If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. (James 1:26)
The journey of spiritual growth is rather like a path through a forest which, every once in a while, splits into two forks. Our future growth depends entirely on which fork we choose. To negotiate it safely and reach our destination, we need two things – the right map, which is the Word of God, and the guide, the Holy Spirit. Always, these two work together, neither contradicting the other, to lead us in the path of true righteousness. The Word gives us the right direction, and the Spirit teaches us discernment. We need both to negotiate the road to spiritual maturity.
What we often forget, though, is that the enemy knows the Word better than we do, and he knows how to use it to deceive. We see this in the very first book in the Bible, when the serpent tempts Eve using the very Words of God. We see it again in the temptation of Christ in the wilderness. Satan had absolutely no problem using the Word of God for his purposes. Christ defeated him because He knew the Scriptures too, and knew the real truth instead of the ‘assumed truth’ – verses out of context which Satan tried to manipulate.
This is a very real danger facing believers today. Our enemy continues to use the same tactics, mainly because they work. In a church system which focuses largely on the manifestation of the Spirit without a true foundation in the Word, spiritual discernment very quickly becomes spiritual deception, and the ultimate result is destruction. One of the ways that it wreaks havoc is in spiritual abuse – where people use so-called discernment to accuse others, manipulating Scripture and stirring up religious fervor to aid them. When discernment becomes deception, destruction is sure to follow.
This often manifests itself as some kind of prophetic insight – ‘the Lord has told me so-and-so’ – and it’s couched in spiritual-sounding righteousness which seldom has any real foundation in truth. We only need to examine church splits to see the reality of this, or to look at how many godly men and women have been driven out of their ministry calling as a result of this kind of spiritual ‘witch hunt.’ And yet the Bible warns us over and over again to beware of this kind of ‘inside attack.’
It warns us also to watch our tongues, and of the judgement that awaits those who abuse others.Proverbs 19: 5 says: A false witness shall not be unpunished, and he that speaks lies shall not escape. The deception-based spiritual attacks against others, in the guise of discernment, is just that – false witness. Worse, the perpetrators are using the name of Lord Himself to justify the claims. It’s easy to forget that the Word of the Lord is sacrosanct. It’s as holy as He is, because Christ Himself is the Word.
Deception that masquerades as spiritual discernment is, then, not only false witness, but it’s also claiming to speak on behalf of God, and it’s also misusing Scripture. To speak an untruth is one thing. To claim to have heard it from God is quite another. And that is not even taking into account the destruction that results. We’re told to preserve unity at all times. We’re told to love one another, to exhort and uphold one another, to disciple others and teach them, to show compassion and mercy and manifest God’s own nature.
Tragically, there are many within the body of Christ who are battered and broken, wounded by so called discernment. This is the result of too much focus on the Spirit and no real knowledge of the Word. Christians are encourage to ‘develop their spiritual gifts’ without being solidly rooted in the truth. They spend too much time ‘fulfilling their spiritual destiny’ as a mover and a shaker to have time to truly study the Word of God.
I believe implicitly that God has a calling, a plan and a purpose, for every single member of His body. I also believe that we need the spiritual gifts to operate in the church, now more than ever. But the Word must come first – in the beginning there was the Word – and that includes those verses that many Christians gloss over or don’t want to hear. Our God is one of perfect balance. He has given us the means to fulfill His purpose, but growth needs to be rooted in His ways and not ours.
It is one of the saddest things to see God’s children doing the enemy’s work for him. Unless the Word comes first, we have no way to check that what we’re hearing is actually from God. We may be hearing, certainly, but it may be another spirit entirely. How tragic it is that so many will see Christ at the end, only to hear Him say, ‘begone, for I never knew you’ because somewhere along that path to maturity they lost their way.
We need to take hold of a simple truth. Satan will always use the things that God has ordained to try to deceive us. He cannot create anything of his own, and so he will steal what rightfully belongs to us. True spiritual discernment and real prophetic gifts will always be top of his list, because they are the very things we need to defeat him. Above all else, we should hunger and thirst after the Word of God. This is our very foundation, our shield, our rock – and it is the one weapon that he cannot stand against.
Jesus did not rely on a ‘move of the Spirit’ to defeat the devil. He relied on the Word – the same Word that is settled in heaven, that is eternal and unchanging, and which God Himself watches over in order to ensure it’s fulfillment. A true move of the Spirit is an awesome and wonderful thing. It is a great and special gift from a loving God to His people. But the spiritual walk is not about that. It’s about being guided, on a daily basis, by the Spirit who leads us into all truth – the Word.
Father, help us to grow in Your Word, so that we might learn to know what is truly of You and what is not. Help us to guard our tongues, our hearts and our minds, so that we will not be led into deception. Help us to love others with Your perfect love, to avoid the traps of false witness and incorrect assumptions that cause so much hurt to others.