Consider some Bible passages that instruct God’s people to have this mindset:
Psalm 119:128 - “Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way.”
The Psalmist esteemed all of God’s Word to be right. This is the foundation for a testing mindset. The believer has an absolute standard of truth. Christ said the Scripture is truth (John 17:17). It cannot be broken (Joh. 10:35), meaning it is correct and authoritative in every point. Peter said the Scripture is a light in a dark world that we are to take heed thereto (2 Pe. 1:19).
The Psalmist rejected every false way. If something is contrary to God’s Word, the believer should reject it as false.
The Psalmist hated every false way. The child of God should be passionate about this. The Psalmist’s hatred of false ways was a reflection of his love for God and God’s truth. He was not on the fence. He cast his vote for God’s Word in every matter, and he stood zealously opposed to anything that is contrary to God’s Word. He did not make excuse for error; he hated it. He did treat error as a small thing.
Isaiah 8:20 - “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”
The Old Testament saints were to test everything by the Scripture that they had. If anything is contrary to God’s Word, it is darkness.
Psalm 1:1-3 - “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”
The way of discernment is the way of spiritual protection, blessing, and fruit. Today it is popular to say that careful testing of everything by God’s Word is “Phariseeism” and “legalism.” It is condemned by modern churches, but it is praised by God.
The foundation for testing is a strong knowledge of God’s Word (Ps. 1:2). It is necessary to know God’s Word, but not only to know it, to delight in it. It is necessary to read and study it, but also to meditate therein day and night. This is the description of a child of God who loves God’s Word above honey, above fine gold (Ps. 19:10). He is not only intellectually satisfied with God’s Word; he is delighted with it. He really and truly loves it. Only this type of relationship with God and His Word will protect the individual from error and spiritual danger.
The Psalm 1 man of God measures everything by God’s Word and rejects every counsel and every way that is contrary to God’s Word.
1 Thessalonians 5:21 - “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”
The believer is to prove all things by God’s Word. There is nothing in this world that should not be proved by God’s Word: doctrine, philosophy, all areas of church practice, and every aspect of the Christian life. “All things” includes music, dress, attitude, entertainment, education, relationships.
The believer is to hold fast only that which is good by the standard of God’s Word.
Hebrews 5:12-14 - “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”
A testing mindset begins with skill in God’s Word. The believer can’t test things unless he first knows God’s Word well. Every believer is to be so skillful in God’s Word that he can teach it to others and that he can discern good from evil. Every believer must set out to gain skill in God’s Word, and this is no simple, easy matter. It requires good instruction and hard work and daily commitment and persistence. The Bible is not a small, simple book, and there is no shortcut to learning it well. This passage is one reason why I am convinced that the equivalent of a Bible Institute education is the beginning point to be able to understand the Bible and to study it effectually. The effectual Bible student must have an understanding of the Bible as a whole and how each book and section fits into the whole. He must understand Bible words. He must know Bible theology. He must know Bible history, Bible times, and Bible customs. He must understand principles of Bible interpretation and methods of Bible study. He must know Bible prophecy.
The professing believer who is unskillful in God’s Word is disobedient to God’s command, is unfruitful in the ministry he should be exercising, and is not walking as a disciple of Christ. He is a babe and has not made spiritual progress. He lives perpetually on milk and is totally dependent on a teacher. The author of Hebrews refused to accept this carnal condition as a status quo. He reproved them sharply for their carnality and laziness.
The mature Christian is skillful in God’s Word and constantly uses God’s Word to test everything in life “to discern both good and evil.” This is his worldview, his mindset, his way of life. Studying the Bible is not a mere intellectual exercise. It is a whole life exercise.
By walking in a testing mindset, the believer exercises his spiritual and moral senses and grows stronger.
Acts 17:11 - “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”
The Bereans are called “noble.” The Greek word “eugenes” is translated “nobleman” in Luke 19:12. In God’s eyes, the true nobleman is the person who loves the truth and tests everything by His Word. Such “noblemen” are despised in this present world, but they will rule with Christ in glory in the next.
The Bereans received Paul’s preaching with all readiness of mind. They did not reject things without hearing them. They did not take someone’s word for what Paul taught. They heard him for themselves. The Bible warns, “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him” (Pr. 18:13).
They searched the Scriptures daily. This is the authority and wisdom for testing things. They were zealous and persistent. They were willing to work at it day after day. Bible study was not a mere passing interest.
They tested everything by Scripture. They did not believe every word like the fool (Pr. 14:15). They did not test things by their opinions and feelings and traditions and old wives’ tales. Scripture is able to make the man of God “perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works,” which means that nothing else is needed (2 Ti. 3:16-17). There is no need of Catholic tradition or purported authorities such as the Book of Mormon or Science and Health with a Key to the Scriptures (Christian Science) or extra-biblical revelations such as dreams and visions and prophecies. The Bible is the sole authority of faith and practice.
Every Christian must be a Berean. The very foundation for the kind of Christian life that pleases the Lord is an intimate relationship with the Scriptures after the fashion of the noble Bereans. We must test everything by God’s Word.
1 Corinthians 14:29 - “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.”
This instruction was given for the time then existing, which was a transitional time. The New Testament canon had not been completed. The apostles were still alive. The apostolic gifts of tongues and prophecies were still operating. Yet 1 Corinthians 14 contains principles for the entire church age. The churches today don’t have prophets as in the first churches, but they do have prophecy in the sense of preachers who “speak unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort” (1 Co. 14:3).
When the Word of God is preached, it is to be tested. Preachers are not to be followed blindly and “unquestioningly.” God’s Word is their only authority, and the preacher is under this authority. If he teaches contrary to God’s Word, his teaching should be rejected.
This ministry of testing requires teams of preachers and ministers. Beginning with Christ’s apostles and the establishment of the church at Jerusalem, we see a team ministry in the New Testament churches, with one man as the senior or head pastor. Compare Acts 13:1; 14:23; 15:13-22; 20:4; Php. 1:1. When there is a team of ministers, one man cannot easily lead the flock astray. There is strength and protection. When Paul said, “let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge” (1 Co. 14:29), he was referring to the other preachers. When he said, “For ye may all prophesy one by one,” he was referring to preachers, to ministry gifted men, not to every member of the congregation. This is the context.
This ministry requires an educated, spiritual congregation. Every believer is taught to exercise this ministry.
2 Corinthians 10:3-5 - “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”
A testing mindset is an essential part of spiritual warfare and spiritual protection. We live in a dark, fallen world. It is a world that has exalted itself against God. The Christian life is not a playground; it is a battleground. Every believer has a fierce, relentless enemy that “walketh about, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). Those who drift through the Christian life carelessly will not stand. They will be led astray in their thinking.
The chief battleground is the imagination. The devil wants to corrupt the mind with error in order to lead the individual astray from the truth. “Imaginations” is from “logismos,” which is elsewhere translated “thought” (Ro. 2:15). “It refers to all the plans of a wicked world” (Barnes). The world is filled with false philosophy. The enemies of Christ boast in their reasoning power. Their chief authority is human thinking, but man’s best thinking cannot discover ultimate truth and the knowledge of God.
The way of protection is to measure every idea and principle by God’s Word and to cast down every error. Note the repetition of “every.” Biblical testing is a constant, thorough ministry.
The truth is found in the knowledge of God. The main purpose of the Bible is to reveal the true God. The better the believer knows God personally and understands His character and ways and thinking, the better he can protect himself. The fullness of God is known in Jesus Christ and in the gospel of Christ. Everything that is contrary to Christ and His gospel is wrong.
The believer has mighty weapons. They are such things as the infallible Word of God, which is quick and powerful (Heb. 4:12), the indwelling Spirit of God (1 Joh. 2:20), fasting (Mt. 17:21; Es. 4:16), and prayer (Eph. 6:18). Satan’s false imaginations cannot stand against these mighty weapons.
The Bible believer has the power to cast down every wrong imagination. This means he can discern its error and reject it and be protected from it and protect others. The believer has the ability to test every philosophy because God’s Word gives him the wisdom to do so. He can get to the heart of a false philosophy by the power of God’s Word (Ps. 119:99, 104, 130). The apostle Paul took on the exalted imaginations of the Greeks in Athens and refuted them and thereby won some of them to the truth (Acts 17:18-34). The man who led me to Christ did not know anything about the philosophies I had been studying (Hindu, New Age, mind science), but he knew God’s Word well and was able to take God’s Word and destroy these philosophies as I explained them to him. He tore down high things such as reincarnation, universalism, Christ as a guru, allegoricalism, the innate goodness of man, and spiritual enlightenment by following one’s heart.
Casting down error requires training and skill. This is no simple ministry. Every church should train its people for this work by making them effectual Bible students and by teaching them all things that are necessary, such as apologetics and world history. The church’s Bible training must not be mere rote learning so that the people can repeat things back to the teacher. God’s people must be trained to think biblically. They must not just memorize God’s Word and know some doctrine. They must learn how to understand God’s Word and apply it to daily life.
The power to cast down error is of Christ - “mighty through God.” The believer does not have the power to confront sin and error and false gods and false religion and philosophy in his own ability. The power is of Christ. The wisdom is of Christ. The believer must walk in close fellowship with Christ and seek His help. Some have taken it upon themselves to war against error by the power of the flesh (e.g., human reasoning, philosophical argument, the power of personality and intellect), but instead of conquering error they have been conquered by error. I think of a pastor’s son who became an atheist by studying the writings of men like Richard Dawkins, thinking, apparently, that he was strong enough to refute them.
This warfare begins in this present life, but it will be perfected when Christ returns and establishes His kingdom. Then every high place will be torn down and every thought will be brought to the obedience of Christ throughout the world. God’s people currently have the power to bring souls to Christ and to protect themselves and their homes and churches from error, but they don’t have the power to completely destroy Satan’s strongholds. When He comes, Christ will humble the pride of man and tear down every idol (Isa. 2:10-22). He will bind Satan, the god of this world, and cast him into the bottomless pit (Re. 20:1-3) and eventually cast him into the lake of fire (Re. 20:10). Christ’s governors will rule every nation with a rod of iron and bring them into obedience to God’s will.
Philippians 3:17 - “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.”
Colossians 2:8 - “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”
1 Timothy 4:1 - “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.”
1 John 4:1 - “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”
In all such verses we see a testing mindset. The believer is to be aware that there is spiritual danger, false teachers, the potential for deception and spoiling, and he is to test everything by the New Testament Scripture.
Revelation 2:2 - “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars.”
Christ praised the church at Ephesus for testing everything by God’s Word. Regardless of the slander of this present age, this is a ministry that well pleases Him.
Note the clear, strong language used to describe false teachers: “evil,” “liars.” This is not the language of “hatred” and “mean-spiritedness.” It is the language of a genuine love for and zeal for the truth.
2 Timothy 3:13 - “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.”
2 Timothy 4:3-4 - “And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.”
Matthew 24:4-5 - “And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.”
These verses describe the progression of the church age as one of increasing apostasy, ending in an explosion of apostasy at the end of the age after the translation of the church.
God’s people need a Christian worldview that encompasses this doctrine of apostasy. They need to understand that the closer we draw to the return of Christ, the greater the spiritual danger and the greater the need for vigilance against danger.
This is the mindset I was given as a new Christian. The man who led me to Christ took me into a Christian bookstore to buy me a Bible and a Strong’s Concordance, and he made the point of warning me to be cautious and discerning. He told me that there are dangers in Christian bookstores because there are many false teachers and that protection requires testing everything with Scripture. I began my Christian life with this mindset.
This is the only mindset that will protect an individual, home, and church today.
This is the foundation of effectual separation.
The separatist church builds up its members so that they can exercise the essential ministry of discernment. The church that does this will not be led astray.
The average Independent Baptist Church is like Highland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It was the second largest church in America in the early 1970s, but it didn’t teach its people to exercise a discernment ministry. The people were not plainly informed of error. They were not educated about such things as Baptist conventionalism, New Evangelicalism, charismaticism, Reformed theology, and the Jesus People Movement with its Christian rock and charismaticism and antinomianism. They were not taught to judge everything by Scripture. Lee Roberson, Highland Park’s pastor for 40 years, said, “Stay out of controversy in the pulpit--stay out of it and stay on the main line. I think that helped me a lot. I tried to avoid personalities and stay on the main line: preaching the gospel, emphasis on winning people to Christ, emphasis on developing the spiritual life, dying to self, the fullness of the Spirit, the second coming--kept on the positive side, kept negatives away from the people” (James Wigton, Lee Roberson--Always about His Father’s Business, pp. 78, 243).
Testing and plain warning was considered “negativism.” Those who tried to test everything by Scripture were considered divisive trouble makers.
As a result, Highland Park quickly went in the way of New Evangelicalism and the contemporary philosophy when new leaders came. The people, including the deacons, were not of a testing mindset and were not properly educated and prepared for what they would face.
Lee Roberson’s philosophy of ministry is very influential among Independent Baptist churches, and there are many good elements. Winning people to Christ, dying to self, the fullness of the Spirit, the second coming are all wonderful and important things. But that isn’t enough. A gardener must deal with weeds and pests. A shepherd must deal with wolves. And a preacher must deal with error, every type of error facing his people.
Consider the following examples of exercising a ministry of vigilance and testing:
“I was just looking at a missionary email of a young man going to China. We support one young family from the local church mission organization he is with. I’ve been impressed by what I had seen of several young people coming from this church. I had read all their doctrinal statements and was content in that regard. I decided to look more closely at the church and more importantly the pastor and leader. I read in the church statement of introduction something that alarmed me. It said, ‘We sing the old hymns, spiritual songs and choruses as well as songs written recently.’ Red flags went up while praying that I wouldn’t be upset. After working my way through to video songs played at the church, lo and behold, here is the young missionary in question singing Don Moens song, ‘Our Heart Our Desire.’ There was also a trio of ladies singing a David Crowder Band song ‘How He Loves.’ They were dressed appropriately and yet singing this stuff. Wow, I’m blown away at how the termites are eating up the house in IFB churches. I cannot support this kind of thing and I have to drill deeper in investigating the beliefs of missionaries that request our time and support. No matter what organization or how good their doctrinal statement, one can’t assume they aren't involved in CCM. The Mission, I mention, is Vision Baptist Mission in Alpharetta, Ga. The pastor is a veteran missionary and they have so much going for them except this huge fly in the ointment. Keep on warning.”
“I'm going through the song leader’s copy of Living Hymns and marking the hymns we will NEVER sing (like the two Gaither ones). I’m using your Directory of CCM artists book to check some hymn writers I am not familiar with, and I’ve googled a few names I didn’t know. The song, ‘Because He Lives,’ is one that I had to make clear to a church member that we wouldn’t sing it and why. He had no problem with it once he understood. He is one that really wants to do right.”
The foundation of effectual biblical separation is a testing mindset.
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