They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.( I John 4:5-6)
Recently I have had several occasions in which I have had to contrast true christian teaching with varieties of heresy. This experience has brought me to some general conclusions about false teaching.
It doesn’t matter what the particular teaching is, all false teaching seems to spring from a common spiritual condition, a “spirit of error” as John puts it. The teachings do vary, but the underlying issues raised by the teachings remain the same in almost every case.
What does ‘Pelagianism’, the denial of ‘original sin’ have in common with the Word of Faith heresy of Kenneth Hagin? How could there be a commonality of those who deny an eternal Hell with those who deny Penal Substitution?
All of the above are heresies and distortions of the biblical gospel that we have been having to deal with over the last year. What is the common ground between all of them? In other words, what is the Spirit of error?
In each of the above, either -
* Man is not as fallen as the gospel says he is-
* Jesus is not as sufficient as the gospel proclaims him to be -
The Spirit of error always either props man up, or diminishes Jesus, who is God come to us in the flesh. Usually, the spirit of error does both simultaneously.
Take Pelagianism , for an example, which is the denial of what theologians refer to as original sin. Pelagianists deny that man’s very nature was corrupted in the once and for all fall of man in the garden of Eden. Man is not as bad as those who teach the depravity of man insist.
They don’t see how it could be that when Adam fell, we all fell, and that we were born “in sin”, and have a fallen nature prone to sin. Because it doesn’t seem fair, or consistent with justice, Pelagians reject the teaching of Paul, that “by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners,”.
In this way they diminish the sufficient work of the last Adam, Jesus Christ. After all, if one rejects the identification of all men into Adam for guilt, one must of necessity reject the identification of all saved men into Christ for Righteousness.
…So by the obedience of the one, shall the many be made righteous..
Because they don’t see how it could be so , they reject it, thus exalting their own ability to “see” above the revelation of the Lord’s apostles.
Likewise, spirit of error at the same time, diminishes Jesus and his work. I have been exposed to an error related to Pelagianism, that adamantly denies that Jesus died as a penal substitution for our sins.
Once again, it is their own vain reasoning that they exalt above Divine revelation. The apostles plainly tell us that “Christ died for sins, once and for all, the just for the unjust to bring us to God…”,(I Peter 3:18).
“But how could that be right for one man to pay the penalty of another? Would my cousin be able to stand in for my execution if I murdered a man ?”, one of them asked me. “What law court in any jurisdiction would ever allow for a penal substitution?” Thus they dismiss the testimony of apostles and Prophets, in favor of their own reason.
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6)
The Spirit of error always exalts man, and simultaneously diminishes Christ. Man is never as bad, fallen or lost as the apostles say he is, and Christ doesn’t do as much for us, to save us, as God’s apostles and prophets have testified that he did.
The recent public denial of an ultimate and eternal hell, by a supposedly evangelical minister accomplishes the same purpose for it is the same spirit of error. Remember Eden, where the serpent once hissed, “you shall not surely die…”.
After all, could man really be that bad, that his sin would damn him in torment forever? Or to put it another way, could God really be that all important, that sinning against him would merit eternal darkness and torment?
The spirit of error would have you believe that man couldn’t be that bad, and that God couldn’t be that good to merit final and fixed judgment. Likewise the cross itself needn’t be a penal substitution,(how demeaning !), rather Jesus died as some kind of an example. Do you hear the serpent’s hiss?
Finally the Spirit of error can be known clearly by heeding John’s apostolic caution, “6We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error”
Who is the “We” in this verse ? None less than the Apostles. Those who are of God accept the teaching of the apostles, those who aren’t always resort instead to vain reasonings, logic, the experts, or whatever else makes sense to them.