Posted in theology

Discernment Lesson, part 2: Is discerning really attempting to “know the heart”?

By Elizabeth Prata

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On February 2 I was interviewed by two wonderful ladies of the faith, Amy Spreeman and Michelle Lesley. Their podcast is called A Word Fitly Spoken, a great title for a podcast!

The result of the podcast is here, it was broadcast already and I’m humbled by the opportunity to speak of Jesus, doctrine, and discernment as our wide ranging conversation went.

Their website for A Word Fitly Spoken podcast is here, where you can catch ALL their podcasts! I recommend the podcast and also their individual efforts in the faith, Michelle’s website Michelle Lesley- Discipleship for Christian Women and Amy’s at Berean Research and Naomi’s Table Bible Studies for Women. You can also check out her archives from earlier work at

When I was preparing for the interview, I made notes. I wanted to post those (I’ve gained Amy’s permission) and flesh the concepts out a bit. This is part 2 of that post. Part 1 is here-

Discernment lesson, What is it, why do we need it? Part 1

Now on to part 2:

Is discerning whether a teacher is false really attempting to “know the heart”?

When I do a discernment essay, I am often chastised with an old chestnut of a comment that’s becoming practically standard for people without discernment to say. It is,

“You’re being a Pharisee, Only God knows the heart!”

I get that a lot. Is the practice of discernment really attempting to put ourselves in God’s place in knowing the heart of a person? No. As we looked at yesterday, discernment is advised, even commanded, in most New Testament books. The wisdom book of Proverbs continually lauds wisdom in spiritual matters. Evaluating a teaching and coming to a solid conclusion that it is profitable is an activity that brings glory to Jesus. Doing so and concluding that a teaching is unprofitable in no way attempts to “know the heart” of that false teacher.

But you know, the Bible DOES show us the heart. We can know the heart of a false teacher because the Bible tells us. If the teacher is speaking falsely, their heart is full of deceit, and from the heart flows life. (Matthew 12:34). Here are some of the verses which speak to a false teacher’s heart:

(Their hearts are) full of deceit. Colossians 2:8

(Their hearts are) filled with their own appetites. Romans 16:17-18

(Their hearts are) disguised with light. 2 Corinthians 11:13-15

(Their hearts are) full of greed. 2 Peter 2:3

(Their hearts are) ravenous. Matthew 7:15.

(Their hearts are) inwardly full of sensuality. Jude 1:4

(Their hearts are) full of secrets, such as destructive heresies. 2 Peter 2:1

(Their hearts are) full of intent to exploit. 2 Peter 2:3

(Their hearts are) full of fleshly passions. 2 Timothy 4:3

(Their hearts are) puffed up with conceit. 1 Timothy 6:4

(Their hearts are) understand(ing) nothing. 1 Timothy 6:4

(Their hearts are) cunning and crafty. Ephesians 4:14

(Their hearts) serve the creature. Romans 1:25

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(Their hearts are) slaves of corruption. 2 Peter 2:19.

(Their hearts) deny the Master who bought them. 2 Peter 2:1

(Their hearts) prophesy lies. Jeremiah 23:26

So although we are not God and we can’t read the heart directly, we can know the heart to the extent the Bible speaks of it. Ultimately though, we evaluate the teaching that comes out of their mouth. If it is bad, avoid it.

Discernment doesn’t stop at evaluating

We are called to do certain things after discerning. Once we discover a teaching may be riddled with falsity, we have to ACT on it. Keeping your conclusion as head knowledge is no good. We are supposed to perform certain actions-

Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. Romans 16:17-18. Mark & avoid. You can’t mark a teacher as false unless you discern that they are. Discerning means evaluating their teaching by comparing it to the Bible.

Matthew 7:15 says to  Beware of false prophets. We have to know who to beware of, and we won’t unless we have discerned their teaching as unprofitable.

2 Thessalonians 3:14 take note of those who do not obey and keep away

Ephesians 5:11 Have no fellowship with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.

Philippians 1:9–10 And this I pray, that your love may overflow still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may discover (Greek- test, approve) the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and blameless for the day of Christ;

Discernment isn’t just about doctrine, lifestyle matters, too!

Often times people who are undiscerning dislike when I write of a false teacher’s lifestyle. They say I should mind my own business, that how they live is of no concern of mine.

O, but it is.

It is important to discern their lifestyle as well as their doctrine. Those two cannot be separated. Why? First, in speaking in general of a Christian life, there are many commands for us who are saved to live a certain way. Some of those commands are extremely specific.

Secondly, there are lifestyle commands for Christians who are in eldership or desiring to be teachers or deacons. In fact, most of the qualifications for teachers or deacons are lifestyle oriented, not skill oriented. (1 Timothy 3) (Titus 1). HOW we live matters to Jesus, because we are supposed to be a light to the Gentiles with not only what we say but how we live. We cannot have a good witness if we are living like pagans. The same goes for teachers of the Word, even more so, since they will be judged more strictly.

In discernment, lifestyle matters as well. We know that false teachers are greedy (2 Peter 2:3). Displaying profligate wealth for its own sake indicates a heart of greed and likely false teaching to match.

The words disobedient, undisciplined, and ungodly are words that are often mentioned in verses with discernment.

For example, 2 Thessalonians 3:6 advises us to keep away from those who are living an undisciplined life. The word in this verse means unruly and insubordinate to God’s word. You do not want to follow a teacher whose teaching you like but lives as a mouthy, argumentative, divorced adulteress, now, do you? If a female teacher (or male) initiates a divorce without cause, can you believe the rest of what they teach, since they are already rejecting the verses about God’s standard for marriage? No. If they reject one part of the Bible, they are likely to reject other parts, and teach it so.

Finally, 1 Timothy 4:16 warns all of us to watch our life and doctrine closely. Not just doctrine, but how we live too.


So those are some ideas about discernment. I hope they are helpful in prompting you (and me too) to always treat discernment with respect, and to practice it. Seeing Jesus clearly is the goal of life, we cannot see him clearly and bring Him his due glory if we are looking at Him with mud on our binoculars. Pure doctrine helps us see him more clearly than false doctrine can.


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

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