneutics to power these relationships. We did not want our people to simply talk about the Bible. We wanted them to understand the Bible and know how to apply it to their lives. Each cluster would read a predetermined passage of Scripture and discuss it using these seven arrows.

It is seven very helpful questions to ask and dwell on when studying a passage of scripture.

  1. What does this passage say?
  2. What does this passage mean to its original audience?
  3. What does this passage tell us about God?
  4. What does this passage tell us about man?
  5. What does this passage demand of me?
  6. How does this passage change the way I relate with people?
  7. How does this passage prompt me to pray?

I especially like how it not only ask questions that dwell on the original intent and purpose of the passage but also questions that aid in applying the passage to  one’s life.

Read more details here… 7 Arrows for Bible Reading.