Unfortunately, discernment isn’t a popular discipline among many in the church. After all, the word means to separate. Sometimes, in separating the truth from the many lies that want to leach off of it, we can be accused of being unloving and unaccommodating.
Since I tend to read a great deal, friends and acquaintances will often recommend books, or even ask my opinion on a particular read. The tension comes in when I think that a book that is supposed to be Christian is not true to the Christian faith. It may be well written, and the author may be very likable. But if it’s not in line with biblical teaching, what are we to do? How big of a deal is it, anyway?
I am thinking about this topic as I have begun to read Vern Poythress’s The Returning King this weekend. I grabbed it from the church library to be my porch date this afternoon. The book is to be used as a guide for reading Revelation. In the introduction, Poythress sums up the book of Revelation in this sentence: “God rules history and will bring it to consummation in Christ” (11). He talks about the intimidation we may have with the apocalyptic language and all of the varying scholarly interpretations that we have possibly contended with. But Poythress wants the reader to be encouraged that Revelation was written to “strengthen our hearts” and “is the only book in the whole Bible with a blessing pronounced for reading it!” (11, 12). In fact, “the word revelation, or unveiling, indicates that it discloses rather than conceals its message” (12).
And the message is important. In this book, we see the importance of the true worship of God. Some of the images invoked draw the imagination to meditate on God’s beauty. In fact, we were made to image his beauty. But another major theme in Revelation is spiritual warfare. Poythress begins with this theme, showcasing Satan’s very powerful tactic of counterfeiting.
With the introduction of this word, I had to close the book for a moment and think. One theme that I’ve always taken away from Revelation is that things are not as they seem. I sat on my porch for a minute and thought about beauty and its relation to truth. Satan knows how important truth is, so he tries to copy it and deceive others with counterfeit beauty. Satan gets real close to the truth, so close that he even seems to be wearing it. But what is underneath the clothes?
Poythress explains just how far Satan goes to counterfeit God. In Revelation, we are introduced to a counterfeit trinity: The dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. And the devil is in the details. Here are but a few examples from the book:
The beast has ten crowns on his horns (13:1). In 19:12, Christ has “many crowns” on his head. The beast has blasphemous names (13:1). Christ has worthy names (19:11-13, 16). The beast has great power (13:2). Christ has divine power and authority (12:5, 10). (18)
Poythress then goes on to describe the counterfeit miracle and resurrection that the beast experiences, leading people to follow him. This is contrasted with the true miracles and resurrection of Jesus Christ that has been applied in drawing a people to himself.
Of course, this divinely inspired book of the Bible gives us the truth in the very names of the counterfeit trinity. Poythress is quick to point out the dreadfulness of a dragon. And the name given for the false Christ, the “beast,” teaches us that no matter how powerful and alluring this false god is, it is dehumanizing. We are reminded that “The Beast is subjected to man” (21). We even have a counterfeit bride of Christ in Revelation 17-18, the prostitute. Here we see purity contrasted with wicked immorality.
Do you see how Satan is a parasite who tries to feed off of God’s beauty and truth because he has no truth in himself? In reading through the Revelation given in Scripture, do you see how critical it is to identify the lie and cling to Truth? “Satan attacks the church directly through deceit and doctrinal confusion. He tries to turn the church away from the truth (12:15)” (22).
Poythress cuts to the chase:
Revelation shows that history involves spiritual war. In this war, there are two sides. You are either for God or against him. You either serve God or in one way or another will be found worshipping Satan and his bestial agents (cf. Rev. 13:7-8). Thus, Revelation implicitly issues a challenge like Joshua’s: “Choose this day whom you will serve” (Josh. 24:15). Giving your loyalty to God is absolutely crucial in determining the sort of life we have and the contribution that we make. Revelation reveals the crucial issues of life and the crucial destinies toward which life moves.” (23)
So go ahead and be discerning for the sake of true truth and real beauty. Of course there’s a difference in being lovingly discerning and obnoxiously discerning. For that we have to rely on the real Holy Spirit, rather than the false prophet. But don’t waste your time being courted by a lie playing dress-up. No one wants to keep company with a beast.