Tuesday, September 09, 2008
The Lost Gift of Discernment
When the charismatic movement was at its zenith 30 years ago, Christians rediscovered the gifts of the Holy Spirit listed in the apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. We embraced healing, prophecy, speaking in tongues and miracles...We also learned that discernment is one of these nine supernatural gifts (see 1 Cor. 12:8-10). We were [warned about] “all power and signs and false wonders” (2 Thess. 2:9, NASB), God’s people must be equipped...to tell the difference between the true and the false.
God gave us spiritual gifts in a package, and discernment is part of the set. It is not optional. Yet today it seems we’ve set discernment aside—perhaps because we’re suspicious of any gift that requires us to exercise clear judgment.
We live in a confusing season marked by spiritual compromise, moral relativism and deceptive imitations...... hunger for the supernatural is encouraged while leaders seem reluctant to put boundaries around it for fear of seeming intolerant. We stopped teaching discernment because it forces us to draw lines. We desperately need to return to what the Bible teaches us about this important subject:
1. We are commanded to discern. The apostle John instructed us to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). The word “test” means to “examine as metal”—the process a jeweler would use to prove authenticity. Metals may look the same; only when you apply heat will you find which ones are fake or of low quality. All that glitters, in such cases, is not gold. We don’t like to test because it seems harsh. We don’t like confrontation. We want to be nice to everybody. But it is the Lord who tells us to test the spirits. Will we please people, or fear God?
2. Discernment is a sign of spiritual maturity..."Solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Heb. 5:14). The implication here is that those who don’t learn to discern are spiritually stunted.
Is it possible that we in the American church have been so focused on satisfying our own material or emotional needs that we have gotten stuck in perpetual infancy? The Bible offers a remedy: Grow up! We will never come to full adulthood in a spiritual sense if we don’t develop discernment.
3. Discernment is damaged when leaders compromise. The prophet Ezekiel denounced the priests and governors of Israel because they didn’t teach the people to discern. “They have made no distinction between the holy and the profane, and they have not taught the difference between the unclean and the clean” (Ezek. 22:26). Discernment, according to this passage, is shaped by the choices leaders make.
When shepherds don’t build fences, sheep wander into wolves’ territory...some...have brought their flocks to feed near toxic streams. The gospel has been polluted by false prophecies and poisonous doctrines and, in some tragic cases, by the direct impartation of immorality and greed from the pulpit.
Do you want discernment? It will probably not make you popular. But I pray we will be willing to risk our popularity in order to become mature disciples of Jesus—and to guard the American church from deception.