Of God or Of Satan

As Christians we strive to follow the will of God. We want to know God's will and purpose for our lives. We want to be sure that what we do is of God.

And to accomplish this the Bible gives us guidance on how we should act, what we should do, and how we should behave. The Bible also warns us about false teachers and others who deceive people and attempt to lead them away from God and down a path to evil.

False teachers were and still are a threat to the church. Jesus and the apostles repeatedly warned against false teachers and their hypocritical and evil ways. The danger that Timothy faced and experienced in Ephesus seems to have come from certain people in the church who were following some Greek philosophers who taught that the body was evil and that the soul was the only thing that mattered.

These false teachers refused to believe that the God of creation was good, because his very contact with the physical world had soiled them. Even though these Greek-influenced church members honored Jesus, they could not believe he was truly human. And Paul knew that their teachings, if left unchecked would greatly distort the Christian truth.

It's not enough that Christian's, and specifically Paul refers to teachers in his letter to Timothy, appear to know what they are talking about, are disciplined and moral, or say they are speaking for God. If their words contradict the Bible, their teaching is false.

Like Timothy we must guard against any teaching that causes believers to dilute or reject any aspect of the Christian faith. And such teaching can be very direct, or it can be subtle.

Paul goes on to say that false teachers are hypocritical liars who encourage people to follow "deceiving paths and things taught by demons." Satan deceives people by offering a clever imitation of the real thing.

For me this raises the question, how then can we discern or tell the difference between God's will and Satan's? When I feel I am being lead to do certain things how can I know it is of God and not of Satan? Have you ever asked yourself this question?

A few years ago I was leaving a meeting late at night. As I was walking out of the building where I worked I noticed a person standing outside the entrance. I just kept walking until I received what I thought was a leading from God to go offer some form of assistance to the person I just walked by.

My initial response was why? Why me? She didn't seem to be in distress or to be looking for help, besides I was tired and had had a long day, I was tired and wanted to go home. So I kept walking towards my car rationalizing my disobedience to this very brief leading from God.

But the Holy Spirit persisted, and worked on me. By the time I reached my car I was feeling restless and my disobedience was bothering me, so I turned around and headed back to the women standing by the entrance. When I reached her I asked if everything was all right, and if I could help her in any way. At first she was tentative not knowing who I was or knowing my intent, but after I introduced myself she became more comfortable with me and she told me she was waiting for a ride home.

Her son was supposed to pick her up an hour earlier. I asked if she tried to call him and she said she had tried to re-enter the building, but it was locked and she had no cell phone. So I offered her my phone and she called her son. As it turns out her son had forgotten that he was suppose to pick her up and he was home worried about her, not knowing where she was. About 20 minutes later her son drove up and they were off.

This is just one example of how God may lead us to people or to do things we might otherwise dismiss out of fear, embarrassment, or selfishness. And I could go on and tell other stories, or I'm sure you probably have similar stories you can share. But these stories still don't not answer the question, How can we know if these leadings we feel or receive in some way are from God or from Satan?

Paul wrote to Timothy, "The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons." (1 Timothy 4: 1) One could argue that David, from our Old Testament reading today did just that, can't we.  Clearly his leadings were not of God when he encountered Bathsheba.

These lying spirits may appear to be channels of God's power. John referred to "spirits of demons performing miraculous signs," (Rev. 16: 14) and Jesus predicted that "false messiah's and false prophets" would "perform signs and miracles to deceive even the elect - if that were possible." (Matthew 24: 24)

The fact is evil spirits are not always easy to distinguish from God's ministering spirits, the angels. As Paul pointed out "Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light." (2 Cor. 11: 14) Therefore it is very important to know the origin of the leadings that come into our minds.

Adam and Eve followed a leading to increase their knowledge by eating an attractive piece of fruit, and as a result they plunged the human race into darkness and misery. (Gen 5)

King David followed a leading to befriend a beautiful army wife, and it cost him his best general and a son. (2 Sam 11-12) Who is really responsible for all the hate and fighting between Israel and Palestine today? Who led Lee Harvey Oswald to shoot President Kennedy, or who led Hitler to kill millions of Jews? Who leads people to persecute others because they are of different skin color, national origin, or religious tradition?

Who leads us to say hurtful things, to be arrogant, to lie, to steal? Who prompts us to care less about serving others than about our own advancement and fulfillment? In Ephesians (6: 10-18) Paul reminds us that there's a war going on in this universe. "Put on the full armor of God," he says, "so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.

For the struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." (vv. 11-12)

This war is being raged on the spiritual battlefields of our minds. As God leads people for his glory and for their benefit, Satan does everything in his power to undo God's work and undermine his activity in people's lives. Because of this spiritual war, it is possible that some of the notions or leadings that come into our minds have been authored by Satan, and not by God.

There are only two ways to respond to evil-leadings: flight or fight. "Flee the evil desires of youth," Paul told the youthful Timothy (2 Tim 2:22), "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you," James wrote (James 4: 7).

But once again I ask how can we be sure where the leading is coming from? In 1 John (4: 1) we read, "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." So to test these leadings we receive I offer the following three criteria.

  1. All leadings that come from God will be consistent with scripture. The surest way to test the true source, or nature of a leading, is to check it against Scripture. This is why studying the Bible is so important to our spiritual growth. This is one reason getting involved in Sunday School and Bible Study is necessary.

    If we aren't sure what the Bible says then we can't be sure where are leading is coming from. If the leading goes against the Bible, it obviously comes from an unholy spirit. Call it Satanic and dismiss it immediately. There is no other Christian way to deal with an unscriptural leading.

    Now having said this a leading may be consistent with God's Word, and still not be sent by the Holy Spirit. For example, nothing in the Bible told Jesus he shouldn't turn stones into bread, as Satan was urging him to do. He had other reasons for refusing to do what Satan said. If a leading is not contrary to Scripture then it's time to look at the second criterion, which is:
  2. God's leadings are usually consistent with the person he made you to be. Some people seem to think that God creates a person with certain gifts and then expects the person to excel in totally unrelated fields. I've met people who are excellent software engineers and enjoy working with computers, and do very well with both, but they assume God is leading them into music or theology.

    Some people, who really love the outdoors and nature, assume God is leading them to a job in the city. So the question to be asked is why do they assume God's leadings would contradict what God made them to be? Why would God create you for one purpose and then ask you to fulfill another? This is why a number of us spent time discerning our gifts this past spring.

    We explored the question how has God gifted us and how are we to use these gifts. Our God is purposeful. He is the master orchestrator of all that happens in our universe. To be sure he wants to stretch our abilities and expand our potential, and that often involves leading us along new paths. That does not mean, however, that he ignores our gifts and inherent interests. Instead, he strengthens our natural abilities and builds on them. So to discern where the leading is coming from one must know scripture and one must know their gifts.
  3. God's leadings involve servanthood, or the giving of oneself. I find that many false leadings are fairly easy to discern, because they are self-promoting, or self-serving.

    Over the years I've learned that if a leading promises easy money and fame, perks and toys, I'd better watch out. Prosperity has ruined more people than servanthood and adversity ever will. On the other hand, I can usually sense that a leading is from the Holy Spirit when it calls me to humble myself, serve somebody, encourage somebody, or give something away. Very rarely will Satan lead us to do these kinds of things. This is what Paul told the Ephesian elders about one of his leadings: "Now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me." (Acts 20: 22-23)

Paul was not being asked to do something contrary to his gifts - all the way to Jerusalem he would be preaching the gospel and strengthening young churches. He was, however, being asked to sacrifice safety and comfort for the sake of the kingdom.

Now it's very important to know that not every leading from God will involve pain and sacrifice, but expect that quite often God's leadings will mean that we may have to make gut-wrenching decisions that test the very limits of our faith, and may make us face life's issues head on.

Many of God's leadings will require us to choose between being comfortable or building a Christ-like character, amassing money or seeking first God's kingdom, being a winner in the world's eyes or being a winner in God's eyes. So if a leading promises you overnight wealth, health, comfort, or happiness, be cautious.

God led Jesus to a cross, not a crown, and yet that cross ultimately proved to be a gateway to freedom and forgiveness for every sinner in the world. God also asks us as Jesus' followers to carry a cross. Paradoxically, in carrying that cross, we find liberty, joy and wholeness.

Leadings from God can open the door to a fantastically fulfilling Christian adventure. When you begin to listen for God's leadings, you often won't know why he is asking you to do something. He will lead you down paths through unknown territory, sometimes for no other reason than to teach you to trust him.

Remember, the Christian walk is based on faith, not sight, and "without faith it is impossible to please God." (Heb. 11: 6). For a truly dynamic, authentic, exciting Christian life, listen for the leadings of the Holy Spirit. Test them, using the criteria I mentioned this morning, and then obey them.

Have faith, trust God, and give him a chance. Say yes to him, even if the leading seems risky or illogical. You will be amazed at what God will do. Thanks be to God for his leadings, his guidance and his wisdom, which propels us into a closer more intimate relationship with his son Jesus.

Read other messages by Pastor Wade