The Holy Spirit is real and vital to a church that pleases God. We cannot please God apart from the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit is present in a church, ministry will occur that cannot be explained in any other way. Christians filled with the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus promised, will do the same Spirit empowered things that Jesus himself did. Sick will often be healed. God will speak to our hearts. Motives of the heart will be discerned. Miracles will happen. Those in spiritual bondage will be freed. The broken-hearted will be restored. And in a spiritually healthy church, this will happen in a very Biblical and balanced way.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:17-21, Paul gives instruction and warning concerning manifestations of the Holy Spirit in church. “Pray continually. Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophesies with contempt; test everything and hold on to the good.”
We are told here to listen when people have things to say that God has laid on their hearts. If God has given someone a Word of Knowledge or a prophetic warning, we should listen –but we should also be discerning. We are told to test everything. 1 John 4:1 says it even a little stronger. “Test the spirits to see whether they are from God because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
A false prophet is anyone who claims that God laid something on his or her heart to share that isn’t actually from God. Most people would not intentionally try to deceive the church. But the problem is that it’s not always easy to know if that inner prompting I’m feeling is God or if it’s just my own feelings. It’s not always obvious if God is telling me to say something or if it’s just my own mind, or if some spiritual being other than the Holy Spirit is trying to manipulate my feelings and thoughts. Sometimes what we want to say is true. Sometimes we really believe that others need to hear what we have to say. But if the source is not God, even truth turns out to be something selfish or prideful and contrary to God’s purposes. This is why we are told to test the spirits.
The Bible doesn’t give us a specific test that covers every situation. It doesn't even give us a list of things to look for or to match against. What it does give us are some fundamental principles.
I think that testing the spirits can be summed up in these three questions: How does this experience or manifestation affect my attitude toward God? How does it affect my attitude toward Scripture? And how does it affect my attitude toward other Christians?
When we have any kind of religious experience, whether a prompting to speak or an ecstatic experience, or a deeply moving emotion, we have to ask ourselves: How does this affect my relationship with God? Does it honor God? Does it give Him glory? Does it affirm His sovereignty? Does it cause me to love Him more deeply? Does it draw me closer to God? And finally –and this is vital - Does it make God the center of attention? If my religious experience causes me love Jesus, magnify the Lord, worship and adore Him; if it has purified my concept of God; if causes God to appear more wonderful and glorious, then it probably is an experience from God. If, however, this experience in any way detracts from God, diminishes Jesus or exalts or makes anyone or anything other than God the center of attention, watch out.
The next question is: How does this experience relate to God’s already revealed Word? God will never reveal anything to you as truth that is not Scriptural. God’s Word is eternal –We don’t reinterpret it to make it socially acceptable or politically correct, and if our experience doesn’t match what the Bible shows to be eternal truth, we are the ones that are wrong. So, when God lays something on our hearts, or when the Holy Spirit reveals something to us, it will always reflect Biblical truth. If it causes us ignore God’s Word or invent creative ways to interpret God’s Word or look for loop holes in God’s Word, it’s not from God. It is that simple.
And the final question we must ask is: “How does this affect my relationship with other believers?” We know because God’s Word already tells us that God’s intention for the church is unity, His desire for the Body is that we love each other, His plan for humanity is reconciliation. We know that God calls us to be forgiving, merciful, graceful people. We know that we are to build one another up and edify each other. These are things the Bible clearly teaches. God will not prompt us to say things or do things that are contrary to His Word, so we know that anything from God whether a prompting or a revelation will help the Body of Christ, not harm it. When people claiming to be Spirit-Filled, leave a trail of wounded brothers and sisters in their wake, that’s a problem.
So, when someone says, “I have a word from the Lord,” we need to ask these three questions: How does this affect my relationship with God? How does this affect my understanding of God’s Word? How does this affect my relationship with God’s people?
When testing the spirits or when receiving promptings and urges ourselves, we need to ask those questions plus analyze our situation and motivation. Does what I think I should say or do have some self-serving motivation? Is it from God or does it simply allow me to vent frustration? Is it from God or is it simply an opinion I feel strongly about? If it is from God it will build the Body, honor God’s Word, and cause God to be worshiped.
“Pray continually. Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophesies with contempt; test everything and hold on to the good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17-21)