01 December 2004                 
A Prayer
of Jesus
I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise
and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will

BE on guard


By Edgar Jones
It's hard.  It's easy.

Discerning the spirits is one of the most difficult things that a disciple of the Lord must do . . . and yes, one must do it.  It is also a very simple thing, because the spirits are so easy to distinguish.

It's hard because it may tear relationships apart, whereas the love of God seeks only to bring us into one flock.

It's hard because it puts one under a fierce attack from the enemy.

It's hard because it is so very easy to make peace with the spirit of evil.

It's hard to sustain when peace is its alternative. 

It's hard to do when we stop to think of the possibility of error -- that we are the ones possessing the evil spirit.

It's particularly hard when others drag out certain misunderstood utterances of the Lord to chastise and rebuke anyone who has the temerity to judge, or discern the spirits.

These are only a few of the many forces that mitigate against being faithful in discerning the spirits -- but we must do it.  The fate of true brothers and sisters in the Lord may hang in the balance.  Let's look at some of the factors that relate to this, for (and I repeat) one must do it.

I. The Word Misunderstood

1. One of the most common of the Lord's Word brought to bear is this:

Matthew 7
1 Be not judging, that you not be judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you yourself will be judged, and with what measure you measure others, it shall be measured to you. 3 And why do you see the speck in your brother's eye but do not perceive the log in your own eye? 4 Or how will you say to your brother: Let me throw the speck out of your eye, and behold the log in your own? 5 Hypocrite! First throw the log out of your own eye, and then you will see straight to be throwing the speck out of your brother's eye.

This applies only in the very limited case of judging a brother.  Even then, this is not a commandment not to judge, but an exhortation to judge with care.  Judge unjustly and one will be judged as unjust; judge justly, and one will be judged justly.  To judge a brother is excruciating, but there are times when it must be done and this utterance tells one to be very careful, and to be prepared to be judged should one judge unjustly.  It is very easy to know for a surety that the Lord does not forbid such judgment; just go on to hear this:

John 7
24 Be not judging according to appearance, but judge according to just judgment.

Now will anyone say that this commandment does not apply to a disciple?  Not me, for I see it as a dictum that applies to everyone, disciples not excluded -- else why preserve it in the gospels
for our instruction?

2. We have confirmation of the assertions above by simply listening a bit further in Matthew 7, picking up where we left off above at Matthew 7:6:

6 Do not give holy things to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and having turned, tear you asunder.

He speaks not of dogs and swine, but of persons judged, or discerned, to be dogs and swine!  If there be any doubt, consider this response to the Canaanite (Gentile) Woman:

Matthew 15
21 And when Jesus went out from there he withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold a Canaanite woman from the region came crying out saying: Have mercy on me, Lord, son of David, my daughter is evil-ly demon possessed. 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came to him asking him saying: Get rid of her, because she cries out after us. 24 But answering he said: I was not sent except to the lost sheep of Israel. 25 But the one who came kneeled before him saying: Lord, help me. 26 But answering he said: It is not good to take the children's bread and to throw it to the dogs. 27 But she said: Yes, Lord, yet the dogs eat of the crumbs falling from the Lord's table. 28 Then Jesus answering her said: O woman, great is your faith. Let it now come to pass for you as you wish.

Matthew 7:6 is a commandment, and it is one that absolutely requires the discernment of spirits, whether one is of the 'dog' and 'swine' category.  One cannot apply Matthew 7:1 until one has applied Matthew 7:6.

3. The False Christs and False Prophets

Here is another of the Lord's exhortations that makes no sense whatsoever apart from the discernment of spirits. 

Matthew 24
23 Then if any say to you: Behold here is the Christ, or: There, do not believe him. 24 For false Christs and false prophets shall rise and shall give great signs and wonders, so as to deceive, if possible, even the chosen. 25 Behold I have forewarned you.

And yet another:

Mark 13
So Jesus began to be saying to them: Be seeing that no one deceive you. 6 Many will come on my name saying that: It is I, and will deceive many.

4. The Sheep and the Shepherds

It is essential that a disciple discern the spirits -- and it is inevitable that one will do so because it is of the nature of a true disciple.  listen:

John 10
1 Truly truly I say to you, the one not coming in through the gate into the sheepfold but going down from elsewhere, that one is a thief and a robber. 2 But the one coming in through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The doorkeeper opens to this one, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name, and he leads them out. 4 When he puts out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a voice belonging to another, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of him belonging to another.

It is my conclusion that the Word is grossly misunderstood by all who seek to make it say that a disciple of Jesus should not make judgments of others.  The contrary is the case -- a teaching given and repeatedly stated by the Lord.  It is a simple step to the further conclusion that all who would rebuke a disciple because he/she has made such a judgment are also judging and to be judged. 

II. The Evidence

Having established that a disciple, a lamb of the Little Flock, must inevitably practice discernment of the spirits -- even that such discernment is a commandment of the Lord -- it is appropriate that we go on to ask about the evidence.  There is no just judgment that ignores the evidence, and this must be the essence of any such activity.  The Lord does not leave us drifting with the wind, vacillating and uncertain.  He is very specific and we see this specificity here:

Matthew 7
15 Be giving heed from the false-prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inside are ravishing wolves. 16 From their fruits you will know them. They do not gather grapes from brambles or figs from a prickly plant, do they? 17 Thus every good tree bears good fruit, but the rotten tree bears pernicious fruit. 18 A good tree is not able to bear pernicious fruit, nor a rotten tree to bear good fruit. 19 Every tree not bearing good fruit will be cut down and thrown in the fire. 20 Therefore from their fruits you will know them.

But what are the fruits?

Luke 6
43 For a good tree is not producing rotten fruit, nor again is a rotten tree producing good fruit. 44 For each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor are grapes gathered from brambles. 45 The good man from the good treasure of his heart brings forth the good, and the pernicious from the pernicious treasure brings forth the pernicious. For his mouth speaks from the fullness of the heart.

The "fruits" consists of the "words" they (or we) speak
from the fullness of the heart.  The Fourth Gospel with his metaphor of the sheep and the Good Shepherd confirms this, for it is by the voice that the sheep discern the spirits or distinguish between the stranger and the Good Shepherd.

The Christians often supply a different and contrary definition.  Here is one example from a commentary on Matthew 7:20.

Like his follower Paul, Jesus subordinates the gifts of the Spirit to the fruit of the Spirit (compare 1 Cor 13) and submission to Jesus' lordship (1 Cor 12:1-3).  Jesus' words about fruit thus refer to repentant works (Mt 7:21; 3:8, 10), recalling Jesus' ethical teachings in 5:21-7:12.

By applying Matthew 7:21 to this comment, this commentator reveals that he has no true conception of the will of the Father.  The general conviction within Christendom is that deeds will determine our destinies on the Last Day; that is true, but only as the utterance or writing of words are also deeds.  What one actually does by the use of one's members other than the tongue is also evidence, but secondary evidence only.  Even those hypocrites who "say and do not" are thereby condemned by their words, not their deeds.  In their case, the actual deeds are brought to the fore, as Jesus brought forth the deeds of the Pharisees.  This explains the Lord's harsh invective against hypocrisy.  Soft words uttering hard evils are evidence of the very worst of evils!  Such is the deception of the strangers, but the sheep do not hear them.

As a bottom line, it is our words that are the fruits by which we are are and will be judged.  It is also the evidence by which we discern the spirit that is in another.

III. An Example From the Lord

How did Jesus discern an evil spirit?  There was an incident that can only be appreciated by recognizing it as such a discernment and as preserved for us that we might, among other things, understand thereby how to practice discernment. Jesus has presented the perfect example of discernment, so that we can see how to do it also.

I confirmed,
above, the necessity of the judgment by which we make such a discernment.  We have shown that the evidence consists in the first instance of the words that issue from the mouth, because these come from the heart and are the telling indicators of the nature of the spirit that inhabits the heart.  With this in mind, proceed and read carefully these verses:

Matthew 16
13 When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea of Phillip he asked his disciples saying: Who do men say the son of man to be? 14 So they said: Some on the one hand John the baptist, others Elijah, others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. 15 He says to them: But who do you say I am? 16 And Simon Peter answering said: You are the Christ the son of the living God. 17 Jesus answering said to him: Blessed are you, Simon Barjonah, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you but my father in heaven. 18 And I say to you that: You are Peter, and upon this rock will I build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of the heavens, and whatever you bind on the land will have been bound in the heavens, and whatever you loose on the land will have been loosed in the heavens. 20 Then he censured the disciples that no one may say that he is the Christ.
21 From then on Jesus began to explain to the disciples that he must depart into Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed and rise on the third day. 22 And Peter taking him aside began to be rebuking him saying: God forbid, Lord, this will not be for you. 23 But Jesus turning said to Peter: Withdraw behind me, Satan. You tempt me because you do not think on the things of God but of men. 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples: Whoever wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life because of me will find it. 26 For how will a man be profited if he should gain the whole world and lose his own life? Or what will a man give in exchange for his life? 27 For the son of man will come in the glory of his father with his angels, and then he will render to each according to his doings.

This sequence of events, jammed together by the evangelist, comprises one of the most remarkable and revealing passages in all the gospels.  Concentrate for the moment on how one event follows on another, though they are very different.  Let's examine them in detail.

First, Jesus asked his disciples,
Who do men say the son of man to be?  This was a leading question, which led immediately to the next: But who do you say I am? Peter blurted out the correct answer: You are the Christ the son of the living God.

Yes, this was the correct answer.  From the mouth of Peter there has come fruit by which he was known in that instant, and the Spirit speaking from that mouth was none less than the Holy Spirit of the Father, for Jesus immediately responds: 
Blessed are you, Simon Barjonah, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you but my father in heaven.  It is by Peter's fruits (words) that Jesus knows him as speaking truth revealed to him by none less than the Father.

Jesus has discerned that it is by the Father that Peter speaks and it is so wonderful and signal an event that the Lord immediately blesses Peter and makes of him the rock of the ekklesia that he will build.  It was by his fruits that he knew him.  Now, perhaps encouraged by this recognition by Peter that he is the Christ, Jesus speaks to them of what is about to happen to him.  He explains:

. . . that he must depart into Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed and rise on the third day.

Peter responded without hesitation:

God forbid, Lord, this will not be for you.

Jesus responds immediately with this shocking command:

Withdraw behind me, Satan.

What a fall!  The Lord has just discerned the Father speaking through Peter, and now he identifies him as Satan!  The microphone has changed hands!  If one looks carefully, one can again discern that it was because of his fruits that the Lord identified him with Satan, for it resulted directly from the words that proceeded from the mouth of Peter.

His fruits were his words, and it was by his fruits that the Lord discerned the spirit of Satan.  It is precisely as Jesus has told us:

Therefore from their fruits you will know them.

two transactions between the Lord and Peter, coming together in the gospels as a shocking contrast, serve as an example to all disciples of the discernment of spirits.  Concurrently they also teach all disciples the basis of that discernment.  It is first of all based on the fruits of the spirits, and these fruits are the words the spirits inspire in humans and speak through the mouths of humans.

If you read through this event again, you may perhaps ask why Peter's words identified him with Satan?  Why were his words, uttered in a moment of great concern for the welfare of his Teacher, the fruits of Satan?

Were I in that place at that time, I would surely have done the same as did the bumbling disciple.  Loving Jesus, Peter only asserted his hope that nothing bad would come to him.  Let's look at what Peter said once more.  Jesus had just confided in all of them that he must, among other things, go to Jerusalem and:

suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed.

Then Peter replies:

God forbid, Lord, this will not be for you.

Immediately Jesus said:

Withdraw behind me, Satan.

Those nine words (in translation) that gave evidence of a deep concern for the safety of his Lord had identified him, to Jesus, as Satan.  And look, Peter begins by invoking the name of God! 

I tell you, for years and years I struggled with these transactions.  Coming from a Southern Baptist background, most of my seminary indoctrination regarding this was concentrated on the seeming identification of Peter as the rock on which the church was to be built.  The Catholics identified it so, and it was mandatory for Baptist to find other meaning in it, and they did.  But that is irrelevant for our present purposes except to illustrate how church doctrine often distracts from the Truth or masks it entirely, as it did for me in this case.  But finally, outside the church for other reasons, I was free to ask a deeper question that had nagged me from the beginning.  How unjust!  Why did the Lord brand Peter as Satan, when he only exhibited care and concern for the safety and protection of his Master's life, and that in the name of God? 

The answer to this has to be in the nine words.  Now, examine them again:

God forbid, Lord, this will not be for you. 
To what do these nine words object?  The source of Peter's objection lay in the phrase,
and be killed.  It is reasonable to accept this as an appropriate response of a concerned disciples, isn't it?  Peter just makes it known that he wants the Lord not to be abused and killed but to save his life.  Peter was yet attempting to do the very same when, in Gethsemane, the Lord again rebukes him for lashing out at the enemy with a sword.  With this in mind, how simple it is to drop down to the next verses and ascertain that the sharp rebuke was after all justified, for the Lord proceeded immediately to explain, to them and to us.

Whoever wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life because of me will find it.

Peter's objection, appealing even to God (God forbid!), was a temptation to Jesus to save his life from the announced killing.  But, if he saves his life, he will lose it -- according to the Lord's explanation here -- which is a statement that we have labeled The Great Principle, comparable to The Great Commandment.  It is the Father's will that Jesus, a man on the earth, face death and refuse to save his life against all temptations, as an example of the Great Principle in action.  Such an exemplary death was the completion of all his work on the earth, who had come down from heaven to do the Father's will on the earth as it is done in heaven.  It would be the defeat of Satan who was very active at the time, doing everything in his power to cause Jesus to save his life and claim the victory for himself. 

Therefore it was not Peter that Jesus rebuked.  It was Satan speaking through Peter, and thus Jesus recognized and discerned the spirit of Satan and directly rebuked, not Peter, but Satan!

The full significance of this temptation to save his life can only be appreciated when we further realize that the Great Principle is a universal principle.  That is what makes of the death of Jesus an example and not a substitute.  Look at it again, now, and see if you can find any other meaning in it, with its exhortation to

Whoever wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life because of me will find it.

Jesus discerned the spirit of evil -- of Satan -- as that spirit tempting him,
urging him or encouraging him to save his life.  Now, since the Great Principle is a universal principle, it applies to Jesus, to us and to all.  Therefore, when our hour has come, as it had come for Jesus, we discern and identify the spirit of Satan in the voices tempting, urging and encouraging us to save our lives.

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life because of me will find it.

Summarizing, we have a situation here in the experience of the individual, Jesus, in which:

1.  A voice came to him tempting, urging, and encouraging him to save his life. 

2. It came in the name of God. 

3. It came in a context that involved testimony (by the Lord) to the Great Principle that is basic to eternal life.

These, at the very least, are the conditions that prevailed in this example of the Lord's discernment of the spirits.

Therefore from their fruits you will know them.

IV. A Current Application

A new and different voice recently appeared on the Voice of Jesus Forum.  There were actually two mutually supportive voices, the one that of a man, the other was the voice of a web site he is promoting where there is a document called "The Journey Guide."  The man highly recommended this document.  On reading it, I quickly discovered it to be one of the most effusive outpourings of the praise and love of life in this world that I have encountered.  Here is an example of what one hears (Note: "he" and "§*%+'" refer to Jesus):

People say that the everlasting life he promised happens after you die, but that's not what he said. He said that you must be reborn of the spirit, but that rebirth is clearly something that happens here on earth when you make the choice to accept the solutions he offered. With a clear future and an understood past you really are a new person and you do start a new life.

Why his apostles died can only be answered by saying they didn't believe they wouldn't.

Perhaps they even desired to go through what their teacher had gone through and no doubt their spirits lived on, but if he really did mean anything when he told them anything is possible to those who believe, then it must follow that if they had believed their physical bodies would not die then they would still be walking this earth today.

There are lots of places where he says plainly that if we believe, we will have everlasting life, and probably the reason people are not receiving it is because they find that too hard to believe.

Yet how could someone who has presented such practical solutions all of a sudden not really deal with this major problem.

He said it enough times, if a person believes in him they will never die. He came back from the dead. What else could he possibly do to help us to believe and make it possible. It seems to me the only reason he died was so we wouldn't have to.

There are loads of references stating he died for us, or took our place on the cross. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is life.

It says God gave his only begotten son so that whoever believed in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

I don't think he allowed himself to be killed simply to forgive those who killed him and convince us he really did forgive everyone. Or that it was to prove his power over death, he could have done that by simply not dying.

No, I am convinced that the greatest mystery connected with §*%+' is that he actually died so we wouldn't have to and if we accept this, it is no longer necessary for us to do so. It's his gift to us.

Jesus informed his disciples that he was about to be killed -- to die.  Peter raised the loudest cry:

God forbid, Lord, this will not be for you.

Our Lord immediately discerned that voice as the voice of Satan, and rebuked it accordingly.  Why? Because it was tempting him to save his life.

The self styled "Journey Guide" does the same for every one who reads it.  It tempts one to try to save his life in this world forever.  It loves and lauds the life of this world and makes fantastic claims of its endless possibilities.  It explains Jesus' death as substitutionary, saying that he died so that we wouldn't have to. It carefully avoids the obvious: If never dying were the doctrine of Jesus, the only way for him to verify it is for him to never die.  Then it tells us that the apostles died only because "they didn't believe they wouldn't."

It claims that this is a fuller revelation of the message of Jesus.  But compare with what Jesus says:

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life because of me will find it. 26 For how will a man be profited if he should gain the whole world and lose his own life? Or what will a man give in exchange for his life?

It is a no brainer.  The voice of the Journey Guide, coming to us in the guise of a developed doctrine of Christ and in his name, is the voice of Satan.  Anyone who knows Jesus can discern this for themselves.  It doesn't require long investigation and cogitation.  Jesus rebuked Satan immediately when Peter spoke -- and we know immediately on reading the Journey Guide that it is the voice of Satan for it is the same voice.  Concerning death and dying, we can sum its message in the very words of Satan speaking through Peter:

God forbid, this will not be for you!

The one who brought this Journey Guide before us on the Forum  may well have been in the place of Peter -- a loyal disciple who, in a zealous but misguided moment, praised the voice that promises life even as it kills.  For that reason and in that hope I continued to remonstrate with him for a while, but he is obdurate.  May our Lord have mercy.


Our Lord has exhorted us to beware of false prophets and false Christs who come in his name seeking to lead astray even the chosen ones.  There are many of them.  The discernment of spirits is therefore a prime defensive responsibility for every disciple for, as we learn from the Peter episode, even those closes to the Lord are subject to deception so as to become spokespersons for Satan.  By examining that episode with Peter, we have seen these conditions that prevailed and by which we can judge similar incidents in our experience when we suspect we may be hearing the voice of Satan.  Listing them again, they are:

1.  A voice came to him tempting, urging and encouraging him to save his life. 

2. It came in the name of God. 

3. It came in a context that involved testimony (by the Lord) to the Great Principle that is the essence of the qualification for eternal life.

These are the prime conditions for discernment of the voice of Satan; In the case of the Journey Guide,

It comes tempting, urging and encouraging us to love and save our lives.

It comes in the name of God, claiming to be a revelation from God.

It comes in a context, the Voice of Jesus Forum, where disciples give testimony to the Great Principle of Jesus.

The prime conditions are all there. The Spirit of the Lord speaks of the hatred of life in this world, of losing it for the sake of eternal life; the sprit that is of Satan speakes of saving life in this world for it's own sake.  It is the spirit that loves life in the flesh and seeks to save it.

Do not misunderstand.  All of these conditions do not apply in most cases where we are exposed to people urging on us the love and saving of life. The spirit of Satan is seldom speaking because it is usually the case that a human being is simply voicing a human point of view.  They are only doing what comes naturally to men.  Satan knows they are securely his, and seldom bothers to hand them the microphone.  We have no warrant to discern spirits in such cases, but only to testify, in some helpful way, to the truth concerning their condition who love the life that is in this world:

Luke 16
15 . . . for the thing exalted among men is an abomination before God.

Be on guard!

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