TYPES OF DISCERNMENT
By Rayola Kelley
Last month I started a series on discernment. I made a statement that the greatest virtue and gift missing in the church is discernment. In an article by Marvin Rosenthal in the magazine, Zion’s Fire, he made a similar observation, “History will record that the gift of discernment is perhaps the most neglected gift of the twenty-first-century Church, and it is only going to get worse as we approach the end of the age.”
Discernment is a subject that has been allowed to go to the wayside in many churches for two reasons. The first reason is discernment is a topic that has been presented with negative connotations because it is constantly being associated with self-righteous judgment and hate propagated by political correctness. It is sometimes discouraged, put down, shunned, ignored, and berated by church leadership.
The second reason is because the word “discernment” has often been used as a fake cover-up by those who do unmercifully judge. These individuals cannot afford discernment to properly operate among Christians because they would be identified as wolves promoting their own wicked agenda. They are like the false prophets whose first words that come out of their mouths are a warning “to beware of false prophets” in order to disarm the people. Likewise judgmental people exalt their cruel judgment as being discernment, while pouncing on those with true discernment as being judgmental. These individuals run around trying to take the sliver out of the so-called “culprit’s eye” while maintaining the board in their own deceitful eye (Matthew 7:1-6).
These two unbalanced presentations of discernment have caused much confusion in the church. Christians who have this gift often see themselves as being strange because they are treated like misfits due to the fact they cannot simply go with the crowd about the latest Christian fads or gurus. They sense something is wrong and may even try to warn leadership or certain people, only to be met with a steely intolerance that makes them regret they even said anything, but at the same time the need to speak up is so strong they are unable, for the most part, to remain quiet.
There are two types of discernment. The Apostle Paul mentioned the gift of discernment in 1 Corinthians 12:10. In the gift of discernment a person has the ability to spiritually sense what is happening in the unseen world. This unseen world includes the spirit that is in operation and the type of idolatrous environment that is being set up by the wrong spirit and/or heretical teaching. This sense is not based on logic, emotions, or opinions, but on the Holy Spirit. It is reasonable to conclude if something is unseen, only the unseen can properly classify it for what it is.
The Apostle Paul clearly brings this out in 1 Corinthians 2:10-16. He states that man can only spiritually know a matter by the Spirit of God. He explains how the Holy Spirit is the real teacher and enables believers to compare spiritual things with spiritual things. In other words, a believer is able to properly classify something after testing matters out.
People who judge are operating according their own take on something, but a person who discerns is able to classify something based on what it actually is. For example, the ability to tell an apple from an orange, a duck from a goose or a deer from an elk or moose from a cow is a matter of discernment, not judgment. Discernment means you have the necessary understanding of being able to know what you are looking for so you can properly classify it when you see it. For example, from a distance it might be hard to discern if the bird I see floating on the river is a duck or a goose, but once I hear it honk and see its full size as it flies off, I will be able to correctly identify the fowl as being a goose.
It is important to realize we do not judge an apple as being so, because it has already been established as an apple; therefore, only an ignorant person who does not know what an apple looks like would not be able to properly discern it. This is the biggest problem in the church. People do not know what they are looking at because they don’t know what to look for to properly discern a matter.
Hebrews 5:11-14 talks about the second type of discernment: the ability to discern between good and evil. Most Christians might think that discerning between good and evil is a no-brainer, but that’s not true. The Bible is clear that such discernment must be exercised for a person to properly operate in it. In other words, spiritual discernment is developed as righteousness and its ways are properly implemented into one’s life.
It is important to note that there is a beautiful side to evil and an abrasive side to good, which is the truth. We are reminded in 2 Corinthians 11:13-14 that Satan can present himself as an angel of light and his ministers as ministers of righteousness. There are those who have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof (2 Timothy 3:5). It is hard for people to realize that Satan seduces people with that which outwardly appears to be religious and right into a strong delusion that has the power to eventually make experience seem more real than the Word of God, delusion appear as truth, and true righteousness as being untrustworthy and evil (1 Timothy 4:1-2).
When you consider the scriptures in Hebrews 5:11, the first thing you will note is the warning about being dull of hearing. The main thing that causes one to be dull of hearing is an unhealthy relationship with the world. The more agreement one has with the world, the duller of hearing a person becomes.
The second condition that Hebrews 5:12 speaks of is the fact that such a person is still spiritually immature. Such an individual has never graduated from the milk of doctrine to the place of being able to partake of the strong meat of the Word without choking on it or spitting it out. Jesus stated in John 4:34, “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.”
The concept of meat is attached to the will of God. Those who have not graduated from the milk of the Word are unskillful in discerning the will of God in a matter. To ensure this type of maturity involves consecrating self as a living sacrifice for the sole purpose of proving what is the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God in a matter (Romans 12:1-2).
There are many well-meaning Christians striving to do the will of God, but who miss the mark because they are unable to discern what the will of God is in a particular matter. They may do various works for God, and still have no idea if they are in His will. Such people figure if it is for God that it will be okay, but the truth is God is not looking for works, but for the type of service that brings Him honor and glory in the end. Clearly, these individuals cannot discern what God’s good pleasure is, what He would consider to be an acceptable sacrifice, and whether their activities and service will place them in the perfect will of God.
Hebrews 5:13 gives us insight into the ingredient that is missing from those who are unskillful when it comes to properly applying the Word of God, “For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.” The key word in this verse is “righteousness.”
People who are still drinking milk may know doctrine, but they do not understand the ways and workings of righteousness in a matter. They may have right standing before God because of redemption, but they may not understand what it means to do right by God and right in regard to others. They may quote the creed of their church, but they have no consensus about how God views a particular matter. The truth is a person cannot discern between good and evil unless they know how to recognize the ways of righteousness. People can wear outside cloaks of religion and self-righteousness, but they ultimately will fail to exercise the ways of righteousness in their lives. Even though they put on a good show for everyone else, there is something that is off center in their conduct and attitude.
This brings us to what constitutes “righteousness.” If a person is born again, positionally a person has right standing with the Lord. However, that does not mean a person is doing right when it comes to his or her Christian walk, and this brings us to the sin of omission. Most people know about the sins of commission. These are sins that are done in the body as far as hatred, stealing, adultery, coveting, and so forth. However, the sin that ranks high in Christendom is the sin of omission. This is where right attitude, right actions, or right conduct have been omitted. Sins of commission find their source in rebellion, but the sin of omission often finds its source in unbelief. People fail to believe the Word and respond accordingly to it, which is sin (James 4:17).
Faith comes from hearing and hearing from the Word of God (Romans 10:17). A person who responds in faith, whether it is to the salvation message or an instruction found in the Word of God, can be assured that God will count such action as being righteous. Genuine faith is active in its response, and this is why faith without acts of obedience is dead (James 2:17-26). The Apostle Paul said it best in Romans 14:23b, “…for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” Everything we as believers do must be because we believe that God is true; therefore, everything in His Word is also true and we need to respond accordingly. It is up to each of us to choose to believe what is in the Word as being true, with the intent of properly applying its principles, examples, and instructions to our lives so that we become living, walking epistles for the world to read, see, and observe (2 Corinthians 3:1-3).
This brings us back to the ways of righteousness. New believers usually start out intellectually believing a matter, but to apply it to one’s life in order to walk it out, it must first reach into the very depths of our heart. As Romans 10:9-10 tells us we must believe the Gospel is so in our heart. For some Christians there is an intellectual agreement with the Word, but such an agreement does not usually translate to walking the walk. Our walk must be in step with the Lord Jesus Christ in light of His Word. This means obeying the Word. In the two types of discernment, the gift of discernment, the Spirit of God must be giving the impression, sense, or insight into the unseen, but when it comes to discerning between good and evil it takes the Spirit and the Word of God to establish the validity of intention and/or action.
To discern the difference between good and evil, one must be able to recognize what is righteous as established in the Word in order to confirm the spirit behind it. Attitudes, approaches, and actions must be inspired by the right spirit in light of the Word of God. The Word is clear about what constitutes wicked actions, but when it comes to something being evil, it is not as obvious because it is more of an inward state than an action.
For example, people who have evil designs can prove to be good game players, but lack real godly submission to the ways of righteousness. There are also people who know the Word, but their spirit is wrong and will lead people astray. This is why 1 John 4:1 instructs us to test the spirits. If the spirit is wrong, actions will fall short, causing confusion, ultimately producing unacceptable fruit. If a spirit or a matter fails to line up to the counsel of the Word of God, it must be counted as being of the flesh and the world, and not of the Spirit of God.
Hebrews 5:14 gives us the last key in discerning, that of spiritual maturity. Those who are coming to full age have become skillful in the Word of God. In Hebrews 5:14, we are told, “But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”
One of the problems is that many Christians fail to become skillful in the Word. They slide by on the knowledge of salvation, skip over growing in a greater knowledge of Jesus as they maintain an unrealistic view of the Christian walk, are content with the milk of doctrine, and fail to see a need to graduate to the meat of the Word.
There are various reasons for this spiritual state, the major one being that some believers do not see the Word as their milk, bread, and meat. They know enough to slide into heaven, but they fail to know Jesus, and if a person does not know the real Jesus, then he or she will be unable to discern the counterfeits masquerading as wolves in sheep’s clothing, and just as Jesus warned in Matthew 24, there are plenty of counterfeits out there.
It is vital that Christians come to full age by feeding on the Word, walking in the ways of righteousness, exercising godliness, and being able to properly classify what is good and what is evil in a world that shuns absolutes, mocks morality, and rages against righteousness.
If you are not coming to full age in order to discern good and evil, I want to encourage you to push aside the comfortable milk of doctrine and begin to ask the Spirit of God to feed you meat. Granted, it might be hard for you to swallow at first and you may want to spit it out, but the more you assimilate it by walking it out in your life, the more you will be enlarged to partake of more meat, which will enable you to drop the baby bottle, graduate from the infant stage and grow into spiritual maturity in order to come into the fullness of your calling and ministry.