From the Pastor's Pen
From the Pastor’s Pen…
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God.” —1 John 4:1
Generally speaking, October is one of my favorite months in the year. Temperatures begin to dip, leaves begin to turn, and football is in full swing. It is a great month to get outdoors, to get things done, and to simply enjoy God’s creation. There is just one thing, really, that I would like to change about October: Halloween. I have gotten on my ‘soap box’ many times in effort to explain my objections to observing this very un-holi-day, so I will avoid plowing that same ground again. Instead, I’d like to take this opportunity—while ghosts and goblins and ghouls have our attention—to do something positive and address some common misconceptions about the spirit realm.
Misconception #1—We have to look outside the Bible for information on the spirit realm. The truth is, the Bible has a great deal to say about that unseen world. Tragically, however, most people construct their beliefs about the paranormal from what they read in novels (even so-called Christian novels) or see in scary movies. Some turn to reality TV shows about ghost hunters and demon busters. Others foolishly dabble in the literature and practices of the occult. Still others have personally experienced the paranormal and try to make sense of their experiences by turning to some or all of the above. The truth is, unless they carefully present biblical teaching, books, movies, reality TV, and even personal experience are deceptive, at best. All such information is of this world, and under the purview of the prince of this world, Satan the deceiver (1 John 5:19; Eph. 2:2, John 8:44, et al.). The Bible is our only trustworthy and authoritative source of information about things beyond the physical world. It may not tell us everything we want to know, but it tells us a lot. It tells us enough.
Misconception #2—Curious dabbling in the spirit realm is just harmless fun. The truth is, some of the harshest words in Scripture are reserved for those who practice spiritism or dabble in the spirit realm (Lev. 20:6, 27; Deut. 18:10–12, et al.). Hollywood, Disney Studios, and JK Rowling (to name a few) have certainly succeeded at marketing the dark arts of the occult as child’s play. Pop culture’s presentation of the magical and paranormal is like the gingerbread house in Hansel and Gretel, luring the curious inside only to be bound and headed for the oven. But believers must not be deceived, for the devil himself can appear as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), and is a master at making the deadly appear delicious. We are often in greatest danger when we perceive there is none.
Misconception #3—Some people are able to see and communicate with the dead. The truth is, paranormal activity is very real; some people really do see and communicate with sentient apparitions, beings of the spirit realm. But make no mistake. Such appearances (‘ghosts’) are not disembodied spirits of the departed dead, for the Word of God is clear that, for those who die in Christ “to be absent from the body” is “to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). Even those who die lost in their sin do not pass the time as spirits roaming the earth, for “it is appointed to man to die once, and after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). What is the domain of the lost while awaiting judgment? We turn to Jesus’ account of the rich man (named ‘Dives’ [Dī’-vees] according to legend) and Lazarus. What is of particular interest here is that Dives is confined in his place of torment, even though he desires to go warn his living brothers lest they experience a similar fate—ostensibly a noble cause. When we add to this the fact that Scripture unequivocally prohibits all forms of spiritism and necromancy, we can only conclude that such activities and apparitions are demonic in origin, and evil when pursued. Do not fall prey to the devil’s deception.
Misconception #4—Demons are the impulse behind all bad feelings and behaviors. The truth is, we fallen human beings, living in a world made mutant by the curse, are sufficient to account for many of the world’s ills without recourse to demonic influences. To assign cases of jealousy or infirmity or heaviness or ill will to a demonic spirit being—without scriptural evidence to that effect—is not only to misinterpret Scripture, but is also to reject other divinely ordained means of dealing with strongholds and sinful behaviors. For example, it is no more accurate, biblically, to say that a “spirit of heaviness” (Isa. 61:3) is always the direct result of a particular demon’s influence than it is to say that a “spirit of gentleness” (1 Cor. 4:21) is always the direct result of a particular angel’s activity. Either may be true, but neither are necessarily so. Some of you old enough to remember the Flip Wilson Show (1970–1974) will no doubt recall his frequent use of the excuse, “the devil made me do it.” Demonic activity is real, prevalent, and increasing with the approach of the last days, but ‘demonic activity’ is no scapegoat to absolve men of blame for ungodly behaviors.
With these misconceptions in mind, what are we to do with the Apostle John’s admonition to “test the spirits, whether they are of God”? The context for this instruction is the attempt of false teachers to push an early form of Gnosticism which denied that the man Jesus Christ actually died on the cross for our sin. John is not merely suggesting that the way to “test the spirit” is simply to ask the spirit whether “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh,” and then check the appropriate box. Rather, John is instructing his readers—including us—to discern whether or not the teaching/behavior/attitude/posture/motivation is consistent with the whole of the gospel of Jesus Christ. “Testing the spirits” so that we can identify and avoid opening the door to demonic influence involves asking questions of the people, places, and ideas that we grant access to our hearts and minds: 1) Is it consistent with the true Gospel? 2) Does it promote godliness? 3) Does it affirm or deny the absolute power and authority of Jesus Christ? 4) Does it glorify God, or sin, self, and Satan? 5) Does the worldview it promotes comport with that of Scripture, or the enemies of God? Asking these questions prayerfully, and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, will go a long way toward helping us not only to identify, but also to overcome the forces of the spirit realm that aim to undermine the Kingdom of God.