The Importance of DiscernmentAn Overview
Our English word discern means “to separate” or “to distinguish between” and comes from Latin “to sift apart.” Everyone discerns in one way or another. We sift apart food preferences into tastes good versus tastes bad, like versus dislike. We have learned to discern whether we are morning people or night people by distinguishing between when we are the most productive.
The above examples are personal choices/opinions. Yet, there is an acknowledged corporate “okay” (so to speak) with whatever the verdict, because we all have different tastes and that is acceptable.
When it comes to Biblical teaching, knowledge of God, obedience to Him, and Christian character/witness, we need to have good discernment as to God’s way. Why? The Scriptures give us many basic principles and reasons. We have outlined here a general list with Scripture references.
Table of Contents
→ Enhances the Glory of God’s Holy Name in the Public Arena
→ Clearly Identifies the Truth While Among God’s People
→ Helps a Wandering Professing Christian
→ Enhances Godly Confidence
→ Keeps Us From Subconscious Yet Culpable Sinning
→ Relates Directly to Our Judgment By Jesus Christ
→ A Call for Discernment, Part 1 By John MacArthur
Enhances the Glory of God’s Holy Name in the Public Arena
Her priests have done violence to My law and have profaned My holy things; they have made no distinction between the holy and the profane, and they have not taught the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they hide their eyes from My sabbaths, and I am profaned among them.” Ezekiel 22:26
This text speaks of “distinguishing” between holy things and profane things. God alone “distinguishes” what is holy and unholy. The priest paid no attention to God’s law and refused to “distinguish” like God “distinguished.” As a result, the priest profaned His name among the people, publicly. He was not discerning. According to 1 Peter 2:9, we are a priesthood, a holy nation unto God. Although in a different circumstance than the priests in Ezekiel, we too will either exalt or profane God’s name based upon whether we distinguish between holy and profane things. Others will either be helped or hindered in understanding God (His deeds and character) based on how well we “discern” and act upon our discernment.This is visibly happening and it is why the “worldly” brand of Christianity so prevalent in our day and age should be constantly rejected – it does not reflect the HOLINESS of God.
For more on this topic, read The Importance of Spiritual Discernment.
Clearly Identifies the Truth While Among God’s People
You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. 1 John 4:4-6
It is possible for us to discern the spirit of truth versus the spirit of falsehood by paying attention to God’s teaching in His Holy Word. The result of knowing God is participating with the people of God in the truth. The category of discernment in this text is truth versus error – not fellowship versus lack of fellowship, nor loving versus unloving, etc.
In chapter 1 of 1 John, he mentions the fact that the apostles made known the truth of what they had seen, felt, etc. This was so that the people to whom he was communicating could have fellowship with them. Notice the order: first truth, then fellowship. Fellowship is to always follow after the truth and not vice versa. When truth is at stake, fellowship is temporarily placed upon the back-burner. This is why all calls of unity – even based in Scripture – are to fall on the heels of a call to truth.
The perfect example of this is Jesus’ High Priestly prayer in John 17. He does not pray simply that Christians are to be one. He prays that we are one as He and the Father are one and that we are set apart both individually and corporately in the TRUTH OF THE WORD! The focus of oneness is not oneness with fellow believers. The focus of oneness is oneness with God through His truth.
This focus of fellowship based upon truth can also be seen in Ephesians 4:1-16 where the command for oneness in Spirit is clearly based in the unity of the faith, the one faith, one Lord, one baptism no longer carried about by every wind of doctrine, and the speaking of truth in love.
By discerning truth versus error, we stay on target, stay upon truth. We keep Christ the focus and help others keep Christ the focus.
For more on this topic, read Community: What Makes it Christian?
Helps a Wandering Professing Christian
My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. James 5:19-20
We may help someone else when we are discerning. The text tells us that we can help someone by turning them back or turning them around from their wandering path. The path they are returned unto is the path of truth. This entire process of obedience on our part includes discerning that person’s actual wandering from the truth.
According to the end of the text, there are benefits that result. When you see someone wandering away, tell them the objective truth of the Word of God. As noted in the text, disobedience has drastic consequences.
Enhances Godly Confidence
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. 1 Corinthians 2:12-15
According to this text, the spiritual man discerns all things, yet he is not discerned, or judged, by anyone. We must keep this within context. They are discerning because they are concerned about the thoughts of God which are expressed in words. The reason they are able to do this is because the Holy Spirit indwells them. They are not judged by human opinion because they have already given themselves to a higher judge – God Himself via His Word.
In 2 Corinthians 4:1-5, Paul articulates this same truth about the reality of he himself being examined by the Lord and his not being conscious of anything against himself. Because we know God’s Word, and we have His Spirit, we can have confidence in appraising things.
Having submitted ourselves to God’s standard, we can then discern teachings, ourselves, and behaviors. Thus, we can have confidence in our beliefs and actions.
For more on this, read How To Have Godly Confidence.
Keeps Us From Subconscious Yet Culpable Sinning
Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds. 2 John 8-11
We may actually participate in wickedness if we are not discerning. This text may be one of the most overlooked texts in Christendom today – and it is having spiritually deadly effects.
The text tells us that we can participate in someone else’s wickedness through support and the wickedness described is not moral evil but the evil of false teaching. The people described are going beyond the teaching of Christ. They cannot nor will not stay within the framework of the truths of Scripture. If anyone helps them in any way, they are actually participating with them in teaching wickedness!
Therefore, if we buy a Christian book and it ends up being the book of a heretic, we have to a degree participated with that heretic in his evil teaching by lending him our monetary support! You and I are responsible for the knowing and doing! The Apostle John was made responsible for telling the truth (inspiration of the Holy Spirit), the preacher for preaching the truth, and us for obeying the truth. It is in the Holy Scripture and we are under its’ authority. Accordingly, we discern so that we won’t be judged as participating in wickedness.
Make sure you caught that. We must judge correctly and then act accordingly so that we won’t be judged as participating in their wickedness!!! This takes conscious effort and action.
Relates Directly to Our Judgment By Jesus Christ
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 2 Corinthians 5:10
We should discern because we will each have to give an account to Jesus Christ at His judgment seat. Jesus Christ Himself will discern if our deeds are good or bad. Simply asked, what is the basis of His judgment? Can we say: “Well I thought that…” or “my brother wanted me to…” or “it just happened by accident” or “my pastor told me that…” or “it was easier to…”
We should not be surprised when we find that He will judge us based on His standard which is the WORD OF GOD! Do not fear what your answer will be someday!
Instead, right now, fear God who told us to love, fear, enjoy, suffer for and obey Him. He gave us the standard of judgment before hand and the very reason why we should be concerned and discern! (1 Peter 1:13-21; Hebrews 12:14-29; John 12:44-50)
A Call for Discernment by John MacArthur
Here is an excellent sermon on discernment by pastor and author Dr. John MacArthur of Grace To You.