Philippians 1:9 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, (NKJV; emphasis mine)
(Previous devotionals can be found at www.seriousfaith.com)
Note: I have layered the summary of the first three parts of this series as the beginning of today’s final installment. It’s not my intention to create length, but to give you all the points in one lesson for your review.
A lack of discernment in Christianity today is the root of myriad problems and distractions. This lack of discernment makes it brutal, almost impossible at times, to discuss some of the foolishness and false teaching that is prevalent. The sheer numbers of people engaged in it give credibility to: “if so many other people believe it, it must be right.” Like so many other things in Christianity, we have a double standard on logic about this. On the one hand we would never say, “millions of people are atheists, so they must be right,” but we’ll turn right around and use the same reason to jump on board the latest Christian fad or experience.
We have the Holy Spirit; we have the Bible… what excuse do Christians have for all of the foolishness, silliness, fads, and “chasing to and fro with every wind of doctrine”? (Eph 4.14) The lack of discernment in our lives makes us vulnerable to this, so today we’re going to look at what discernment is and tomorrow about how to get it. First, let’s quickly review some of the negative effects that come from a lack of discernment:
- Seeking after and chasing new and more exciting spiritual “experiences” coupled with a decreasing amount of diligent Bible study and fundamental holiness. (Eph 4.14)
- The reliance upon and elevation of extra-Biblical sources of “truth” (self-help and pop psychology) and the declining view of the sufficiency of Scriptures as our absolute source and measurement of truth and standards. (2Pet 1.3; 2Tim 3.16-17)
- The dependence on feelings, sincerity, group consensus and pragmatism to determine what is right, good, profitable, and acceptable in Christian life and experience. (Jer 17.9)
- The acceptance of practices, standards and beliefs that are not Biblically based or supported. (1Thess 5.21-22; Acts 17.11)
- An increased value of image over substance.
Remember, a lack of discernment is not a lack of sincerity. People can, and often are, sincerely wrong. Lack of discernment is also a very difficult subject to teach because the very lack of discernment you are talking about keeps people from understanding or recognizing that lack of discernment. So what is discernment? Here are some different ways of describing it, and to help you better understand:
- The act or process of exhibiting keen insight and good judgment
- The cognitive condition of someone who understands
- Understanding of the nature, meaning, quality or magnitude of something
- Delicate discrimination
- Perception of that which is obscure
- Knowledge gained by perceiving
- The trait of utilizing knowledge and experience with common sense and insight
- The trait of judging wisely and objectively
It would help to quickly review some aspects of discernment to remind us why we need to develop it:
- Discrimination (discernment plus knowledge): the ability to distinguish or select what is true, appropriate, or excellent.
Application: Christians who lack discernment and discrimination are prone to following fads and embracing false teaching which appeals to the senses and flesh.
- Acumen (discernment plus observation): the ability to pick out, distinguish, or see what is not apparent to the average mind.
Application: Christians who lack discernment and acumen are often swept away by what is popular and current because they only see that which is on the surface, and that which appeals to sensory stimulation.
- Perception (discernment plus feeling): the ability to have sympathy or insight into others based on what you see and feel.
Application: Christians who lack discernment and perception are often legalistic, hard-nosed, or haughty because “truth” is cut and dried and divorced from the reality of human feeling.
- Insight (discernment plus sympathy): the ability to understand and to see from another point of view (“put yourself in my shoes”).
Application: Christians who lack discernment and insight are often hypocritical, impatient and throw nice-sounding-Scriptural-clichés at others because they cannot understand the complexities or difficulties of situations they have not personally encountered.
- Penetration (discernment plus depth): the ability to search deeply into things to see the truth of the matter.
Application: Christians who lack discernment and penetration often apply superficial quick fixes to deeper spiritual issues; and have a tendency to go along with popular fads.
- Comprehension (discernment plus grasp): the ability to know the truth and understand the implications and consequences.
Application: Christians who lack discernment and comprehension often are involved in the latest Christian or pseudo-Christian trends and movements and base their acceptance on how it makes them feel (experiential truth), or whether or not something “works” (pragmatism).
- Discretion (discernment plus sensitivity): the ability to know how to proceed with truth or how to handle it.
Application: Christians who lack discernment and discretion just “tell it like it is” and are often insensitive and uncaring about how to bring weaker Christians to the knowledge of real truth.
The Only Source of Discernment
For discernment, we need a source of truth that is beyond man’s ability to corrupt; that is beyond our changing human standards, that is beyond the reach of the curse of sin that keeps mankind from being its own source of reliable truth. Consider what the Bible claims:
Psalm 19:7-9 The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. (NKJV; emphasis mine)
It is profitable to take the time to understand the meaning of the primary words:
- verse 7 God’s law is perfect and converts the soul
- The law – [towrah, torah /to·raw/] directions or instruction; divine rules
- Perfect – [tamiym /taw·meem/] without blemish; complete, whole and entire
- Converts – [shuwb /shoob/] refreshes, restores; turns back in the right direction
- verse 7 God’s testimony is sure, and makes the simple wise
- Testimony – [`eduwth /ay·dooth/] a witness or statement about the things of God; evidence of God’s truth
- Sure – [’aman /aw·man/] established, verified, confirmed and trustworthy
- Wisdom – [chakam /khaw·kam/] to make wise, to teach or instruct especially in the knowledge of God
- verse 8 God’s statutes are right, and rejoice the heart
- Statutes – [piqquwd, piqqud /pik·kood/] precepts; God’s instructions or directions for living life; divine directives
- Right – [yashar /yaw·shawr/] upright, straight, fitting, correct and proper
- Rejoice – [samach /saw·makh/] to cause to be joyful; to make glad
- verse 8 God’s commandments are pure, and enlighten the eyes
- Commandments – [mitsvah /mits·vaw/] orders, imperatives, commissions
- Pure – [bar /bar/] clean, clear, sincere, perfect
- Enlighten – [’owr /ore/] to become as light, to illuminate to shine
- verse 9 The fear of God is clean and endure forever
- Fear of God – [yir’ah /yir·aw/] respect, reverence, terror in the face of awesomeness
- Clean – [tahowr, tahor /taw·hore/] morally and ethically pure
- Enduring – [`amad /aw·mad/] to stand, remain, be steadfast, secure and hold the ground
- verse 9 The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous
- Judgments – [mishpat /mish·pawt/] divine decrees, ordinances; justice; God’s decision on something
- b. True – [’emeth /eh·meth/] sure, reliable, faithful, firm
- c. Righteous – [tsadaq /tsaw·dak/] cleansed, made right, justified
All these meanings taken together could be read something like this:
- The Bible is God’s instruction to us and is whole and complete; refreshing us and turning us back to Him.
- The Bible contains the evidence of God, and is established and trustworthy; making us knowledgeable in the ways of God.
- The Bible gives us God’s directions for living an upright and fitting life which will in turn make us happy.
- God’s Word contains our marching orders and will open our eyes to real spiritual truth.
- The Bible reveals the true awesomeness of God and is morally and ethically pure for all times and will never change.
- The Bible reveals God’s decisions on matters pertaining to man. Those decisions are reliable, sure and just.
Those statements are overwhelming and comprehensive concerning Scriptural sufficiency for our lives and declaring where the source of unchanging and reliable truth resides. Discernment starts with a foundation of truth by which we can judge all other things. There is only one source of real, reliable, unchanging, untarnished, transcendent truth and that is the One who created us in the first place. He has chosen to give us His truth in a written revelation that we know as the Bible.
Just having a source of truth does not guarantee development of discernment. You’re one step closer than 99% of the human race, but you still have to know how to handle and apply that truth. It’s a paradox that discernment is needed to develop discernment.
Discernment begets discernment.
The opposite is also true.
Like the person needing a job to get experience, but lacks the experience to land the job, how does a person go about getting discernment? Of course, as we have pointed out, you must start with the only source of truth, God’s Word. That very Word then gives us instruction on how it works, and how to work it.
Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (NKJV; emphasis mine)
First, you have to allow God’s Word to do the work of discernment in your own life as you then learn to apply that discernment outwardly. God’s Word stands alone in its ability to pierce the veil of deception that shrouds our perceptions as it goes right to the core of man’s heart and exposes its true motives and attitudes.
We are great at deceiving others.
We are experts at deceiving ourselves.
We are very good at deceiving others about the “real” us. How much of what we are, and what we do, in secret, is masterfully dressed up, disguised and hidden from everyone but ourselves? That’s bad enough, but the really bad news is that while we are GOOD at deceiving others, we are EXPERTS at deceiving ourselves. Our hearts are at war with the curse of sin and we fool ourselves about ourselves much more effectively than we fool others. Don’t believe me? How many people have you known in your life where everyone but that person knew all about their faults, bad habits and problems? You know, the co-worker with a horrible temper that claims he’s never lost his cool. Or the friend who is moody and complains constantly yet gets offended if anyone suggests they are anything short of Ms. Cheerful. What about the guy you know who always sees everything in a negative, pessimistic light but sees himself as “realistic” instead of critical?
To grow in discernment, we must first let the Truth of God’s Word penetrate our own heart, to reveal and refine the impurities that cloud our ability to know what is right. Only then are we able to look outward and apply discernment and judgment rightly to our lives around us. Many of you are thinking, “I can’t do that. I don’t have the wisdom to know if I’m really applying God’s Word correctly, or seeing things correctly”. Good news:
James 1:5-6 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. (NKJV; emphasis mine)
We don’t have to rely on ourselves for the wisdom, God gives it to us which is just like Him, isn’t it? God requires discernment from us, and then in His love, turns right around and will give it to us if we simply place our faith in Him, and ask Him for it. It’s a major step towards discernment just to recognize that fact in the first place. Go to the source of Truth – God’s Word. Apply it to your life, ask God for wisdom and He will give it. Remember, discernment is knowing truth and applying truth. God has the truth; God gives wisdom. Like I said, true discernment can only be found in God.
2 Timothy 2:15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (NKJV; emphasis mine)
This is not an easy or one time task. We have to work hard to obtain, maintain and increase our discernment. We have to be diligent which carries the idea not only of hard work but also of routine, determination, persistence and consistency. Diligent study of God’s Word instills in us the foundational knowledge and worldview needed to filter and evaluate the chaotic onslaught of ideas and opinions that daily battle for our attention and allegiance.
Discernment is impossible apart from God and His Word.
No matter how smart, how experienced, how talented or how clever a person is, they have absolutely no ability to discern right from wrong, foolish from profitable, Godly from sinful without having a heart and spirit that has been regenerated and made new, set free from being a slave to the flesh. No matter how successful someone may appear to be, or how happy, or how wise… no religious figure, wise-man or guru has even the slightest amount of true discernment apart from God. This also applies to professing Christians who are following their own opinions, emotions, experiences and agendas. That is why there is so much foolishness going on inside the circles of Christianity today.
To finish this series of lessons, I want to leave you with a verse that simply and concisely defines the entire scope of this thing called “discernment”. If you can remember this verse, and return to it often to think about these things, you will not only have a good grasp on discernment for yourself, but you will be able to teach others about it as well.
1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. (NKJV; emphasis mine)
- Test all things.
Bring all things to Scripture and prayer, ask God for wisdom. Do not accept the latest fads and trends as “moves of God” without first filtering them diligently through God’s Word and finding out if they truly are manifestations of God’s work on earth, or just another “wave” to get “tossed to and fro” upon (Eph 4.14). Learn to defend your faith by testing all other religions with God’s Word. Discernment is vital to keeping yourself safe from religious deception, and helping others to avoid it as well.
It is very common today to be criticized severely for testing anything that is proclaimed to be “anointed by God”. The tester is called “judgmental”, “divisive” or a heresy hunter. They are told not to “touch the Lord’s anointed” or that they are part of the dead religious establishment that Jesus condemned. Don’t let this intimidate you. God Himself says: TEST ALL THINGS. All things. All. Test them. If they are truly of God, they have no fears or worries about being tested by His Word.
- Hold fast what is good.
Discernment is not only differentiating between good and bad, but being able to stand strong once you make a determination. Make no mistake, once you start to take a stand against the religious deception in the world, the enemy will come knocking. Worse, once you take a stand against some of the foolish abuses and practices of those who profess Christianity, you will REALLY be a target. So you must discern, and follow that with a steadfast sureness that will hold you to the truth.
- Abstain from every form of evil.
Discernment quickly diminishes and suffers when we allow ourselves to indulge in sin. If we settle for being weak in one area, say morality, it affects every area of our life. We cannot allow or engage in wickedness on the one hand, and pretend that we will be discerning about evil on the other. It doesn’t work that way.
We must test all things by God’s Word. We must hold fast and stay grounded in Truth. We must not allow ourselves to be weakened or compromised by indulging in any form of wickedness. That is the nutshell of what discernment is all about.
Lord God, help us to understand what discernment is, the need for it, and how to teach others about it. We ask that You will give us discernment even today as we go about in a world full of confusion, conflicting ideas and endless sources claiming to be the “truth”. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Contemplation: Have you ever considered this idea of discernment? How do you determine what is right, wrong or acceptable? Do you have an absolute measure of what is acceptable to God? What’s your opinion about the growing trend that only “love” is important and “doctrine” (truth) is divisive and legalistic? Do you believe the Bible’s claims about itself? Are you convinced that the Bible is the only book that is truly a product of God, outside of man and above all men? If not, where or what is your source of truth? What makes it reliable? On what basis do you place your faith and eternal destiny on it?
Application: Discernment is a primary Christian “skill” which is becoming increasingly critical as religious deception and choices expand dramatically. It is something that we should be developing in our own lives, and actively passing on (discipleship). In this age of religious confusion, even Christians for the most part cannot defend the Bible as the sole source of Truth. Do you see why discernment in Christianity is at such an all time low?
James 1:22 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (NKJV)
- What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
- What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
- What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?