Posted in discernment, theology

How do I know if I lack spiritual discernment?

By Elizabeth Prata

Whenever anyone in Christian ministry, (writer, author, preacher, etc) mentions so and so is a false teacher, rarely do we receive (or at least, I, receive) questions about why or how. Rarely do I receive a query asking me to lead them through my thinking and how I arrived at that conclusion, using scripture. I do sometimes, and those times are really encouraging.

Instead I usually receive comments like this: it was one comment but she had the whole package of the template of similar comments usually leveled at me in situations like this:

1. To suggest that she is not a Christian is not your place.
2. Only God knows her heart.
3. If she is a false teacher that will be an horrific thing for her but is definitely not your call.
4. It’s sad to see people pulling down others in a time when unity is more essential than ever before.
5. Use your talents for good and not for defamation.

Let’s take these one by one. Not our place?

It’s true we don’t go around willy-nilly saying ‘You’re a Christian, but you’re not…” but the Bible does tell us how to distinguish wolves from believers. Wolves are not Christians.

The comment displayed a lack of biblical knowledge about the importance of discernment. Detecting wolves is important. Every New Testament book in the Bible (except Philemon) speaks to the issue. Most of those verses come with direction for what to do in a discernment situation and the result of good discernment. Here are a few examples of what a Christian with good discernment will be able to do-

Philippians 1:9-10, approve what is excellent,
Hebrews 5:14, distinguish good and evil,
Romans 12:2, discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect
John 7:24, judge with right judgment
1 Thessalonians 5:21, hold fast to what is good

It stands to reason that failure to enact those (and other verses) in our Christian life will result in an inability to see good or evil, be ignorant of what is excellent, fail to know the will of God, judge with wrong judgment, hold fast to what is bad, and so on.

2. Only God knows the heart
This is a misdirection. We are not asking to see the heart, but comparing a lifestyle to scripture or their teachings to the Bible. It’s the outward fruit we examine, not the heart. Jesus told us the fruit of a leader’s efforts will tell us whether they are in Him or not in Him. Matthew 7:15-16a says we WILL recognize them-

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.

Developing discernment to recognize them is important because these wolves do terrible things, like,
– eat the sheep (Mt 7:15)
– deceive the sheep (2 Timothy 3:13)
– make the sheep go astray (Matthew 24:11)
– deny God’s power (2 Timothy 3:5)
– cause divisions and create obstacles (Romans 16:17)
– poison the people (2 Timothy 2:17)
– bring us into slavery (Galatians 2:4)

And more. Do we really want to ignore all that?

3. If she is a false teacher that will be an horrific thing for her but is definitely not your call.

I like how sure the commenter is about it all, “definitely not your call” but doesn’t use scripture. Oh, but it is. The Bereans were commended as noble for searching the scriptures to see if what Paul said was so. (Acts 17:11). What if they had searched the scriptures and decided that Paul was NOT teaching scripturally? Would a Berean have stopped there? Or would they have warned their friends and neighbors about this Paul guy going from house to house, teaching lies? Discernment is not only knowledge, it is accompanied by action. John gives guidance here on one of these called-for actions,

If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works. (2 John 1:10-11).

Let’s compare this situation with a really terrible one. Would you ignore a pedophile that moved into your apartment building across the street from a school? As pedophiles molest children, false teachers molest the children of God, and worse, sin against GOD, not just people. Imagine if your neighbor’s child was molested and the mother discovered you knew all along about the pedophile, but said nothing. It is no excuse to say “I can’t see his heart.”

Only in Christendom do people seem to want to stay silent about real and present dangers to friends and neighbors from false teachers.

4. It’s sad to see people pulling down others in a time when unity is more essential than ever before

This is true, unity is important. It’s sad to see people think that warning about people outside of orthodoxy is divisive, when it’s those very people who are causing the divisions This statement is essentially saying, “unite with dividers!” It’s unworkable, untenable, and foolish. Paul says the dividers are the people creating obstacles to orthodox doctrine and attaches an action to the end-

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. (Romans 16:17).

For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. (2 John 1:7)

What’s essential is not to ignore an antichrist.

5. Use your talents for good and not for defamation

Commenters who lack discernment usually wind up making some sort of exhortation like this. While it is biblical to use our talents and gifts for good, they don’t know what “good’ is because they are biblically ignorant of the definition of ‘good’. All the verses above in the introduction teach us what comes from training up in discernment, and by definition, what happens when we fail to train. They think that pointing out a false teacher is defamation, but never stop to think that the false teacher is defaming GOD. They’re OK with that, apparently.

Everything about the Christian life is careful, measured, conscientious, detailed. Discerning people never go around haphazardly pointing out wolves. We are told to be sober-minded and to prepare our minds for action. (1 Peter 1:13). How do we do that? It is simple. Not easy, but simple. Read the Bible. It is through the word of God that our minds are transformed from babes to soldiers. From ignorant to wise. From foolish to discerning. And pray. When we ask for wisdom, the Spirit will give it without reproach. (James 1:5). What a blessing that is!


Further reading

Unsound teaching produces unsound churches

How can I gain spiritual discernment?



Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.

7 thoughts on “How do I know if I lack spiritual discernment?

  1. Thanks for the timely and biblical reminder of the importance of discernment in the life of a believer. This will come in handy for my lesson on Colossians 2:6-15 tomorrow.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Apparently folks that make the type of comments that you wrote about seem to be deceived themselves – and are, at least to some degree.
    I have ran into these types of people too. Sometimes it causes you to really wonder if they might be lost themselves.

    Excellent Biblical defense Elizabeth!

    Brother Rick : – )


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