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Strange Fire - Testing the Spirits

"12 But what I am doing I will continue to do, so that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting. 13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds." 

Good Morning Beloved,

Welcome to worship, we're so glad you're here.
Thank you for joining us today.

Where you have ignorance in the church, an indifference toward doctrine, a lack of discernment, the doors are opened wide to Satan’s deceptive schemes and seductions. All he needs to succeed is for people not to know and understand the true Word of God. Satan is far more clever, far more cunning, far more deceitful than any human being on earth! Nowhere is this more prevalent, than in today's church.

The schemes of men, seek to impoverish people in every way imaginable, however Satan seeks to impoverish the souls of men, leading them into spiritual bondage, on a path descending straight to hell.
With fewer and fewer Christians, reading, studying and memorizing the Word, I believe the church is more susceptible, more vulnerable, and more gullible then in any other time in church history.

Satan has infiltrated the pulpit, decorating his demonic doctrine with just enough God, just enough Jesus to be dangerous. Isn’t this misdirect just like Satan? He shows up, acting as though he is concerned for what is right, what is true, while what he is doing is seeking to destroy what is right and true. He comes in to sow seeds of distrust and promote discord and strife all under the guise of helping. He thrives upon helping us uphold our legalism, and pride. Oh, how he loves to do that! He is always seeking to come against godly men.

The church is to be the standard, the foundation, the pillar of truth; the church which is to be able to set the standard for what is right, what is straight, what is true; the church is to be the essence of discernment; the church is to propagate truth in the midst of all the seduction, lies and deception, however, when the church becomes gullible, when it becomes vulnerable, susceptible to the deceptive schemes, it loses its ability to do that, then all is lost.

Satan and his evil army of workers, never appear as Satan and deceivers. They masquerade their appearance as angels of light, as a preacher in the pulpit, a political figure, giving the illusion they are on your side and on God’s side. Yet, they will seek to take your attention off God, your focus off Jesus Christ, off sharing His Gospel and place attention on the philosophies of man and his frailties. There is saying, Satan will use 99% truth to propagate one lie!

Satan takes what is good and twists it just enough to be seductive, alluring to lead people away from Christ! In other words, it still has remnants of the good that attracts us, but it leads us in a bad direction. Satan is using that which is good to point us on the wrong path. And, he has been twisting God’s words as far back as Genesis 3:1 in the Garden of Eden. Satan doesn’t attempt a fledged assault on what God has told Adam and Eve: "Let’s go rebel against God! Reject your Creator!" No, instead he simply tries to twist God’s words just enough: "Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?"

Therefore, examine the motives of those who claim to be servants of God, messengers of Christ, preaching the full counsel of God, check to see if they are centered in their love for Jesus Christ, for His Gospel and His people or centered on self, with a spirit of arrogance and pride, rather than humility.

Let's bow our heads in prayer.

Heavenly Father,

We thank You for giving us Your Word, for the truth that is so pervasive. Lord, we know that You are inseparable from Your Word, we are so incredibly blessed to be able to study it verse by verse. Thank You for revealing the truth to us, with clarity and understanding, so that we might make the application in our lives. 
 
Raise up those who teach Your Word, that they would speak with authority, confidence, boldness. Touch the hearts of those who need to hear, that it would reach their ears, that they would come to receive Christ.
May it all be for Your glory
In Jesus name
Amen

Today's Message: Strange Fire - Testing the Spirits

Open with me your Bibles to the eleventh chapter of the II book of Corinthians. I invite you to follow along with me, as I read to get the text settled in our minds. II Corinthians 11:12-15

"But what I am doing I will continue to do, so that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds."

Why was Paul so willing to sacrifice himself to such a great extent in order to minister to the Corinthians and in His ministry for the Corinthians? Because of his great love for them. They may have been told to doubt his love because he refused to take money from them to sustain himself in ministry, however, Paul tells them, that God knows the truth. He saw himself as a father that stores up for his children not one who takes from them.

Paul never had any problem boasting about Christ and telling of His sufferings, however, he was always reluctant to speak of his own painful experience as a servant of the Lord. However, to protect the spiritual welfare of a congregation in danger, who were being led astray, he feels it is necessary to write about himself and boast in his experiences.

After defending the fact that he supported himself while he was at Corinth, in verses 7 through 11, Paul points out the gullibility of some of the Corinthian believers. In verse 12, he says "But what I am doing I will continue to do, so that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting."
 
These false teachers, wanted the congregation to look down on Paul because he would not take remuneration. His critics argued that if Paul’s apostleship were valid he would not demean himself by continuing to work as a common craftsman, since he knows that apostles are entitled to support by their churches. They said he doesn’t take money from you, because he can’t put a price on his teaching, because his teaching is worthless.
 
The true man of God, is marked by humility, truth and love. Someone masquerading as a man of God can be discerned by the pride, deception and hate for the truth! They’re idolatrous. They want to be worshiped. They want to be set up as little gods, believe it or not, I've actually heard several "preachers". say just that, "we are all little gods, and they want everyone bowing down to them. Rather, than exalting God, they themselves love to be exalted, to be glorified, to see their name in lights.
 
I John 4:1-3 teaches, "Beloved, 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. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world."
 
And in Philippians 3:2, "Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision."
 
Scripture continuously warns us against false teachers. From the beginning in Genesis 
 
In verse 13, Paul says, "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ." The church in Corinth knew exactly who he was talking about, they knew their names. I can speak from my own experiences, if you bring the truth to with any potency, those who are deceivers will retaliate with fury. I'd like you to note, the verb used in verse 13, metaschÄ“matizomenoi in the Greek or "disguising themselves." Paul is saying, this is a masquerade. A masquerade. You don’t really know who you’re talking to. You can’t see it, you really don’t know. It’s not obvious, it’s not evident; it’s not visible on the surface. Why? Because it is the subtlety of Satan. He comes in a facade, a masquerade, hiding behind his deception and lies. 
 
Allow me to just speak boldly, with potent words, which might sound a bit brash at first, however, I encourage you to listen to them carefully; Satan is the most effective in the church when he comes not as a public enemy, but rather a false friend. He is the most effective against the church not when he's attacking it, but when he joins the church; not when he attacks the pulpit, but when he is actually standing in it!
 
Should we then be surprised that Satan comes to seduce Christ's church rather than to attack it? In verse 14, Paul says "And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light." False teachers thrive on coming up against godly preachers. They complain that you get paid, as here with Paul, and they will accuse you if you refuse to get paid. False critics looked for any pretext to criticize. However, Paul was determined that since he had no choice but to preach the Gospel because of the demand of his calling he would, preach it for free. So that he would also avoid any false charge that he preached the Gospel for earthly gain, though it was certainly within his right to receive remuneration.
 
Antiphon once argued that Socrates' poverty made his teaching must be worthless because he didn't charge a fee. It is this same Greek philosophy that was being used against Paul.
 
The issue of paid ministers is frequently misunderstood with most people, even today. For this reason, a visit from a paid pastor may not be as impacting on a congregation as a visit from an unpaid church member. Some people perceive the pastor as just doing the job he is being paid to do. However, you as a church member, if you labor because of love in the power of the Holy Spirit you will cut down the accusation of the enemy that you are after their money, rather than exhibiting care about their soul and their eternal well-being.  
 
That is why Paul, laid his cards on the table and says what he really thinks of his detractors of the true Gospel. Paul actually coins a new word and calls them "false apostles" or "pseudo-apostoloi" in the Greek, which is to say they are imposters with a false claim of authority. They were imposters whose aim was to usurp apostolic authority. They performed their destructive work with deceit, treachery and cunning by the power of evil spirits. Basically Satan is an imitator, he attempts to copy whatever God does and tries to convince us that his offer is better than God's. How does he do this? Here he offers counterfeit apostles, workers who think they serve God, however, who are really servants of Satan. They believe they are something they are not and in so doing, they deceive themselves and others.
 
And whether they are pastors, Buddhist, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Unitarians, Muslims, new age guru's or a host of a number of others, they all hide behind the mask of goodness. Though, they may have changed their outward appearance, there is, however, no inward transformation by the Holy Spirit.
 
Beloved, in every age, there is an urgent necessity to study, and preach the full council of God that it might hold fast against all the deception that comes into the church, to get us to look to legalism or to major on minors, instead of focusing on Christ, His saving grace and serving Him. Be wary of those that offer church members a Christian life that is superior to that described in the New Testament. 
 
Let me tell you this, every temptation that has ever come my way, is always nicely packaged as something good!
 
Let's take sex for example. Satan takes that gift from God and twists the message a little bit. Sex is great, however, you shouldn't have to reserve sex for marriage. It’s pleasurable, it's fun, so enjoying it in the most casual of relationships is perfectly acceptable. Everyone is doing it!

Then, another way that this all plays out is with pornography. The good, physical attraction that men and women have for each other is used to draw people into watching things where the visual stimulus is used to twist the good desire from God into watching morally wrong demeaning videos.

So in this situation Satan doesn’t try to make sex something that’s evil and despicable, instead he takes something that is good and twists it just enough that it still looks good without really being good.

Yet another example, is belief in God is good, but if you twist that truth to say that you don’t have to follow Jesus in order to make that happen.

Beloved, this is so common within the church today: people who claim to believe in God, but make absolutely no effort to actually His commands. In fact, Jesus said the same thing in John 14:15, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." I believe, this is the direct result of teaching a watered down version of the gospel. Unfortunately, the end result is a people who think they are ok with God, who believe they are following Jesus, when in fact, the reality is, they are spiritually lost!

The value of every human life is good, but Satan twists that truth enough to say that I have a right to get what I want, I deserve it! All human life is made in the image of God. However, when we allow that to metastasize itself into a belief that I deserve everything I want. After all, I’m valuable.

The world that we live in was once declared "good" by God after Creation. However, we also know that it has been severely impacted by the Fall. Many today, seek to find meaning in their lives from the things we buy. For example, a new iPhone will make me happy! Getting a boat will bring me joy and fulfillment! A new outfit will lift my spirit!

The truth is, things can be enjoyed, they cannot give our lives meaning! That demands something far greater. That requires God! So again, here is a situation Satan doesn’t try to make something that’s evil and despicable sound good; he instead takes something that is good and twists it enough, so that it looks good without really being good.

People today, spend more time scrolling through their social media feed than they do turning the pages of their Bible.

We are called to be good citizens. We should vote, be good neighbors, pray for our government leaders, and be thankful for the steadying presence of government. Yet many today, have more loyalty to a political party or politician, than they do to the Kingdom of God! We live in a polarized political culture, where many forecast that electing the wrong person is the end of the world and electing the right person will fulfill all our needs. There is only One ruler of which this is true, Jesus Christ! The Lord of lords, the King of kings.

In John 10:10, Jesus tells us "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."
 
The problem is that we have allowed Satan to distort our vision, to blur the line between what is good and what appears to be good. Therefore, we must ask ourselves whether what we are pursuing just looks good, feels good or whether it is truly good! Once you realize how he works, it's rather easy to spot the "hook," he uses the same tactic as many financial institutions. Putting all the good stuff right up front, but all the way at the end, are the damning terms that cause people to fall into a pit of indebtedness! 

In verse 14, Paul indicates that Satan’s favorite disguise. "No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light."

Would you know Satan if you met him on the street? I know many Christians who have quickly responded "Certainly, I would, he is a well-formed male, with a red suit, horns, tail, and a pitchfork in his hand. I would absolutely know him anywhere!" 

While I'm sure this must please Satan immensely, because he is envisioned in this way, the reality is this caricature doesn't come from Scripture. The Bible draws no such portrait of Satan. It comes from a combination of Greek mythology and medieval superstition. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Satan is beautiful and alluring beyond anything our finite minds can imagine.

However, his deceptive beauty is indicated where the apostle Paul wrote, "Satan himself is disguised as an angel of light." The word translated angel is the Greek word aggelos which means "messenger." He is constantly transforming himself into a messenger of God, a preacher of gospel. The Bible is telling that Satan is an imposter.

Evil doesn’t comes to us as a form of wickedness; it camouflages itself as good. It is the nature of evil to clothe itself in enjoyment, superiority, or greater wisdom. Temptation always appears under the guise of something desirable; otherwise it would not be a temptation. Satan always comes to us in masquerade, otherwise, we would not listen to him or follow him. 

For instance, with regard to alcohol, he appears not as a drunk, vomiting his guts up, but as a "man of distinction and culture," or some one who knows how to get along well with others and makes friends easily. With regard to sex, he assumes the role not of a shameless prostitute, but of a beautiful, popular social butterfly. However, when Satan appears before God, he always appears as Satan. He cannot deceive God, God knows him for who and what he is. Yet, when he appears to man, he doesn’t appear as Satan. He always assumes some other role, so that he can apply his lies, craftiness or deceitful tactics.

Some find it difficult to understand why people give in to certain temptations. From our standpoint, their problem should be easy to handle. If have even heard some question how could Adam and Eve could have been so foolish as to have thrown aside God, Who had given them in the morning of their existence. We would not have fallen so easily! Or would we?

The problem is that the evil tempter wears a disguise when he slithers into our lives. As Mephistopheles says in the drama Faust, "People do not know the devil is there even when he has them by the throat.”

The Bible tells us in Genesis 3:1, that the serpent was "More cunning than any beast of the field." There's no ominous hissing or rattling warning us of danger. He doesn't ask, "Excuse me, may I have 15-20 minutes of your time to destroy your life?"

God's Word repeatedly warns us that Satan comes as an angel of light, and his evil cohorts appear as ministers of righteousness. Therefore, we must be vigilant to prevent such a crafty deceiver from sneaking into our lives.

Much like the Portia Spider, a master predator whose chief weapon is deception. To begin with, says Robert R. Jackson in article in National Geographic, "the spider looks like a piece of dried leaf or foliage blown into the web. When it attacks other species of spiders, it uses a variety of methods to lure the host spider into striking range. Sometimes it crawls onto the web and taps the silken threads in a manner that mimics the vibrations of a mosquito caught in the web. The host spider marches up for dinner and instead becomes a meal itself."

The Portia spider can actually tailor its deception for its prey. With a type of spider that maintains its home inside a rolled up leaf, the Portia dances on the outside of the leaf, imitating a mating ritual.

Jackson goes on to write, "Portia can find a signal for just about any spider by trial and error. It makes different signals until the victim spider finally responds appropriately-then keeps making the signal that works." Like the Portia spider, Satan's weapon of choice is deception.

It is popular in many circles today to spell the word devil with the letter "d" left off. I believe, this is to reduce the idea of an actual being called the devil to simply merely an influence called evil.

Beloved, if Satan can get people to think of him in that way, then when he comes as an angel of light, he will not be recognized, making it far easier to beguile his unsuspecting victims.

When we trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we have peace with God, however, at the same time we come into conflict with Satan. Satan may be out of vogue, however, his business is booming today!

Peter warns us in 1 Peter 5:8, "Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."

That's why Paul says in Ephesians 6:11, "Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil."

Beloved, Satan needs obscurity for his plans to work. He depends on the cloak of personal darkness. One of his greatest weapons has been his ability to convince people he doesn't exist. Because of this, he can do his work without any fear of being discovered by God's people.

I find it astonishing, that some Christians refuse to consider someone whose access to them is similar to that of the Holy Spirit? How can they ignore someone whose biblical knowledge far exceeds that of any human, he knows well human weakness, possessing an almost godlike power to exploit Christians, to be taken captive by his will! He wears a perfect disguise, an angel of light, no one would suspect him to hiding behind this disguise.

In Genesis 3:4, he was capable of deceiving Adam and Eve in the beginning, promising life if one would but disobey God and believe him. He was both a liar and a murder. He has not changed.

Verse 15 parallels Satan’s tricks with that of his servants. "Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds."

Satan has many tools in his bag of tricks, and one of his favorites is religious leaders. He delights to come to us through a preacher of law with the intent leading us away from the Lord. This should come as no surprise to us. 

Jesus Himself said in Matthew 24:4-5, "And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many." It is the consistent witness of Scripture that the last days will be characterized, more than anything else, by an increase in false prophets and counterfeit religions. Satan's primary tactic is not to build a church and call it "The First Church of Satan." He is far too cunning and clever for that. Instead, he invades the seminary classroom and the pulpit, and he disguises himself as a man of God, a preacher of righteousness by works of law.

The apostle Paul, prior to his conversion, was a zealous advocate of righteousness. But it was a man achieved, human merited righteousness. After Paul's conversion, he preached the saving power of God's amazing grace.

They will teach just enough God, just enough Christ to be convincing, however, their deeds lead people away from Christ and His saving Gospel their end is to be “in accordance with their perverseness.” False teachers who follow Satan’s lead will face the same just end that Satan faces, eternal destruction.

Remember the words of our Lord in Matthew 23:7-8, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

In Closing...

It well serves Satan’s purposes to set up good works against the atonement of Christ, and salvation by faith and grace. All our works though are as filthy rags before God until we are surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and become motivated by His love to live our life in the power of the Holy Spirit. Do not be deceived, there are many other spirits are in the world and they all love to disguise themselves in the lies of religion.

Beloved, there are so any religious groups, cults, and other heresies today, we can't possibly know them all. Allow me to share with you a story that Billy Graham once told about his wife, Ruth. She attended a banquet one evening, and sat with the head of Scotland Yard's counterfeit investigative division. As they talked for a while, she asked him if he spent a great deal of time studying counterfeit bills. To which the inspector replied, "Quite to the contrary. I spend my time studying the real." Why is that? So that when he saw  a counterfeit bill, he could spot it immediately. 

The best advice that I can give you here today, to help you guard against deception is: I strongly encourage you to spend your time getting to know real Jesus Christ and the Word of God. Because when you truly know the authentic, the real, you can spot the counterfeit more easily!

May it be so...

And now may the Lord bless you and keep you;

the Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;

The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.

Now and forever, in Jesus' name
Amen

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