Spiritual discernment is vital if all of Scotland’s true believers are to stand in an increasingly uncertain world. Too important to be delegated to ministers, elders and deacons, discernment is the responsibility of all, and it starts with the desire for it. If a Christian merely seeks to be happy, healthy and wealthy, he/she will not be spiritually discerning. Humility is the starting point. Every believer must be humble enough to admit their need of spiritual discernment and follow the path that leads to it.
In the Book of Proverbs it is written: “Make your ear attentive to wisdom, incline your heart to understanding; for if you cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding; if you seek her as silver, and search for her as hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of the Lord, and discover the knowledge of God”.
The second and obvious step on the path towards discernment is to pray for it. In the Old Testament, it is recorded that King Solomon prayed for wisdom.
“Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?
The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, ‘Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.”
In the New Testament Book of James, the Apostle says: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him”.
A third step along the path towards spiritual discernment is to be prepared to listen to and learn from the example of gifted mature believers in the church. Some in the early church were specially gifted to discern between divine truth and error, an essential gift since false teachers had attempted to destroy the church with their heretical teaching. The Apostle John attested to this in his letter when he urged true believers to: “test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world”.
That same gift is available and more necessary today than in the days of the Apostle. Fortunately there are Bible scholars today who are gifted by God to unmask false teachers. They have a special ability to think carefully, critically and analytically. They are the church’s guardians of truth and all true believers need to learn from what they teach and write.
True believers should also follow the example of other mature believers. As it takes years of parental training for children to grow and mature into responsible adults, so it takes years of Godly training for believers to become spiritually mature. It’s not a matter of praying one evening, “Lord, give me discernment”, in the hope of waking up the next morning and having it. Spiritual maturity is the result of being nourished by God’s Holy word.
A fourth step on the path towards spiritual discernment is to depend on the Holy Spirit, the true discerner who leads believers into all truth. Writing to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote: “The thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit who is from God, that we might know the tings freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.”
The final step on the path towards spiritual discernment is consistent and faithful study of God’s Word, the Bible. Believers will not be spiritually discerning, even though they may desire it, pray for it, learn from the gifted and mature and depend on the Holy Spirit, unless they diligently study God’s Word. Only there can the principles for discerning between truth and error be found.
In the book of Acts, it is recorded that the Jewish community in the town of Berea received the Apostle Paul’s preaching with enthusiasm. They took the message away, and compared it to the teachings of the Old Testament. As a result many became believers.
In the same book, Paul warned the church leaders in Ephesus about false teachers who would infiltrate and corrupt the church: “I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”
What about the true believers in Scotland’s evangelical churches? How is God’s Word regarded and studied? In a superficial and careless manner, or with thought, care and fervent prayer?
There is no doubt that the proper study of God’s word takes effort, but it is worthwhile because: “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work”.