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)
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 athiests, 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 comes 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 be 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 psuedo-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.
Discernment is so important to the Christian. It is the ability to see, find, and recognize the truth… and then know what to do with it. A lack of discernment has resulted in endless amounts of false teaching, foolish fads, experiential thrill seeking, and distracting doctrine which takes Christians away from a simple pursuit of humble servanthood and holiness and has them off chasing things that make them feel good about themselves or increase their level of material comfort. So how do we get this discernment? Where is it found? How do you cultivate it?
The Only Source of Discernment
Since discernment is foundationally the ability to know and recognize truth versus non-truth, then it follows that we must first have a source of truth that is objective, and that transcends any one person, or group of persons. Of course that source of truth is the Bible, God’s holy, supernaturally-inspired revelation to mankind that is outside of our authority, outside of our time, outside of the curse of sin. The Bible itself is the sole book in human history that claims for itself (and stands up to criticism of that claim) the single and only source of unchanging and infallible Truth. There is no acceptance of the Bible as a “good book” or one of many religious books. Either the Bible is what it says it is, or it is a book based on lies and false claims and should be discarded.
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)
In verses 7-9, we find six pairs of statements with three parts each that define a different aspect of God’s Word, state the value of it and then the benefit of it. It is profitable to take the time to understand the meaning of each main word, so bear with me as we go through them. If the Bible really could be the only source of enduring Truth, then certainly it is worth a few minutes to investigate AND understand why…
- 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 meaning 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. What is the result?
- Verse 10 – God’s word is VALUABLE… more to be desired than gold, but not just gold, FINE gold…. God’s Word is worth more than the best of the best from this world.
- And is sweeter than honey… God’s word is more valuable the any possession and more satisfying than any food.
- Verse 11 – God’s Word teaches us and warns us… and keeping it brings great reward.
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, trascendent 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.
Discernment starts with Truth.
Truth must be trascendent of mankind
and absolutely unchanging in order to be trusted.
Discernment starts with truth. We’ve discovered where that truth can be found but just like knowing that all the gold is in buried at Fort Knox, how do we personally get a hold of that truth and put it to use in our lives? Discernment is taking truth and being able to use it in a practical way to judge right and wrong, and to guide us down the right path. That is where we will pick up next time.
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.
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?