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.
The second half is helpful as well, abstain from every form of evil.
Meaning, evil comes in many disguises. It is subtle more often than it is obvious.
Evil is at work in and through many supposed claims of prophecy.
So before we grab hold of some sort of statement given by anyone, we first examine it very carefully.
his is very similar to another passage: "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world." (1 Jn. 4:1)
How do we know if a teacher is from God? Do we just assume they are? And do we assume that because in the past they said many good and helpful things that therefore all things taught now are still good?
The only way this can be done though is if we are strong in our theology. Do we know what is from God? Only one way to know that, does the Bible support it?
A third way is to emulate those who are your leaders.
This assumes you have godly, careful, biblically centered leaders to follow.
And it assumes that these leaders are following and learning from other godly leaders. What are the people who speak into the lives of your pastors?
Eph 4 talks about the giving to the church men who are building up the Body.
In verse 12 it says that they are to equip the believers and build them up into Christ-likeness.
How long do they labor in this? Until the church is built up into a unity of THE faith.
And then in verse 14 Paul says, “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;"
And that is discernment.
As pastors we spend a lot of time trying to stop people from allowing voices to speak into their lives that which is deadly and foolish.
We know there are winds of doctrine, and we know that people are led astray.
We know that it is crafty and tricky, and we know that people get tired and lazy and they decide to stop running and resisting the wiles of Satan.
So in Hebrews 13 we read, Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. (Heb. 13:17)
Or earlier in the same chapter, Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.
Look at their fruit.
Orthodoxy is not the same as orthopraxy.
A final way is something we already noted, renew your minds in the Word.
Romans 12 tells us to not be conformed into this age’s way of thinking.
This age is constantly pressing on each of us. Never is there a moment of reprieve.
And the “how” is by constantly being renewed in our thinking. How?
It is not expressed overtly in that passage.
Why? Because of the phrase in 12:1 “Therefore, by the mercies of God. . . .” This is pointing back to the first 11 chapters of doctrine and instruction.
Typical of Paul’s writing. First doctrine, then practice in light of doctrine.
Don’t jump to the last part without first the doctrine, and don’t get the first part and then fail to apply it. This is classic put off/put on of Paul (“Don't’ be conformed” (put off), but then “be transformed” (put on).
Yet this isn’t where he stops. He gives the purpose-- “so that you may prove/discern the will of God" --- which leads to a life that’s good, acceptable, and perfect.
This is where many can fall short. They get right theology, and yet they fail to then use that theology as a means of now controlling and shaping their discernment in the gray areas of life.
So getting right theology isn’t sufficient. Is that right theology now informing every aspect of your decision making for every single area of life? Is it the grid through which you force every part of your life through? Very active process.
The 1689gang puts out a consistent meme that essentially is asking us, have you read your bible today?
Cute. Funny. But very true.
A mind not consistently taking in the Word is a mind being conformed into this age’s thinking.
More can, and likely will be said on this topic, but we have enough for each of us to think on already.
Discernment is a rare jewel today. It is to be cultivated and practiced and honored.
We hope that in some small way this will help each listener to press forward on this discipline in the days and weeks to com