“Come, Lord Jesus!” That’s not only the final cry of John in Revelation 22:20, but it’s the cry of so many Christians as they encounter the brokenness of the world on a daily basis. If we could be with Jesus more quickly, everything would be better. Until that happens, this life is one that must be lived by faith.
Unfortunately, living by faith is much easier to talk about than actually do. It is difficult to make decisions in life that aren’t specifically spelled out in scripture. It is hard to know how to maturely process all the information, truth, and lies that come at us daily. And the most exhausting part of this faith-needed life is that sin seems to always creep in, and its consequences tend to blatantly overwhelm. The weight of brokenness feels like it could crush our faith without the return of Jesus.
That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in as Comforter, Helper, and Advocate now that Jesus isn’t physically with us on earth any longer. The Holy Spirit helps us live by faith, and one of the most critical ways the Holy Spirit fulfills this role is by helping us with discernment.
In his book, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, Tim Challies defines discernment as, “the skill of understanding and applying God’s Word with the purpose of separating truth from error and right from wrong.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our lives here on earth didn’t require us to figure out truth from error and right from wrong? Wouldn’t it be nice to coast through life always easily knowing exactly what to do in every situation? Nice? Yes. Reality on this side of heaven? No. That’s why discernment is necessary.
We need discernment because we live in an imperfect world where Satan is at work tempting us with sin that seems to always be cloaked in slick words, crafty advertisements, and pretty packaging. Every day we encounter impurity, phonies, and lies, but a lack of discernment only sees beautiful language, images, and people rather than what’s false or wrong. We might succumb to the shiny new toy from the commercial only to later realize we can no longer be generous due to the money we spent on it. We might compromise God-honoring values because a trendy communicator said good things but twisted them to fit a man-centered worldview. We might find ourselves sinning in our anger toward someone else because of an article we read on social media that we later discover to be completely false. Without discernment, our limitless accessibility to all sorts of information in this broken world can lead to confusion at best, and sinfulness at worst.
There’s no doubt that our broken world, beauty-cloaked temptations to sin and easy access to information create a need for discernment, but it doesn’t stop there. Discernment is also necessary because we often find ourselves living in gray areas. Our lives are rarely lived in black and white. If all decisions were straightforward and easy, we wouldn’t need discernment. We clearly know we were created for work and that God is honored by hard work, but where should our place of employment be? Should we take the job near family, or should we move across the country? We also clearly know that marriage is a good thing, but we need discernment to figure out who we should marry or if we should stay single. We know that we are to be good stewards of God’s time and money that he’s allowed us to have. However, it’s not always as clear who we should give our money to, if we should go out to eat again, or if we should spend the night streaming a TV show or movie. Spiritual discernment gives us the ability to take our knowledge of the scriptures and wisely make decisions in the gray areas of our lives.
So how do we gain discernment that is critical for a Christian to maturely thrive in a broken world where lies are beautifully veiled and solutions to significant life decisions are not easy?
1. Submit to God’s Word
We must be people who put ourselves under the authority of scripture. We must be people shaped by and always going to the Word. Applying God’s Word for the purpose of separating truth from error and right from wrong is impossible if we have no knowledge of God’s Word. It’s more than just knowledge, though. We must humbly submit to the Lord and trust that his words and ways are better. Practically speaking, we need to faithfully and consistently be more consumed with God’s Word than other sources (i.e. news and social media).
2. Test All Teaching
In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul writes, “test everything; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). He is telling the Thessalonians to test the words of God spoken by others. This is critical because not all people claiming to speak of God actually are. A discerning follower of Christ puts all teaching he or she hears up against God’s Word. We must be aware that false teaching and false teachers exist; therefore, we must look at the root of those teachings and test them against the scriptures.
3. Live in Community
One of the easiest places Satan tempts us to be deceived is in isolation. With God’s help, you can be a discerning person. With Christ-centered community, we get the benefit of having other discerning people walk through life with us. When we can’t see spiritual blind spots, the church can help us. All throughout the New Testament, we find multiple “one another” commands. We are to love one another, serve one another, bear with one another, etc. In Colossians 3, Paul says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (Colossians 3:16). Admonishing one another simply means to put something in the mind of someone else. If we lack discernment, God can use other believers to put truth into our minds in order to prevent us from going down a path God desires for us to avoid. Humbly inviting biblical community into our lives allows us to grow in discernment.
4. Beg God
Finally, beg God for discernment. Cry out to the Lord and ask him to graciously give you the ability to discern right from wrong and truth from error. The scriptures tell us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). The Lord wants to generously give us wisdom. All he instructs us to do is ask for it. That’s amazing! The start to growing into a discerning believer is a simple ask.
Christians, we need discernment. We need to read and watch with discernment. We need to make decisions with discernment. We need to give, save, and spend with discernment. We need to pursue the things of Christ and avoid the sinful things of this world with discernment. May we “no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14).
Ultimately, there is a greater purpose in discernment than our maturity. Paul says, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11). The goal of abounding in discernment is the glory and praise of God. May we never settle for less in this broken world as we wait for Jesus’s return.