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Philippians 1:9 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, (NKJV; emphasis mine)

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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 silliness 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.

A lack of discernment is not just a Christian phenomenon. It’s a “human” phenomenon and the farther away from God mankind drifts, the greater the lack of discernment. Just yesterday I had an extremely well educated, very intelligent and highly successful person say to me, “my philosophy about all that (religion, morality) is….” and then rattled off some nonsense that was in reality nothing more than a high sounding justification for saying, “I do whatever I want.” Here was a person who could see everything else in life with near perfect logic, but when it came to eternal things, reverted quickly to selfish human idiocy and never blinked an eye.

“Well, that is to be expected from unbelievers. They can’t understand spiritual truths”. Absolutely right! So they have an excuse. What’s ours? 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 3.161-17)
  • 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, I’ve followed each definition with what the opposite is:

  • The act or process of exhibiting keen insight and good judgment
    Opposite: going with the flow, not caring about truth, or the inability to judge what is right

  • The cognitive condition of someone who understands
    Opposite: someone who not only does not understand, but doesn’t really care to

  • Understanding of the nature, meaning, quality or magnitude of something
    Opposite: being superficial, not caring or not recognizing the meaning or importance of something

  • Delicate discrimination
    Opposite: no discrimination, no ability to pick out that which is right from that which is wrong

  • Perception of that which is obscure
    Opposite: inability to see anything more than the superficial

  • Knowledge gained by perceiving
    Opposite: ignorance derived from not being alert, or not caring about truth

  • The trait of utilizing knowledge and experience with common sense and insight
    Opposite: having knowledge but not knowing how to apply it or how it affects real life

  • The trait of judging wisely and objectively
    Opposite: not being able to apply truth without bias or without regard to what God says

Here are some extensions of discernment (discernment combined with another trait) and the visible results of their lack:

  • Discrimination (discernment plus knowledge): the ability to distinguish or select what is true, appropriate or excellent.
    A lack of discrimination causes us to chase after fads, seek out truth based on feelings or experience, and waste our time on foolishness.
    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.
    A lack of acumen causes us to follow the majority and get swept away by fads and the “herd” mentality.
    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.
    A lack of perception causes us to lack compassion even if we do see the truth because we are unable to know how it affects or applies to others.
    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”).
    A lack of insight keeps us from being patient and understanding with others because even though we may know the truth, we are not coupling it with compassion and empathy.
    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.
    A lack of penetration means that we are seeing the whole truth, or that we are too quickly deciding we know the whole picture without digging deeply into the issue.
    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.
    A lack of comprehension means that we may know the truth but not understand the results or how it affects real life.
    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.
    A lack of discretion causes us to be insensitive about how to rightly handle and impart truth once we have hold of 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.

Christian discernment is the ability to recognize and understand truth,
and then know what to do with it.

Today’s lesson has been more “educational” than a Bible study, but I thought it important for you to have a clear and thorough understanding of what discernment is in order to understand how important it is. Tomorrow we will take a look at how one goes about obtaining discernment, and where to get it.

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?

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).

James 1:22 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (NKJV)

  1. What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
  2. What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
  3. What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?