Sadly there are many Christians who sit in judgment on other Christians and are effectively sitting in judgment on God as well. That is, they will tell other believers that this or that experience cannot be of God and that they are in deep deception. Now, can that sometimes be the case? Sure, often in fact.
But, and this is an important but, not every experience we find to be strange or different or peculiar is wrong or demonic. As with so many matters, we need to fiercely resist two opposite and dangerous extremes. On the one hand, we dare not just accept and endorse every experience that a believer has. Sometimes these are spiritual counterfeits and the works of the dark one, not the Holy Spirit.
But on the other hand, it is equally dangerous to judge every believer and condemn their actions and experiences just because we find them to be unusual or different, or because they do not line up with our way of thinking as to how Christians ought to act.
Unfortunately I have encountered both of these problems fairly often, and I have seen how much damage both can do. Allowing any and every experience a free run can cause plenty of problems, but so too can heresy hunters and censorious Christians who attack everyone who does things a bit differently.
As to strange behaviours either during or after conversion, some things are legit and some are not. But even if some things are a bit off, that does not necessarily make folks demonic or cultic. We need to offer people a bit of room to move here. Most Christians would probably regard someone who prays five hours a day or fasts each week to be a bit weird and abnormal.
So in part it depends on where you are coming from. Sure, if a person is doing things that are clearly sinful and clearly at variance with Scripture, then you have every reason to be concerned and to speak out. For example, if a Christian woman claims God told her to become a prostitute so that she could reach other prostitutes for the gospel, I would find that very suspect indeed.
God will not tell us to do that which is clearly sinful, even for a good cause. So some things are pretty clear cut. But others may not be so clear cut. We need to be a bit gracious and forbearing here, and not be so intent on rushing to judgment.
For example, I have had believers tell me how concerned they are about particular conversion stories or Christian experiences. They will insist that God cannot be in such things because of – to their mind – some strange happenings that may be involved: perhaps various physical manifestations and the like. My reply to these critics would go like this:
I have not been called of God to thoroughly investigate the testimonies of other believers. In some of these cases I happen to know something about the person in question, and they seem to be a solid and biblical Christian. Or I may have people I trust who have shared some of their stories. Does that mean I must agree with everything about such people? No.
But seeking to find fault and make accusations of deception or satanic activity every time someone does things a bit differently from how we think they should be done can actually be a sign of pride, not humility. And they can be an indication of Satan whispering in our ears, not God. Notice I say “can”.
It is of course a good thing and a Christian thing to want things to line up with Scripture. But I am fully aware that Satan can even use good things and twist them to serve his purposes. Thus concern about false teaching and practices (which in itself is a good and biblical thing), can be used and abused by the enemy to cause much damage. Church history is littered with such cases unfortunately.
Unless we are very careful in these situations, when we start calling people deceived and bedevilled, we may in fact be inviting Satan to lead us astray as well. Thus real caution is needed here. If a person claims to be a Christian and says Jesus is not God, or says that sin is just fine, that is one thing, and we can and should call him out.
But it is another thing if God shows patience with a sinner as they journey in sanctification. That is true of millions of believers including myself. When I became a Christian some things changed in my life overnight, while other things slowly changed over years.
God in his mercy did not show me every evil part of my heart – I would not have been able to handle it and would likely just have given up. God often works this way – indeed he tolerated plenty of sinful activities even in his choice servants, be they David or Solomon, etc. Sure, there were often consequences that had to be paid, but God as always is forbearing and gracious. And that is a good thing.
If some believers were God instead of the real God, I would probably have been struck down years ago because they would have judged me not to be a real Christian, and they would have concluded that I must be dealt with immediately. I thank God that he is gracious and patient with me – and with everyone else.
The simple truth is this – we may not approve of every single conversion story that is out there, or every single Christian experience, and in general care and discernment are always necessary in such cases. But to judge someone’s story and tell them that we know for sure it is false and counterfeit and of the devil, etc., may be as much a work of Satan as any fake experience can be.
One simply has to look at the history of amazing revivals that have taken place, and the amazing ministries of various men of God such as Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Charles Finney or John Wesley. They all had interesting – to say the least – results when they preached or when revival broke out.
Some of the responses and/or physical manifestations may well have seemed quite weird and abnormal. And most preachers and revivalists are aware that there can be real moves of God right along with counterfeit moves by the enemy. So discernment is always needed. But we must be slow in judging as well.
Telling a person they have not been properly saved is risky business indeed, and at the end of the day only God knows for sure those who are his. We are not able to delve into a person’s heart and spirit and tell if they are legit or not. Sure, if someone says that he got saved by Jesus telling him that Jesus is not God, or that there is no Trinity, etc, then we have some clear doctrinal error that would indicate a false Christian.
But I do not want to put God in a box. No Christian should. The Bible is full of what we could easily call weird or bizarre things, including conversion stories and religious experiences. So too is church history. I for one am not going to tell God what he can or cannot do in some of these areas.
So the work of God can be damaged in both cases. Counterfeits and fakes are of course dangerous and can do real harm, but so too are Christian heresy hunters and thought police, going around telling people if they are saved or not.
Are there false signs and wonders? Of course there are. Satan is having a field day with them. But Satan is also having a field day with heresy hunters and those who go around telling us this or that cannot be of God because it does not fit in with our particular theological views. I do not want to be part of either error.
And one general rule of thumb can come into play here: if something happens to a person that leads them away from sin and more closely to God, that thing is likely (but not necessarily) a work of God, not the devil! A work of the devil would lead people more deeply into sin and bondage, and away from God.
So as always we have to avoid unnecessary and unhelpful extremes here. Just accepting every experience a Christian has or speaks of is not good. We need discernment and wisdom. We must test the spirits. We must not just accept at face value every spiritual experience we come across. Being gullible and undiscerning is not how Christians should operate.
But a censorious, judgmental, self-righteous and Pharisaical spirit is also to be avoided like the plague. And there are plenty of heresy hunters and those who are self-appointed critics out there who have these rather ugly characteristics. They are constantly attacking others and seeking to find fault, often because others will do things a bit differently than they might.
The line is very fine indeed between being a concerned Christian who wants to promote truth, and a self-righteous Pharisee who forever finds fault and must always go on the attack. We can often have bits of each in us when we get involved in such matters.
So we all need to take great care here and stay humble before our Lord, constantly on our knees. It is just too easy for a helpful discernment and watchman on the wall sort of ministry to degenerate into an unloving, hateful heresy hunting affair.
I know I don’t want to go down that path, and I am sure most of you do not want to either. So let’s be very careful here. Yes, we should continue to speak up for truth, expose error, and offer reproof when needed. But we must take great care that pride and Pharisaism do not creep in and ruin our ministry and our character.