I worked for a number of years in the Quality Control area for a large automobile manufacturer in the US. In case you’re unsure exactly what quality control is, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as: “an aggregate of activities (such as design analysis and inspection for defects) designed to ensure adequate quality especially in manufactured products.” After automobile parts are manufactured, they must undergo a series of analyses and tests to ensure that they meet the designer’s intent and are qualified to be used as the designer intended.
Part of the overall ‘analysis/testing’ involves visual inspections as well as much more detailed inspection using equipment specifically designed to find any flaws. Due to the competitive nature of automobile building in today’s world, some of the engine parts are designed with tolerances as close as ten millionths of an inch. If these tolerances are not met, early engine failure could result; hence, the very close scrutiny.
Every inspection process involves the use of ‘standards’ by which any part can be judged as acceptable or not. A standard is considered a ‘master’ whose accuracy is certified and is unquestioned.
A blueprint that was used to create the part is the first standard to use. During the inspection process, a standard can be a certified gauge that is carefully made and thoroughly calibrated as closely as needed to determine whether the part meets the dimensions given in the blueprint. The manufacturer must use the blueprint throughout the entire manufacturing process to shape the part to look like the image provided in it.
During the analysis and testing procedures, the inspector is using a “pass/fail” standard to determine the final status of all parts checked. All those with a “pass’’ rating are to be used in the final assembly; but any part found to have fallen short of the designer’s plan is separated from the “pass” parts and sent to the scrap bin for reprocessing.
It is a requirement for any quality control inspector to sign his name to any group of parts, signifying that he has followed all the required steps in the testing process, and has only sent ‘good parts’ through to be used in the final assembly. An automobile engine, as an example, is only as good as the quality of every part that goes into it. The final product must function as the designer planned; if it does not, it could easily destroy the good reputation of the manufacturer, not to mention the possibility of physical harm or death a catastrophic failure could bring
The role of the parts inspector is a critical responsibility with great emphasis placed on it by the manufacturer. If any inspector is found to have sent parts to assembly that were not properly checked, he could be held accountable for the results, and possibly lose his job.
So, what does all this parts inspection stuff have to do with living a successful Christian life?
The Word of God tells us what we must do to be saved, right? Yes, it does, but being born again is only the first step on the journey to living a life pleasing to God. The entire Word is our guideline, a blueprint if you will, that was designed by God to keep us from straying off the narrow path.
Anyone who follows God’s Word diligently will not fall prey to the deceiver, the thief whose sole purpose is “to steal, and to kill and to destroy.” Being successful at staying on this path requires a life of constant “inspection,” a personal judgment or a close scrutiny to determine the flaws in our own lives, and then endeavor to remove them.
Paul said, “For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged” (1 Corinthians 11:31), and also, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2 Corinthians 13:5).
This self-examination is a good place for newborn Christians to start. I am aware that many people look down on anyone who uses the word ’judgment,’ and especially in this cultural war going on between groups who insist on ‘political correctness’ as the standard for conduct, and those who insist on living our lives using God’s Word as our ‘standard.’ Those who insist on the latter are accused of being homophobes, racists and worse, but there is nothing wrong with judging, as we just read in Paul’s letters to the Corinthian believers.
But this scripture is only about ‘judging ourselves,’ not judging others, so we must stop this examination there, right? I think not.
Try the Spirits
As we live our lives each day, we will encounter many different people – some who are obviously ‘of the world’ based on their words and/or behavior – and some who claim to be, or even ‘seem to be’ Christians. Whether we realize it or not, the interactions we have with these people can, and usually do, have an impact either good or bad on our lives. Depending on how much attention we pay to them and their words, or how closely we associate ourselves with them, that impact can be significant.
I have met a great many devoted churchgoers since I became a Christian; and in many cases, I simply accepted that they were what they claimed to be. Being a young Christian and somewhat immature, I was unaware that we have been given specific guidelines for ‘checking out’ those we meet who may have great impact on our lives, good or bad. Happily, some of them have proven to be what they claimed to be: good, loving, well-grounded and sound Christians who became my very good friends as well as brothers and sisters.
By the same token, I have personally encountered many people who appear to be good Christians, and even some whose outward actions echo the sentiments found in many scriptures in God’s Word. So, sometimes a close check on their actions may not be enough to determine if they are people with whom we should align ourselves.
We need a better way to examine them to see if we should continue to associate with them. It may take a good deal of time, but listening carefully to the words they speak will provide the data we need to complete a thorough examination. As this examination proceeds, it is absolutely critical that we use the right ‘standard’ of measurement; that standard is God’s Word.
As they speak, everything they say, even more so their actions, must be compared to the standard. To some people this may seem to be a ‘non-loving’ action on our parts; but if we are to follow God’s Word, the guideline provided for our success, it must be done, but done in a way that still shows the Love of God in us. In any case, in the current chaotic, upside-down world in which we live, with deception rampant, even in some churches, this action cannot be avoided.
The Apostle John told us: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world” (1 John 4:1-3).
So, we are commanded to ‘try the spirits.’ But exactly how is that accomplished?
Just as I stated above, we must listen to their words carefully and see if they align, not only with their actions, but with our standard, God’s Word. If they do, we have encountered a person, or persons, who should be allowed to become a part of our lives; and through that relationship and the accompanying fellowship, we can hope to build up and edify each other as well as the Body of Christ. In this case, we have a ‘win-win’ situation.
This examination is not something to be undertaken lightly or without regard for the possible consequences. Please understand that it is entirely possible, while we have been ‘examining’ them – if they are true believers who adhere to the standard set for us all – they likely have been doing the same with us. Assuming we have been walking in love toward them while observing their words and actions, if we have ourselves met the standard, they will hopefully reach the conclusion that we should become a part of their lives.
Pass or Fail
If, during the examination, they fail to meet the standard set by God’s Word, how should we proceed?
As stated earlier, all such inspection must be done in a spirit of love, knowing that we ourselves are far from perfect. If they are folks who have value to us as potential brothers or sisters in Christ, as well as friends, we should make every attempt to help them see where they might be missing the mark. But, let me state that this is potentially dangerous ground since we can come across as being judgmental. Our examination of their lives must be conducted as I believe the Holy Spirit intended when speaking through John: as a self-defense measure to keep ourselves from being deceived.
There are a great many people in this world who are claiming to be followers of Christ, but who are actually the children of Satan, who would like nothing better than to get us sidetracked through deceptive words that sound almost like they are, or should be, in the Bible. Satan is a master of deception, so it should come as no surprise that those who allow him to use them will use his deception to try to get us into delusion.
While some may think of this examination of the lives of others as injurious or even cruel, I would have to disagree. If conducted in love and with a specific goal in mind, that being to avoid Satan’s deception, it can be a matter of eternal life or eternal death if we fail to follow the words of John – certainly, life or death for us, but also for the person working for Satan.
If after we determine the true spirit of the person, we should prayerfully work toward helping them get free from Satan’s grasp. If that occurs, again, it’s a win-win. However, if they refuse to heed our words, or to respond to the urging of the Holy Spirit, the best course is to simply pull away from them and allow the work to be continued by some other Christian who may be able to succeed where we could not. In any case, to continue to associate closely with that person is a bad idea.
Once again, speaking through the Apostle Paul, the Holy Spirit says: “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
Simply put, this scripture is saying that associations with evil people will corrupt or destroy our good morals or manner of living.
In the parts inspection process, a failure to meet the ‘standard’ brings a separation of the parts, either to the scrap bin or on to assembly. One of the possible consequences of trying the spirits is that, if a person or group is found to be of the wrong spirit as spoken by John, separation is the most likely outcome. If desired, you can reference my article that speaks of this separation here:
Jesus spoke of this separation in Matthew 10:34-36. He knew that, for the mission given Him by His Father to be fruitful in His brief ministry on earth, as well as the mission He would give to His followers, separation from the world and its twisted way of thinking would be necessary.
But you might say, Jesus ate with publicans and sinners, showing that to be like Him we should all ‘mix with them’ in order to evangelize them. However, there is a distinct difference between being in the midst of sinners to try to win them, which is an action ordained by God, and b) having the same close associations with the world, when not trying to get them saved, that you would have with Christian brothers and sisters.
The first is legitimate mission work, but do not be deceived; the second is usually an excuse to spend time with the world when not actually needing to be there to ‘win them’ to Christ. Making this excuse is the kind of ‘communication/association’ Paul was talking about in the above paragraph (1 Corinthians 15:33).
When He was not out doing His Father’s work, Jesus separated Himself from His own disciples in order to spend time in prayer and be with His father. Had He spent that same time ‘hanging out’ with the publicans and sinners just to ‘have a good time,’ I doubt His ministry would have changed the world.
As we grow and mature as Christians, we must make ever more difficult decisions; and those decisions will affect not only our personal success in the Christian walk, but our ability to share the gospel with others.
In these last days, the lost world is seeking something real, something solid that can be attained. The lost, who are earnestly hungering for truth, for something real, will carefully scrutinize the person who claims to be a Christian, a true follower of Christ. He will be looking for any sign that the person is in fact a “real Christian” or just another phony who is following his own agenda, to serve his own interests.
We, as professing Christians, should be just as diligent and careful as the lost when we’re making decisions about those in the Christian realm with whom we associate. The same holds true when determining the ministries we want to support with our money and time.
While it would be wonderful if every person who claims to be a believer or every ministry truly working for the Kingdom of Heaven was what was claimed, we know from the scriptures that is not the case.
In fact, Jesus warned His disciples: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire” (Matthew 7:15-19).
Every believer must be aware of, and be wary of, any and every person encountered in his or her Christian walk until the inspection process is complete. Scrutinizing people or ministries should not be considered an act of cruelty, especially when it can save a lot of heartache and trouble when a person or ministry proves to be false.
Our service to God, as those who are commissioned to spread the gospel, is way too important to have it trashed by associating with the wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Try the spirits!