Spiritual Discernment

Spiritual Discernment

Reference: Romans 12:1-2

Discernment: The ability to judge well.

The Source of Wisdom

Romans 12:1-2: There is a new mindset that needs to pervade our thinking as Christians, and this new thinking is given to us “by the mercies of God”.

“renewed mind” … “that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

Philippians 1:9-11: The Philippians were incredibly loving people.  But Paul was urging them to frame their love in knowledge and discernment.  Love is the heart, the blood, the muscle; discernment is the skeleton.  It is the shape and structure which allow for movement and protection.  But for what purpose?  Approving excellent things.

“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, 10 that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ,11 being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

Acts 17:10-11: Searching the Scriptures as the foundation for spiritual discernment.

“Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.”

James 1:2-5: God promises to liberally provide us with wisdom.  Consider the context of trials.  Why?  When does our discernment typically suffer most?  When we are weary from many trials.

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. 5 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.”

1 John 4:1: We are not just commanded to make “good decisions”, we are commanded to guard the truth

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

2 Timothy 4:1-5: People have a natural tendency to go astray.  This is an inevitable consequence of conjuring your own righteousness instead of discerning what the true righteousness of God is.

“I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. 5 But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. –2 Peter 2

Now More Than Ever

In his commentary on 1 Corinthians, John MacArthur makes the important point that the gift of discernment is especially necessary and especially valuable during those times that Christianity is considered acceptable in society. When the church is enduring an era of persecution, there are bound to be few false teachers for not many people are willing to risk their very lives for something they believe to be false. The stakes are simply too high for such false teachers. But, as church history can attest, when Christianity is accepted and tolerated, false teachers arise quickly and soon fill the church.” —Tim Challies, “The Gift of Spiritual Discernment”

Discernment Practice

Who Is Jesus? The Arian Controversy 

“We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, created similar to the Father, who for us and for our salvation came down from heaven.” —modified Nicene Creed with homós replaced with hómoios … 

“We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us and for our salvation came down from heaven” —actual Nicene Creed 

John 10:30: “I and My Father are one.” 

Philippians 2:5-11: “5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

This debate raged in the church for over 50 years!

The Prosperity Gospel

“Anyone can create by faith and words the dreams he desires – health, wealth, happiness.  If you develop an image of success, health, abundance, joy, peace, happiness, nothing on earth will be able to hold those things from you. All of us are born for earthly greatness.  You were born to win.  God wants you to live in abundance.  You were born to be a champion.  He wants to give you the desires of your heart.  Before we were formed he prepared us to live abundant lives to be happy, healthy and whole.  But when our thinking becomes contaminated it’s no longer in line with God’s word. Get your thinking positive and he will bring your desires to pass.  He regards you as a strong, courageous, successful person.  You’re on your way to a new level of glory.  Believe, visualize and speak out loud.  Words release your power.  Words give life to your dreams.” —Joel Osteen, Your Best Life Now

“Often you create your own negative situations yourself with wrong thinking, wrong believing, and wrong speaking. So start believing according to God’s Word. Then begin making positive confessions of faith and victory over your life. … You will never receive anything from God beyond the words you speak. … If you don’t like what you have in life, then begin to change the way you are thinking, believing, and speaking. Instead of speaking according to natural circumstances out of your head, learn to speak God’s Word from your spirit. Begin to confess God’s promises of life and health and victory into your situation. Then you can begin to enjoy God’s abundant life as you have what you say!” —Ken Hagan, You Can Have What You Say

“If you will learn to follow that inward witness I will make you rich. I will guide you in all the affairs of life, financial as well as spiritual.” —Ken Hagan, How to be Led by the Spirit

Matthew 6:19-21 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

1 Timothy 6:6-11 “Now godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 8 And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.11 But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.”

Some surveys indicate that up to 90 percent of those claiming to be Christians in Africa are of the prosperity gospel variety.  Our discernment (or lack thereof) doesn’t just impact our own lives, it impacts the lives of others as well.

Is Jesus the only way to heaven?

“I think everybody who knows Christ, whether they’re conscious of it or not, they’re members of the Body of Christ…God’s purpose is to call out a people for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, Buddhist world, the Christian world, or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ, because they’ve been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus…and I think they are saved, and that they are going to be in heaven with us.” — “What I hear you saying is that it’s possible for Jesus Christ to come into human hearts and soul and life even if they’ve been born into darkness and never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you are saying?” — “Yes it is, because I believe that. I’ve met people in various parts of the world…that have never seen a Bible or heard about a Bible, and never heard of Jesus, but they’ve believed in their hearts that there was a God.” — Billy Graham interview by Robert Schuller in 1997 

“As soon as the door is opened to Muslims. Hindus, Buddhists, and Baptists from Cleveland, many Christians become very uneasy, saying that then Jesus doesn’t matter anymore, the cross is irrelevant, it doesn’t matter what you believe, and so forth. Not true. Absolutely, unequivocally, unalterably not true. What Jesus does is declare that he, and he alone, is saving everybody. And then he leaves the door way, way open. Creating all sorts of possibilities. He is as narrow as himself and as wide as the universe. … People come to Jesus in all sorts of ways. … Sometimes people use his name; other times they don’t. … Some people have so much baggage with regard to the name “Jesus” that when they encounter the mystery present in all of creation—grace, peace, love, acceptance, healing, forgiveness—the last thing they are inclined to name it is “Jesus.” …What we see Jesus doing again and again—in the midst of constant reminders about the seriousness of following him living like him, and trusting him—is widening the scope and expanse of his saving work.” —Rob Bell, Love Wins

Acts 4:8-12: “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: 9 If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, 10 let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. 11 This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’12 Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

The Cross

“The trouble with us is that we’ve preached a ‘cross’ religion, and we need to preach a ‘throne’ religion. By that I mean that people have thought they were supposed to remain at the cross. Some have received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, have backed up to the cross, and have stayed there ever since…The cross is actually a place of defeat, whereas the Resurrection is a place of triumph. When you preach the cross, you’re preaching death, and you leave people in death.” —Ken Hagen,  The Believer’s Authority

Galatians 6:14: “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

1 Corinthians 1:17-19: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect. 18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”

Spiritual Immaturity

Discernment is an exercise, it takes practice.  Discernment often requires much prayer, meditation on God’s Word and long periods of contemplation. Eventually and ideally, this becomes “spiritual habit”.

Hebrews 5:12-14: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milkis unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age,that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

To Discern Is To Divide

Discerning “good and evil” from Hebrews 5:14.  This is perhaps the most difficult point of all.  We do not like the idea of being “divisive”, but any proclamation of truth is by its very nature, divisive.

Practical Discernment

Some practical ideas from Tim Challies:

  • Separating truth from error. Comparing the words of the preacher with Scripture and who will lead the way in warning others of false teaching. (Acts 17:11, Bereans)
  • Discerning the will of God. (from His Word)
  • Identifying the presence and work of the Holy Spirit.  Warning others of counterfeit teaching or counterfeit Christians.
  • Identifying worldliness. Able to see worldliness for what it is. Many Christians, and especially young Christians, confuse carnality for godliness, man-made rules for God-ordained holiness. Discerning Christians will be able to distinguish between what is truly holy and what is simply a manufactured holiness that leads only to failure and discouragement.
  • Deciding disputes. 1 Corinthians 6:5, “I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?”
  • Protecting new Christians.  2 Peter 2:14, “enticing unstable souls”

Sowing In a Godly Manner

James 3:13-18 “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. 16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. 17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. 18 Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

First pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and hypocrisy.  Sown is peace by those who are the peacemakers.  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the Sons of God.”