Christian Discernment

Life is a series of decisions.  

Decisions that affect you but you have no say in them.  Decisions you make that define a road in life you must travel. Decisions big and small.

In this life of decisions we need to learn discernment.

Definition: It is the act of distinguishing between that which is wise or foolish, good or evil, holy or unholy, right or wrong.  But also what is better and what is best. What is good and what is excellent.

A good passage to consider when approaching this topic is, “There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.” (Prov. 14:12)

The better defined your theology of man and sin, the more you see the need to develop a strong understanding of discernment.

If Ephesians 2:1-3 is true, then how much trust should you put in the systems of this age/world?

"And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest."

So, just picking out the realities that once belonged to a Christian can we honestly think that our government systems, financial systems, educational systems, employment systems, etc are somehow not controlled and defined by these realities?

Exactly what worldview is being poured into the minds of our children in schools for 6-8 hours a day?  What worldview is flowing through the songs and TV shows? What worldview is undergirding our approach to making and saving money?  What worldview is present in your workplace training seminars and sensitivity training?

And if you don’t think the force of some kind of world-view is always present, consider these words of Paul.

Rom. 12:1-2 “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Notice the passive nature of these verbs.

The passive idea of “conform” means there’s a constant force and pressure bearing itself upon our minds that shapes, informs, and molds our thoughts, values, and desires.

The very fact that it’s passive, means you literally have to do nothing in order for these realities to shape and control your thoughts and desires. You just have to exists. And yet as you exist, it’s working its conforming nature in your life without you even knowing.

It’s a very powerful force, and yet, because it’s a reality which belongs to the world (meaning Satan’s domain-- “do not be conformed to this world”) it is also very subtle (the key mark of how Satan always works).

So if we’re not aware of this constant “conforming pressure” of the world, or think that it’s not really that bad, it simply goes to show how much we’re not aware of the passive nature of it, nor that a true battle exists.

So these examples we just listed are not meant to be an attack on these things specifically. But when discussing this subject people invariably become defensive because likely there are things raised that they are uncomfortable hearing or thinking through .

At issue for us as pastors in the how and the why and the for what goal behind decisions.

Example, what is the proper goal for parents as they view their children?  To raise godly children who glorify God. The great catechism question is what is the chief end of man?  To glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. That is so true and should be the goal of all Christian parents.

So, if that is agreed, then the question regarding every single parenting decision and method becomes, “How is this moving us and our children toward that end?

And it makes things so much clearer then.  Not easier but clearer.

Think about Solomon for just a bit.

In 1 Kings 3 Solomon famously asks of God to have wisdom rather than riches or long life (common desires in our culture as well).  The result is that God actually grants all of that.

It is worth noting that Solomon’s request is specifically noted as being not self-centered. God actually says, “....because you have not asked for yourself. . . . “ those things.

This hearkens my mind to James 4 where people are rebuked by God because when they are praying they are praying with selfish motives.  He does not praise them. He rebukes them harshly by calling them adultresses who are friends of this age, making them His enemies.

Solomon’s request there showed a lot of discernment before he opened his mouth to pray.  He clearly gave this a lot of thought. Perhaps he fought through the various selfish motives and ideas.  He considered them and rejected them. He asked what was most needful, rather than most comfortable.

In 1 Kings 9 God, after watching Solomon serve Him for a while, warns him clearly that he is to continue serving God in wisdom.  And if he or his sons do not do so, then Israel as a nation (no pressure) will be dealt with severely by God.

Yet, trouble was on the horizon, later in that same chapter he is acquiring large numbers of horses and chariots for himself even though God had said in Deut 17:16 to not do that very thing.  Decisions. Discernment.

And then in 1 Kings 11 we read of his taking of hundreds of wives and concubines of foreign women in a rejection of Deut 17:17.  The reason God forbade it was that this would draw the heart of the king away from righteousness and God.

And that is exactly what happened.  By 1 Kings 11 he is now keeping his wives happy by actively having places of false, idolatrous worship built to keep the wives happy. So now worship of Chemosh and Milcom are taking place---we know those gods by another name, Molech.

“Now the LORD was angry with Solomon because his heart was turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not observe what the LORD had commanded.”

(1 Ki. 11:9-10)

Is it any wonder that the kingdom was torn in two by his foolish son Rehoboam?

An interesting part in all of this is v. 4 (Solomon’s divided heart) -- “For when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been.”

We often fool ourselves into thinking we’re being faithful because there are areas in our life that are devoted to God (e.g., going to church, giving, helping our children memorize bible verses, etc.), but how often do we consider a divided-heart.

We can easily look past the parts that aren’t “fully devoted” to God, because other areas of our life are. This is subtle, but vital to consider, if we claim that everything is to be done to the glory of God.

There are many areas of our lives we approach in a neutral manner, because we have a “boxed approach” to life (e.g., work, school, church, family), yet it all intermixes.

So just because we might be faithful in one area, this has little bearing on a life fully devoted to God in all respects. And if one area of our life is not fully devoted, it has this way of pulling the rest of our life away from God.

Examples: Dating a person we shouldn’t be dating, T.V. shows, books, certain hobbies, career choice, etc.

Most of these areas are neutral realities. Yet they have a way of pulling us from faithfulness because they’re approached without discernment, or first asking the ultimate purpose for why we pursue them.

So in all of this we want to discuss a bit on discernment, which is the hand-maiden to decision-making.  We gave you a few key reasons why, but how is the next question.

The entire bible is assuming discernment. 

Eve showed no discernment and was deceived. Adam showed no discernment and chose his wife over obedience. Joshua calls Israel to choose whom they shall serve. Paul tells us to not be conformed to this world which can only be done if you can discern what belongs to this world. 

Every book of the bible assumes you are making discerning decisions. Even the selection of animals for sacrifice in Leviticus (Lev. 10:10). You must first discern if your sacrifice met the standards.

The How of becoming a person of discernment ---

The first “how” is already found by thinking about Solomon.

We must resist the temptation of thinking we have “arrived” theologically.

We cannot assume that prior obedience means that future obedience is open for discussion.

A discerning mind is an obedient mind.  

A discerning mind is one that is always asking how they are modeling obedience to God’s revealed Word.

Show me a disobedient Christian and I will show you an undiscerning Christian.

They need to confess and repent and things will then become a lot more clear.

The next thing is to learn to examine.

"But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil." (1 Thess. 5:21-22 )

The prior verse says, “do not despise prophetic utterances” and this sets the context. There are people who are saying that God has said [fill in the blank].

He doesn’t say to them, reject it out of hand.  Rather, examine everything.

If it is good, embrace but if it is not overtly good, then reject.</