Loading

About Us - Publications - Broadcasts - Audio & Video - Contact Us - Home

- Publications -

Rainbow Divider

WHAT DOES DECEPTION LOOK LIKE? Part 5

by Phil Enlow

Rainbow Divider

I believe the correct starting point for understanding the nature of the church is to first understand something about the Father and His Son. I’m not talking about something deep and theological but rather a simple scriptural picture of their relationship. The relationship they enjoyed during our Savior’s time on earth is a picture of God’s plan for His people as well.

Return to Library of Articles

Go to Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5a, 5b, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

To this point we have briefly explored two particular areas of truth in an attempt to shine a light on ways in which Satan has sought to hinder God’s work with deception. The more we understand the true nature of what God is after the better equipped we will be to recognize Satan’s counterfeits.

The first area concerns the Christ as the Head. The headship of Christ means that He literally runs things. It means that He is recognized, looked to, depended upon, submitted to in the day to day life of His church. He is no mere figurehead, a remote monarch whose name is used to sanctify the religious efforts of men. In reality, most religion is run by men. All too often these men are inspired by demons – even where the doctrine of Christ’s headship is acknowledged.

The second area concerns Christ as the Message. Every aspect of truth is centered in the person of Jesus Christ. Paul summed up his message in these simple words: “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” 1 Corinthians 2:2. Where Christ is not the message, something else is. It’s that simple.

The Life

But there is a third area of truth that needs emphasizing: it is simply Christ as the Life. Christ is more than the head, more than the message: He is literally the life of His church. Remember Paul’s warning in 2 Cor. 11:5 about another Jesus and a different gospel? He also warned us in the same verse about a “different” spirit. Not every spirit in professing Christendom is of God – to say the least!

What is it that distinguishes a fellowship of true followers of Jesus from everyone else? Is it their beliefs? their religious practices? their code of ethics? No! It comes down to one thing: it is the living presence of Christ who has himself become the very source of the life they share. Everything else is mere religion. Of course this truth is very intertwined with the others mentioned yet I believe it needs to be explored in its own right.

In every group claiming to follow Christ there is some sort of spirit that prevails, that gives it life, and that defines its character. We tend to see and judge by external things such as doctrines, styles of worship, denominational affiliation, and the like but God judges by the spirit. It is not the externals that matter most but the spirit that is behind those externals. For example, what is called “worship” may be soulish and emotional or it may be a genuine expression of God’s Spirit. The same is true of preaching – and every other aspect of church life.

Religious Culture

Religious groups tend to have their own “cultures,” if you will, shared beliefs and practices that distinguish them from others. Sometimes this culture reflects the collective personalities of the members but more often it reflects the preferences of some dominant personality or personalities. If there is a denominational affiliation it probably reflects that as well. For example, a church that is “Baptist” in its tradition and culture will probably look and feel very different from one that is “Pentecostal.” The same could be said of any of the “labels” by which we identify different brands of churches.

The tendency for those seeking spiritual fellowship therefore usually involves finding a place where the culture most closely matches the individual’s own religious ideas and preferences. Very few seek God with an honest and willing heart. How often over the years have we seen someone begin to visit one of our assemblies and show real interest – and even enthusiasm – for awhile. Then somewhere along the line they drift away or are suddenly offended over some issue and leave. Why?

What really happened was that they came with their own ready-made religious “ruler.” They used this ruler to measure what they saw and heard. Everything was fine until they ran into something that didn’t conform to what they already “knew” to be true. They were not really seeking truth with an honest heart but their own preferred brand of religion – and we didn’t measure up to their standard! God could inspire a message that would open up the Word with great clarity and anointing and they would be completely deaf to it because it wasn’t what they were used to and looking for.

Their religion had truly been reduced to a religious “culture” that they happened to prefer. The devil himself could be the true inspiration behind a particular group and they wouldn’t know the difference as long as it conformed to their ideas of how things should be. Sadly, what I have just described characterizes the great majority of professed followers of Christ.

A Form

In 1 Tim. 4:1 Paul warned Timothy, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” In 2 Tim. 3:1 Paul warns that “there will be terrible times in the last days.” He describes many characteristics that will be manifest in people but one in verse five stands out: “having a form of godliness but denying its power.”

If you read the other things that Paul lists this almost seems out of place yet it isn’t. With most of the other characteristics the evil is pretty obvious: “unholy,” “without love,” “without self-control,” “brutal,” “treacherous,” and the like. However a “form of godliness” may be the most deadly thing on the list. Why? Because outwardly it looks good. It appears to uphold righteousness and godliness. The problem is that it merely appears to. Something demonic is really behind it. How do we know? Because the “power” that belongs to true godliness is denied.

If you want a picture of what Paul meant just look back at the religious leaders Jesus had to contend with. He would visit their synagogues and it wouldn’t be long before the life and power that was in Him would expose the emptiness of their particular form of “godliness” and He would be rejected. On at least one occasion they even tried to kill Him. Luke 4. They loved their religious form – as long as the living God wasn’t involved – as long as His actual power and presence didn’t expose their true condition. Their supposed “form of godliness” was actually a cover for the dominion of demons who held the people captive in terrible darkness and deception. When the light that was in Jesus threatened that darkness the demons were quick to stir up all manner of anger and opposition in the people. The real question with any group is simple: What spirit is there?

The Role of Ministry

The churches we read about in the New Testament were founded as Paul and others went forth in the power of the Holy Spirit and proclaimed the message of Jesus Christ. Those who received the message were brought together and taught and churches were born. They were defined by their shared faith and life.

As we have said, the ministry of the Word of God is more than the mere conveyance of correct ideas. It is literally the vehicle by which God’s Spirit enters receptive hearts and imparts life. Put another way God actually speaks to the people through the lips of the human vessel. Yet this does not mean that the vessel is a mere robot or puppet. Both God and man are engaged in the ministry effort but to the extent the vessel is called and yielded to God the inspiration is divine and the very life of God is ministered to the hearers through the words. 2 Corinthians 3:3-6, Colossians 1:29. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.

Understandably over time the ministry will define the life of a given church. Where God is present, those whose hearts He has opened will hear His voice, be drawn to Christ, and begin to be changed. This change is far deeper than mere outward things. It is much more than just conformity to a particular religious standard. Rather, the very Spirit of God is imparted to the people and they are changed from the inside out. Those whose hearts are blinded by sin and religion tend to go their own way at some point because they have a different spirit.

On the other hand, what is produced where the ministry is not truly sent and anointed by God? What about ministry that is characterized by human ability, pride, ambition, religious zeal, tradition, a sectarian spirit, etc.? What kind of church would result from that? Would the life and blessing of God flow freely in the lives of the people? Would sinners be drawn to their light? Would that kind of ministry impart the very life of Christ to the people?

If not, what would be imparted? There are only two options: it is either Christ himself or something that is utterly opposed to Him. The Bible calls such a spirit “antichrist” because it is a spirit that is against Christ. The religious life in such a place might even look good outwardly but what would happen if Christ himself showed up? When Paul spoke of a form of godliness that denies the power he meant that there was a built-in opposition to God’s presence and power. A mere “form” of godliness is not neutral. In fact, it hates Christ, regardless of appearances.

What do you think would happen in most modern churches if Paul the Apostle were suddenly to become the pastor?! I’m afraid in most places it would be war! The result would be similar to the reception Jesus received in the synagogues of His day. People would be fuming, “We don’t do things that way!” “You’re violating our traditions!” I believe there are places where such a ministry would provoke true repentance in at least some of the people but in far more places they would be quick to show Paul the door. Their outward behavior might be somewhat more refined than that of the religious folks of Jesus’ day but their true spirit would be just the same towards Paul as it was in those who crucified Jesus.

What is the Church?

What is the church anyway? What did God have in mind? What is it that Christ promised to build when He said, “I will build my church”? Matt. 16:18. I believe that if we better understand God’s intent with respect to the church then it will be easier to recognize the counterfeits that abound. As we consider this it is surely important to acknowledge that at best even true expressions of the church are typically in a very immature state and need to grow – the Corinthian church, for example. They did not lack “any spiritual gift” (1 Corinthians 1:7) yet look at the many problems they had! However, there is a fundamental difference between an immature church where Christ lives and one ruled by another spirit. They are on two different tracks headed in opposite directions.

Father and Son

I believe the correct starting point for understanding the nature of the church is to first understand something about the Father and His Son. I’m not talking about something deep and theological but rather a simple scriptural picture of their relationship. The relationship they enjoyed during our Savior’s time on earth is a picture of God’s plan for His people as well.

Phil. 2:6-7 speaks of Christ, “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” (NASU.) There was a drastic change between heaven and earth. Between the “form of God” and the “likeness of men” there was an emptying. He remained Who He was; however, the what changed. He had become a man.

In His prayer in John 17 Jesus said, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” (Verses 4-5). Here again we see a contrast drawn between Christ’s glory before He came to earth and what He was on earth. And having completed the work He had been sent to do He expected to reclaim the glory He had laid aside.

John 1 begins with these familiar words in the first three verses: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” Here again we catch a glimpse of what Christ was before coming to earth.

Also He is called “the Word,” the very expression of the Father. Col. 1:15 says of Him, “He is the image of the invisible God….” Heb. 1:3 says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being….” See also John 1:18. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus.

The Earthly Life of Jesus

Then John 1:14 adds these words: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Though He had been so great and glorious, yet to fulfill His Father’s plan He willingly laid aside His former glory and actually “became flesh”! How amazing is that!

Despite who He was and what He had been before, Jesus lived his earthly life as a man. He lived in complete dependence upon His Father. In John 5:19 Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” He reiterates the same thought in verse 30: “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.”

Please note that Jesus did not say, “I choose to do nothing by myself.” Rather He said, “By myself I can do nothing.” The choice was to come to earth in the first place. Once here He did not possess the ability in Himself to do the wonderful things He did. Remember, He had emptied Himself. This is little understood. It is supposed by some that because He was the Son of God that He had power to do anything He wanted and just voluntarily refrained from using that power apart from His Father’s will. No! He was not an actor. He ministered upon earth as a Spirit-filled man. His dependence upon God was genuine.

Speaking of the ministry of Jesus, John the Baptist said, “For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands.” John 3:34-35. How was Jesus able to speak God’s words? He was able because God gave Him the Spirit without limit.

Earlier John had testified, “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.” John 1:32-34. Amazing! Until the Spirit came upon him Jesus appeared to be just another man coming to John for baptism! (We should note that John himself had an inner witness as to who Jesus was as he approached the water – John 1:29, Matt. 4:13-15 – but the decisive, divinely promised witness to John was the coming of the Spirit upon Jesus.)

Jesus’ Baptism

The baptism of Jesus marked a radical change in the His earthly life. Before that He was just a fine Jewish boy growing up in Nazareth, attending the synagogue, working as a carpenter. There are religious myths that picture Him performing miracles as a child but they are not so. If He had His own power why did He need the anointing of the Holy Spirit? Why did not the Father simply say, “It’s time. Show them what you can do”?

At one point in His ministry Jesus was performing many miracles and drawing great crowds yet his own brothers didn’t believe in Him! John 7:3-5. That surely testifies to the fact that there was nothing that remarkable about Him prior to the Jordan River experience. By the way – I mentioned earlier about the synagogue where the people tried to kill Him – that synagogue was in Nazareth, the home town of Jesus! The people there had known Him His whole life. Luke tells us that he went to the synagogue “as was his custom.” There was nothing unusual in His standing up to read either. He had no doubt done it many times before. But something was dramatically different this time. He spoke with the power of God’s Spirit. The Spirit confronted their spiritual condition and they reacted with murderous rage.

Why had He never provoked such a reaction before? Was it because Jesus had simply chosen to hide His power? No! He had no power for ministry apart from the anointing granted Him from above. Just before this Jesus had spent 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by the devil following His baptism. Then Luke says, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.” Luke 4:14. The impartation of the Spirit at baptism and the wilderness testing set the stage for God’s power to be manifest in His earthly ministry.

The disciples were witness to many amazing things as they traveled about with Jesus. They saw Him heal the sick, raise dead people, cast out demons, multiply food, walk on water. Three of them had even seen Him shine like the sun when He was transfigured on the mountain. As His ministry on earth drew to a close Jesus revealed to them how all this had come about.

He had often spoken of His Father and so in John 14:8 we read, “Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’” In verses 9-10 the record continues, “Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.’”

How did Jesus do such amazing things? His relationship with the Father was such that it was really the Father living in Him that was doing the work. Note also that the work itself was “his” – that is, the Father’s – work. In other words Jesus the man was a willing vessel in Whom the Father lived and through Whom the Father carried out His work. The power did not come from Jesus but from the Father. Remember how He had said, “By myself I can do nothing.”

The Divine Relationship

Note that in the scripture cited above Jesus also spoke of this divine relationship in these words: “I am in the Father, and … the Father is in me.” These words describe a oneness not only in purpose and action but of being itself. It reminds of us of Jesus’ words in John 15 about the vine and branches. A vine and its branches have a living connection and share the same life. The vine doesn’t send a letter to the branch telling it to produce fruit! Fruit is the result of the life that is in the vine flowing into the branch and producing fruit according to the nature of that life. Divine life produces divine fruit and so it was with Jesus. The relationship was so perfect that Jesus was able to say in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.”

God’s plan for us is of the same sort. Of course, the passage about the vine and branches actually describes the relationship between Christ and His disciples. In Jesus’ prayer in John 17 He said, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name — the name you gave me — so that they may be one as we are one.” John 17:11. One way to express the meaning behind the name we have come to know as Jesus is “God saves.” Note that this name is spoken of by Jesus as “your name.” The name “Jesus” belonged to the Father before it was given to the Son! It speaks of the very character and purpose of the Father Himself expressed in the Son He sent to save us. Thus His Son came to bear that name, the name that is above every name! Phil. 2:9-11.

We see in this that the underlying power in our salvation comes from the very being of our heavenly Father Himself. I’m so glad that He is not depending upon some power in me for I have none. I am completely helpless apart from a power outside myself – divine power – and that is the hope of the gospel. But note the particular result of that saving power that Jesus focused on in His prayer: “that they may be one as we are one.” God desires the same oneness for us that He and His Son enjoyed! Surely only divine power could accomplish such a thing. I am quite sure that when God’s family enjoys the beautiful new creation He has promised all of the things that divide us here will be long gone. May we have the heart and the vision to desire more of that unity down here, not an artificial relationship brought about by men, but a true unity based on God’s Spirit.

We Are Included

But there is more. Listen to Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-23, noting that we are included: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Jesus prays for our unity, the kind described in the words, “just as you are in me and I am in you.” But it is more than a unity with one another God seeks. Jesus also said, “May they also be in us….” This is an extension of the unity between Father and Son. Now it becomes “I in them and you in me.” The family grows yet it is more than a family. There is a oneness of being since all share the same life, the very life of God. In John 14:20 Jesus spoke of a day when His followers would “realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”

This truth lends deeper meaning to the words of Jesus when He appeared to his disciples in a locked room after the resurrection. In John 20:21 He said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” There is more than a simple commission in these words. How, in fact, did the Father send the Son? Did He simply give Him instructions and then stand back, leaving Jesus to His own resources? No, of course not! It was the Father’s own Spirit, His own power, His own work that was manifest in the Son. Jesus provided a surrendered human vessel; His Father provided the rest. God’s plan for His church is no different. It is either Christ in us or it is us practicing empty religion.

Three Comings of Christ

It is widely understood and believed that Christ came to earth about 2000 years ago to live among us, die for our sins, rise again, and return to a place of enthronement in heaven. It is also widely believed that Christ will one day come again as He promised and as the angels testified when He was taken up to heaven before the disciples. Acts 1:10-11. But there is another coming that is little understood.

This coming is described in various ways and I will just give you what the scriptures say without trying to explain it all. While speaking of the coming of the Counselor, the Spirit of truth Jesus said this: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” John 14:18. Note His words: “I will come ….” This clearly wasn’t referring to His first coming since He was already there speaking to them! And in the context He wasn’t speaking of the “second coming” either. What coming is He talking about?

One thing that is important to note is that this coming is “to you.” Listen to what else Jesus said on the heels of this: “Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” John 14:19-21.

There are many things worth noting here. It should be obvious that this “coming” does not refer to either what we call the “incarnation” or to the “second coming.” This is something different. Jesus promised to “come” to the disciples. He said that the world would not see Him but that the disciples would. He promised to make Himself known in a special way to them in this coming. It is in the middle of this passage that Jesus said, “I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” That was to be the result of the “coming” of which He spoke. In verse 28 He reiterates this by saying, “I am going away and I am coming back to you.”

In Acts 1:4-5 we find Jesus instructing the disciples just before He returned to heaven in these oft-quoted words: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Despite walking with Jesus for more than 3 years they were not ready for ministry. Jesus promised to send them as He had been sent by the Father. Prior to His baptism in the Jordan Jesus was not equipped either.

There is a parallel between Jesus’ baptism and Pentecost. His baptism marked the point at which Jesus was empowered for His work. What happened can be scripturally described as the Holy Spirit coming upon Him. It can also be described as the Father coming to live IN Him based on His words in John 14:10. Jesus, the human vessel, was empowered for a divine mission because God came to live in Him.

At Pentecost we see the Spirit coming upon the apostles with great demonstration and power. But based on the words of Jesus this can also be understood as Christ coming to live – in spirit form – in His church. Remember Jesus had used the words “before long” to describe His coming “to them.” Now He had come. The same One that had walked among men as Jesus of Nazareth had returned to walk among men once more in the apostles – and by extension, in all who believe. Peter’s words were, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call.” Acts 2:38-39.

Christ’s Body

The church is Christ’s body. (See Eph. 1:23 and many other scriptures.) At the Jordan the Father came to live in His body, Jesus. At Pentecost, the risen exalted Christ came to live in His body, the church. The apostles were transformed from ordinary men to mighty servants of God. The fruit of Christ’s presence was quickly apparent in the power expressed in Peter’s message and in the life of the church that resulted. There was an unprecedented unity, love and power among the believers that wonderfully demonstrated God’s plan and purpose.

We see these truths reflected in the writings of John the Apostle in his first letter. In 1 John 1:1-4 we read, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched — this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” John wrote of a “fellowship” – a relationship – that existed involving the Father, his Son, the apostles, and now the believers to whom John was writing.

In 1 John 4:13-14 John says, “We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.” The Spirit of God – His very being – is the life we share in Christ, the very foundation of the relationship of which John speaks. In 1 John 4:15 we read, “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.” In the next verse John says, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” Divine life residing in and expressing itself through human vessels lies at the heart of the church Jesus died and rose again to bring forth.

Many Spirits

But John is well aware that among those who profess to follow Jesus there are those who have other spirits and not the Spirit of God. And so in 1 John 4:1 he says, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” This is certainly in agreement with Paul’s warnings of deception and a form of godliness.

But the test John proposes is very interesting. In verses 2 and 3 he continues, “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”

Christ Come in the Flesh

There is more to this test than one might think. John does not say, “every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ did come in the flesh is from God.” He says, “every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” There is a profound difference between “did come” and “has come.”

To say that Christ “did come” or that He “came” would be to refer to something completely in the past, namely that He was a flesh and blood man known as Jesus of Nazareth. But John said, “has come.” What is he saying? To say that someone “has come” is the same as saying that someone “is here now”! The “coming” John is speaking of is the same one Jesus talked about in John 14. John heard those words with his own ears. He experienced that coming on the day of Pentecost. But Pentecost wasn’t the end of it. John is saying to his readers that Christ not only came then but that He is still here.

But there’s more. Not only is Christ still here as a result of this coming; He is here “in the flesh”! Think about it. When Jesus walked among men the “word” had become flesh. He was the expression of God in flesh. God lived in the flesh of Jesus and in that way walked among men. But the exalted Christ also has a body. His body – and thus His flesh – is the true church composed of all who have been truly born of God’s Spirit. He came at Pentecost to inhabit His body – and He still lives in it.

Religious Spirits

There are many religious spirits that don’t mind talking about Christ and claiming to serve Christ – as long as it is “Christ in the sky” or a Christ that has some special private relationship with them. But there is something about a religious spirit that is self-willed and independent. It may even acknowledge the doctrine of Christ’s incarnation but the idea that He is present in a people today is something else.

Let’s be plain. When I say “religious spirit” I am referring to a demon, an emissary of Satan, a very real spiritual being whose specialty is promoting some form of religion that lacks – and bitterly opposes – the actual living presence and power of Christ. Don’t kid yourself. Religious spirits come in all “flavors.” There are demons actively promoting virtually every form of Christianity so long as Christ is absent.

Christ in a people makes those people something unique. It is not that the people themselves are anything but the One who lives in them is the Lord of heaven. Those in whom He lives share not only His life but a mutual responsibility and a mutual submission to one another. The Christ in them binds them together in a supernatural unity. There is an interdependence whereby all benefit from the measure of Christ in each individual member. The church was never meant to be a kind of coalition of independent spirits each feeling free to do “his own thing.”

Religious spirits have sort of a “private Christ” that in practice allows them to be a law unto themselves. Jesus spoke of a situation in which a man who has sinned against his brother has also rejected the testimony of two or three that have tried to help him. In Matt 18:17 Jesus went on to say, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” That is a pretty clear manifestation of the kind of spirit that refuses to acknowledge Christ “come in the flesh.”

What God has designed is that His people walk together in love and recognize not only the Christ who reigns above, but the Christ who lives in His people. The One I serve, who is in me, is in my brother also. He came not only to save individuals but that we might be joined one to another. Speaking of Jesus, Paul said in Eph. 2:21-22, “In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

John is not shy about identifying the kind of spirit that refuses to recognize the Christ who lives in the flesh today. In 1 John 4:3 he says, “This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” Thus we see two very different spirits at work in those who profess to follow Jesus: one is the Spirit of Christ; the other is the spirit of antichrist.

Of course John is writing to genuine followers of Christ, a people in whom Christ truly lived. And so he continues in 1 John 4:5-6, “They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.” Notice the clear connection between being “from God” and recognizing the Christ who lives in His people.

We see this principle also in 1 John 2:18-19 where John had written, “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.”

Two different spirits, each appearing to follow Christ, yet one is Christ and the other is actually antichrist. Truly we must not naively believe every spirit. We need God’s help if we are to tell the difference. Don’t be afraid. He will help those who truly want Him!

As we continue we hope to further explore the true nature of the church, not just in theory, but as Paul sought to help real churches to recognize and confront Satan’s attempts to invade and corrupt. I’m glad that the “bottom line” remains the promise of our Lord, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Matt. 16:18. Hallelujah!

To be continued.