Our Desperate Need for Discernment.


It goes without saying that we live in precarious times. COVID-19, with its resulting conflict between various ideological factions, has found its way into the church.  Additionally, we see growing tensions regarding race and the call for equal justice.  To further complicate the issue, we live in an age where there are endless amounts of information and news thrust upon us making it difficult to discern which voice we should listen to.

How do we discern what is credible and what is not?  Should we listen to the mainstream media outlets or to alternative news sources?  Do we listen to only those sources that confirm our own views, or do we choose to listen to sources that challenge our perspectives?  In the “Fake News” era, we might assume that it is best to mistrust, or doubt the validity of everything reported by the mainstream media.  However, suspicion and discernment are not the same thing. While the popularity of alternative media sources has grown and made our task of discernment more complicated, it is not impossible. 

In Ephesians 5:10, the Apostle Paul calls believers to “discern what is pleasing to the Lord.”  While it is easy to learn the goal of discernment, “what pleases the Lord,” it is not so easy to learn how to discern.  How are we to determine, or decide what is pleasing to the Lord? In a helpful article entitled “What Is Discernment?” Sinclair Ferguson defines discernment as “learning to think God’s thoughts after Him, practically and spiritually; it means having a sense of how things look in God’s eyes and seeing them in some measure “uncovered and laid bare” (Hebrews 4:13).  

Building off of Ferguson’s definition, we will cover four facets of discernment over the course of 4 Blog Posts.

  1. Spiritual Discernment AS Protection
  2. Spiritual Discernment AS an Instrument of Grace
  3. Spiritual Discernment AS a Better Freedom
  4. Spiritual Discernment AS Spiritual Growth. 

Part 1:  Spiritual Discernment AS Protection 

As defined above, discernment begins with our relationship with God as He is revealed in Scripture. Scripture, and its central message of the redemptive work of Jesus, is the foundation for discernment.  Therefore, anything that diminishes the Gospel should be held at best with open hands and at worst with suspicion.  Biblical discernment calls us to  live in light of the truth, beauty, and goodness of the Gospel (Ephesians 5:11) revealed in Scripture. Let’s consider an example.  In this present moment of COVID-19 and race tensions, there are valid fears about government overreach and brutality as well as the diminishing of basic constitutional rights.  As we seek to preserve the truth of the Gospel, we need to consider what is right. In the face of potential tyranny, we are able to preserve the beauty of the Gospel as we love God’s law as our perfect standard.  With God’s Law as our ultimate standard, we can and should speak to the basic tenets of any human government which is to protect and uphold basic human rights and dignity.  Law and Gospel remind us that any human government is proximate at best.  All human governments arise from a broken world led by broken men and women.  Therefore, we are to pursue and display the goodness of Law and Gospel  Gospel discernment calls us to aspire for the most good in a world devoid of goodness.  Goodness is not aspiring for idealism, it is displaying the light of the Gospel through the darkness of a broken world. 

Preserving truth, beauty, and goodness requires believers to: (1) ask good questions,  and (2) desire to keep the Gospel front and center.  Anybody who has spent time with a toddler knows that they excel in asking questions; specifically, “Why?”  “Daddy, why is the sky blue?” “Why can’t I play now?”  “Why do you have hair growing out of your face?” (my beard). What they may lack in verbal skills, they more than make up for in tenacity.  Toddlers relentlessly pursue knowledge. They want to know the whats and hows and whys of life.  Might I suggest that we adopt some of that tenacity as adults? As believers, we should want to know the whats and hows and whys of life.  Not merely for knowledge sake, but for the opportunity to proclaim the gospel.  

So let’s consider the choices we have in news and information.  Some examples of mature questions might be:   What is the aim of this information?  Does it promote hope, fear, or speculation in my heart and mind?  Does this information drive me to joy and assurance in Christ’s work?  As those commanded to walk in the light (Eph. 5:10), is this source operating in the light--may it be adequately examined?  If not, why do they insist on operating in the dark?  Is there any real benefit to my soul, my church, or my unbelieving friends if I promote this information?  Does this elevate secondary or non-essential issues to the same level as the Gospel?  Do these secondary or non-essential concerns aid us in proclaiming the Gospel?  Does the Bible give us clear instructions on the matter that has been reported?  There are many questions we can ask but in the end, our aim must be to apply biblical categories to bear on whatever situation we are seeking to discern and engage.

Secondly, we are to keep the Gospel in view. As noted above, discernment’s goal is not always about what is ideal but to pursue what is good in face of a broken world.  The Bible has ideals and certainly sets for us what life should ideally look like.  But as we live in a fallen world waiting on the second advent of Jesus, we are forced to pursue what is good, not necessarily what is ideal as we navigate the complexity of a fallen world.  Hannah Anderson helps us here when she writes, As much as discerning people look for goodness in the brokenness, they don’t deny the brokenness or pretend it doesn’t exist. They’re not idealists. They know the “way the world works” isn’t always the way God intended it to work. So they evaluate everything by the authority of the Scripture and the person of Jesus, testing it to see whether it meets God’s standard of goodness. Sometimes this means rejecting the status quo or questioning their own long-held beliefs. But through it all, they know God is the ultimate standard of what is right, and they must submit all things—even their most deeply held customs and practices—to him.  The ultimate end for the believer is to proclaim the Gospel to our broken world.

As we fight for discernment, let us remember the tools God has given us for the task.  His Word is trustworthy and true and therefore sufficient for our every need.  God’s Word protects and guides us as we live in a fallen world. Let’s pursue Biblically saturated discernment that actually tests everything by the Word of God and protects us from the dangerous darkness that seeks to consume us so that we might live fruitfully as we wait for Jesus.