Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.

C.H. Spurgeon
I am going to follow that up with another profound statement. You may have never considered what I am about to say, so brace yourself. This concept will sound simple on the surface but is actually extremely complex and has been a stumbling block for mankind as far back as the Garden of Eden. Are you ready?
Not everything that claims to be the “word” of God…is the Word of God.
That sounds pretty obvious and is a statement that all believers would likely agree with. But is raises the following question: how do we know what is, and what is not, the Word of God? Satan himself planted the seed of doubt in Eve’s ear as early as Genesis 3.

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God actually say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden'?"”

Genesis 3:1 ESV
Did God actually say?
When then see the first time in history, and definitely not the last time, that a human being added  to what God said.

“And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'"”

Genesis 3:2-3 ESV
Now let’s look at God’s original command in Genesis 2.

“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."”

Genesis 2:16-17 ESV
Did you catch that? As the great urban philosophers of Sesame Street said, “One of these things is not like the other.” The command given by God was to not “eat” the fruit. Eve expanded it to “not eat or even touch” the fruit. This is important because it shows our natural propensity to go beyond what God has said.
This was the main driving force behind the Protestant Reformation. A little over 500 years ago, Martin Luther famously nailed his 95 thesis to the front door of his church in Germany, essentially calling the Roman Catholic Church out on the different ways they had strayed from, and added to, Scripture. God providentially used Luther and many other faithful men in a mighty way to point his people back to His Word.
One of the issues the reformers had to deal with in their time was the Apocrypha. The apocryphal writings are a collection of ancient books thought to have been written as early as 200 BC and as late as 400 AD. While they can be useful historic writings, they are not, and never have been, considered the inspired Word of God.
This is what one of the historic confessions from the time of the reformation has to say about the Apocrypha:

The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon or rule of Scripture, and, therefore, are of no authority to the church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved or made use of than other human writings.

1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 1, Paragraph 3
As always, we need to compare these things to scripture. The passages this historic confession cites for this paragraph are in Luke 24 & Romans 3.

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Luke 24:27 ESV

Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled."

Luke 24:44 ESV

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.

Romans 3:1-2 ESV
Scripture is clear that the Word of God was entrusted to the Jews, what we know today as the Old Testament.
Let’s look at some other reasons why the Apocrypha does not belong in the canon of Scripture.
  1. Rejection by Jesus and the Apostles
  • There are no quotations from the Apocrypha by Jesus or the Apostles.
  • They did constantly reference what is now the Old Testament and use phrases such as “Thus says the Lord”, “As it is written”, or “Scriptures say”, which shows they were in agreement that these books are inspired by God.
  1. Rejection by the Jewish Community
  • The “oracles of God” were given to the Jews & they rejected the Apocrypha as inspired revelation.
  • As often as Jesus confronted and disputed the Jewish leaders of his day, we have no record of him ever disagreeing with them over what writings were and were not the inspired revelation of God.
  1. Rejection by many in the Roman Catholic Church
  • The Roman Catholic Church has not always accepted the Apocrypha
  • It was not officially accepted until 1546 at the Council of Trent… A millennium and a half after the books were written, and was actually a counter-reaction to the Protestant Reformation.
  1. Contain False Teachings
  • Commanding the use of magic
  • Forgiveness of sins by almsgiving
  • Offering of money for the sins of the dead
  1. Not Prophetic
  • They are not prophetic, no supernatural confirmation of any of the writers, no predictive prophecy, no new Messianic truth revealed, not cited as authoritative by any prophetic book written after
Now the Apocrypha might not be as big of an issue today as it was during the reformation, but what about other writings that claim to be the “word” of God? How about the Quran of Islam? The Quran is believed by Muslims to have been sent from God (Allah) and revealed to Muhammad by the angel Jabreel (Gabriel).
How about the Book of Mormon? This is the sacred text of the Church of Latter Day Saints or Mormons. It was first published in 1830 by Joseph Smith who claimed it was taken from an ancient Native American record written on golden plates, and that God gave only him and a few others the power to translate them into English.
Something that I would argue is even more dangerous than these false writings and is ultimately at the root of every cult religion in history that I know of, and is actually present in large portions of modern day evangelicalism, is the concept of “private revelation”.
We have all heard of the infamous death cults like Jim Jones’ The People’s Temple, the Manson Family, Heaven’s Gate, and the Branch Davidians, just to name a few. Each of these cult leaders claimed to hear from God. These extremist cults seem like obvious traps to us but they were able to deceive thousands.
It is easy to write off these fringe examples as crazy but what about within the professing Christian world? Have you ever heard someone say, “God told me…”, or, “God gave me a word for you…”, or, “The Lord told me to tell you…”? If what follows is anything but Holy Scripture, or pointing us back to Scripture, then we should graciously respond with, “Chapter and verse please.” Many times these phrases come from well-meaning Christians but what about false teachers? How many times have you heard a slick televangelist or celebrity pastor tag “thus saith the Lord” to the end of their own words, which are often a distortion of what is found in Scripture?
There has been much damage done and deception spread throughout the world of professing Christians in the name of personal revelation. I am going to use a popular, and rightly controversial, book as an example. This is in no way a recommendation for this author but a warning against this kind of personal revelation. Jesus Calling  is a book by a woman named Sarah Young and is basically a devotional written in the first person, as if they are Jesus’ words. In the original introduction, Young writes, “I knew God communicated with me in the Bible, but I yearned for more.”, and, “I have continued to receive personal messages from God as I meditate on Him.” These are telling phrases because they imply that God’s written Word is insufficient and that the messages in her book are from God, or specifically Jesus. She also attributes her inspiration to a book written in 1932 titled God Calling written by “Two Listeners”. The authors were two anonymous women who decided to sit down with pencils and wait to receive words from God.
The process these two women, and by extension Sarah Young, are describing would be divine inspiration. If this is really happening, then these writings need to be added to the canon of Scripture. The only problem with that is Scripture tells us we are not to add or take away from Scripture.
Not surprisingly, in later editions of Jesus Calling, some wording of the introduction has been changed or left out. Perhaps the most concerning thing is that Jesus Calling has surpassed 30 million copies sold! I think we can safely say that the majority of those copies purchased are by professing Christians.
Another sobering example of the danger of personal revelation is what we saw during the lockdowns of COVID 19. How many social media prophets were rebuking COVID and “prophesying” that it would be over soon, sometimes claiming within weeks of the initial spread? Not only false teachers carrying the title of pastor, but regular people, lead astray by wrong theology, who truly believed that what they thought or felt was coming from God. This is particularly heart breaking for me because I know some people personally who did just that. Early on in the pandemic, they were going on Facebook Live and saying how God showed them that COVID would be gone in a few weeks. 2 years later…COVID is still here. What happened? Did God get it wrong? They normally start out by saying, “I am no prophet…” and then proceed to give a prophecy. If it does not come true, they have, by definition, become a false prophet. False prophets in the Old Testament were put to death if they got it wrong even one time!
If that type of personal word from God is where you are placing your faith, how many times do the prophecies need to fail before you are left spiritually shipwrecked? What happens when the personal word from God that was spoken over you said your loved one was going to be healed, then you pray and cry out to God only to watch them pass away? Where does that leave your faith? Sadly, some of the people that were on the COVID prophecy train have been oddly silent on social media concerning spiritual matters or faith in general.

If private revelations agree with Scripture, they are needless, and if they disagree, they are false.

John Owen
Whether the private revelation comes from a fast-talking charlatan on TV, or a New York Times best-selling author, or the sweet old lady at your local church that has been faithfully serving the Lord for decades, no one can truthfully claim “God said” unless they are quoting the special revelation of God, which is Scripture alone.
So what are some things we can do to guard against this type of error? I believe the best way to do this is to live by a doctrine that has always been true, but was refined through the reformation, and that is the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.
Sola Scriptura means “scripture alone” and states that the Bible is the sole infallible source of authority for Christian faith and practice.
Note that it is not “Solo” Scriptura. It does not mean that we can only ready the Bible and we are sinning if we go to any other source for knowledge. That sounds silly but some Christians operate this way. Countless faithful men throughout Church history have dedicated their entire lives to rightly interpreting Scripture and preserving it for the next generations through, commentaries, books, and sermons. Many of these are sound resources that help us to rightly divide the Word of God and apply it correctly to our lives.
Historic creeds & confessions are a great example of this. The Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, Athanasian Creed, the catechisms, the Westminster Confession and the 1689 London Baptist Confession, these are statements of faith put together by entire councils of believers to combat the errors of their day. Really every attack that we see on the Word of God today are recycled and repackaged arguments that have been dealt with in church history going all the way back to first century Christians.
Especially today, with all of the technology available to us, we really have no excuse not to be students of the Word.
We must make God’s Word the ultimate authority in our lives. The Apostle Peter even places Scripture above his own personal experiences in his second epistle.

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased," we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,

2 Peter 1:16-19 ESV
Peter says, “We were there! We saw it all with our own eyes!” He is referencing his own eye witness of the transfiguration of Christ, where he got a mere glimpse of Christ in all his glory! If ever an eye witness account would be something to rely on I would say this event in history would be one. But he is saying that we have the prophetic Word of God, more fully confirmed, which is more sure and can be trusted more than his own eye witness account.
We can read things outside of Scripture but Sola Scriptura means that Scripture is the lens we need to be viewing our world through. We must take everything back to Scripture as our foundation for the Christian life.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

Psalm 119:105 ESV
The all mighty Creator of all things has chosen to reveal himself to us in these 66 books. In a world filled with error and deception, Scripture is our compass. It is our safe place. When we operate within the boundaries of Scripture we know that we are in the revealed will of God.
So, I ask again, how can we know what is and what is not the Word of God? What is the primary difference between the canon of Scripture and other human writings?
These next passages lead us to our answer:

For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

2 Peter 1:21 ESV

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV
Remember, the Spirit is a unique person, not just a power or force. He is one with both the Father and the Son, being the third person of the Trinity. He was the active agent of creation. Not only was he the agent of the physical creation, but also the new creation in Christ. Not only is he the true author of Scripture, operating through sinful human men, but he is actively protecting and illuminating the truths within Scripture.
Look at what Jesus said is one of the primary roles of the Spirit.

These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

John 14:25-26 ESV
Notice Jesus did not say the Spirit would give us new revelation that has not already been revealed. He said he will bring to remembrance  what has already been said. What has already been said? The written Word of God.
Something to consider is the fact that God is a God of order. He is not a God of confusion. He is perfectly holy and is not a man that he should lie. He cannot contradict himself or he would not be perfect.
So as a believer who has this same Spirit of God residing in me, it’s ok if I read the Quran, or the Book of Mormon, or the apocrypha. The Spirit of God is not going to illuminate those books to my soul. I don’t go to them seeking truth and the Words of life, I go to Holy Scripture.
In the same way, the Spirit of God is not going to give a personal revelation to someone that does not line up with his written Word. God will not tell you one thing and then illuminate something contrary to me through his Word.
This is why we must constantly consume and root ourselves in the Word of God. We have to know the truth inside and out to be able to spot a counterfeit. If we don’t have the Word of God in us, we will be as Paul says in Ephesians 4:

so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

Ephesians 4:14 ESV
In conclusion, we have to discuss the point of all of this. The gospel of Jesus Christ.
Before we go further I strongly urge you guys, especially if you have been in church for a while, to not mentally check out here. When we are familiar with something it’s easy to gloss over the implications of what is being said.
Let’s say I lived in Arizona and spent decades as a professional tour guide of the Grand Canyon, and could tell you everything about the canyon and even navigate it’s depths forwards and backwards, I would obviously be familiar with the Grand Canyon. Even though I would know and have a profound respect for this natural wonder, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for me to experience the same awe that I did when I fist laid my eyes on its vast beauty.
This is how we can be with the Gospel.
In the last session Pastor Brady talked about general and special revelation.
General revelation, as Romans chapter 1 tells us, is the fact that all of creation points to a Creator so that no man has an excuse. No one will be able to stand in judgement before the Holy God of creation and say, “I just didn’t know”. But general revelation is not enough, it cannot save, it can only condemn.
Special revelation is the written Word of God. By it alone do we learn of Christ, the only way to salvation and reconciliation to God.
Now, this is a men’s Bible study, so I am sure this will be a relevant question. Have you ever gotten something for your kids, or maybe bought a piece of furniture, that required some assembly? Did you ever decide to put it together without consulting the instruction manual? You know that feeling when you have put in hours of work, your back is sore, you finally finish and realize…you got it wrong? I’m sure you had the best intentions to build that bike, or bunk beds, or doll house correctly. But, despite your intentions, you failed to build it according to the author’s instructions laid out in the manual.
Our Creator, the author and finisher of life, has laid out exactly who he is, and how he is to be worshipped. We are to build our lives according to His Word, with Christ as our foundation.
If you have been around me long enough, I have probably shared this passage with you at some point. Of all of Scripture, this passage, to me, is the most terrifying.

Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'

Matthew 7:21-23 ESV
I have probably heard this passage hundreds of times while growing up in church. But it finally sunk in one day when I started to realize who Jesus is addressing in this end-time scene. He is not talking about atheists here. Atheists do not prophesy, cast demons out, and do many mighty works in Jesus’ name. These were professing Christians, people who thought there were in right standing with their Lord, doing things the right way, earning their place with their good deeds.
But what does the Lord say, “I never knew you. Depart from me…”
The most sobering part of this passage is the word “many”. He didn’t say that He will turn away “some” or “few”, but “many”. This reality should have us on our face before God.
Scripture tells us that we are born dead in our sins. Not only does no one desire to seek after God, apart from the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, we are not able to seek after him. We do not start at zero and work our way up. We are in the negative, unable to ever get right on our own. We are wretched sinners, completely incapable of keeping God’s law which demands nothing less than perfection.
But Scripture also tells us that God entered into his creation. Jesus Christ came as an infant, and grew in wisdom and stature, walking the earth as the God-man. Fully human and fully God. He did what we could never do. His perfect sacrifice and atonement for our sins on the cross was only made possible by his perfect, sinless life. He faced every temptation that you and I ever will, but where we fall, he stood strong. And then in resurrecting from the grave he defeated death. Now he sits at the right hand of the Father, all power and glory in heaven and earth ascribed to him.
When we repent and believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, who died and was raised again, he credits his righteousness to our negative account! Every past, present and future sin is paid in blood at the cross. The unfathomable wrath of a holy God that sits over every man, woman & child was taken in full by our Savior for his elect. He did this for our good but ultimately for His own glory.
That is the gospel.
Many people today are not satisfied with God’s Word that has been canonized in these 66 books. They want something more. They build up a god in their own mind according to who they believe he should be and does what they think he should do. A god who is all love, no judgement and ultimately no justice.
Look at another sobering passage in Isaiah depicting the final judgement.

"For behold, the Lord will come in fire, and his chariots like the whirlwind, to render his anger in fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire will the Lord enter into judgment, and by his sword, with all flesh; and those slain by the Lord shall be many… From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the Lord. "And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh."

Isaiah 66:15-16, 23-24 ESV
This is the mighty, perfectly holy, righteous God that we serve. There is no injustice in him. If there were, he would not be perfect.
Remember that, apart from Christ, no one is righteous. We all rightly deserve death and eternity in Hell. God will receive the glory due him. For his mercy displayed in Christ toward those he has chosen to save, and for his perfect justice in the righteous judgement of sinners.
So, again brothers, I urge you to know the true gospel inside and out, but don’t let it just become familiar. We do this by saturating ourselves in the infallible Word of God.


Rob is a Barber and Co-Founder of Reformed Man as well as a worship leader at Community Baptist Church in Victoria, Tx. He is married with nine children. That is not a typo.