“For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word
of righteousness; For he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth
to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their
senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” – Hebrews 5:13, 14
One of the quickest ways nowadays to put certain Christians on the defensive is to mention the need for discernment. Faster than an archerfish can shoot, sink and swallow his prey, up goes a wall of resistance as the old cliché of “Don’t judge” permeates the atmosphere. Sometimes a person gets so weary with trying to stand for biblical truth that you just want to “pick up your marbles and go home.” Perhaps the Apostle Paul felt akin to that when he said, “But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant” 1 Corinthians 14:38.
Thank God there still remains a remnant of thinking believers who love and fear God, know His Word, walk in His ways and who love the truth, regardless of what it costs them. They refuse to become caught up with what I call “PCCP” (Political Correctness of Church Politics) because they have, with their whole hearts, “bought the truth,” and refuse to sell it for any price. (“Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding” Proverbs 23:23.) These saints know that godly discernment is not something that is based on judgmentalism, pride, prejudice, rebellion, or elitism; rather, they know full well that without spiritual discernment Satan will succeed in deceiving not only individuals, but whole church bodies.
Love for the truth is absolutely essential for any believer. (For years I have circled the word truth when reading through my Bible as a somber reminder to myself that truth is essential to salvation and Christian growth, and that I better get it right.) Remember what Jesus called Himself in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” The word “truth” is flanked by “the way” and “the life” because without truth people can make up their own “way” and pursue another “life” to their own destruction.
Truth is the foundation for all godly discernment, because discernment is “wisdom, and instruction, and understanding.” The Hebrew word for discern is “yada” which means to know, observation, care, recognition, instruction, be aware, comprehend, consider, perceive, regard, discover, be sure. (See Strong’s Concordance for a comprehensive definition). As you will notice, the word “judge” is not in the definition of the Hebrew word for discern. However, concerning judging, we read in John 7:24, Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” In the Greek the definition of “judge” in this verse is “Krino” which means to distinguish, decide (mentally or judicially), to try, condemn, punish, to avenge, conclude, condemn, damn, decree, determine, esteem, call in question, sentence to, think. Since it is our LORD Himself who commanded us to “judge righteous judgment” then we need to obey Him, dig deeper than our popular platitudes, and realize that “judging” is not the problem. Rather, not knowing the difference between “righteous judgment” and “unrighteous judgment” is the issue.
The Old Testament priests were charged with the responsibility of teaching the people how to discern between the holy and the profane. Ezekiel 22:26 says, “Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shewed difference between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from my Sabbaths, and I am profaned among them.” Again in Ezekiel 44:23 God says, “And they shall teach my people the difference between the holy and profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean.” [Emphasis added.] God’s people today also need to be taught how to discern between the holy and the profane; that is, between what is of God and what is not of God. The Holy Spirit is just that—HOLY! To claim that any unholy, ungodly, disorderly, bizarre confusing, perverted or unclean behavior, teaching, belief, book, movie, or practice is of the Holy Spirit is blasphemy.
What A. W. Tozer said about this may prove helpful. "Among the gifts of the Spirit scarcely one is of greater practical usefulness than the gift of discernment. This gift should be highly valued and frankly sought as being almost indispensable in these critical times. This gift will enable us to distinguish the chaff from the wheat and to divide the manifestations of the flesh from the operations of the Spirit." We read in 1 Corinthians 2:14, 15, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.” The Greek word for judge in this verse is a compound word, anakrinei (anakrino, an-ak-ree'-no) which means to scrutinize carefully in order to make a judgment. We are back to the same root word, krino, from John 7:24. A Christian is to exercise judgment (discernment) in all things.
The difference between righteous judgment (discerning) and unrighteous judgment (condemning) is basically this: Righteous judgment is in line with God’s will, His Spirit, and the truth of His Word, whereas unrighteous judgment stems from the wrong intentions (spirit), with the wrong motives, for the wrong purpose. Righteous judgment, perception or discernment, is judging, classifying, understanding, knowing, proving and applying wisdom to a person or persons, situation or matter to determine what spirit is in operation. Jesus told His disciples, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” Matthew 10:16.
It never ceases to amaze us how rare it is to find the gift of discernment, or even the desire to discern among Christians even though 1 John 4:1 is very clear that it is vital that we “believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” “Try” means to test, discern, or examine. How to test, try, examine, or discern the spirit behind a person or persons, religions, movements, teachings, books, movies, songs, agendas, causes, churches, prophecies, etc. is a big subject, but one that we all need to give heed to.
First, keep in mind that the Bible tells us, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith: prove your own selves” 2 Corinthians 13:5a. Therefore, before we examine the sliver in another person’s eye, we are to make sure that: Christ is in us; we are truly born again and are led by His Spirit; our own causes, agendas and dogmas are out of the way, (thus guaranteeing pure motives); our hearts are right before God (clear conscience); pride is put down (walking in humility); our service or ministry to others is for their benefit and God’s glory, not our own; and that we are fully submitted, and obedient to the will of the Lord as revealed in Scripture and by the Holy Spirit. In addition, we need to be honest with ourselves as to just how much we love the world. Scripture tells us plainly, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” 1 John 2:15, 16. Furthermore, listen to what others, including you, talk about. If a person continually emphasizes “me, myself, and I” all the livelong day, in every meeting, or every time he or she has a captive audience, it is easy to perceive that his or her affections and priorities are grossly misdirected. Colossians 3:1-3 admonishes, “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”
It is important to note that those who find it easy to judge the “sliver in a person’s eye” and feel quite confident about it often do so through the lens of their own dogmatic set of “religious rules and philosophy.” The more dogmatic a person is to his or her narrow belief system, the more enslaved he or she becomes in trying to defend it, or persuade others to line up to it. Dogma sets you up to fall because it is a matter of your own understanding and thinking, which has usually been pounded into you by others and not from direct revelation of the Word of God by the Holy Spirit. Sound doctrine, on the other hand, is about Spirit and truth, not about your personal opinion which is a matter of pride. Jesus said to be careful about how we hear things. (Note: Not everything is “doctrine.” Doctrine is directed towards our responsibility as Christians, and how we are to respond to the Word and live an obedient Christian life. Doctrine is instruction in what we are to do as God’s people.) People who operate from the confining premise of dead-letter dogma, while defining it as “doctrine,” are greatly hindered in their ability to properly discern the spirit behind something (the spirit of truth and the spirit of error) due to the “board of dogma” in their own eye.
Thus, dogma sets a person up to be rigid and inflexible, even to the point that when Scriptures are introduced that refute, enlarge, correct, challenge, or add another dimension to his or her narrow and confining belief he or she will instantly put up a wall. This is where dogma can become dangerous, and lead to error, for when it is challenged with Scriptures that don’t support it, the person confined to his or her dogma will quickly revert to bending, twisting, or redefining what the Bible plainly states to somehow “fit” into his or her belief. When this is allowed to continue within a body of believers, those who possess discernment will eventually depart.
Because dogmatic religious conclusions lack Spirit and Truth, they also lack power and authority. “Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” 2 Corinthians 3:17. There is no liberty in the Spirit when a person is confined to his or her dogma, and, tragically, there will be no spiritual growth, or lasting fruit. Dogma prevents a believer from “going on to perfection” (spiritual maturity), hinders his or her ability to properly teach the Word or minister in the Spirit to others and it produces a “dead-letter” environment that grieves and hinders the Holy Spirit, obstructs inquiring minds who would know Jesus and the depths of His Word in greater ways, and deprives the Church of a living, vibrancy that draws both saint and sinner to God. Dogma is spiritual death. Hebrews 5:12-14 plainly states, “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”
Jesus came to give us life and that more abundantly. Therefore, we need to go beyond the narrow confines of dogma by allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal the living Christ to us daily. Think of it this way: Dogma is like puttering around in a little familiar mud puddle day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year, when just feet away flows a clear, fresh spring of water that once entered into, and followed will lead on to broader waterways and streams, all flowing to the same great destination, until you finally enter into a vast, deep, wide, flowing river of life that will feed your spirit for eternity.
Certain Pharisees and scribes (but not all of the Pharisees or scribes) of Jesus’ day present a vivid picture of how dogma works. Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law, the Prophet that Moses spoke of, the fulfillment of hundreds of prophecies, He was their Creator and Messiah standing in their midst as the Son of God, the Resurrection and the Life, the Healer, the Bread of Life, the Light of the World, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the Giver of Living Water, and the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Yet their rigid, narrow-minded religious dogmas blinded them to the Living Word among them just as our confining, dead-letter dogmas (that we defiantly defend and cling to as “doctrine”) blinds us to Spirit and Truth, leaving us mildewing in mundane Christianity. And then we wonder why people around us aren’t drawn to Jesus!
Jesus didn’t try to be “apologetic” or “politically correct” and pussyfoot around with those religious leaders who were hypocritical. Instead, he went straight to the root of their hypocrisy as recorded in Matthew chapter 23. In verse 24 He not only exposed their duplicity, but aptly summarized how dogmatism works in the Church when He exclaimed, “Ye blind guides, which strain at [out] a gnat, and swallow a camel.” [Addition added.] While this Scripture has different applications, it can also be a powerful key to discerning hypocrisy in those who lust after positions of authority or who crave positions of importance in the Church. What we need to discern is when such people can and do “strain at a gnat” when they continually emphasize their own pet peeves, ideas, conclusions, and exalt popular (heretical) teachers and teachings, unscriptural books, church practices, and the like that have nothing whatsoever to do with the Lord Jesus or a person’s salvation. The “camel” they have blindly swallowed in their self-delusion is their own pride, and self-importance while displaying ignorance of the whole counsel of God. As a point of interest: “From Calmet's Dictionary of the Holy Land / Gnat; 1823.) You Jews take great pains to avoid offence in very small matters, superstitiously observing the smallest points of the law, like a man carefully straining out the animalcule from what he drinks, while you are at no pains to avoid great sins – hypocrisy, deceit, oppression, and lust – like a man who should swallow a (unclean) camel.” For an interesting explanation of Matthew 23:24, see: http://www.ancientbiblehistory.com/facts/gnats_camels.html
The blindness of dogmatism leads to another stumbling block found among Christians that most people not only fail to discern, but refuse to touch with a 50’ pole, and that is church, or denominational traditions. Jesus said, “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” Matthew 15:6b-9. No wonder there are so many different denominations and offshoots of Christianity! The truth is, there is only one true Church, and that is many-membered Church which is the Body of Christ. What a glorious, wonderful privilege it is to be in Christ, and He in us as a part of His Body. How comforting to know that Jesus, not man, not an organization, not traditions nor dry dogma is our Head. How liberating to be led by the Spirit, follow the Spirit, and live in the Spirit who leads us into all truth!
How about you? Are you still struggling to follow man’s traditions, talk man’s talk, live by man’s dogma, think what you are told to think, or have you discerned the difference between truth and error, what is of man and what is of God? My prayer is that you will seek the Lord for discernment, wisdom, truth and find liberty in the Spirit!