Reading again some of A.W. Tozer’s works I came across his tests on “How To Try the Spirits”.
He suggests 7 questions we all should ask every time we hear a strange teaching or a new emphasis or a different gospel from what is taught in the New Testament by the apostles.
This week I will briefly summarise several of them and complete the summary in a future edition.
A.W. Tozer was a faithful American preacher of the post-World War 2 period whose prophetic insights are just now beginning to sound so clear to those of us who are listening.
He shows from the Scriptures that we should be ‘testing all things’ [1 Thess 5:21], ‘try the spirits’ [1 John 4:1] and ‘beware of false prophets’ [Matt 7:15]. From all this it is very clear that these last days would be filled with false spirits, false doctrines, lies and experiences, and those of us who are awake would be able to apply several tests, using the Word of God as our plumbline.
We must apply the tests honestly and prayerfully so that our prejudices, our history and other influences may not affect our judgment.
Your Relation to God
The vital test of all religious experience is how it affects our relation to God, our concept of Him and our attitude towards Him.
In all things God should be magnified; only those doctrines which magnify Him in all things are true. ‘Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and His greatness is unsearchable’. [Psalm 145:3].
Anything which tends to veil His glory or make Him appear less wonderful than how He is described in Scripture, is a failure. Anything that detracts from His holiness, His justice, His all-knowing power and glory or His love, is most certainly a false doctrine or a false experience.
A suggestion that God may not be in complete control in His world [despite sin and Satan’s rebellion] will come from a false spirit. So too will a tempting thought that maybe God doesn’t care enough about me – despite His continued promises that ‘no-one can snatch [us] out of the Father’s hand’ [John 10:29].
If anyone downplays the importance of God’s justice or accuses Him of being unloving or unmerciful to any sinner who repents, he is most definitely a false spirit. Rob Bell, a supposed Christian who denies hell, is in this category.
These are just some possibilities in testing whether we let God be God or whether we cast Him in our own image.
What Do We Do With Jesus?
A second test is to ask: How has this new experience affected my attitude towards the Lord Jesus Christ? God the Father gives His son Jesus the ultimate high place in heaven and on earth.
‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’ [Matt 3:17]. Now we are free to enter into God’s presence in prayer.
Before Jesus had made us clean through His sacrifice and our faith, only a priest could mediate between man and God. Now we can have that boldness [not presumption] thanks to our Lord Jesus Christ.
If a new experience or teaching claims that we can treat Him with frivolity or presumption, it is wrong.
If the new thing does not make us return to our first love, as in Rev 2:4, it too is a false spirit.
And what defines our love for Jesus? Not a warm and fuzzy comfortable cuddle-up with our Saviour – but a stronger commitment to His cause. Remember Jesus said: ‘if you love Me, obey my commands.’
Yes, He is our shelter in the time of storm, but storms pass and then we go out into the world again to WORK for Him and prove our love.
What About the Scriptures?
The next test has to do with the way the new teaching or experience affects our attitude to the Bible, the Word of God.
It’s even more basic than this. The written Scriptures, being God’s Word for all time, will define our doctrine and behaviour in all important matters, if we are honest.
The Bible does not teach that there will be new light and expanded spiritual experiences in the last days: in fact it teaches the exact opposite.
If some come teaching ‘slaying in the spirit’, the necessity of tongues for salvation, the ‘New Apostles’, Word-Faith or ‘once saved always saved’, they can easily be tested by reference to the WHOLE counsel of God in the New Testament. All of the above doctrines are distortions of the original gospel as taught by the apostles – just read the Book of Romans for example, and believe it in the normal historical-grammatical objective way.
If the new teaching downgrades the importance of Scripture, or misinterprets it out of context, or makes it say something else, it is a false teaching and should be dismissed. Only then can we depend on the promises of God’s Word.
The Spirit of Truth
As Tozer wrote: ‘While true power lies not in the letter of the text but in the Spirit that inspired it, we should never underestimate the value of the letter. The text of truth has the same relation to the truth as the honeycomb has to honey. One serves as the receptacle for the other. But there the analogy ends. The honey can be removed from the comb, but the Spirit of Truth cannot and does not operate apart from the letter of the Holy Scriptures.
‘For this reason a growing acquaintance with the Holy Spirit will always mean an increasing love for the Bible.’
But wait – there’s more – in a few weeks.