Discerning Truth

Subtitle: How To Evaluate Competing Truth Claims

Edited: 2/9/21

God reveals himself through:

  1. Scripture / His Word
  2. His Spirit (especially fruit of His Spirit)
  3. Signs and wonders of His Holy Spirit
  4. Nature/Creation
  5. Elders (especially God-fearing ones)

We receive His revelation through:

  1. Having hearts longing to follow Him regardless the cost
  2. Trusting in God (not us) to reveal

Tragically, God repeatedly tells us that MANY will be deceived from following His true way.

Even if your way “seems right,” (Prov. 14:12), or you think you are, “offering service to God,” (John 16:2), or you study something carefully (Josh. 9:14), you can be woefully in error. In fact, Jesus repeatedly warns about people who will meet God thinking they followed Him, and He will turn and say, “I never knew you,” (e.g. Matt. 7:23).

Even more, Jesus compares those who find God’s true way to a, “small…gate,” and, “narrow…road,” (Matt. 7:13). And we read of 400 false prophets compared to 1 true prophet (1 Kings 22), or even 850 false prophets compared to 1 true prophet (1 Kings 18:19).

All of this should put the fear of God in us who think we are on the right path.

But thankfully, God does not make it hard to find His way. He literally is screaming his wisdom to any willing to follow Him (see Prov. 1:20ff). So let’s consider:

  • 2 completely trustworthy ways to discern God’s will,
  • 3 supplementary ways to find God’s will, and
  • 2 things God desires of us

2 Completely Trustworthy Ways to Discern God’s Will

Way #1: The Scriptures

Jesus, Satan, and The Scriptures

Jesus begins his ministry with an encounter with Satan in the desert (see Matt. 3-4). This happens after Jesus was baptized in water, the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove (Matt. 3:16), God the Father spoke clearly that Jesus was His Son (Matt. 3:17), and the Holy Spirit led Him to the desert (Matt. 4:1).

After all that, Jesus is asked by Satan if He is God’s true Son (Matt. 4:6). Now consider how many ways Jesus could answer this. He could point to the Spirit-as-dove experience, or God’s audible voice. He could talk about his experiences being led by the Holy Spirit. But, to Jesus, these were not the ultimate authority. Instead, He answers by saying, “It is written…” (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10). To Jesus, the written word of God is the ultimate authority.

In fact, even when Satan responds by twisting Scripture (Matt. 4:6), Jesus just points Him back to the full context of what God wrote in Scripture: “It is also written…” (Matt. 4:7). Thus, not only is Scripture the ultimate authority to Jesus, but it also is the ANTIDOTE to false/twisting of Scripture. Jesus does not say throw your hands up in the air when people twist Scripture. He shows us to look closer, to follow the context, and that the Bible is the best interpreter of the Bible.

Jesus, The Sword, The End

God’s Word (i.e. Scripture) was not just Jesus’ ultimate authority at the beginning of His ministry. Instead, He repeatedly points people back to Scripture throughout His ministry. When Pharisees have bad Bible interpretations, He counters by saying, “Have you not read what God said to you…?” (Matt. 22:31). Again, He counters false Bible teachings by people looking closer at Scripture. He also says that the word of God will be the final judge for all people (John 12:47-50). Note: we will not be judged on the basis of what we think God’s word says, but on what it actually says.

So then, in the final book of the Bible, we have a vision of Jesus returning to earth to judge all. And, “Coming out of his [Jesus’] mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations,” (Rev. 19:15). At first glance, the mouth seems a strange place to hold your sword, doesn’t it? But then we can consider that God’s word is compared to a sword (Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12), and thus it is VERY FITTING that Jesus judges the nations based on the sword that comes out of His mouth: the word of God.

Thus, in the beginning, end, and throughout Jesus’ ministry, we see that what God says in Scripture is ultimate, final, and binding. Though it can be twisted, the answer to that is knowing the Bible MORE, not less. In all this, God’s word (Scripture) is a completely trustworthy way to know God’s will.

Way #2: The Holy Spirit’s Fruit

In addition to Scripture, we read also that the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit is another completely trustworthy way to discern God’s will.

Namely, Galatians 5 compares “acts of the flesh” with “fruit of the Spirit”. Acts of the flesh include things like: “sexual immorality…witchcraft…discord…dissensions…drunkenness…” (Gal. 5:19-20).

Whereas, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal. 5:22-23).

Note that this is not our definition of love, joy, peace, etc. Instead, we compare Scripture with Scripture to get a fuller view of God’s love (for instance, see 1 Cor. 13 and 1 John). In fact, the fullest picture of God’s fruit of the Spirit can be found in Jesus himself. He is love fully formed, joy fully formed, etc. This is why in the same letter (Galatians), Paul can talk about praying that, “Christ is fully formed within you,” (Gal. 4:19).

Similarly, James 3 compares true teachers with false teachers. In fact, this is a big theme in the book of James. Again, God uses the fruit of each teacher as a mark of authenticity (even over the words they are saying). Specifically, God’s wisdom looks like: “purity, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy…peacemakers…” etc. (James 3:17-18). While “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” wisdom looks like: “bitter envy…selfish ambition…boasting…” (James 3:13-16).

God’s fruit (which comes from his Holy Spirit) can’t be counterfeited. Again, we should seek the whole counsel of God’s word to understand what fruit of the Spirit really looks like.

Thus, the fruit of the Spirit AND God’s Scriptures are the 2 means of discerning truth that are completely trustworthy in themselves.


3 supplementary ways to find God’s will

In addition to the Scriptures and fruit of God’s Spirit, God also gives other means by which to discern truth.

Supplementary Way #1: Spiritual Gifts

In Deut. 18, when discerning between true and false prophets, God’s people were told, “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken.” (Deut. 18:22). In other words, if they don’t accurately exhibit the spiritual gift of prophecy, they are false.

Similarly, Acts 14:3 speaks of God confirming the message of the apostles with “signs and wonders.” Similar things are said in Mark 16:20; Heb. 2:3-4; etc.

However, we are also warned that there can be counterfeit versions of these gifts (Acts 16:16-18; 2 Thes. 2:9; etc.). Thus, Deut. 13 speaks of God testing his people by sending false prophets who do accurately predict the future, but speak contrary to God’s word by telling Israel to serve other gods (Deut. 13:1-2). Again, we see that God’s written word (Scripture) has the ultimate authority and is the measure by which we can test true works of God from false ones.

Thus, in all this, spiritual gifts aren’t a sure-fire way to know God’s will (since they can be false). However, those following God’s true will should expect signs and wonders of some sort to authenticate that path as needed.

Supplementary Way #2: God’s Created Order

In Romans 1 we are told that creation itself sufficiently reveals that there is a Creator who will judge us. Elsewhere, Jesus tells his audience to, “Look at the birds,” (Matt. 6:26), and “See…the flowers…” (Matt. 6:28). Further, Jesus and Paul both use logical principles from time-to-time to correct those going astray (e.g. Luke 14:1-5; 1 Cor. 15:12-19; etc.). And in Psalm 19 we read of God giving witness to Himself through the Bible AND creation.

Thus, we see that God’s created world can serve to help authenticate and confirm what He is doing. However, it is clear that creation only gives us “general” revelation of God and His ways, whereas the Scriptures and Holy Spirit give unique, special revelation of who God is that cannot be found in nature (compare Romans 1 with Romans 3, for instance). Further, we also know that this world is under a curse (Gen. 3; Rom. 8) so does not perfectly display all of who God is. Like with spiritual gifts, the best we can see with the created world is through a mirror “dimly” (1 Cor. 13). It does help authenticate and confirm, however, when we have seen rightly things in Scripture and via God’s Holy Spirit.

Supplementary Way #3: The Wisdom of our Elders

Proverbs 1 begins by talking about God’s wisdom. We first read: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov. 1:7). But immediately after this we read, “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.” (Prov. 1:8). Thus, the wisdom of our elders (especially, in this case, our parents) can be a powerful confirmation of God’s wisdom. So long as we know that it is incorrect where it swerves from God’s word/wisdom.

I think also of King Rehoboam when he first became king (see 1 K 12). There he chose the “wisdom” of his peers over the wisdom of his father’s generation. Sadly, this was a foolish move that brought the dissolution of his kingdom. He should have given more weight to his elders and their insights.

But in the next chapter (1 Kings 13), we read of a true prophet who hears from God, but then second-guesses what God says based on an older prophet telling him otherwise. Thus, we see, that it is not always a sure-fire way to know truth by listening to our elders. It is, however, a good general principle, as seen throughout Proverbs.


2 things God desires of us to find God’s will

Thus far we see that God speaks the loudest and clearest through the full testimony of His Scriptures and the fruit of His Spirit. But He also amplifies this many times over through signs and wonders of His Spirit, the created/natural world around us, and godly elders.

In all these ways (and more) God shows that He is speaking to us and wants to speak to us even more than we want to listen: “I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.'” (Is. 65:1).

However, sadly, even with all of these clear witnesses to His will, MANY people still completely miss his voice.

Why?

Job #1: Trust in God alone to reveal

Even with all of these methods, we still are hopelessly blind if we think the the burden of revelation falls on our shoulders.

Matt. 11:25-30 shows that God hides things from “the wise and understanding,” yet has “revealed them to little children;” (v. 25). The problem was not with them being “wise” or “understanding”. The problem was that they placed their trust in their own wisdom and ability to understand God. Later in the passage, Jesus talks about giving “rest” from your labor [presumably in trying to understand God’s ways]. How? By humbling yourself like a child to receive revelation from Jesus. From that place, Jesus says you will “learn from me…and you will find rest for your souls,” (v. 29). Thus, the burden of revelation is on Jesus, and we are to come as dependent children, humble before Him.

Similarly, in Jeremiah 17:5-10, God talks of 2 types of people: (1) those who trust in man/flesh, (2) those who trust in God. Those who trust in man, “shall not see any good come,” (v. 6). While those, “whose trust is the LORD,” will not be, “anxious in the year of drought.” They will, “not cease to bear fruit.” (Jer. 17:7-8). Everything turns on where you place your trust. Later in that same passage, he says that, “the heart is deceitful above all things,” (v. 9). Your own heart and understanding is woefully deceptive.

God will blind those who place all trust in their own eyes to see. Instead, He wants people to trust in Him who reveals things to blind eyes. When we place our trust/burden in Him to reveal (over our ability to see), then we have set ourselves in a position to truly see. This is why, for instance, Psalm 119 tells us to pray for understanding from the Bible, and 1 Cor. 2 emphasizes that the Holy Spirit has to help us understand the things of God. Even though the Bible is completely trustworthy in everything it says, we still need to seek and rest in God to interpret and study it properly. Such humility will be true liberation!

Job #2: Seek God to have a will to follow Him

Romans 1:18 says, that people, “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” And 2 Thes 2 tells us that God sends “strong delusion” so that people will believe lies, “in order that all may be condemned who…had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (vv. 11-12).

In other words, the wickedness of our hearts can blind us. Think of Jesus’ story of the parable of the sower. In that story, God’s word went into 4 different hearts, but only 1 yielded a good result. It was the EXACT SAME word in each scenario. But all changed based on the disposition of the heart.

On the positive side of this, Jesus tells us that, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God…” (John 7:17). And Romans 12:1-2 show that when we offer ourselves as “living sacrifices,” we will THEN “discern what is the will of God…”

In all this, if we have a heart open to God’s ways, THEN we will see Him clearly. Look at Prov. 1 again. While God’s wisdom is YELLING out, He is waiting for those who want to turn and follow His ways (no matter the cost). Such a love of the truth and God’s ways (and God himself) is what He is looking for. And even if you recognize lack in this area, start like the bride in Song of Songs 1:4 who calls to her beloved to “draw me away with you.”

In other words, she knew she needed God’s help to have a heart surrendered to Him. God is seeking the same today. When we give this soft heart to Him, He will speak LOUDLY, through all the means mentioned above. When we come with obstinate hearts, though, it is like a blind man who has the sunlight, a flashlight, and a candle light all in front of him (3 different sources of light), and yet all is darkness to him.

God help us long for his truth, no matter the cost.

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