During a quick five-minute break between afternoon tasks, I decided to read a short excerpt from a devotional book, one I had enjoyed reading for daily reflection a few years prior. As I read the day’s content, I began to feel less and less comfortable with the spiritual language used. Something about it rubbed me the wrong way. This nagging sense of unease had not been present in years before—so why now? As I thought more pointedly about the content, I realized that the book’s thoughts and encouragements had little basis in Scripture and in the gospel message. They revolved more around one person’s perception of the truth and in personal revelation and feelings.
In today’s world, half-truths and false messages are not limited to the books we read. They run rampant on the Internet, on Christian radio and, unfortunately, in the pulpit of our churches. Beyond blatantly non-Christian, non-Biblical worldviews are cunning messages proclaiming a false version of Christianity, the gospel and the Bible.
Edward T. Welch puts it this way: “We live in a time when there is a resurgence of God-talk and spiritual language, but conversations rarely get to the thing of “first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures…”’1 This is where it gets tricky for believers, and where the rubber hits the road. How do we as Christians discern whether or not the whole truth is being taught in the messages presented to us? How do we protect ourselves against being deceived by false versions of the truth?
One thing is clear: We need to take seriously the call to become women of Biblical, gospel-centered discernment. We need to be trained to test the truth of each message we hear—or the result will be our spiritual deception and the distortion of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This article will attempt to answer two important questions: Why is our growth in spiritual discernment important? And how can we cultivate discernment in our Christian walk?
Why is Our Growth in Spiritual Discernment Important?
My heart breaks when I consider the thousands of Christians who have been, and will be, led astray by false teaching and false gospels. The reality is, however, that warnings about these very problems were given long ago, as seen in these New Testament passages:
“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people…these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified in the faith” (2 Timothy 3:1,4,8-9).
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
“Certain persons, by swerving from [a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith], have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions” (1 Timothy 1:5-7).
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world…therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them” (1 John 4:1).
Scripture makes it absolutely clear that the times are indeed coming, and have already come, when false teachers will appear on the scene and lead many well-intentioned people astray. Without a consistent, Spirit-led growth in Biblical and gospel-centered discernment, any Christian is susceptible to confusion, deceit, and blindness.
Our growth in Biblical, gospel-centered discernment is important because the name of Jesus Christ is at stake. Without cultivating this discernment, our hearts will be led astray to believe unsound, corrupt teaching that glorifies man and promotes worldly pleasure and gain. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh…We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” There is a greater war at hand, a spiritual battle for souls, and the enemy is on the front lines, ready to deceive all who are unprepared in the truth.
But isn’t this judging? You might be asking this question, and it is a valid one at that. It is true that only God is able to judge the heart because of his perfect righteousness (Psalm 9:8), and we are not to partake in such judgment (James 4:12). However, there is a major difference between judgment of souls and judgment of truth. Christians should take seriously the ability to discern between truth and error—the gospel is at stake! False representations of truth are not to be taken lightly. Consider Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia:
"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed."
Paul encourages the church to discern when a different gospel is preached, while surrendering the ultimate judgment of false teachers to the Lord, who alone can judge the soul.
How Can we Cultivate Biblical, Gospel-Centered Discernment?
Stay submitted to Christ. Loving obedience and humble surrender before the Lord are actions that put our lives in right perspective before him. Neglecting time at his feet will only result in following a wayward, self-focused heart that often forgets the lordship of Christ. Our lives are not our own; we were bought with the blood of Christ. A person is far less likely to fall prey to deceit and false messages if they are choosing on a daily basis to submit to Christ, our Ruler and Firm Foundation. His loving grace is enough to guide us into all truth.
Stay in Scripture. Proverbs 3:6 says, “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” The very Word of God tell us the inerrant truth and acts as our guide. “Your Word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). Scripture makes us wiser than our enemies and guards our paths so we stay pure and do not wander. The Word of God discerns the “thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12) and is the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17) for the eternal battle we fight. Jesus prayed for believers, that the Father would guard them from the evil one and sanctify them in the truth (John 17:17). Our part is to choose growth in the Word every single day. As with counterfeit money, Christians wisely discern counterfeit messages because we thoroughly know the original.
Stay in prayer. We are encouraged in Proverbs 3 to “call out for insight and raise [our] voice for understanding.” Prayer is part of our submission to Christ, as we realize our need for communing with the Father of all truth. My pastor once explained the importance of gaining wisdom through prayer like grocery shopping: If we shop on an empty stomach, we are more likely to make poor decisions that suit our immediate needs. But the person who fills up on a hearty meal before shopping makes wiser decisions and can discern options more clearly. When we stay in prayer and seek wisdom and discernment, we are then more likely to look at false messages with a clearer understanding of Biblical, gospel-centered truth.
Stay in the Church. The Church is Christ’s bride and his instrument for spreading his glory to the world. The Church is comprised with individual believers who, if all are submitted to Christ, in the Word and in prayer, can teach and admonish one another in all truth (Colossians 3:16). At times, if any certain teaching is rubbing me wrong, I will talk about it with another believer. The Church has a responsibility to point out false teaching within its own walls, to seek wisdom about godly leaders and to declare God’s greatness by its hunger for the truth. If you attend a church that has fallen prey to false teachers or gospels, please seek out church leadership, and begin a conversation. Another wise point of action could also be to explore an alternative body of believers where Christ is glorified as the supreme authority.
Be On Guard
“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” (2 Corinthians 13:5) Christian woman, may you always be on guard against the deceiver, and all the ways and means he intends to use to derail your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ lead you into all truth, deepening your wisdom and founding you in his love, until you see him face to face.
1. Edward T. Welch, When People Are Big and God Is Small (New Jersey: Presbyterian Reformed Publishing Company, 1997), 77.
Kristen Leigh Evensen is a writer, blogger and singer/songwriter. She writes on faith and identity at The Identity Project and keeps a column at WHOLE Magazine. Her desire is to see women transformed by the Gospel! Follow her on Twitter @kristenlevensen and on Facebook.
Publication date January 7, 2014