I can recall sitting in a classroom in Seminary and seeing the words appearing on the screen, “I’m not religious, but I’m Spiritual.” I had heard these words spoken many times by both friends and family members, but in the context of the classroom, what followed shocked me. In a 2017 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, it was discovered that a growing number of people were using the identifying phrase. In this study, research showed that over a quarter of adults in the U.S. identified themselves as “Spiritual but not religious,” an 8% growth from 2016. There are many reasons why Americans are attracted to the term “spiritual.”
At its core, the spiritual is drawn out from within the self— a form of self-proclamation in which the “spiritual” experience of the individual guides the spiritual beliefs and practices.
In such a manner, the religious texts, doctrines, and teachings appear lifeless and dead in comparison to the experiences of the individual. As an article published by Harvard Divinity once expressed, “Human experience is the realm within which truth can best be epistemologically and affectively (if we can even separate the two) demonstrated.” In other words, spiritual truth only manifests in our personal experiences.
This insistence on the human experience as a foundation for spirituality is not a new idea. From John’s First Epistle, it is clear that his audience was struggling with a real spiritual issue centered the source of our spiritual beliefs and practices. In 1 John 4:1-6, John reminds his audience that not every spirit is a spirit from God. But they are not only told to be wary of false teachings emanating from counterfeit spiritualities, but he also gave them this test:
“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 [1 Jn. 4:2-3].”
This test reveals how we ought to understand the battleground of spiritual warfare. It is not our self-identity, scientific worldview, or political affiliations. Antichrist spirituality certainly affects those spheres of human experience; however, it is the identity of Christ that is the battleground.
False gospels seek to turn us away from Christ and set our hope on worldly things.
In a previous sermon, Pastor Travis identified three major “Deceptive Versions” of the Gospel that is common today: The Prosperity Gospel, The Pleasure Gospel, and The Political Gospel. These gospels seek to point their followers towards worldly goals and promises instead of seeking union and salvation in Christ. And we may be quick to remove ourselves from these counterfeit gospels, but these often influence us in subtle ways. For instance, we may easily recognize the false hope of wealth which the Prosperity Gospel offers, but how often in our own daily lives do we view Christian disciplines and virtues as a bargaining tool to receive blessings from God? We say to ourselves, “If I only do X, Y, and Z, then I will receive perfect health from God.” Or we say, “If I only do X, Y, and Z, then God will give me that perfect spouse.” Or how often do we judge our neighbor, not by his spiritual allegiances, but by his political ones? How often do we focus on participating in earthly kingdoms rather than seeking to participate in the Kingdom of Heaven? How often do we misconstrue passages to justify our self-gratification? If we were, to be honest with ourselves and each other, we have all been guilty of practicing or preaching one of these three false gospels.
While these counterfeit gospels often appear in human forms around us, according to John behind every false prophet and teacher is a satanic spirit.
And so, recognition of false doctrines or antichrist spiritualties requires not physical maturity and discipline, but spiritual maturity and discipline. This sort of discernment can only be provided through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of Christ, which confesses the true Gospel of Christ. And despite our failings to always combat these counterfeit gospels, the Apostle John is quick to remind his readers that, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world [1 Jn. 4:4].” When Jesus ascended into heaven, he promised a Paraclete, Helper, which would guide us and transform us into the image of Christ. As the Hymnist Helen Lemmel once penned,
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.”