How Do I Know?


I sat in the audience, not quite believing my ears. As I looked around me, I could see women, eyes focused intently, soaking in every word the woman was speaking. Ann Voskamp, a well-known and much-beloved author and speaker, was speaking truth and lies so subtly and tightly intertwined together that I had a really difficult time nailing down just exactly what was wrong with what she was saying. Listening to her and trying to discern truth from error was like trying to wrap your fingers around jello. In other words, almost impossible.

But I knew something was seriously wrong.

Afterwards, I went home and did some research. What exactly was wrong came to light and I knew from that point on that she was not going to be an author I read. Ever. See here and here for more information.

Now, if you are an Ann Voskamp fan, I apologize. This post is not about her and I am certainly not going to judge her heart or her motive. And I know that she has lots of good things to say. But as my dad has often said: Are you going to eat a delicious brownie that contains 1% poison? I definitely choose not to, especially when it comes to the spiritual food I ingest.

So how do I know what is true and what is false? When one of my friends asked me this week how I personally discern between true and false authors, I thought that perhaps the steps I take to discern may be beneficial for some of you, as well, so I thought I’d share them this morning. Here are the tests I run for teachers that help me determine if they are someone I should be spending my God-given time and resources on reading or listening to–

1. Most importantly, by far, is their message. Does what they are saying go with the Bible 100% of the time? Especially concerning what God tells us in His Word about sin, repentance, Jesus, salvation, sanctification, and separation from the world. If they say something new and different that hasn’t been taught for thousands of years, I stop to pause. God didn’t suddenly give personal insight to an author or speaker that differs from His Word.

He also doesn’t change His Word to match the culture, which is what so many preachers are claiming these days. God’s Word has stood the test of time and if anyone is preaching differently, I consider them a false teacher.

As you look for reviews on questionable teachers, be sure they are reviews that are biblically based and not personal vendettas aimed at the person. There should always be a clear scriptural reason why they are considered a false teacher.

2. Do they claim to have personal revelation from God? This is almost always a red flag. I am not saying that the Holy Spirit doesn’t press upon us and guide us, but what I am saying is if an author claims that he or she has had a personal message from Jesus (such as Sarah Evans does in Jesus Calling) I will not read them. This is a classic occultic practice and if you do any research at all, you will find that almost all occultic and new age books have been written with the help of a “spirit guide”. This is no different.

Jesus is not giving special messages to certain persons. We have The Bible and that is all we need for a faithful walk with Him.

3. Who does the person cite and admire? This one is a little trickier. Sometimes well-meaning men and women will err in this area. But if I read that Catholic mystics or other blatantly false teachers and doctrines have shaped their ministry (such as is the case with Tony Campolo), my ears are immediately perked. We are changed by what we read. It is so important.

I remember the time a year or two ago when a pastor was checking out my blog. He told me the first page he went to was my Favorite Books page. He did a wise thing because you can tell an awful lot about a person by the books they read. And the authors they cite. And the preachers and speakers they promote.

4. Is the person and their message popular with the world? Most teachers of truth are not well-beloved by the world, because the message they bring is one of self-sacrifice and total submission to the Savior. It is not a message that the world wants to hear. I am always wary if their book has reached the best seller list.

And, more recently, I even look to see if the person or their message is popular in the church. Because of the post-modern state the church is in, this, too, is also often a big red flag.

5. If I am still unsure after items 1-4, I will see what I can find out about their personal lives. With a little research online, I can often find out some information about their lifestyle and life choices. I want to know if they are living godly lives. You have to do this very carefully, because any warped person can give a scathing “testimony” on some unknown blog. Check for legitimate sources and for multiple matching accounts of problems.

Many of these things I have listed here are only possible by, first and foremost, knowing God’s Word and understanding who God is, as defined in scripture. We cannot properly discern if we spend no time in the Word. In fact, we are studying 2 Peter right now in Bible Study and chapter 2 describes false teachers. We are learning what to look for and how to discern through this study. I highly recommend Kay Arthur’s inductive study of this book to get you started if you are serious about wanting to learn to discern.

I also believe that a good knowledge of general history and church history is also extremely helpful in discerning in these current times. For example, if you realize that many men and women were martyred at the hands of the Catholics during the reformation, you will understand why there is such a big problem trying to unify with this false system today. It helps to know what has happened in the past to discern the current times.

I also believe that a natural skepticism is necessary in this dangerous age we live in. The Christian bookstore is like a spiritual minefield these days and we need to shop for Christian books with that in mind. It is hard to get past the security and safety we used to feel in a Christian place (not only bookstores, but libraries of our churches and institutes of higher learning, as well) but, unfortunately, it has changed and we need to recognize this and be on guard even in places that are called “Christian”.

It is not my wish to upset you this morning. I rarely name names on this blog but the bottom line is this: We are being fed a steady diet of unbiblical doctrine and it is slowly– but surely– changing the church. It is slowly–but surely– changing you and me.

It is so important that we stand up for what is right and true, according to God’s Word and stop trying to make everybody happy — because it isn’t going to happen. We have a responsibility for ourselves, and for our families, to know the difference between the true and the false. We live in perilous times, my friend, and it is critical that we learn to discern using God’s Word (I John 4:1; Matthew 24:24; Matthew 10:16; 2 Corinthians 11:3-4; 2 Peter 2:1-3).

 If you have been challenged or helped by this post would you consider sharing it? Thank you!



7 thoughts on “How Do I Know?”

  1. It seems that in this day that we live in we have to start out with a cynical caution whenever listening to or reading someone new. It is hard to find trustworthy people to learn from, but they are out there. Thanks for the advice and warnings.

    1. Thank you, Trent. I always appreciate your comments and thoughts. If you ever want to “guest post” just let me know! I’d love to share some of your wisdom with my readers :)

  2. I hope you don’t delete this because I am not trying to offend and I am on topic. You talked about how we should be weary of people who are popular with the world. I would like to remind you that Jesus was very popular with the world and the worldly. It was the church crowd that could not accept Him. They received all their knowledge and wisdom from the writings of the forefathers but did not have the Spirit to interpret them (and they totally missed it). You also said that natural skepticism is necessary and I believe that to be completely untrue. We should have a natural discernment but skepticism breeds fear of all that is unfamiliar. And some parts of God will definitely be unfamiliar. Now Jesus says if we ask for and egg God won’t give us a snake. That entire passage is about asking for more of God and His Holy Spirit. If you are seeking God He won’t give you demonic teaching. If the enemy tries to bring teaching that is against God He will give you discernment. But its about faith. Do you believe God is able to teach you something new without allowing you to be led astray? I am not talking about faith in a religion, theology, or doctrine. It is about faith in the person of Jesus who is still alive, intimate, conversational, present, and moving. It’s easy to just read God’s word and do what it says but don’t you ever wander if there’s more? A fullness or intimacy that you may be missing? Don’t sub God’s word (the bible) for knowing Him. We can know about Him through the Bible which is a wonderful thing. But knowing Him is so much more. I would challenge and encourage you to seek what the Holy Spirit is speaking to you about how much He loves you and just wants to KNOW you. It will wreck your world and give you a mercy and compassion for all those on this journey of working out our salvation. Also be careful to make true or false statements about those in the Church. That is His Bride. That person is His son or daughter. He hates it when His children can’t get along.

    Could it be that we do not know even 10% of everything there is to know about God? Humble, constant learners full of compassion and mercy can never go wrong with Jesus.

    1. Thanks so much for writing your comments. I have taken a few days to thoughtfully pray over a response to your concerns. I would like to respond biblically using the Word of God. If you have further questions please don’t hesitate to ask.

      1. How do we know God?

      There is only one answer: through faith in the written Word of God. Yes, it is possible to know the Word without having the Holy Spirit, without believing it, or understanding it, or trusting it, or obeying it, but it is not possible to know God or the work of the Spirit, apart from His Word. The Holy Spirit does not reveal God directly to the soul apart from the written Word of God. It would be instructive to read Deut. 6-11 and notice the connection between love for God and keeping His Word. Some other passages to check out are: Proverbs 30:5-6; Isaiah 8:20; 2 Timothy 3:13-4:4; I Peter 1:22-25. Psalm 119 is also a great chapter to study. I fear that you may have fallen for the idea that there is some other way (in your example it would be an “experience”) to know God other than through simple faith in His Word.

      2. “I would like to remind you that Jesus was very popular with the world and the worldly.”

      While I would agree with you that Jesus was definitely hated by the established religious leaders, Jesus also tells us in Matthew 10:22: “And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.” Did you notice the words “by all”?

      And John 17:14 says: “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” And in John 15:18 He tells us “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.” Notice that Jesus doesn’t use the word “church” or “religious leaders” but instead chooses to use the word “world”?

      This just doesn’t sound like He was “popular”. I encourage you to read the gospels to gain a fuller understanding of this. I just recently did this myself and it really helped me to know my Savior so much better.

      3. “Do you believe God is able to teach you something new without allowing you to be led astray?”

      My answer is that I believe that we have already been given everything we need to know about God in His Word.

      2 Peter 1:2-4 says this: “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” (Bold mine).

      Do you notice that the words “has given” are in the past tense? This would imply that we have already received all things that pertain to life and godliness. We have no need of any other revelation. God has already given us everything we need.

      4. “He won’t give you demonic teaching.”

      Amen to that. Jesus would never give you demonic teaching. But I would like you to consider the fact that perhaps many of the things that people claim to be from Jesus are actually not from Him. Scripture is so clear that Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). It is also clear that many false doctrines and teachers will appear in the last days. I encourage you to study 2 Peter and Matthew 24. And I guess my question for you would be—if Jesus would tell you something that is outside of His Word, how would you really even know if it is true or just Satan (or a demon) masquerading as an angel of light? I think the answer is, quite simply, that you can’t possibly know if it is coming from Jesus or a demon.

      5. “Also be careful to make true or false statements about those in the Church. That is His bride. That person is His son or daughter. He hates it when His children can’t get along.”

      First, I would never presume to determine anyone’s standing before God. All I can do is examine their fruit, which we are called to do as believers (Matthew 7:15-20; 2 Peter 3). But I would add here that we can (and should) examine religious systems. If they add to or take away from God’s plan of salvation as written in His Word, than we can (and should) condemn it.

      I also want to mention here that many of us have been sold the lie that unity is the single most important thing to God, above all else. But I believe that the Bible teaches that Truth is just as important to Him. Love should never trump Truth. They are equally important. It is so important that we take the whole of the Bible when we talk about God and not just the passages that we like or that make us comfortable. I would encourage you to watch the following video. It makes this point so much better than I ever could (and it’s not too long)—

      6. And, finally, I want to address this sentence—“Don’t you ever wonder if there’s more?”

      No, I don’t. Because I truly don’t need more. I don’t feel like I need an “experience” to fulfill me. I love God’s Word. Through it, I am learning to know Him more intimately and truly understand His Sovereignty and all He has done for me. I am understanding my need to obey and surrender to His will. God has worked tremendously in my life and I can see the marvelous changes He has wrought in me and others, as well. He continues His work in me and in many other wonderful Christian brothers and sisters.

      Can I encourage you to join the Growing4Life 2015 Bible Reading Challenge that’s coming up? I truly believe that if you dive into God’s Word with a teachable spirit and desire to obey, you will be so blessed. I do hope you will consider it. Thanks for your comments and I hope that I was able to answer them biblically and lovingly.

    2. I did get your second comment and I am going to choose, as you suggested, not to post it. I was most disturbed that you wrote nothing about sin, repentance, or salvation in your response, but that you chose instead to focus on some ethereal experiences and visions. I truly hope that you turn your heart back to the Bible and God’s plan for fulfillment instead of your own. You cannot separate scripture from who Jesus is. It’s the only way we truly know who He is. I urge you to turn back to God’s Word and accept it as Truth. You may want to take some time to study Jeremiah 23:25-32. I do understand, however, from your comments that your “experiences” and visions have, unfortunately, become the basis for your spirituality. I truly hope that our conversation has made you think. Thanks for the conversation, but I do not believe that your beliefs and presuppositions are backed up by God’s Word, therefore I cannot give them consideration.

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