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Discernment, Does it really matter what we believe?

1 Corinthians 2:14, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerne

John 14:1-7, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know. Thomas said to Him, ‘Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’”

Discernment: “Discrimination, perception, insight, acumen. The power to see what is not evident to the average mind. Discernment stresses the power to distinguish and select what is true and appropriate. It implies a searching mind that goes beyond what is obvious or superficial. It is the depth of insight that goes beyond the obvious with keen practical judgment.”

Greek words:

Verbs: Anakrino, “to distinguish, separate out, investigate, examine, scrutinize, question, to hold a preliminary judicial examination preceding a trial, to judge, to search.” Acts 17:11: The Berean's, "Searched the Scriptures.” Diakrino, “To separate, discriminate, determine, decide.” This verb is used in 1 Corinthians 11:29 with reference to partaking in the Lord's Supper in an “unworthy” manner by not discerning what the elements represent. In verse 31 the same verb is translated “judge,” judging yourself, discerning your own spiritual condition before partaking of the Lord's table. Dokimazo, “to test, prove, scrutinize, to discern truth from error.” Jesus, speaking to the Pharisees and Sadducees tells them “You can discern the weather by watching the sky but you cannot understand signs of the times” [Matthew 16:3].

Noun: Diakrisis, “a clear discrimination,” This word is used in 1 Corinthians 12:10 which lists “Discerning of spirits,” as a spiritual gift, and in Hebrews 5:13,14: “For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 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.”

Adjective, Kritikos, is found in 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 the soul and spirit, and of joint and marrow, and is the discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

Note the repeated use of the words “truth, knowledge, discrimination, discernment, wisdom and understanding.”

“There is a great bewilderment in the world today about all of the religions. One of the most frequently asked questions of Christian leaders is, “Why are there so many religions?” and “How do we know which one is right?” They are receiving mixed signals from the religious community, for example, “There are many roads to heaven, it doesn't matter which one you choose.” “Just follow the golden rule.” “Keep the Ten Commandments.” ”You have to keep an open mind about religion.” "It doesn't really matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.” “As long as you do the best you can you're okay.”

Even within Evangelical Christianity there are differences in doctrine or at least in the application of doctrine. "Our generation is exposed to more religious ideas than any other people of history. Religious broadcasting and the print media bombard people with all kinds of deviant teaching that claim to be truth. In the area where I live (Southern California), for example, we are assaulted with everything from a vulgar, cigar chomping television preacher whose messages are peppered with profanity, to huge billboards declaring, “Islam is truth.” The undiscerning person has no means of determining what is truth, and many are baffled by the variety”

–John MacArthur, Reckless Faith. (adapted by the author)

In today's world, it's not politically correct to put more value on your religious beliefs than on others and to claim that yours is the true religion, and others are false. We Evangelicals believe the Bible is God's final, inerrant, and authoritative word, and the only message that can save a lost, dying world…if we don't tell people that someone is wrong, who is going to tell them?

“The church can't stand behind multiple points of view and be legitimate. If the Gospel is true, everything else is a lie. If Christ alone saves, those who do not believe in Him are doomed. The church can't lead sinners to salvation if it presents one road as being as good as another. Yet we hear this inclusivism all the time from so-called Christians…The Gospel is exclusive. Jesus is the only way. The gate is that narrow.” –John MacArthur, Reckless Faith.

Christian pollster, George Barna reveals that two-thirds of American people believe there is no such thing as absolute truth. Even more shocking is that another poll revealed fifty-three percent of those claiming to be Bible-believing, conservative Christians said, “There is no such thing as absolute truth.” The very ones who claim to follow the one who is “The Truth,” profess there is no absolute truth! What's wrong with that picture? Just look at the schizophrenic nature of Americans, when seventy percent of all Americans believe it is important to do what the Bible teaches, but more than two-thirds of this same group reject its moral absolutes.

We live in a world where people see truth as relative. But Jesus said, “I am the way, (so there is no other way), the truth, (so there is no other truth), and the life (so there is no other life). No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Some people have a hard time accepting absolute truth. Jesus says, “Sanctify them by Your Truth, Your Word is Truth” [John 17:17]. And in John 8:32: “And you shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free.” Free from having never known the truth.

It's no wonder that people who are not true followers of Christ would be confused by such teachings. But why would people who believe the Bible and affirm that Jesus Christ is Lord be led astray or confused about competing doctrines? “Yet many professing Christians are perplexed by all the false religions. The church today is filled with people who lack any ability to differentiate the very worst false doctrines from truth. I constantly encounter Christians who are at a loss to answer even the most profound errors they hear from cultists, unorthodox media preachers, or other sources of false doctrine" –John MacArthur, Reckless Faith.

This is inexcusable! Scripture warns us that the church will be inundated with doctrines of demons, destructive heresies, myths, falsehoods, perverse teachings, commandments of men, human traditions, empty philosophy, vain deceit, speculations, lying spirits, worldly fables, false knowledge and worldly wisdom. In Matthew 7:15, Jesus says that false prophets will come as “wolves in sheep's clothing.” In Acts 20:29,30 Paul, addressing the Ephesian elders, warns them, “I know full well that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. Even some of you will distort the truth in order to draw a following.” Paul wrote to Timothy, “Evil men and imposters will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13). And, he wrote. “The Spirit explicitly says that in the latter times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1).

Listen to Jude: “Beloved while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith…for certain men have crept in unnoticed…ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness [lawlessness] and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 3,4).

The contemporary church seems virtually impotent to face such an onslaught. The church, by and large, is filled with confusion and error. How do we fight this invasion of false doctrine? “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” (1 John 4:1). “And take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17).

True discernment has suffered a horrible setback in the last few decades because reason itself has been under attack within the church. Francis Schaeffer warned us thirty years ago in The God who is there, “The church is following the traditionality of secular philosophy. Consequently, reckless faith has overrun the Evangelical community.”

Many are discarding doctrine in favor of personal experience. Others say they are willing to disregard biblical distinctives in order to achieve external unity among all professing Christians. True Christianity, marked by intelligent, biblical faith seems to be declining even among the most conservative Evangelicals.

We live in a world where postmodernism has gradually moved to replace modernism in its emphasis on human reason. Neopaganism has become the major contender with Christianity for the heart of Western civilization, its characteristics include:

•A denial of the personal attributes of God and of Christ.

•Claiming a legitimacy to worship the created order [Pantheism, Romans 1].

•Laying claim to dogmatic tolerance. [We are to be tolerant of them, but they refuse to tolerate us].

•Seeking to intensify the life of a person rather than transform it. [You can pull yourself up by your own bootstraps].

•Offering no definite, well-grounded hope for the future.

•Seeking to reestablish the place of Eros in the life. [Hedonism].

•Militant opposition to Christianity or anyone claiming to know absolute truth.

•Denial of a personal salvation.

We categorically reject any and all teaching that teaches there ware many ways to reach God and heaven. Are we that narrow? I heard about a preacher once who was so narrow that a gnat could sit on the bridge of his nose and kick him in both eyes. Yes, we are that narrow, but not any more narrow than God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit or the word of God.

Lack of discernment on the part of believers goes to two extremes:

1. At one end of the spectrum this lack of discernment looks within, relying on feelings, inner voices, fantasy or subjective sensations. New Age Mysticism fits this category. It's kind of a Christian existentialism: “If I have experienced it, it has to be truth.” People are interpreting Scripture according to their feelings. Neo Orthodoxy says, “This verse speaks to me, therefore it is God's Word to me.” What does God say? “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God (God breathed) and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly furnished for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-18).

2. The other extreme fixes it's hope on some human tradition, magisterial dogma, or some other arbitrary canon. After hearing a message from a man who was reported to be a Prophet, I asked if he had been sick, because he sounded confused and incoherent. The response was too sad to be humorous, “You must understand, he's a prophet. Every word he speaks comes directly from God so sometimes its confusing.” Note that both extremes seek spiritual truth apart from the Scriptures. God holds us accountable for what we believe as well as knowing why we believe it. He expects us to defend the faith. Jude writes, “Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people” (Jude 3).


Proverbs 2:2-6, “So that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; yes if you cry out for discernment, and lift your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the Lord and the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.”

Proverbs 4:7, “Wisdom is the principle thing; therefore get wisdom. And with all your getting, get understanding.”

Colossians 1:9, “For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with all wisdom and spiritual understanding.”

Colossians 2:3, “In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

1 John 5:20, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true, and we are in Him who is true…”

Beginning in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.”

Paul lists some very brief reminders of the basics of Christian living:

•”Rejoice always."

•”Pray without ceasing.”

•”In everything give thanks.”

•”Do not quench the Spirit.”

•”Do not despise prophecies.”

•”Test all things.”

The primary duties of every believer are rejoicing, prayer, thanksgiving, submitting to the Holy Spirit, and responding to the preaching of the Word of God!

Another duty is discernment. “Test all things.” Examine everything carefully. Discernment is as essential to the Christian life as prayer and thanksgiving.

Pastors and teachers have a unique responsibility when handling truth. Even Timothy had a problem differentiating between dangerous philosophy and sound doctrine, in 1 Timothy 4:7 Paul warns, “Reject worldly and old wives tales…” Verse 13, “Till I come, give attention to reading, exhortation and doctrine.” And it is not just the pastor-teacher's responsibility to be discerning, it is every believer's duty! Judge everything, test everything, examine everything very carefully.

Steps to Discernment:

1. Desire wisdom. Proverbs 2:1-5, “My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.”

2. Pray for discernment. Solomon prayed for wisdom 1 Kings 3:9, “Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil…” James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God who gives to all men liberally.”

3] Obey the truth. Even with all of Solomon's wisdom he became a dismal failure at the end of his life, 1 Kings 11:4, “For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God…” What good is it to know the truth if we do not act according to the truth? James 1:5, “Be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”

4] Follow discerning leaders. Do not follow those who are guided by the latest book they have read, or the last conference they attended. Follow those who try their best to interpret the Word of God, line upon line, precept upon precept, book by book, chapter by chapter, verse by verse, and word by word. Be careful of those who are “Carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4;14). Listen to leaders who are able to discern, analyze, and refute error. Leaders who are not afraid to call sin, “sin,” and error, “error.” Paul said to the Ephesian believers, “I kept back nothing that was helpful…I ceased not to warn you day and night with tears” (Acts 20:21). Read books by authors who have proven themselves to be careful handlers of truth. Three things with which you never trifle, A little poison, a little sin, and a little false doctrine.

5] Depend on the Holy Spirit. As important as human teachers are, the Spirit of God is our ultimate teacher. Jesus is “The Truth.” (John14:6).

“We are of God! He who knows the things of God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the Spirit of Truth and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:6).

“No one knows the things if God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God…But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things…we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:11-15).

6] Study the Scriptures. This cannot be overemphasized. True discernment requires a diligent study of God's Word. “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

“A group of scholars met recently to determine the authenticity of Christ's Gospel statements. They distributed among themselves colored strips of paper; a red slip meant the statement under consideration was authentic, pink for probably authentic, gray for probably not authentic, and black for not authentic. One by one Jesus' statements were considered; debate concluded with the solemn raising of colored cards…The Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount took a beating in the balloting. “Blessed are the peacemakers” was swiftly voted down. “Blessed are the meek” got only six timid red and pink votes out of thirty cast. In the final count, only three of the twelve assorted blessings and woes from Matthew and Luke were seemed authentic.”

–From an essay, Giving God the Pink Slip, Chuck Colson, The God of Stones and Spiders.

Maybe they need to get an honest job. I wonder what they tell a grieving family standing by the grave of a departed loved-one? “I will read the resurrection story, then you hold up a colored card?” No! Our responsibility as ministers of the Word of God is to give them truth! What is that truth? You will see your believing loved-one again because God's Word says, Jesus rose and guaranteed a future with Him in Heaven. John 14:1-3, “I go to prepare a place for you…”

Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB). Contemporary English Version (CEV).

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