Discernment in Spiritual Life
Discernment is the ability to evaluate and judge a situation and understand that which is not obvious. This discerning power helps one to take the right step at the right time and come to a proper conclusion after weighing the different aspects of a situation. In every area of life this skill is crucial and very useful. The progress of a student, the success of a business man, and the profit of a farmer are all depend upon the ability to discern.
In our spiritual life also this discernment is very much important. The Lord Jesus rebuked the Jews who failed to discern the times in relation to God’s dealings with them. Cf. Matt 16:3; Luke 12:56. Even today we see the same situation. We are experts in distinguishing between various things in secular life, but miserably fail when it comes to spiritual issues. Let us consider six things the word of God shows about discernment in Christian life.
1. The privilege of a born again believer only. 1Cor 2:14, 15; Psa 92:6
An unbeliever may have the ability to discern worldly things, but not the things of God. Paul categorically says that the natural man finds spiritual things as foolishness. But a child of God by virtue of the indwelling Holy Spirit has the capability to discern and take right decisions in spiritual life. Cf. John 16: 13.
Nevertheless, how far we personally experience this privilege is another issue. It’s contradictory for one to claim that he is a believer and yet show a lack of discernment. A true child of God has the resources by which he/she can differentiate between good and bad.
2. The need to progress in this ability. Phil 1:9
The ability of a little child and that of an adult to distinguish between right and wrong are different. The desire and priorities of a child will keep changing as the little one grows up. If such a development is not visible, any parent will be disturbed.
So also it is in Christian life. As we progress in our Christian life, we ought to improve in our ability to distinguish between what is right and wrong. Paul’s prayer was that the believers in Philippi will abound in knowledge and discernment even in relation to the noblest virtue – love. Phil 1:9. In other words, as the days go by, we must be more and more sensitive to the will of God.
3. Discernment in spiritual matters proves our maturity. Heb 5:14
If an adult still behaves like a child, that is not a sign of healthy growth. Paul classifies such immature, childish Christians as carnal. Cf. 1Cor 3: 1- 3. Maturity makes one more sensible to assess and appreciate life in the right perspective.
Believers who make no effort to grow in Christian life will naturally find it very difficult to grasp the principles and practices held by mature believers. Similarly, if one fails to live under the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit, this spiritual judgment is not possible. 1Cor 2:15a.
4. Specific areas where discernment is indispensable.
Generally speaking, we can say that we need this discernment in every area of life. However, the word of God specifically mentions certain areas which are noteworthy.
- Good and evil. Heb 5:14; 1Th 5:21.
• God’s people must distinguish between good and evil and hold fast and follow what is good alone.
- Holy and unholy. Leve 10:10.
- Clean and unclean. Lev 10:10.
• Aaron and sons were to be away from any intoxicating drink so that they will not lose their ability of discernment. With such right judgment, they were to serve in the temple as well as teach the people of God.
- Acceptable and unacceptable. Eph 5:10.
• That which is acceptable to man may not be acceptable to God. Our logic and even common sense may appreciate something, but that does not mean that God Almighty will be pleased about it. So it demands proper discernment to really determine and follow what is really pleasing to God.
- True and False. 1John 4:1.
• If false preachers and believers existed in the first century, how much more today. The Lord Jesus appreciated the church at Ephesus for their right judgment and the cleansing of the assembly. Reve 2:2.
- Excellent and poor. Phil 1:10.
• Paul’s exhortation to Christians at Philippi is to not just follow that which is good, but follow the excellent thing. We may feel that we are not that bad or even better than many, but in reality, we have to be excellent in our doctrine and practice. For this we need right discernment.
• Immature and carnal Christians may misunderstand and even slander a believer for his commitment to an excellent path of spiritual life. Cf. 1Cor 2:15. Because only a spirit-filled and mature person makes such a high level of spiritual discernment. Natural man may hate it, carnal man may laugh at it, but God will stand by such a commitment of a saint. Cf. Psa 25:14; Pro 28:5
5. God takes it seriously. Ezek 22:26
The priests of Israel failed to differentiate between the sacred and the ordinary. God accuses them of violating the law and polluting the holy things. God takes their failure seriously, because He had separated them to be His own. Cf. Leve 20: 24 – 26.
Even today the standard of God is the same, for we have been separated to be His own special people. 1Peter 2:9. We ought to reflect a standard worthy of His name. Eph 4:1.
6. Poor discernment could be part of judgment! Isaiah 6:10; 44:18
It’s not easy to comprehend, but the scripture reveals that as part of divine judgment, one may face such mental state, seeing but not understanding, hearing but unable to perceive. Instead of arguing over the various aspects of this truth, let us pray to God for more insight and ability to discern right. 1King 3:9
Absence of right discernment by Christians is very much apparent today. Many just follow public opinion or their own feelings. Without any hesitation, believers all over the world adopt the life-style of unbelievers. Compromise is seen as the best option, and most believers easily imitate whatever they see around.
In such a scenario, let the believers who claim to follow the New Testament realize the value of right spiritual discernment. Let us not just be satisfied thinking we are better than many, but be excellent in our life, doctrine, and practice.
Three Stages of Knowledge
The knowledge of God’s grace. Col 1:6
The knowledge of God’s will. Col 1:9
The knowledge of God Himself. Col 1:10
The story is told about the father of a vacationing family who came across a large sign that read, “Road Closed. Do Not Enter.” The man proceeded around the sign because he was confident it would save them time. His wife was resistant to the adventure, but there was no turning back for this persistent road warrior.
After a few miles of successful navigation, he began to boast about his gift of discernment. His proud smile was quickly replaced with humble sweat when the road led to a washed-out bridge. He turned the car around and retraced his tracks to the main road.
“The good is often the enemy of the best”
_____________________ William MacDonald
"The Holy Spirit will prompt us in the right direction as we learn to hear His voice and respond in obedience."
_________ Crystal McDowell
"Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between right and wrong; rather it is telling the difference between right and almost right."
_________ Charles Spurgeon
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