This series was first published during June 2018. –ed.
When Aben Johnson sold his Detroit-based television station in 1997, he began heavily investing in gemstones. While he had dabbled in diamonds since 1988, he now had the capital he needed to purchase the rarest stones money could buy. He spent three million dollars on a blue diamond called the Streeter Diamond that Sam Walton (the founder of Wal-Mart) had won in a poker game from a man named Streeter. Johnson spent $2.7 million for a collection of diamonds called the Russian Blues. Another seventeen million dollars was invested in the Sylvia Walton Collection—a set of diamonds that belonged to Sam Walton’s daughter. In all, Johnson invested some $83 million in the costly gems.
But what Johnson didn’t realize was that these famous-named diamonds, which he thought were priceless, were actually almost worthless. In fact, they were not diamonds at all. The stones were actually cubic zirconia, blue topaz, citrine, and other inexpensive gems. To add insult to injury, Sam Walton never had a daughter named Sylvia. When Johnson found out that his Florida-based jeweler, Jack Hasson, had bilked him, he filed suit. A year later, in 1999, the FBI arrested Hasson for fraud. In 2000 he was convicted, sentenced to forty years in prison, and ordered to pay more than seventy-eight million dollars in restitution.
Despite Johnson’s legal efforts, he will never be able to fully recover his $83 million. If only he had exercised a little discernment before parting with his millions. Some simple tests of the diamonds by a gemologist or appraiser could have saved Johnson a bundle of money and trouble.
One test uses a thermal conductivity meter, another an ordinary microscope. Such tests for authenticity certainly seem worth the effort when millions of dollars are at stake. Yet, like Aben Johnson, Christians often fall for bait-and-switch ploys, and we have something infinitely more valuable than diamonds at stake—namely, God’s glory.
Thankfully, by God’s grace we have a standard by which to test the authenticity of any incoming religious message. That’s why, even when we are bombarded with doctrinal frauds and spiritual knockoffs, we need not lose hope. God has not left us defenseless. By arming us with His Word, He has given us everything we need for “life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).
Our reliance on Scripture becomes more and more crucial every day, as new errors are introduced into the church and as old errors continue to resurface. On the one hand, “new and improved” programs and philosophies appeal to us with their siren calls. Whether it’s new ways to evangelize or new ways to fill the auditorium, these innovative trends always seem to provide the perfect solution for the church’s present needs. But these new “solutions,” primarily based on secular wisdom and driven by whatever works, do not really solve anything. By suggesting that the “old and original” methods of the New Testament are no longer good enough for today, these theological trends are really just worldly philosophies in religious garb.
On the other hand, theological traditions (sometimes centuries old) also vie for our attention. Many of these traditions are good, but some of them are not. And they have been established for almost every aspect of Christian thought, from methods of church government to philosophies of Bible interpretation. Unlike their “new and improved” counterparts, these historic systems appeal to their distinguished heritage for added credibility. Nonetheless, when these theological legacies begin to replace the clear teachings of Scripture (as has happened, for example, in the Roman Catholic Church), the results are disastrous.
So how can believers discern between trends, traditions, and the truth? The answer to this question begins with Scripture. God has given us His Word so that we can evaluate every spiritual message we receive, discriminating between what is right and what is wrong. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, the apostle Paul said it like this: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”
Do you want to be equipped for every good work? Do you want to be able to teach truth and correct error? If so, you must become a student of Scripture—trusting that God’s Word is a sufficient guide for any problem you encounter. The maze of modern religious thought is no match for the Sword of the Spirit in “discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12, ESV).
So how can you begin to apply biblical discernment in your daily life? How can you prepare yourself for the battle? How can you make sure that you are guarding the truth of God’s Word, so that you will be able to faithfully pass it on to the next generation? In the days ahead we will lay out the plan Scripture provides for us to follow.
(Adapted from Fool’s Gold)