By Larry Ray Hafley
“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. . . . We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error” (1 Jn. 4:1, 6).
The “spirit of error” is the teacher of error; the “spirit of truth” is the teacher of truth. There is a “mystery of iniquity,” a spirit of lawlessness (2 Thess. 2:7). There is a “spirit of fear,” and a spirit of love and power (2 Tim. 1:7). In John’s day, “the spirit of error” occupied a body of false doctrine, a system of error. The body that the spirit of error occupied was the body or system which said that Jesus Christ has not come in the flesh (1 Jn. 4:2, 3). In essence, the spirit found a form, a body, to inhabit.
Paul referred to “seducing spirits” who led “some” to “depart from the faith” (1 Tim. 4:1). These spirits found a body, a system of error. That body was in the form of “forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats” (1 Tim. 4:3). Again, the spirit had a body. It had an agent through which it could act. The spirit of error will speak “perverse things” (Acts 20:30). The “perverse things” represent the body, the agent of the spirit of error.
The Lord Jesus “loved righteousness, and hated iniquity” (Heb. 1:9). A man may hate righteousness and love iniquity (2 Thess. 2:10). That spirit will find a body to indwell. It will take a form, a substance. It will not remain a bodiless spirit “The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways” (Prov. 14:14). The “heart” represents the spirit; the “ways” represents the body. If the heart is overwhelmed, it will find a body of dissipation (Prov. 4:23; Lk. 21:34).
Have you ever seen a mischievous child? While you observe him, he is doing nothing objectionable, but you can see the mischief in his eyes. His little, daring spirit of rebellion will find an activity, a body, through which he can carry out his mischievous spirit’s designs.
Spirits of the Past
In 1 Samuel 8, the spirit of error rejected God as King (cf. I Sam. 10:19). The bodily form this spirit took was, “Make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” Rebellious spirits will find their bodies.
When Uzziah’s “heart was lifted up,” the spirit of errorwas present. It, too, needed a body, a form of expression. It was not long in coming. He “went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense” which only the sons of Aaron were consecrated to do. Arrogantly, he rebuffed the protests of eighty-one “valiant men” who protested his usurpation of divine authority. As a result, this once mighty king died the despised death of a discarded leper (2 Chron. 26:16-21).
In the first century, the spirit of the error of Judaism inhabited and enlivened the body of circumcision. Obviously, other bodies of error were encompassed, but circumcision was the most prominent agent of this spirit of error (Gal. 2:3; 4:10; 5:1-4).
In the nineteenth century, a spirit of lawlessness found a body of error. The spirit lost respect for and trust in the authority of Scripture. It craved the acceptance of religious society at large and sought the inventions of human wisdom and the glory of human institutions and organizations. That spirit’s body was in the form of mechanical instruments of music in worship and missionary societies in work. The spirit found its body, its agent. Typically, unclean spirits find others more wicked than themselves. Thus, the last state of the body of digression is worse than the first (cf. Matt. 12:43-45; 21:33-43). Truly, “evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse” (2 Tim. 3:13). Their ravenous “word will eat as doth a” cancerous gangrene; “a little leaven” will leaven the whole lump.
In the twentieth century, the spirit of speculation found the body of premillennialism. The spirit of mysticism adopted the body of Pentecostalism. The spirit of the religio-social gospel found the body of denominational-ism, complete with reliance on and alliance with sponsoring church arrangements and other benevolent and missionary organizations. Every high thing that exalts itself against the word of God, every spirit of human imagination, finds its body, its particular shape and form of expression. When the spirit of lust conceives, it brings forth its baby, sin. The infant of evil then truly can say to lust, “a body halt thou prepared me.”
The Spirit’s Search For A Body
As history and Scripture shows, there is no such thing as a benign spirit. They are all insidious, sinister, and nefarious. Further, these spirits will not remain bodiless; they will find a body to advance their agenda. It is better to slay the spirit of error before it fashions a body. However, it is also more difficult to identify and locate the spirit until it finds a body. It is like trying to pick up a piece of mercury. So, what are the warning signs that alert us to the fact that a spirit of error is seeking a body?
Signs That A Spirit Of Error Is Seeking A Body:
1. Cordiality is equated with spirituality. “Good words and fair speeches” are often the tools of those who are devoid of truth. When we assume that broad smiles and a lovely, winsome personality, oozing with wit and charm, are the marks of strong faith in Christ, we may easily be led into error (Rom. 16:17, 18). Have we forgotten what Jesus said? How do wolves appear? Do they present their teeth and fangs with snarling growls? No, they come as meek and timid sheep (Matt. 7:15). “And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:14, 15). The spirit of error is seeking a body when we equate a man’s warm and friendly ways with spiritual maturity. When we defend a man’s compromise of the truth because we are blinded by his gracious manner, an evil spirit is looking for a body! We must “learn . . . not to think of men above that which is written” (1 Cor. 4:6).
2. Loss of militance . A loss of militance in prosecuting sin and error is a sure sign that a spirit of error is searching for a body. The language of Scripture is full of military metaphors “endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ”; “fight”; “war”; “wrestle”; “weapons of our war-fare”; “pulling down of strong holds” (Eph. 6:12; 1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 2:3; 2 Cor. 10:3-5). When earnest, sincere and honest discussion is criticized and condemned, when open Bible studies on controversial issues are disdained and dismissed as “dog fights,” a spirit of error is afoot. Brother Roy Cogdill told me that in the 1930’s and 40’s, there were some churches that were uncomfortable when he cracked down on denominational error by specifically naming and identifying it. He said that some who did not accept the premillennial errors of the day nonetheless did not appreciate it when he directly indicted and convicted both the advocates and the doctrines of premillennialism. Of those churches possessed by this lack of militance, brother Cogdill said he could not think of one that did not go with the liberal, institutional movement of the 1950’s and 60’s. In other words, the passive spirit of error was hunting for a body, and it found it!
3. Little emphasis on Bible authority. The terms, “mote hunter,” “legalist,” “Pharisee,” and “brotherhood watch-dog” are generally used as slurs by those who de-emphasize the need for scriptural authority. The disembodied spirit of error does not overtly deny the need for divine authority. Rather, he points to it as a cause of trouble, while maintaining his allegiance to the “principles” of the word of God.
I have received two reports that it has been argued that Cain’s problem was not that he offered an unauthorized sacrifice, but that he “had a `bad’ attitude.” It has beenargued that his sacrifice would have been accepted if his heart had been right, but Cain’s “works were evil,” not his attitude (1 In. 3:12). “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice (not a more excellent attitude) than Cain” (Heb. 11:4). Since “faith cometh by hearing,” Abel’s offering came from what God authorized (Rom. 10:17). Cain’s offering was not “by faith”; it did not come from hearing what God said. For that reason, it was rejected. When the spirit of error begins to excuse departures from the authority of the word of God, it is looking for a body!
4. Preaching without specific application. When Nathan confronted David with a story about a rich man who killed a poor man’s lamb, “David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man” (2 Sam. 12:5). However, David’s guilt was not brought home until “Nathan said to David, Thou art the man.”
Observe the specific, personal application of apostolic preaching: (a) “God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36; cf. 3:13-15); (b) “Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you” (Acts 17:23); “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal and walk as men?” (1 Cor. 3:3) (c) “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ. . . . 0 foolish Galatians who hath bewitched you. . . Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?” (Gal. 1:6; 3:1; 5:7)
Since we are to imitate the apostles in our preaching, should it not also be direct and specific (Phil. 4:9; 1 Pet. 4:11)? Friendships and personal relationships often stifle and silence a preacher from doing his duty. When this is done, the spirit of error will soon find a body.
5. The language of Ashdod. When brethren use the speech of denominational religion, the spirit of error is shopping for a body. “Receive Christ as your personal Savior” is an example. What does it mean? Yes, we do “receive Christ Jesus” (Jn. 1:11, 12; Col. 2:6). But, we do not receive him until we have “received the word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13). Still, some say that the first century disciples “surrendered, not to a plan of salvation, but to a Savior.” The truth is that they did not “surrender” to the Savior until they “surrendered” to the plan of salvation (Heb. 5:8, 9; Rom. 6:17, 18). They did not “receive” Christ until they believed and obeyed the gospel (Jn. 6:44, 45, 63, 68; 8:30-32, 47, 51). “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized” (Acts 2:41; 8:12-14; 10:48; 11:1).
What is the purpose of using denominational language to describe the process of conversion and spiritual relation-ships? It is “trendy”; it gives off an air of modern sophistication; it promotes the spirit of error’s search for a body.
6. Soft on worldliness. The spirit of error criticizes those who boldly preach against specific forms of worldliness. The spirit of error will not confront and condemn social drinking, gambling, and immodest dress. Why? Too many members are drinking and dancing, “playing the lotto,”and going to picnics in shorts and halter tops, that is why! Rather than risk being fired, the preacher pulls back and condones worldliness by his silence. Watch for a body of error to appear where this is the case (2 Tim. 3:1-13).
Sadly, those who refuse to stand against worldliness are the very ones who extol the virtues of “loving God” and of being “tolerant” rather than “judgmental.” They say they are preachers, not “policemen.” The Holy Spirit says that “the love of the Father is not in him” (1 Jn. 2:16). No matter how much we protest, if the spirit of worldliness has invaded our hearts and lives, the love of God is not in us.
Do you recognize one or more of these signs among God’s people today? If so, it ought to tell you something. Shortly, the spirit of error will engulf a body of false doctrine. Presently, it is an intangible element that creates doubt of the truth. The spirit of error is not sure; it is not certain; its preaching is not clear and distinct. It leaves room for vacillation and compromise with worldly living and denominational doctrines. It parades under the guise of love and fellowship and denounces nothing except that which calls attention to its masquerade. The spirits of error cited above are spots in your spiritual feasts of genuine, Bible love. They feast with you without fear, for they have not yet been completely unmasked and ex-posed. In time, in bodily form, they will be known. Pray that you will not be one of their unwitting victims. With feigned words of emotional piety, with the pleasing tones of sectarian scholarship, they will seek to make merchandise of you. “And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch” (Matt. 13:37).
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII, No. 22, p. 5-7
November 17, 1994