The word discernment often gets a bad rap. Whether because it is regarded as critical or judgmental, most people want to run at the thought of the word. This is most unfortunate because the Apostle Paul says our love should abound in real knowledge and all discernment (Philippians 1:9). What is “all discernment?” It is a love for God based in truth, as well as a rejection of all false notions about God. (Psalm 119:104)
The truth is we all discern on a daily basis. Discern means “to separate” or “to distinguish between” and comes from Latin meaning “to sift apart.” Do we not regularly separate and distinguish between things? We may do it subconsciously, but we are always discerning.
How We Discern
Anytime we discern, we are weighing between things according to some criteria such as scientific evidence, acquired knowledge, or even just personal preference. But we are always discerning/evaluating based upon something else.
For instance, we sift the different foods we eat into categories. It either tastes good or not so good based upon our personal preferences. We separate which stores to shop based on location, pricing, selection, etc. We distinguish whether we are morning or night people depending on when we are most productive.
When it comes to the Christian life, we also discern on a regular basis. We discern what church we will attend, how we will be obedient to God in our particular situation, what Bible teachers we will listen to and what authors we will read. It is good for us to distinguish these things.
In fact, God wants us to be discerning! And He wants us to excel at it! Paul says in Philippians, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment.” Philippians 1:9 (NASB)
So, how do we as Christians discern and discern well? What should our discernment be based on? Hear this, it should not be based upon our individual preferences. Rather, it should be based upon God’s truth.
God has standards for our Christian discernment! He tells us in His Word how He is to be honored, approached, and obeyed. We must base our decisions and actions upon those standards. They are not simply options for us to choose from if we prefer. This means we must know His Word for ourselves. We cannot merely rely on someone else’s thoughts/claims of God’s truth.
We must remember that God takes His standards very seriously. Consider this very sobering text of Scripture in Leviticus:
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “It is what the Lord spoke, saying,
‘By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy,
And before all the people I will be honored.’”
So Aaron, therefore, kept silent. Leviticus 10:1-3 (NASB)
Aaron’s sons decided how they thought God should be approached and obeyed. They offered God something He had not commanded. The result? They were consumed by fire before God’s holy presence!
It isn’t simply that God should be treated as Holy. As we just read, God demanded holiness from those who were set apart as His leaders! And He demands it from us as well.
The main reason God demands our discernment is for His Holy Name! We cannot have “personal” or “uninformed” preferences as to God’s Name. God alone determines what is holy and unholy in regards to Him. If we go through the Christian life making decisions based simply on a “lack of discernment,” we could end up defaming His Holy name.
We read in Ezekiel about this very thing happening:
“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 (NASB)
The priests paid no attention to God’s law and refused to distinguish as God had commanded. They profaned God when they did not distinguish and therefore acted inappropriately! They refused to live discerningly and consequently treated God’s name with irreverence and disrespect – publicly.
When we don’t discern properly, we could end up defaming God’s holy name or bearing a false public witness – in the world or even in the church.
But God chose us in order to proclaim His excellencies! We are to declare His name, to set apart His name as Holy. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;” 1 Peter 2:9 (NASB)
In a real sense, discernment is a by-product of knowing and loving God. And when exercised properly, it displays itself in a greater love for God’s people.
In conclusion, the question is not will we discern, but upon what will we base our discernment. Biblical truth should be the only criteria. We should rest upon Scripture and Scripture alone! To do otherwise, would be setting ourselves up as judge over God. A true and faithful witness to Him should be our top priority!
* 4 Truth Ministry is committed to the truth of Scripture and the encouragement of the saints into that truth. Discernment is important because much of the visible church is committed to a consumer minded mentality of what it means to be part of that church. “For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.” 2 Corinthians 2:17 (NASB)
*For further reading on spiritual discernment, you can read:
What is Biblical Discernment and Why is it Important? by John MacArthur