When I make dogmatic comments on various social media about this or that person being a false teacher, invariably I receive push-back. It usually consists of one of two opinions- either they use ad hominem to accuse me of being critical, judgmental, or otherwise something negative. Or, they say they had a positive experience following the teacher and due to the experience they had, it proves the teacher is true. A sort of ‘I know s/he isn’t false, because s/he helped me!’
Either type of comment displaying zeal without wisdom also usually include some old chestnuts recycled from undiscerning person to undiscerning person. They include, Judge not, don’t touch God’s anointed, did you go to her … and so on.
I say zeal without wisdom and undiscerning, because these commenters know just enough of what is in the Bible but not at all what it means.
If you listen to old time radio pastors from the 1930s through 1950s and later, each one at some point, has said that this generation of church-going Christians or this era of Christianity is going downhill. Charles Spurgeon famously published an anonymous article actually written by his friend Robert Shindler (with input from Spurgeon himself) addressing a visible downgrade in an 1887 issue of his magazine, Sword and Trowel. That article, and its follow up, famously brought the “Down-grade controversy” to the public’s attention.
A hundred and fifty years before Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards wrote about the devil’s triumph in squelching a religious revival in New England and a lack of religious affections that had become evident in the people.
We can trace the genealogy of apostasy back to Genesis 6, or to Genesis 3. So is it anything new to say that this generation of church-going Christians are weak or falling away, that visible Christianity itself is downgrading itself in a compounding manner, faster and faster as we go? No.
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, (1 Timothy 4:1)
The Bible tells us that there will be false teachers, wolves and heretics. They have malintent, in other words, they want to do you and your church harm. They aren’t simply misguided or temporarily misunderstanding kind people, they are predators out to get you.
They “will secretly introduce destructive heresies,” 2 Peter 2:1 They “distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them”. (Acts 20:30b) They are “rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception” (Titus 1:10b) They “are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good”. (Titus 1:16b)
They have an agenda of purposeful deception, (Acts 20:30) and their motive for this deception is dishonest gain. (1 Timothy 6:5).
Here on The End Time I spent the last week writing and podcasting about discernment. I did my best to show what discernment is; both the gift some possess and the training up in that we all should do. I showed how discernment operates in the church, and gave some examples of people who do discernment well. Discernment is biblical wisdom applied in order to test what is good and hold onto it.
One of the biggest problems the church has, maybe THE biggest, is a widespread lack of discernment. It’s true that many have infiltrated the church who are not true converts, so it stands to reason they lack discernment. But many true believers have failed to hone their discernment through training (Hebrews 5:14). There’s another reason that the church may lack discernment besides infiltration of false believers, and the presence of true believers who haven’t grown much: the Lord.
He deprives the trusted ones of speech, And takes away the discernment of the elders. (Job 12:20). Job 17:4 You have closed their minds to understanding; therefore You will not exalt them. (Job 17:4)
John Gill (1697 – 1771) was an English Baptist pastor, biblical scholar, and theologian who also wrote a commentary of the Bible. He says of the Job 12:20 verse in Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible -first Gill addresses the different ways that God takes away speech of the wise,
"it seems strange that he should remove the speech of "trusty" or "faithful" men, that speak the truth, and are to be credited and believed; and as the preceding words are understood of ecclesiastic persons."
Next, Gill shows the different ways God has taken away the faculty of man’s speech:
"He removeth away the speech of the trusty,.... Speech is proper to mankind, and a benefit unto them, whereby they can converse together, and communicate their minds to each other. This is the gift of God, he gives to men in common the faculty of speaking; --to some the tongue of the learned to speak various tongues, either in an ordinary or in an extraordinary manner; and he that gives can take away; --he that made man's mouth or lip can make it speechless, as he does at death; when he takes away man's breath, he takes away his speech; the state of the dead is a state of silence; --and sometimes he does it while living, by striking dumb, as he did Zechariah the father of John the Baptist; --as in the builders of Babel, he took away the speech they had, and gave them another; --and sometimes he suffers not men to speak what they would, but what is contrary to their inclinations and desires, as in Balaam, who would willingly have cursed Israel, but could not. --end Gill Commentary
As for the lack of discernment in speech, the LORD takes it away in various ways, also. Gill continues in the second part of the Job 12:20 verse-
and taketh away the understanding of the aged; or "elders"; elders in age, with whom understanding, reason, judgment, counsel, and wisdom, by all which the word is interpreted, may be thought to be; yet all this God can take away, and does when he pleases, and they become like children in understanding.
--through the infirmities of old age their memories fail them, --their reason is impaired, --their understanding and judgment are weakened, --they become unfit to give advice themselves, --are easily imposed on and drawn aside by others as may be observed in Solomon, the wisest of men, when he was grown old. --end Gill
Why would do do this? Why would he strip away the wisdom and discernment of those mature believers who have acquired it? The Bible Knowledge Commentary by RB Zuck et al says,
"Also all people are under God’s control. He humbles counselors (was Job referring to his three friends?), judges.… kings.… priests, well-established officials, advisers … elders.… nobles, and the mighty. By stripping away their wisdom and power, God reveals His superior wisdom and power."
The Lord God is in control of all things; the earth, universe, angels, demons, and humans. He is in charge of all humans’ intellect. He gives discernment and He takes it away. We don’t know if the dearth of discernment plaguing the church currently is due to a failure of humans to be biblically literate and train themselves, or God’s judgment on humans, a mixture of both, or something else entirely. Persistent, unrepentant sin will impact a person’s ability to discern, certainly.
One thing we know for sure, it was Paul’s fervent prayer that the people would grow in discernment. I think the old adage “Use it or lose it” applies to all of us now and at all times!
In my continuation of “Discernment Week” here at The End Time, today we look at some examples of people using their gift of discernment for the edification of the saints and do it well.
You should look for people in your church who are noted for having a nose for discernment and have a long track record of grace-filled teaching of discernment helps that are accurate
The Spirit dispenses the gift to people for the help to the local body, and there should be someone in your church who can help you train in the skill or to answer questions about certain issues/fads/teachings that arise if they are starting to impact you.
All believers possess the ability to make a judgment as to genuine teaching from the Bible or moral behavior as God expects and what is not. It’s called discernment, or distinguishing between spirits. This ability grows as the Christian matures.
Some believers have been given an extra dose of discernment, or “distinguishing between spirits” as a gift given by the Holy Spirit, allowing them to discriminate between what is truly of God from or what is of demonic spirits or merely the human spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:10). The verb for “discerning” diakrino, means “to pass judgment” or “make a distinction.” Today’s essay is mainly about the believers who have been given the gift for the church, as opposed to all believers who are supposed to train in discernment for their daily lives.
It’s discernment week here on The End Time! Last week I sought to encourage by posting 6 consecutive essays on the topic of heaven. This week my goal is to hopefully educate on the topic of discernment.
Yes, some people have been given the gift of discernment by the Holy Spirit (I believe I have been given this spiritual gift). But it is still incumbent on every Christian to employ wisdom to all matters based on biblical discernment. We can train up in discernment, as Hebrews 5:14 says,
But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to distinguish between good and evil.
‘Distinguish’ is a good word, because the actual gift of discernment is phrased this way in 1 Corinthians 12:10: “distinguishing between spirits”
This is a good and permanent reminder that discernment is a battle between spiritual entities, not people. Believers who are undiscerning need training, correction, and practice in the skill. Unbelievers are undiscerning because they are under the sway of the evil one, the god of this world who blinds their minds so they can’t see the light. (2 Corinthians 4:4). They cannot discern spiritual things (1 Corinthians 2:14). Until or unless they are saved by grace upon hearing the Gospel, they will remain undiscerning. They may be wise in some matters, but it’s not a godly wisdom which is applied to practical matters in a godly life pleasing to the Lord. It’s just smarts.
So, conclusion #1 is that some people have the specific gift of discernment for use in the church for the edification of the body, but all Christians need to practice it for themselves and their families. Conclusion #2 is that discernment is a weapon in a spiritual battle.
Is it an important weapon? Yes. This is conclusion #3. We all need discernment, we all must hone it because our battle is spiritual, and it’s an important weapon for that battle. John MacArthur said,
"People ask me this all the time, “What’s the greatest need in the church today? What is the most compelling need? What do you see as the biggest problem in Christianity, the biggest problem in the church? It’s simple for me to answer that. The biggest problem in the church today is the absence of discernment. It’s a lack of discernment. It’s the biggest problem with Christian people. They make bad choices. They accept the wrong thing. They accept the wrong theology. They are prone to the wrong teaching. They’re unwise in who they follow, what they listen to, and what they read." John MacArthur, Principles for Discernment
God told Solomon to ask for anything. Solomon said,
Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people? (1 Kings 3:9).
This not only displays great humility but an acknowledgement that God’s wisdom is needed for whatever sphere in which He has placed us. In Solomon’s case it was administering the kingdom as King. God was pleased with Solomon’s request. With me, my sphere is certainly more obscure and smaller than Solomon’s, but it’s meaningful to God, because He has given me a sphere of operation in church, work, and social circle to display His glory and promote His truth.
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,
You see how important discernment is: Paul prayed they would possess it. They need to approve of what is excellent (and by inference disapprove of what is NOT excellent- discernment is ‘distinguishing between’). The phrase ‘And so’ joins the practice of discernment with being pure and blameless on the Day.
We need discernment to promote the right truth. There is no ‘your truth and my truth.’ There is one truth. It is up to us to extract that one truth from the Bible, the only place where it has been revealed. Heaven is the place of truth and God is the only originator of truth.
What IS discernment? Martin Manser wrote in the Dictionary of Bible Themes-
The sound judgment which makes possible the distinguishing of good from evil, and the recognition of God’s right ways for his people. It is necessary for the understanding of spiritual realities and, on a practical level, for right government and the avoidance of life’s pitfalls. Source: Manser, M. H. (2009). Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. London: Martin Manser.
Word studies in the New Testament defines discernment, “The verb primarily means to separate, and hence to make a distinction, discriminate. … so that discerning implies a mental act of discriminating between different things. Vincent, M. R. (1887). Word studies in the New Testament (Vol. 3, p. 253). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
These days, it is increasingly difficult to convince people that separating good from bad, truth from error, dark from light is necessary. It’s hard because more and more frequently people believe there is no dark and light, right and wrong, truth or error. They have been persuaded that everything can be true, or that it is arrogant to be dogmatic about one truth.
But as we read in Solomon’s verse in 1 Kings 3:7, And now, LORD my God, You have made Your servant king in place of my father David, yet I am like a little boy; I do not know how to go out or come in.
We are children. We might live to be 100 years old, but to God we’re kids. We don’t know if we’re coming or going. We need discernment to separate out the good from the bad. You’ve seen babies. They will eat anything. They see a worm, they eat it. They see a moldy piece of bread under the couch, they eat it. They see a marble, they eat it.
We are like that to God. We see a preacher offering to tickle our ears, we accept it. We read a book promising wealth and health, we claim it. We see a person on Social Media twisting the Bible, we like it. We must discern.
Tomorrow, referring back to Hebrews 5:14, how to train up in discernment.
I don’t often talk about personal experiences on this blog, because frankly, I don’t think most people are interested in me, lol. We are all more interested in Jesus, and His soon return.
I was thinking today about a few times in my life when I felt fearfully spooky for no reason. These occurred before I was saved. However, all my life I could feel the emotional and spiritual temperature of a room. When I got saved by His grace, the Holy Spirit delivered to me the Gift of Discerning of spirits, also known as the distinguishing of spirits (1 Cor 12:10). So now I can use that ability He planted in me from birth to His glory as a child of God
Discerning of Spirits is discussed by Alexandra Clair on her blog. Her definitions of terms in my opinion are scripturally apt and well-written to boot. So what is discerning of spirits?