What is “discernment”?
1. the ability to judge well.
“an astonishing lack of discernment”
2. (in Christian contexts) perception in the absence of judgment with a view to obtaining spiritual direction and understanding.
Discernment is a form of judgment the Christ commanded His followers to exercise, and the apostle Paul also wrote about. Discernment about what is right and wrong, what is of God and not of God. Discernment is simply exercising good, educated judgment.
Sadly, I see an ever-growing plague afflicting Christians – and the disease is “Discernment Deficiency”. What do I mean?
Well – the most obvious is the lack of discernment regarding who they spend their time listening to. I see many churches hosting speakers and simulcasts of celebrity preachers and teachers, who might offer up some “good stuff” on a regular basis, yet at the same time hold to heretical position, which they generally weave in with the “good stuff” they put out.
Another form of “Discernment Deficiency”” comes when Christians buy up the latest popular “Christian book”, fiction or supposed non-fiction. Devotional books that the author quite literally claims to be speaking for God being one example. Another would be popular books that depict flatly heretical, even anti-Christ ways. So many “Christians” just lap it up. Then you have the less-obvious form of Discernment Deficiency comes when professed Christians choose a church based on what feels good and/or tickles their ears. Or, they may just stay “content” with the “milk” instead of the “meat” of the Word. (Hebrews 5:12, 1 Corinthians 3:2).
I’ve heard the arguments before which range from “I didn’t know”, to “I take it in and spit the bones out”. I understand, I really do. But, when faced with the realities of writers who hold to incredibly wrong and unbiblical positions, when faced with the knowledge that that book and movie you so love and tell everyone they should read/see is heresy – do you keep holding on to it?
Better yet, when false teachers actually teach blatantly false doctrines, and you completely miss it time and again, there is a problem. You see, there are a few things necessary to exercise discernment. Here are some of the big ones:
1. A personal, saving, relationship with Jesus Christ. We shouldn’t be surprised when the lost lack spiritual discernment.
2. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Scripture is clear that the Spirit guides and directs us, though we are expected to actually listen! This is promised along with salvation.
3. Bible – not just ownership of a copy, not a Bible sitting on the coffee table collecting dust, but a Bible that is read frequently. A Bible that is studied intentionally. A Bible that is heeded.
4. Solid, Biblical, Expository preaching – We need solid, Bible-based, accurate preaching of the Word in our lives. Preaching that takes the Scriptures and actually expounds on what it actually says IN CONTEXT, not what some guy wants it to say and thus has plucked it out of its context to make a point.
5. Intentional, ongoing, Discipleship. Jesus said in his Great Commission to go make disciples. This means intentional, personal, and meaningful time together between mature Christians (read that – those who exercise good discernment) and less mature believers. It means having the tough conversations about what is right, what is true, what is Godly. And it means living it out before others.
Reader – please, before you dish out the money and time to go see the latest speaker/simulcast, or to get and read the latest book, or brag on the latest “Christian” film, pray about it. Seek out wise counsel, and compare the message with the Bible. Be willing to see through the glossy cover and exciting promotional material. Look beyond the feel-good “Bible-like” vocabulary.
And watch out for these “code words” and markers: contemplative prayer (it is a Eastern/Mysic pagan practice being heavily co-opted and rebranded by evangelicals and even Baptists), Social Justice (another concept that has overtaken many Christians – certainly we should desire justice – but those proclaiming it as part of their theology and doctrine have the whole thing upside down and pursue a very unbiblical path to it), any form of “speak it and believe it” (closely related to the prosperity gospel), and most certainly anything that points to your “best life now”! Pretty much anything that puts you at the center of God’s universe, instead of God at the center of it all is a pretty big indicator of problems. Also, if it is a woman acting in every way like a pastor/preacher, you probably should see there is a problem. And just because their latest book is sold on the shelves of your local Christian bookstore (including Lifeway®), does not in ANY way verify it is a good resource. Quite the contrary, as the dollar has become the master for many of these retailers.
There are too many of these wolves to put a comprehensive list together, but if you have any questions, feel free to contact me and I will do what I can to help you to discern.