The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment – Chapter 4

The discipline of spiritual discernment

Review of Chapter 4 – The Heart of Discernment
by Gayane Chakharyan, World Vision Abkhazia

Test everything: hold fast what is good.
Abstain from every from of evil.

Quite often we do not consider the importance of verifying the validity of the things and information given to us. Of course, we understand the importance of discernment and practice the discernment in some areas. In the previous chapter we could come to the conclusion that discerning is closely related to judging. As we discern between what is good and evil and between what is right and wrong we necessarily make judgments. But judging is not popular in our culture. The phrase “Do not judge me!” is seen as an inviolable mantra in this postmodern society. We live in a culture that teaches us that we can and should do whatever makes us happy and no one has the right to hold us up to any standard but our own. Judging is the great sin of postmodernism.

Of course, Jesus himself taught us that judgment is wrong. “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you…”

However, Bible also makes it clear that we are to “test all things”. So what are we to do? Are we to judge or are we not to judge?

From Jesus’ words alone “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1) we could conclude that we are commanded never to judge anyone or anything. And yet, John, writing decades after the death of Jesus, wrote, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). From this passage it seems that we are to judge and to judge everything.

Matthew Henry agrees, writing, “Judging rightly concerning men, and not judging more highly of them than is fit, is one way to prevent quarrels and contentions in the churches. Pride commonly lies at the bottom of these quarrels.”

Thus, there are times when we may and must judge and times when we may not and must not judge. There are two broad categories in which judgment is sinful and forbidden by God.

The first kind of sinful judging is that of hypocritical judging or judging people on the basis of what is hidden to us. We may judge doctrine and behavior by the objective standards of right and wrong that are given to us in Scripture. What we may not do, though, is judge a person’s heart and motives.

The limits of human knowledge, the ability to see only the outside rather than the heart, means that human are incapable of accurate judgments about matters of the heart and conscience. Paul uses himself as a model, stating that he refuses to worry a great deal about how others judge him. In fact, Paul states that he will not even judge himself on these matters, for his limited knowledge prevents him from seeing into the deep recesses of even his own heart. If we are unable to even fully understand our own hearts, how much less are we capable of passing judgment on the hearts of others. For sure, we can not pass judgment on matters that are hidden in darkness. We can not judge motives, we cannot judge personal piety, and we cannot judge the conscience in matters where Scripture is silent.

So, what must we judge?

When doctrine or teaching is presented to us, we may examine it and mull it over. We may compare it to Scripture and seek to understand whether it is consistent with what God has revealed about himself. But once we accept that doctrine we are responsible for it. If the doctrine is false and we choose to believe it, we can expect God to hold us accountable for believing something that is false.

We are to be discerning about all things and are to ensure we only believe what has been approved. We are to test all things, discerning between what pleases the Lord and what does not. This is the right and responsibility of each Christian, and we must do this both as churches and as individuals. We can not rely on others to be discerning on our behalf. We can not depend on others to do this work for us.

We should not be Christians who compartmentalize our lives so that some areas are given over to the lordship of Christ and others are held back for ourselves. We can not have components of our lives that are religious while others are secular. Christians with a truly Christian worldview will know that all of life is to be lived in accordance with biblical principles. Everything we do requires discernment.

However, the requirement to test all things does not mandate that, like children, we are to attempt everything once. We do not necessarily need to touch or experience things to know that they are evil. Like children we often feel we need to sample things before we can determine if they are good or bad, truth or error, But God tells us we are to test, not sample.

In our definition of discernment we saw that discernment has both a theological and a moral dimension, and we saw this in the portion of the definition that spoke of “truth from error and right from wrong”. We will see that discernment is the practice that allows us first to know the truth of God and then to know and do the will of God.


Spiritual discernment requires that we carefully test and prove everything associated with Christian life and doctrine. Though all that God teaches about himself is important, we must focus our efforts in discernment on the doctrines that are most foundational to the Christian faith. The two areas where we must practice spiritual discernment are the same as the two general themes of Scripture: what we must believe about God and how God calls us to live on the basis of those believes or, said otherwise, the truth of God and the will of God.

* * *

Discussion Guide

  1. What makes the difference between wrongly judging something and testing something?
  2. Think about a current teaching about God that we need to test and reject as incompatible with the Christian faith? Why do you this is the case with that particular teaching and with what what would you replace it?




Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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