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This is another joint blog post Michael Clark and I wrote together. As always, it needs to be seen against the backdrop of our own religious history. We both had many years of experience in different church groups that were not founded on Christ and have begun to understand why Paul said, “For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:2 ASV)

Imagine you hear or read about a new branch of Christianity and you, of course, want to know whether what those people believe might be the truth or not. How can we quickly discern if we are dealing with real or only fake Christianity? To come straight to the point, without spiritual discernment received by God’s Spirit, the firmness of our conviction will be shaken again and again, depending on our moods, feelings, thoughts, and reasoning. T. Austin-Sparks wrote the following about spiritual understanding.

Paul prayed for saints that they might “be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Col 1:9).

“Understanding implies a sense or apprehension of the fuller meaning of what is known, with the ability to apply that knowledge to adequate value. It is a matter of intuitive recognition or perception of the hidden nature and trend of things, and differs from the merely outward impression made upon the senses which calls for thought and reasoning. There may be something of this, as we have seen, in people of good and quick intelligence naturally, but spiritual understanding is something more. It is that faculty of the renewed spirit—an insight, perception, sense, appreciation in relation to Divine matters—which is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is the faculty which makes its possessor assured in an inward way of what is of God and what is not so, when very fine questions are at issue and when things are not by any means obvious.

“This ‘discernment’ or ‘judgment’ cannot always at first be explained or given a reason; it is just there, and very real to those who have it. Spiritual understanding is one of the most important things in the equipment of any Christian for responsibility. To put anyone into a position of responsibility in the things of God, or for anyone to take such a position, without this qualification will be to jeopardize the work of God and to put all related thereto into a false and dangerous situation. Something much more than just good ‘common sense’ and natural judgment is required in things eternal and spiritual. The one pre-eminent object and goal of this spiritual faculty is the knowledge of God, and it does not matter how great and complete may be a man’s knowledge otherwise, the one indispensable requirement for responsibility in spiritual work is that he knows God in a measure beyond all natural capability or possibility. No efficiency can substitute for spiritual understanding!” (1)

As for any Christian movement, we should check them regarding the work of the cross in the life of the believer, just as TAS explained (see excerpt below). Is their goal to be fully crucified with Christ and to let Him live in(stead of) them or is the old man pampered and kept alive? And do people still believe that acknowledging Jesus mentally would turn them automatically into a New Creation? Just because one is born in a garage does not make him a mechanic. When the old man is truly dead, the New Creation will be seen by everyone whether they like it or not. As an acid test one might read The Sermon on the Mount again and check whether we are able to fulfill all that which Jesus told His disciples there. The easiest test is always to think about one’s enemies and to check whether our heart is overflowing with love for them. If not, which is quite normal, we have not yet arrived at the goal. However, we may believe that the One who promised to sanctify us fully “will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil 1:6 ESV) Here is the second excerpt from the same article of T.A. Sparks I announced further above.

“Many movements have swept over this earth with the name of Christ attached to them. They claim to be for Him, and multitudes are swept into their nets. There are ‘conversions’ and experiences. There are supernatural features connected with them. But they are psychical in their foundation. Physical persons with psychical experiences and powers, abnormal and uncanny personal influence, are behind them; and a cult is developed by certain methods being standardized. These methods or soul-tactics are employed to draw out soul-expression in certain forms. It may be a religious form of psychotherapy or psychoanalysis, and it has remarkable effects upon those who respond to it.

“The infallible test of all such things is as to what place they give to that fundamental aspect of the Cross of Christ which sets man by nature wholly aside and gives him no place at all—that is, the death of the man, not only the remission of his sins. Try this truth in such movements and they will collapse, and be popular no longer.” (1)

Most of all church movements put a man or woman at the head of it as its founder and what these people teach is soon more often quoted by their followers than the Bible itself. This is a dead giveaway that it is a personality cult in the making. When the Corinthians tried to do that with Paul, He told them that they were totally carnal. Then he told them that Christ is the foundation of His church and we who believe can only be built upon that ONE Foundation or it is not the Church (see 1 Cor. Ch. 3).

Carnal followers with the wrong foundation will never manifest the teachings of Christ in their lives. They will set themselves ahead of all other Christians and strive to be above them, even hating those who oppose them and their leaders and rejecting anyone that does not believe as they do. This is not the love of God at work and surely it goes against the description of His love in First Corinthians ch.13. Remember Jesus’ warning,

“Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.” (Matt 15:13-14, KJV)

In dealing with one another love should be the most preeminent manifestation of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Having said this, it is also important to know that loving one another does not mean we should accept any view suggested by our brothers and sisters that contradicts the truth. Instead, we should always try to speak the truth in love just as God nudges us and leads us through His calming peace. Yet whenever we find ourselves upset or even only uneasy about what someone has shared with us, we should take five or ten minutes to ask God why that happened. Are they wrong or is it us? Even if we have received the confirmation of the truth in our hearts immediately, we need a tender way to share the truth with them, which is something the old self can hardly provide. May God help us to get there over time. Amen.

(1) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/001342.html

“In keeping with T. Austin-Sparks’ wishes that what was freely received should be freely given and not sold for profit, and that his messages be reproduced word for word, we ask if you choose to share these messages with others, to please respect his wishes and offer them freely – free of any changes, free of any charge (except necessary distribution costs) and with this statement included.”