The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment
- Thursday, March 27, 2008
To lack discernment is to sin against God. It is an inevitable result of turning from him. It is easy to look at those who have turned from God and to look at their lustful and angry hearts and affirm that this is the result of their sin. When a Christian falls into moral sin he may well examine his life to determine how he has turned his back on God, but is the same true when he exhibits a lack of discernment? A wise pastor writes, "to willingly neglect the truth and to live with our eyes closed shut while good and evil stare us in the face is to sin against God, ourselves, our families, and our church. . . . Again, this is worth stating over and over again. It is the responsibility of every Christian to learn, to be discipled in the Word, so that we can know how to be discerning. To fail to discern is to walk in darkness."5
This is the bad news. Scripture portrays those who lack spiritual discernment in three ways: they are spiritually immature, they are backslidden, and they are dead. Those who lack discernment or do not care for it will fit into one of these three categories. These are the dangers of ignoring discernment.
But there is good news, too. The Bible declares that there are many benefits stored up for those who desire discernment, those who seek after it and practice it.
We have seen that a lack of discernment is a mark of spiritual death. The Bible makes it clear that a person with no discernment is a person who has not been saved. The opposite is equally true. A person who exhibits spiritual discernment shows that he has spiritual life. All those who are saved must begin to progress in their ability to discern. Proverbs 9:10 tells us, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight." The word translated as "insight" is a Hebrew equivalent to "discernment." Solomon tells us here that to know God is to possess discernment and that knowledge of God is the very starting point for discernment. Those who fear the Lord, those who know God, must be discerning, for God himself is the very source of discernment. God is also our motive for discernment, for by living lives marked by discernment we bring honor and glory to his name.
The book of Ephesians also draws a clear line between spiritual discernment and spiritual life. Paul, having told his readers how they as Christians have left the kingdom of darkness, admonishes them now to "walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord" (Eph. 5:8b-10). Those who know the Lord and have been brought into his kingdom of light will do their utmost to seek God's will in discerning what is pleasing to him. Where there is discernment, there is life.
Whereas a lack of discernment leads to backsliding, those who grow in discernment will necessarily grow spiritually. Jesus continually emphasized discernment during his ministry, sometimes scolding those who did not have it and sometimes commending those who did. Jesus scolded the disciples for not understanding, or discerning, the point of his miraculous feeding of the four thousand (see Mark 8:17-21). Although Jesus had just finished feeding a multitude, the disciples were concerned that they had no bread for themselves: And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, "Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?" They said to him, "Twelve." "And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?" And they said to him, "Seven." And he said to them, "Do you not yet understand?"
Jesus scolded the disciples for not understanding, or discerning, what this miracle pointed to. Though they watched it unfold and ate of the bread, they still did not understand just who Jesus was and what he was going to accomplish. Their lack of growth kept them from understanding. Their lack of discernment was a clear sign of spiritual immaturity.
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