I received an email from a Nigerian man very worried for his salvation. He had listened to a man who claimed to have died and been given a tour of hell. There he saw Christians in torment because they did not tithe. He emailed me, is that man's testimony true? Of course it is not, but if the man's experience really happened, how did he get it wrong?
I received several emails from women in Ghana, very worried for their salvation. They had each heard a woman testify she had died and was given a tour of hell. She said Christian women were in hell because they had braided their hair. They mailed me, is that true? Of course it is not, but if that woman's experience is true, how did she get it so wrong?
An 8 year old girl said she saw Jesus, and later painted a picture that she said looked like Him. That world famous painting is of a very handsome caucasian man with swept back hair, and close cropped beard.
Many have taken what she painted as gospel truth, believing her instead of Isaiah 53: 2 that says; "He has no stately form nor attractiveness that we should look upon Him, and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should be attracted to Him." How did she get it so wrong?
A boy said he went to heaven when he was 4 years old. He said every person in heaven has wings. That's not scriptural, not anywhere in the history of Judaism or Christianity, and refuted by literally thousands of others who have been to heaven and back - not to mention the millions of people seen in the book of The Revelation who are just normal people. When you die, your spirit doesn't suddenly sprout wings. How could the 4 year old get it so wrong?
The mix of immaturity, inexperience, erroneous religious teaching, and the human factor
The Nigerian man's church taught if you don't tithe you will go to hell. The Ghanian women's church taught if women braid their hair they will go to hell. The 4 year boy was, well, a 4 year old boy so he thought we all got wings when we went to heaven. The 8 year old girl was an 8 year old white American girl, so painted Jesus accordingly.
Assuming each experience was real, their errors happened because they filtered their experiences through their religious beliefs or childhood ideas.
Your spirit or the Holy Spirit?
In Acts 17:16 Paul was in Athens and it says; "...his spirit was stirred in him as he observed the city given to idolatry." Notice it wasn't God stirring Paul. Jesus didn't appear to him. His own spirit, his heart, his soul, was stirred within himself as he observed his surroundings.
An inexperienced Christian in our day might say, "God just rose up in me", but that would be error. God didn't rise up, Paul's own spirit, his own soul, rose up. The Greek of 'stirred' means 'to provoke, to stimulate' - and it happened while he watched the idolatrous activities. What he saw, what he heard, stirred or provoked his spirit. He was Jewish, he had never before seen a whole city given to breaking a Jewish commandment he had grown up with.
But it wasn't God doing it, it was within Paul based on his life experience, his beliefs. Thousands of others in Athens came and went - but Paul was stirred in his spirit, not them.
In Luke 24:32 after Jesus had disappeared from the men He had walked with to Emmaus, they said to themselves, "Didn't our hearts burn within us, as He talked with us while we walked, and while He explained scriptures to us?"
Their spirits burned at the truth presented by the resurrected Lord. Today a person might say, "God just burned in my spirit" or "God rose up in me", but that would be incorrect. It was their heart, just as it was Paul's spirit that rose up. Christians not knowing the difference think it always must be either God or not. They fail to realize our spirit has been with us since we have been alive - our 'real' self, our spirit, has walked through life and gained experience.
When a child raised among alcoholics grows up and comes to the Lord, they will often be able to tell in their spirit when they meet a person, if that person is an addict or not. How? Because their spirit knows the feel of that alcoholic spirit because they were raised around it (or have been delivered from it). God's Spirit will bear witness to the truth of what they sense in their spirit, but it is their spirit that senses that.
It takes a person who is mature, solid in the knowledge of the Word, and integrity to just let the experience stand on its own merits: To be able to separate the Father actually talking to them or a stirring in their spirit, to just experience without filtering it through life experience or religious tradition. The apostle John didn't try to explain what he saw that became the book of The Revelation of Jesus Christ. He just wrote it out and people for nearly 2000 years have been trying to figure it out - but he never sought to explain it - it just happened to him.
Your spirit is the core you, and influenced by your life experience
How does one express to others a visit to heaven? I've been there and I still can't describe adequately the colors, the life, the experience. I share a bit here and there, but words fail. So it is understandable if a 4 year old or 8 year old or church members believing error try to understand their experiences through the filters of their lives.
People often think their soul - what they think and feel - is their spirit. It is not. But our spirit and soul are united with only the Person of the Word able to separate between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, thoughts and intent of the heart*. It is a life-long journey to learn how to distinguish between say, one's spirit stirred in him or a vision or dream that is of your own imagination, rather than the Spirit of God actually depositing something in you, or saying something to you, or giving you the experience. *Hebrews 4:12-13
Jeremiah was confronted by a man who loved his country and held strong positions about God. But he prophesied out of those feelings, opinions, and imagination rather than the Spirit of God. Let us move with caution, tact, and timing when we think we have something of God, being willing to hold it in us while we measure it against the Word of God, the ways of God, the accepted beliefs of the faith. And may we learn to know the Presence of the Spirit of Truth, who serves to guide us into all truth; may we be sensitive to Him and distinguish between Him and our own spirit and opinions. New subject next week, until then, blessings,
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