Discerning truth from falsehood

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How do you know is something is true or false? How do you discern whether a teaching is true or false? We are called in various parts of the Bible to stand firm in the gospel and denounce false teaching. But how do we go about doing that?

Picture this scene. Bob is sitting at church listening to a sermon. He is looking at the passage that the sermon is being preached from with a confused look on his face. What is being said at the pulpit seems to be completely unrelated to what is written in the Biblical passage. Even worse it seems to be at odds with other passages in scripture. The congregation responds enthusiastically to the sermon because in truth the preacher is a charismatic and an eloquent speaker. At the end of the service, Bob's friend comes over to him:

Bob's friend: "Chaley, the message was powerful ooo"
Bob: "Hmm, I'm just confused about the verse he was using"
Bob's friend: "Chaley, don't worry. Didn't you hear him say it was a revelation. Spiritual levels dey oo. This guy is powerful"
Bob: "But didn't that point contradict that verse in Romans"
Bob's friend: "My friend stop all this. The man of God said it, of course it must be true. Do you know the anointing on his life?"

This is how Bob's friend discerns whether a message is "powerful" or not. The messenger authenticates the message. The anointing on the messenger is what validates whether what he teaches is true or false. The more anointed the messenger the less his words come under any scrutiny. And when challenged the messenger only has to appeal to his calling, his anointing or his ability to perform miraculous signs and wonders. But is that how we are to go about discerning truth?

The Unchanging Gospel

 In Paul's letter to the Galatians, he tells us of how he heard the gospel as revelation from Jesus Christ himself (For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ - Galations 1:12). After many years he goes to Jerusalem (Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also ... I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain - Galations 2:1-2). He seems to suggest here that even though he received the message as a direct revelation from God, if the gospel that he had been preaching was different from what the other Apostles preached, he would have been running his race in vain.  This is in line with what he says earlier in chapter 1 (But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. Galations 1:8-9)

The gospel Paul preached had to be in line with what was preached by the Apostles. The gospel the Apostles preached was what they were taught by Christ Jesus himself. Therefore both gospels must ultimately be the same message since they are from the same source. The gospel we preach today must be in line with that old gospel.  Those who stand behind our pulpits and preach are held to that old standard.  It's not about how eloquent they are, what feats of the supernatural they can do, or how "powerful" they are but whether what they preach is in line what the Apostles taught in the Scriptures.


The Berean Attitude

The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so; Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men." - Acts 17:10-12

Paul is in Berea and goes to preach at the synagogue. The Bereans are commended for not only listening to what Paul had to say with eagerness but also examining the Scriptures to see if what Paul was preaching was in line with what the Scriptures said. The mark of an authentic message is that it clearly states what is in the Scriptures. The Scriptures authenticate the message. So let us receive the Word with all eagerness but let us also examine the scriptures and ask questions when we don’t understand or aren’t clear about what is being said. As counter-cultural is this might seem, that is a commendable attitude that will help us discern truth from falsehood.

Here are some helpful questions we can ask when listening to a message. They are further expanded here.

1. Is God’s Word the most important part of this sermon?
2. Do you leave understanding the main point of the text?
3. Did the preacher preach Jesus?
4. Did the preacher apply the sermon to my life?
5. Does he speak as one who knows God or knows about God?