The spirit of our age is one of tolerance. But the church is the keeper of timeless truth. Too often, Christians in our culture throw discernment to the wind and accept everything that's labeled "Christian" without testing to make sure it truly aligns with the truth of God's Word. The consequences can be disastrous. 

 

It's only by developing discernment that you can be sure to walk in God's wisdom. Here's how you can discern truth in an age of error:

 

Desire wisdom. Humbly acknowledge your own potential for self-deception. Distrust your personal feelings and cast scorn on self-sufficiency. Look to the Bible as the final arbiter of all things.

 

Pray for discernment. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into all truth.

 

Obey the truth. Once you know the truth, act accordingly. Understand that if God sees you obeying what He has already revealed to you, He will choose to reveal more to you.


Follow discerning leaders. Find and emulate leaders who display an ability to discern, analyze and refute error, and teach Scriptures clearly and accurately. Learn from their example how to think critically and clearly.

 

Depend on the Holy Spirit. Understand that the Holy Spirit is the ultimate counselor. Be filled with the Holy Spirit and stay attuned to the Spirit through frequent prayer. Rely on the Spirit's strength rather than just your own.

 

Study the Scriptures. Read the Bible regularly. Memorize it. Ponder it. Pray about it. Discuss it. Get to know God's real message well, so you'll recognize counterfeit teachings when you encounter them. Examine everything carefully using the Bible (rather than personal experience, a human teacher, or a feeling) as your standard of what's true and good.

 

Shun what's false. When you come upon corrupt, erroneous doctrine (which often contains a portion of truth mixed with contaminating falsehood), know that the only proper response is to shun it completely. Don't compromise by diluting biblical truth with secular ideas. Test the doctrine you hear against the truth of the gospel.

 

Beware of watered-down preaching. Look for a church where preachers derive their messages directly from the Bible. Don't settle for shallow, warm and fuzzy messages that simply present secular ideas dressed up as Christian principles. Make sure you're learning more and more about the Bible each week during your worship service.

 

Scrutinize Christian books and articles against holy Scripture. Don't embrace everything that's written in a book or article just because it's labeled "Christian." Check to make your supplemental books and articles treat the Bible accurately and respectfully, and that they don't add or delete any biblical truth. Make sure they draw upon the Bible as their main source of information, and that they don't overemphasize extrabiblical sources. Examine their biblical interpretation to see if it's in context and balanced with the full canon of Scripture. Test to see if the authors approach God's Word on His terms rather than with their own agendas (looking for verses to try to support their own ideas).

 

Beware of trendy Bibles. Keep in mind that the Bible and its message are fundamentally countercultural. When it comes to Bibles packaged in culturally relevant ways, make sure you're not trading the eternal for the temporal, the lasting for the trendy, the essential for the trivial, the transcendent for the transient, and the profound for the mundane.

 

Use solid music to worship. Know that the Bible tells Christians to teach and admonish one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Don't settle for trite, superficial songs that don't contain an emphasis on some aspect of biblical truth. Make sure your church's music is focused on God, promotes a high view of God, is orderly, is biblically sound, promotes unity in your church, is performed with excellence, prepares the congregation for God's Word to be preached, witnesses to Jesus' greatness, promotes passionate worship, and is based on biblical principles.

 

Rethink altar calls. Don't confuse a person's coming to faith with simply coming down an aisle at church. Understand that salvation is God's work; we shouldn't feel that we have to manipulate Him to act. Know that the test of discipleship is not a one-time decision; Jesus calls people to a life that continually confesses Him before people. Don't lead people to base their eternal salvation on a one-time confession - an act on their part. Instead, encourage them to trust in the promises of God, the sacrifice of Jesus, and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Encourage people to make public professions of faith through believer's baptism and by living their lives for God's glory every day.

 

Rethink political activism. Don't expect to influence society primarily by legislative means. Know that there is something more powerful than mobilizing political clout as a voting bloc, organizing mass boycotts and protests, or electing Christians to public office. Understand that the best way to positively influence society is through the witness of transformed lives. Strive to live a holy life that shows people how Jesus has changed your life for the better. Know that personal holiness (not political dominion) is what causes people to glorify God.

 

Combat consumerism. Focus on God rather than yourself when choosing a church. Rather than viewing yourself as a customer in search of a religious product (a church) that can meet your felt needs and desires, see yourself as God sees you - a servant who should honor Him and seek to grow closer to Him. Instead of shopping for a church that fits your criteria, ask God if a potential church meets His expectations.

 

Choose three key "hills to die on." Be careful to evaluate every message and ministry you encounter through the doctrinal grid of these three elements: a high view of the Bible as the inspired Word of God, a high view of God Himself that is firmly founded in the truths of Scripture, and a high view of the gospel that maintains a biblical view of sin, self, and salvation.

 

Keep growing. Remember that the path to discernment is also the path to spiritual maturity. Persevere through trials and stay disciplined. Know that the reward of wisdom is worthwhile!


Adapted from Fool's Gold? Discerning Truth in an Age of Error, edited by John MacArthur, copyright 2005 by The Shepherds' Fellowship.   Published by Crossway Books, a ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Ill., www.crossway.com. 

 

John MacArthur is the pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, and president of The Master's College and Seminary. He is the author and editor of many books, including Crossway's Think Biblically! and Ashamed of the Gospel. He can be heard on the "Grace to You" radio program, which broadcasts daily across the United States to nearly 300 stations.