Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Ten Ways to Distinguish the Voice of Darkness from the Word of Light

The voice of darkness makes me shudder. But it's not an eerie moan or ghastly wailing that chills my soul. I do not shudder from fear. I shudder because the voice of darkness tickles my ears pleasantly with cheerful soundsand I know that its siren songs lead many astray (2 Tim 4:3).

For the voice might tell us to think positive thoughts. How could it be evil? The voice might tell us that we deserve the best life has to offer. How could it be bad? The voice might tell us that we are special. It makes us feel better about ourselves. The voice tells us that the truth lies within us. It sounds enlightening. The voice tells us to believe in ourselves. It is inspiring. The voice tells us to chase our dreams and reach for the stars. It is uplifting.

The truth is, the voice of darkness doesn't always sound so dark. The Father of Lies prefers to fly under the radar, avoiding scrutiny, glossing over inconvenient truths, and making light of it all. To those who question him, he'll whimsically respond, what's all the fuss about? Can't we all just get along? ...The voice delivers a positive, inclusive message! It stirs in us warm and fuzzy emotions! How could it be so dark if it seems so enlightening?

1. Because the voice comes from one who masquerades as an angel of light. While the voice of darkness might mimic one that comes from the light, uttering positive and uplifting things, remember that this is an optical illusion (2 Cor 11:14). In actuality, it comes from one who displays fifty shades of grey. And when contrasted with God's true light, which chases away the darkness, his shadowy lies remain exposed. The lies may initially seem inspiring, comforting, encouragingbut ultimately they lead to death. While the darkness constantly shifts and contorts itself into many different shapes and takes on many different voices, God's light is unchanging, steadfast, and pure. For in the true "Father of lights" there is "no variation or shadow due to change." (James 1:17b).

2. Because the voice twists the truth. It masterfully mixes truth with lies. And sometimes the voice even sounds Christian. It might teach us about love, peace, truth, and spiritual fulfillment. It might talk about "god." But if we listen discerninglyespecially when the voice emanates through the mega-popular spiritual and self-help icons of contemporary culture like Oprah Winfrey, Eckhart Tolle, and otherswe might realize that what the voice means by love, peace, truth, and god, is very different from the biblical definitions of those things. "Love" is a mere emotion. "Peace" is mental detachment. "Truth" is relative. And "god" is the inner light within ourselves. The voice claims that we create our own truth, that we shape our own destinies, and ultimately that we can save ourselves. It can use "Christian" terminology, while at the same time convincing us that we have no need for a Savior

3. Because the voice points us away from Christ. It is always coaxing us to take our eyes off Jesus and to focus on cheap substitutes—often on ourselves. If the words of a preacher, religious leader, spiritual teacher, or "Christian" author are not rooted in the gospel of Christ, then be on guard! Because if they are not speaking God's Word then they are speaking the words of the enemy. There is no in between. Remember that the Word is Jesus (John 1:1-3). And Scripture always points to Jesus; for as He said Himself, "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me." (John 5:39). Beware of self-help teachers who claim that self-actualization is life's ultimate goal. When you hear teachers who urge you to rely on your own strength and fulfill your own dreamsrun! Even if their teaching is sprinkled with a Bible verse here and there, they are preaching nothing more than a false gospel of personal godhood. Just like Satan span together partial truths with lies to tempt Adam and Eve with promises of their own godhood, the voice will often dangle the carrot of self-deification before us. Simply put, if it's not about Jesus, then it's not of God.

4. Because the voice preaches counterfeit christs. Jesus warned that, “Many will come in My name” to lead people astray. (Luke 21:8; Mark 13:6 emphasis added). Jesus urged us to, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” (Matt 7:15-16). Indeed, some "woolly" forms of false teaching use deceptively Jesus-friendly language, as is now becoming common in today's religiously pluralistic culture. False teaching gives rise to counterfeit christs, who not only appear as the more easily identifiable false messiahs (such as the recent Korean false messiah, Sun Myung Moon), but more insidiously in the form of misleading "Christian" teaching that distorts people’s view of who Jesus really is. Take, for example, the Convenient Christ of the powerful celebrity-pastors who preach Word of Faith theology. The New Age Jesus is another shadowy counterfeit that has even permeated the Church. You might think the Muslim Jesus would be a more obvious offender, until you realize that this treacherous counterfeit is cozied up to by an alarming number of evangelical missionaries and missiologists in Muslim ministry like those practicing "high-spectrum" contextualization or the "Jesus in the Qur'an" method. And it is becoming increasingly common to hear outlandish lies about Jesuseven from prominent evangelical leaders like that made by former Fuller Seminary President, Richard Mouw, when he pronounced on that the Counterfeit Christ of Mormonism is essentially one and the same as the biblical Jesus. Do not be surprised when you encounter the voice of darkness in form of the false teachers about whom Jesus forewarned uswhether it comes from professing Christians or not. Test everything.

5. Because the voice adds to, or contradicts, Scripture. The Word of Light is God-breathed, profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that believers may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17). Remember that Scripture is sufficient for all teaching and is the basis for sound biblical doctrine. If the voice you hear doesn't hold closely to biblical truth, beware. If the voice comes from a pastor who likes to veer frequently from Scripture and add his or her own voice, gimmicks, and clever ideas more than adhering to the purity of God's Word, beware. If the voice you hear preaches a doctrine that distorts Scripture, or takes verses out of context, to corroborate that doctrine, beware. As believers, we are called to examine every teaching and hold fast what is good (1 Thess 5:21). We are to hold all teaching up against God's Word, like the "noble" Berean Jews were commended for doing in the Book of Acts. For we've been forewarned that "the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths." (2 Tim 4:3-4). It is crucial, then, that we equip ourselves with a thorough knowledge of Scripture, and biblical doctrine (such as that of the Trinity), in order to distinguish absolute truth from lies in a relativistic culture of deception.

6. Because the voice quotes Scripture to trick us. And just because a Christian teacher or a spiritual adviser might quote Scripture, doesn't mean they are reflecting the Word of Light. Satan knows the Bible well and loves to quote Scripture in order to destroy faith or lead others away from Christ. For example, when he tempted Jesus to throw himself down from the temple roof, he argued from Scripture, saying, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written: He will give his angels charge of you.” (Matt 4:6 emphasis added). Beware! Satan does not always try to ruin faith by denying the Bible. He often tries to destroy our faith by cherry-picking one Bible verse out of context to lead us into disobedience. But if we know the Word of God well, we will not be led astray when Scripture is twisted or misapplied! If we remember that all Scripture points to Christ, we will not be duped when we encounter teaching that ultimately points away from Him, or to a counterfeit of Him. If we abide in God's Word, we can rest assured that He will abide in us and His Word will be a lamp to our feet. (John 15:7; Psa 119:105).

7. Because the voice tells us not to think. When you hear teaching that tells you to relax and let your conscious mind go, let your thoughts go, let your ability to exercise judgement, reason, and discernment fly away, beware. Today's increasingly popular mindfulness teaching, for example, does just that. But Scripture teaches us that using our minds—our God-given ability to exercise critical thinking—is a crucial part of our Christian faith (Matt 22:37; Luke 10:27; Rom 12:2; 2 Cor 10:3-6; Phil 2:5). A cognitive grasp of God's Word is essential to Christian living. Learning, pondering, and examining Scripture in order to know God more is fruitful (2 Tim 3:16-17; John 15:7). And biblical truth is worshipfully mind-stretching, not mind-detaching or -emptying. Rather than letting our thoughts drift away, Christians are called to love and honor God by taking captive every thought in obedience to Christ and by being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Cor 10:3-6; Rom 12:2). The enemy, however, wants us to feel, not think. Emotions are not bad in themselves. But they shouldn't be the basis for life decisions or form the foundation of our faith. Because our emotions tend to change with our circumstances, a perspective fueled by feelings rather than one built on our knowledge of God's Word, will cause us to be tossed about by every wind of teaching and our faith will not stand firm when times get tough.

8. Because the voice is disorienting. The Word of Light brings clarity and stability of mind, but the voice of darkness muddles our minds and darkens our understanding. And while the Word of light imparts wisdom, the voice of darkness promotes foolishness and sends its listeners on an emotionally exhausting rabbit trail of futility. The voice hisses its lies in slithery and surreptitious ways. It is confusing and hard to pinpoint as it twists, turns, and contorts. This is because it is infused with serpentine trickery. Characteristically, then, it doesn't often deny Christ outright, but pays Him lip service before gradually nudging us down a path of thinking that does just that. But the Word of Light is clear, pure, and accessible. Like an arrow, it unmistakably and unwaveringly points to Christ.

9. Because the voice sings a deadly lullaby. Not only does the enemy want us to stop thinking, he wants us to fall asleep spiritually. In other words, we can be tempted to stop living out our faith actively, and to merely go through the motions or become despondent and apathetic towards our relationship with God. The voice of darkness can become a deadly lullaby to those who lend it an ear. It can lull us into a spiritual slumber. Jesus warned us to "stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man." (Luke 21:36). And Paul exhorted us, "with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming." (1 Peter 1:13). And as he cautioned the Thessalonian believers, "So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober." (1 Thess 5:6). Rather than slumbering lazily in the world, then, we are to remain spiritually active and alert until we are called home.

10. Because the voice is double-minded and manipulative. It changes its tone and takes on different personalities in order to trick us. In one breath it tells us we aren't good enough, we'll never succeed, we're worthless, we're a failure, things will never get better. In the next breath, it feeds us self-help advice and sends us on an endless quest for self-improvement to be accomplished in our own strength. The voice of darkness always prays on our fears and anxieties. The voice tears us down, and then builds us up on self-absorbed shaky ground. The niggling voice that chatters negatively at us one moment, contorts into an inspiring voice that fills our desperate ears with false hope in the next. And after years of listening to it, and constantly failing because of it, the voice leaves us feeling hopeless and defeated. Ultimately, it leaves us for dead. Remember that the voice comes from one who yearns for your spiritual ruin. He longs to see you stray from the Father. He will use trickery and temptation without hesitation. He will beat you down until you're emotionally exhausted. He prays on your weaknesses and appeals to your fleshly desires. He will gladly feed your ego, and tell you that you don't need God. Remember that Satan cannot destroy the gospel, so he will do all he can to distract us from it.

Remember that if the voice you're listening to doesn't come from God, then it is of the enemy. It is black-and-white. There is no grey. God doesn't share the stage with anybody. For, "what fellowship can light have with darkness?" (2 Cor 6:14). Why tolerate preaching in our churches that doesn't point to Christ? Why bother dabbling in Eastern philosophies? Why bother taking cues from secular self-helpism or New Age spiritualism? If we take God at His Word, we will believe that His Word is sufficient (2 Tim 3:16). And God promises that the work He has begun in you, He will bring to completion (Phil 1:6). Why look elsewhere?

Yes, the voice of darkness makes me shudder. But it's not from fear (Psa 23:4). For while the voice of darkness speaks death, the Word of God speaks life, which is the light of men. (John 1:4). The light has overcome the darkness. And Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12).

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