One cannot go through life without discerning. We do it on a daily basis. Oftentimes, we do it without consciously thinking about it. 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 food preferences into “tastes good” versus “tastes bad,” like versus dislike. If we have high goals for our own well-being, we also discern nutritional values – “healthy” versus “unhealthy” – based on scientific fact. Similarly, we have learned to discern whether we are morning people or night people based upon when we are the most productive and least productive. In these examples, the choices are rather personal. They are based in preferences, such as tastes, or upon scientific data like “healthy” or “fruitful evaluation.” But they are all based upon something.
In this article, we are going to explain what God thinks about our individual discernment in our lives as Christians.
When it comes to the Christian life (Biblical teaching, knowledge of God, obedience to Him, and Christian character/witness), we also need to be discerning and sifting. Why? God has given standards in His Word as to how He is to be honored, approached, and obeyed! In order to rightly honor His Holy name, we must base our decisions and actions upon those standards. They are not simply options for us to choose if we prefer.
God takes His standards very seriously, and in fact, for us not to follow them would be defaming His holy name. We cannot have “personal” or “uninformed” preferences as to God’s Name. If we go through the Christian life making decisions based simply on a “lack of discernment,” we are ultimately setting ourselves up as judge over God. We could end up bearing a false public witness either into the world or even the church, and we are actually committing idolatry in our own spirit because we have decided “how God is” rather than resting upon the revelation He has given us about Himself in Scripture.
Unfortunately, many probably think that we can choose to discern or not to discern. The fact is we are discerning and acting upon things all the time based on different criteria! We may have limited conscious awareness of it or call it by another name. But we all do it. The question is whether we are good at it or not based upon Biblical criteria of true versus non-true. If our criteria is love for the truth, we should not pick the lie. If we truly love God – we will take this seriously and, thus, we will be required to act appropriately.
“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 determines what is actually holy and what is unholy in regards to Him. The priests paid no attention to God’s law and refused to distinguish as God had commanded.
Please make careful note: the priests profaned God when they did not distinguish and thus acted inappropriately! They refused to live discerningly and thus treated God’s name with irreverence and disrespect – publicly.
God’s people are to declare His name, to set His name apart as Holy in the things we proclaim about Him and our obedience to Him. The prophet Ezekiel points out that was not happening among His own people. This leads us next to consider this very sobering text of Scripture:
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
Aaron’s sons decided upon their own how God should be approached and obeyed in their offering to Him something that He had not commanded. They were consumed by fire before His holy presence! In another context, in verse 10 of that same chapter, Aaron (and Moses) are reminded yet again to make a distinction between the holy and the profane, between the clean and the unclean.
Please note: In the revelation that has been given to us in this Old Testament text, it isn’t that God “should” be treated as Holy. It is that He demanded it in an immediate context with those who were set apart as His leaders!
According to 1 Corinthians 10:11 and Romans 15:4, these incidences above have been written for our instruction. God commands that we treat Him as Holy in our public service and proclamation of His Holy Name, and He gave us these very sobering reference points at a moment in time!
Lest we think God has changed His mind about a public witness to Himself, we would remind ourselves of another sobering incidence in the New Testament. The story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11 bears witness to how seriously God takes a public display of supposed fidelity to Him that was secretly not true. It cost Ananias and Sapphira their lives. And the result was:
“And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.” Acts 5:11
So, let us end with the following thought. We are to treat God publicly – AS HE IS! We are to reflect Him – AS HE IS – because of who we are and because of what He has done:
“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