Roy L. Monkus
In this day and age we have come to a place in church history where there is very little evidence of spiritual discernment. What I would like to do, if I may, is a brief study of: what spiritual discernment is, what it is not, who should have it, where does it come from, and how to receive it.
"Discern" (dok-im-ad'-zo) as used in the new testament means to test, examine, prove, scrutinize, (to see whether a thing is genuine or not), to recognize as genuine after examination, to approve, deem worthy. Paul tells us in I Thessalonians 5:21,22, "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil." The vast majority of churches today seem to have no idea what is good and what is evil. They have no problem welcoming every kind of unrepentant sin and sinner into the church. In some, you can be a practicing homosexual and be welcomed as a member and even be ordained into the ministry. Many churches ordain women and allow them to teach. They will allow their members to divorce without just cause and come back into fellowship without a call for repentance. Their members are drunkards, adulterers, baby killers, gamblers, drug dealers, drug users, liars, thieves, and any other unrepentant sinner that can be thought of. The question is why? They have lost the ability to discern what is right and what is wrong. The world can no longer tell the church from itself. When Christ returns will He recognize the church of today as His Bride, or will He say "depart from me you workers of iniquity into ever lasting damnation?"
Let us now consider what discernment is not. We do not have the ability today to judge a person's heart or his motives. Only God can judge the heart because only God can see it (I Sam. 16:7). He alone knows the secrets of the heart (Ps. 44:21), can weigh the motives (Prov. 16:2), and "will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus"(Rom. 2:16). But we can and should judge men's actions and doctrines (teachings). There are some who under the pretense of exercising discernment, engage in unbrotherly criticism. We should not give way to innuendo's, character assassination, guilt by association, or any other dishonest method. Let us not be found guilty of judging someone because of their dress, what they eat or drink, their ability or their lack of ability to speak well, or their education. Let us not judge someone because in a weak moment they might have said an unkind word, for we are all capable of weakness from time to time. And if we find a brother in error let us correct him in love, knowing that none of us have perfect knowledge yet and are still learning of our Lord.
Who should have this gift of discernment? is it just for the preachers or elders? No, my brothers and sisters, it is for us all. It is not just given to us, to choose to use when we wish, we are commanded to use discernment always. All through Scripture, God's people are urged to judge between truth and error. Jesus tells us in John 7:24, "Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment," in I Cor. 5:12,13, Paul writes, "Do ye not judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth." The Apostle John tells us, "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (I Jn. 4:1). And there are many other places in Scripture that teach us that we should discern between truth and error, if we but look. The martyrs down through the centuries have died by the thousands because they would not except false doctrines or false teachers. They would not bow to popes nor torture.
"Of all others who have been burned at Smithfield, there was yet none so cruelly and piteously handled as this blessed martyr, [John Lambert] . For, after that his legs were burned up to the stumps, and that the wretched tormentors and enemies of God had withdrawn the fire from him, so that but a small fire was left under him, two that stood on each side of him with their halberts [a comb. spear and ax] pitched him upon their pikes. Then he, lifting up such hands as he had, and his fingers' ends flaming with fire, cried onto the people in these words, 'None but Christ, none but Christ'; and so, being let down again from their halberts, fell into the fire, and there gave up his life, 1538." Foxe's Book of Martyrs"
But today many churches are bowing not only to false doctrines, but desire to unite again with Roman Catholicism, the false religion that took untold thousands of Christians' lives. Are the churches today using discernment? Do they know truth from error? I Thessalonians 5:21 Tells us to "Hold fast to that which is good" Romans 12:9 says to "Abhor what is evil". The truth is given to our charge and we should guard it against all threats. We should not be willing to appease the enemies of truth for the sake of unity. Those who are truly discerning are passionately committed to sound doctrine, and truth,. All Christians have this ability to some degree. In II Thessalonians, 2:10 Paul defines salvation as the love of truth, "...among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved." Let us not be guilty of tolerance of false doctrine. For when we are, we deny the truth, and thereby deny Christ. And Jesus said if we deny Him He will deny us on that day.
Discernment is a gift from God, and God expects us to use this gift. Saul was chosen, called, and anointed the first king of Israel. He was an intelligent man and was even given the gift of prophesy, but, he used no discernment. The first test Saul was given was when Samuel had instructed him to go to Gilgal and wait for him, for God was about to hand the Philistines over to him. He waited seven days and then his faith failed. He took it on himself to offer a burnt offering to God. When Samuel arrived he said," Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, which he commanded thee." Saul continued to disobey the Lord all the rest of his life until God destroyed him and gave the kingdom to David. Saul, by his lack of discernment, proved he never knew God and was not saved. He was not given the gift of discernment; he cared not for Gods commands. Saul served his own desires and perished.
Now Solomon was given wisdom, which is discernment, greater than any other man. He knew right from wrong, truth from error. But the Bible teaches us that his heart was not wholly devoted to the Lord his God. Solomon did not suddenly fail at the end of his life; the seeds of his demise were sown at the very beginning of his reign. He married women from other nations, which God forbid the nation of Israel to do. From the very beginning, his obedience was lacking, Solomon tolerated compromise and committed idolatry. He set up false gods for his wives and even sacrificed to them.
Discernment is of no value without obedience. Of what value is the truth if we do not act accordingly? "Wherefore lay all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves," (James 1:21-22).
David, the second King of Israel, was a doer of Gods word. We tend to look at David's sins and totally ignore that he was a man after Gods own heart. God would not make such a statement without good reason. In the early part of David's life he would not make a move without checking with God first. Psalm 119:9-16 gives us some idea of David's heart. "Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word. With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. Blessed art thou O Lord teach me thy statutes. With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth. I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches. I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways. I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word. I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways. I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word." There is the key to discernment. We must study God's word. We must meditate on His word. Let it sink deep into our hearts, so when we hear error we can recognize it immediately. We should delight in God's commands for they are good ,they are worth more than all the wealth of the world! Yet the churches of today treat God's commands as if they are of no value. They teach that because we are saved by Grace and not by works then let us sin the more! Jesus said that his children would and must obey Him!
Depend on the Holy Spirit my friends, for He is ultimately the true Discerner, John 16:13 says "he will guide us in all truth." The thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God." (I Cor. 2:12).
Brothers and sisters, if you have found yourselves lacking in discernment, then cry to God through our Lord Jesus Christ and He will give it. Study Gods word, for you can not discern what you don't know; and trust in the Holy Spirit to guide you. And then stand for the truth, fight error where ever it rears its ugly head!
Yea, if thou criest after knowledge,
and liftest up thy voice for understanding;
If thou seekest her as silver,
and searchest for her as for hid treasures;
Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord,
and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord giveth wisdom;
out of His mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.
He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous:
He is a buckler to them that walk uprightly.
He keepeth the paths of judgment,
and preserveth the way of His saint