First-century saints were instructed, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). The charge “do not believe every spirit” makes it clear that Christians should not believe everything that they hear. The context of 1 John 4 shows that some spirits (teachers and their messages) are “of God,” while others are “not of God” (4:6). We must be neither naïve nor gullible.
When someone tries to persuade us about a religious matter, one of the challenges which we face is to be able to discern the difference between real proof and so-called proof. Some approaches and some lines of reasoning are not evidence at all.
Feelings are not evidence. One might feel that his actions are appropriate when, in fact, they are a violation of God’s will. Saul of Tarsus felt good about himself when he was persecuting Christians, but his feelings were not legitimate evidence that God was on his side (Acts 26:9-11).
Claims are not evidence. One might claim that he was saved as a youth because he prayed to the Lord and asked for forgiveness. Look at the facts in this situation: (1) he prayed; (2) he prayed to the Lord; (3) he asked the Lord to forgive him; (4) he is convinced that he was saved at the moment when he prayed that prayer. What is missing from this list of facts? That this man obtained salvation. Why is it omitted from our facts list? Because he was not saved by prayer. “But he said he was saved.” Oh, yes, he claimed to be saved; but claims are not proof. One must obey Jesus in order to be saved (Hebrews 5:8,9), and a lost person praying for forgiveness is not what the Savior prescribes. Remember, a “claim” is an assertion, not evidence.
Humanly-thought-up illustrations are not proof. When we teach the Bible, we use illustrations frequently; some of them are Bible examples, but others we make up ourselves or borrow from other sources. Why do we use illustrations? In order to make a point – to help those to whom we are speaking understand just what it is that we are trying to get across. But, a man-devised illustration does not constitute proof that what we are teaching is true. The Bible teaches that Jesus is the singular Head of His body/church (Colossians 1:18). In an effort to emphasize this truth, a Christian might say, “It is just like a country’s government. A country does not have more than one president or prime minister, and in the same way the Lord’s church does not need more than one head.” This reference to worldly affairs may make sense to the listener(s), but in reality, it does not prove how many heads God’s church ought to have. Only the Bible can supply such information and evidence.
Accusations are not evidence. The Jews who detested the apostle Paul and his preaching made serious accusations against him before a Roman governor (Acts 24:1-9). Paul denied the charges, saying, “Nor can they prove the things of which they now accuse me” (Acts 24:13). Mere accusations of wrongdoing are not proof that such really occurred.
Being a skilled orator or writer is not evidence. One’s ability to speak or write may persuade others to accept the positions which he sets forth, but in fact, such skills have nothing to do with whether or not the statements made are accurate. Tertullus was an “orator” (Acts 24:1) who served as the spokesman for the Jews who accused Paul of misconduct. Yet, his speaking ability, regardless of how impressive it was, did not prove that what they were saying about Paul was true. Do not allow your appreciation of someone’s ability to cloud your vision.
Saying, “But that is what we have always practiced” is not proof. What we have done or believed in the past has no bearing on whether or not something is acceptable in God’s sight. Some people of Jeremiah’s day tried to justify their worship of the queen of heaven by saying that they were just doing what they and their fathers had always done (Jeremiah 44:17). Yes, they did carry on what had been started in the past, but that did not prove that it pleased Jehovah, did it? We must be careful lest we “build our cases” on human traditions instead of God’s word (Mark 7:7-9).
Give us evidence. Provide us with proof. Be sure it is legitimate. Make it convincing. That is our plea. If you want us to believe that something is true in the spiritual realm, then you are going to have to provide us with genuine evidence. On our part, as you and I teach the Bible or discuss it with others, we must be certain that we, too, set forth legitimate, scriptural reasoning and proof. Yes, if we speak, it must be “as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11).
— Roger D. Campbell