In this post, I want to briefly address the problem of counterfeit spirituality. Martin Luther rightly said, “When God builds His house, the devil builds a chapel.”
When God is operating powerfully in a person or group, counterfeit spiritual manifestations will sometimes surface in the group or through people attacking the person or group whom God is using. This has been true historically.
For example, the Welsh Revival of the early 20th century is one of a number of authentic moves of God that was destroyed because people started to accept counterfeit spiritual manifestations.
Consequently, how do you know when the Holy Spirit is operating through someone or what they say is inspired by the Lord? Here are a few guidelines.
When a gift is from the Holy Spirit . . .
- It points people to Jesus. It glorifies and lifts up Christ. It puts the spotlight on Jesus and causes people to be more excited about Him. The fruit is that they want to follow and love Him more.
- It brings unity and a sense of oneness among true Jesus followers.
- It causes love for the brethren to rise up and be awakened in the hearts of God’s people.
- It may cause true conviction and repentance if there is a present sin happening (repentance means to stop the sin).
- The person who is walking in the Spirit doesn’t attack those who attack them nor are they defensive under fire. (See Jesus and Paul under fire for examples.)
When a gift is not from the Holy Spirit, but is a counterfeit . . .
- It will invariably end up producing division and discord among God’s people. “Things the Lord hates . . . a false witness that speaks lies, and he who sows discord among brethren (Prov. 6:19). See my series on Sowing Seeds of Discord to see how this plays out on the ground. Unfortunately, some Christians lack the discernment to recognize when seeds of discord are being sown right in front of them. Dividing a body of believers is like taking a butcher knife to Jesus Christ and cutting Him up into pieces. It’s very serious. Paul gives us this image in 1 Corinthians 1.
- It produces confusion, and God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33).
- It is often associated with gossip and slander. The word devil means “slanderer.” Scripture calls him “the accuser of the brethren” which is a description of his nature. Slandering or accusing a person of things you subjectively “sense” or “feel” without hard evidence to support it is sinful. The gift of discerning spirits and the word of knowledge are not the same as judging someone’s motives and shouldn’t be confused with it. The latter is sin. Gossip is especially dangerous when cloaked with spiritual language. Such as “the Lord showed me thus and such about Sally . . . or John.” According to Proverbs, gossip destroys trust and “separates friends.” This is one of the reasons why God hates it so much.
- It doesn’t put Christ in the spotlight; it rather puts a person or a person’s alleged gift in the spotlight. People who lift themselves up while tearing others down are not operating in a true spiritual gift. They are in the flesh and are operating in a counterfeit.
- It’s not easily entreated, but comes through in a dominating, over-confident, and strong-willed manner. It cannot be questioned or challenged. The person using the “gift” cannot hear correction, even from multiple and credible voices.
- It’s usually motivated by jealousy of others and the desire to be recognized and honored. James makes this quite clear:
Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable [easy to be entreated/yielding], full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. – James 3:13-18
The common denominator of every church split I have ever seen is a lack of spiritual discernment, judgment, and wisdom in the group. Specifically: The flesh is at work (1 Cor. 1-3) but some people are calling the work of the flesh the work of the Spirit. And some are calling the work of the Spirit the work of the flesh.
And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ. – Philippians 1:9-10
With respect to a local church, if someone speaks with authority (confidence) regarding a decision, the rest of the Body has a spiritual obligation to judge it. We are not under obligation to follow someone’s opinion. We are under obligation to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. So any statements of direction – whether in the negative or affirmative – given with authority/confidence should be weighed by the rest of the church. Especially if someone feels led to do something, and another says it’s a wrong decision. The NT helps us here:
Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. – 1 Corinthians 14:29
Do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil. – 1 Thessalonians 5:20-22
But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. (The same Greek word that’s used for discerning of spirits is used here.) – Hebrews 5:14
“Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” – John 7:24
I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide or discern between his brethren. – 1 Corinthians 6:5
And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment. – Philippians 1:9
Do not speak against one another, brethren He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. – James 4:11