Discernment – An Essential Characteristic For the Church Today

Discernment – An Essential Characteristic For the Church Today

And no wonder for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, that his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. ~ 2 Corinthians 11:14, 15a NIV

In today’s world of instant information, many voices, overload of data, and conflicting opinions it is easy to be deceived by what appears good or truthful. Discernment is a powerful, yet seldom taught aspect, of the Spirit-filled life in Christ that can help the believer cut through deception and discover truth. 

There are four Greek words in the New Testament that are translated as, or relate directly to, the concept of discernment. Each of those words puts forth the concept of discerning as a way to ‘distinguish between things, perceive that which is not visible, make a determination, decision or judgement about something that requires scrutiny.’ In the various scriptural contexts of discernment, there is an implied deeper understanding leading to a judgement or decision about something that is not clear on the surface. 

The Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote to the leaders in Corinth about disputes among believers and he said in 1 Corinthians 6:5, ‘Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?’ In this context the word ‘judge’ means to ‘separate thoroughly, to discriminate and to decide’. This is a key aspect of discernment. Anytime there is dispute over opinions, data, or conclusions, whether in the church or in the world, we must separate thoroughly, i.e. judge that which is presented and discern what may lie hidden. Then we can more accurately decide what is true and what is righteous.

King Solomon was known for his wisdom, not only in knowledge, but in the ability to discern or judge underlying motives. In 1 Kings 3:16-28 he ‘judged’ a dispute between two women over who was the mother of a baby. He needed to distinguish between two views presented. He discerned that the real mother, who had carried the baby in the womb for 9 months, would be bonded to and motivated for that baby to live at all costs. He proposed to cut the baby in half giving each woman half, therefore both would have half but the baby would be dead. In this example the deceptive heart of one was exposed and the truthful heart of the other was revealed. The baby lived and was given to the birth mother thereby rendering justice and truth to reign.  

In 1 Corinthians 12 we find the teaching on the gifts of the Spirit given to people in the church. The Holy Spirit reveals one key gift that is particularly applicable in this day and hour; 1 Corinthian 12:10 KJV ‘to another discerning of spirits.’ In this scripture ‘discerning’ is also translated as ‘distinguishing between’. Theologians may have slightly different opinions about how this gift works and for what purpose, but most see it is a supernatural ability to discriminate or distinguish between holy and unholy spirits, and associated motives. Certainly in our post-Christian culture we can agree that demonic spirits are active and are influencing many voices and decisions today. 

We must understand there is an unseen realm that is spiritual. There is a Holy Spirit and there are unholy spirits (demons) and we need to distinguish, discern, and judge what spirit is operating. Scripture says that Satan (and by implication his demonic forces) can present himself as something good, as an angel of light. And no wonder for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, that his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:14, 15a NIV). Light is most often associated with Christ, righteousness, and safe places. The context for this scripture is false apostles, teachers, and those who bring a ‘different spirit’ (vs. 4) to the church. The church must be discerning, not only within the walls, but also outside the walls of our buildings. There are many voices today offering the good, the safe, and the right way to live in this season of the virus. The gift of the discerning of spirits is greatly needed in this context. 

What is right? What is true safety? What opinions can be trusted? Where do we go for Truth? The church needs supernatural insight to distinguish and discern disputed information, underlying motives, and global contexts of this season. There are majority voices declaring that adhering to all governmental restriction on society and the church is righteous.  They say that those who disagree are selfish. There are majority voices declaring safety is only found in masks and social distancing. Does a majority voice heard through governmental restrictions become the default setting for being ‘right’?  Do voices instilling fear and panic reflect the ‘light’ or the ‘angel of light’? 

 We must be spiritually attuned to make judgements in the context of ever changing medical advice and governmental decisions. Such decisions emanate from ‘experts’ and voices of fear. If we are to accurately determine the role of the church in the coming months and years, we must become a discerning church.

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