“I, Wisdom, live together with good judgment. I know where to discover knowledge and discernment.” Proverbs 8:12 NLT
Philip Schaaf once said, “Compared with intellectual and moral achievements, the conquests of the sword dwindle into insignificance. Ideas rule the world; ideas are immortal.” Someone else added, “Ideas have consequences.” Wrong or immoral ideas will negatively affect you. Thus, it is important to be able to tell the difference between right and wrong ideas.
Since “ideas rule the world,” it’s important that we know how to tell the difference between good and bad ideas. This is where discernment comes in. Philippians 1:9-10 says; “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent…”
Discernment is the ability to evaluate something before giving or withholding approval (the ability to exhibit keen insight and good judgement about good and bad.)
Why we need to be discerning?
We use discernment all the time in many areas without even realizing it. For example, when we go to the supermarket, we evaluate what’s available and then choose the best products. But sometimes, when it comes to sorting out ideas or applying God’s word, we often don’t display the same ability to choose what’s right and true and leave what is incorrect and false.
Discernment is necessary to make good decisions. Having this ability is much better than just relying on others to tell us what is right or wrong. We need to be able to discern on our own, because without it, we may be taken in by wrong, and destructive ideas. We don’t want to be among the blind following the blind into a pit. Mathew 15:10-20.
What is our basis for discernment?
"Teach me good discernment and knowledge, for I believe in Thy commandments." Psalm 119:66
In order to evaluate, or distinguish something before giving or withhold approval, we need an acceptable standard of comparison. For example, how do we know how long a meter or a yard is? How much is a gram or a pound? There are standards that tell us. There is even a government office that keeps track of such things.
In similar way, our acceptable standard is the Bible. We make our decisions concerning right and wrong based on God’s word. It’s like a yard stick--it doesn’t change. Our task is to evaluate how well an idea corresponds to the truth of Scripture. We must develop the state of mind in which biblical principles are so well understood and accepted that one naturally applies them to any circumstance. Our problem is usually not ignorance of God’s Word; it is disobedience to it. Just like the Israelites, we can know God’s Word and choose to disobey it. Hosea 4:6
What are the things we need to discerning about?
A. Good and evil
“…But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Hebrews 5:11-14. Our task is to find out what “good and well-pleasing” to the Lord by reading God’s Word. Exposure to God’s word is the key to discernment. The more we know and apply the principles of God’s word, the more mature we’ll be. Those who are mature are discerning. Those who are “dull of hearing” struggles with the ability to discern.
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. 2 Corinthians 13:5.
It is important to examine ourselves, because Jeremiah 17:9 says that our hearts are “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked”. In other words, we are bent toward sin. Furthermore, “there is a way that seems right to a man, but it’s end is the way of death” (Prov. 16:25). Without the direction from God’s Word, naturally, we will choose the evil rather than the good. Thus we have to make sure we are obeying God, not merely doing what we want to do.
C. Everything in general
"Test all things; hold fast that which is good." 1 Thessalonians 5:21
One of the biggest problems in Christianity today is the fact that many believers are gullible. We live in a sin-cursed world; that is filled with sinful people and immoral ideas. Thus we need to be very careful about who and what we listen to and accept (2 Peter 2:1-3). We should follow the example of the Berean Christians; who evaluated Paul’s preaching to see if it was in line with God’s word. Acts 17:11 NIV
The extent of our discernment is to test everything. In the realm of ideas, we can’t let our guard down for a moment. The highest standard against which to test everything is the Word of God. Our ideas must be evaluated by what God says in His word.