[In Christ-centered discipleship and counseling, we sometimes hear people minimize the importance of doctrine: “We don’t need doctrine; we just need Jesus.” However, doctrine (teaching) is essential to the Gospel of salvation and abundant living. For example, identifying the true Jesus is a matter of biblical doctrine and apologetics. When I heard a recent radio program refuting the teachings of a new age author promoted by TV personality, Oprah Winfrey, I was convinced that this “Learn to Discern” article would be a valuable resource for our readers around the world. In His public ministry Christ rebuked false teachers; He will exercise this ministry of warning through us as we abide in Him. – JBW]
Learn to Discern: How to Recognize and Respond to Error in the Culture
by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and team @ Revive Our Hearts
The enemy of truth is subtle and cunning. We should not be surprised by the increase in lies and spiritual error as we near the return of Christ. The Bible says this will happen (Matt. 24:11), and God wants us to be aware of false teachings and teachers so we can stand firm in His Word. We must be discerning and not simply accept what people say is true.
Be Discerning – Learn to discern between truth and error.
Wisdom is the application of the truth of Scripture to our lives (James 1:5), and God wants us to ask for wisdom. But discernment takes that one step further. Discernment is the ability to judge or distinguish between two things using the wisdom of God’s Word. This kind of judging is not wrong. Indeed, it is crucial if we are to make wise choices.
We learn to distinguish between right and wrong, good and evil, sound and unsound, and truth and error through the work of the Holy Spirit within us. The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to reveal and teach the truth that is from Him (John 14:26; 16:12-15; 1 Cor. 2:13-14).
God praises discernment in His children. In the Old Testament, the sons of Issachar understood the times and knew what Israel should do—they were discerning (1 Chron. 12:32). In the New Testament, Jesus told the Pharisees that they should be able to understand the signs of the times, but because they were more concerned about adding to the law, they were unable to discern God’s truth (see Matt. 16:1-3).
Adding to God’s Word is always a sign of false teaching. Proverbs 30:6 and Revelation 22:18-19 tell us clearly that we are neither to add to nor take away from God’s Word or else we will be found to be “a liar.” Whenever we incorrectly handle the Scriptures, we will end up in deception and destructive teaching.
It is the responsibility of every Christian to be discerning, but our attitude in discerning and confronting error is also important. We must not be hateful, argumentative, or angry, but we must instead expose false teachings with love, kindness, and hope for change (Eph. 4:15; 2 Tim. 2:24-26). We must listen carefully to what is said (Prov. 18:13) and then confront with the faithful Word (Titus 1:9), not our own opinions. God hates evil, but He also despises pride and arrogance, so our attitude in discernment matters to Him (Prov. 8:13).
Be Alert – Notice the corrupting pull of the culture.
The Bible instructs us to “walk circumspectly” (looking around), “not as fools but as wise because the days are evil,” and to “understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:15-17). In other words, we need to be alert. We must be aware of the error we encounter in literature, the news, and other media. We need to increase in the knowledge of God and His truth so we will have His “wisdom and spiritual understanding” (Col. 1:9-10).
God’s people need knowledge of His will, Word, and ways so they will not be destroyed (Hos. 4:6). It is dangerous to add opinions and human philosophies to God’s wisdom, just as it is foolish to substitute man-made rules and teachings for true, biblical holiness. Second Timothy 3:1-5 describes the kind of people who will live in the latter days—people who will have “a form of godliness” while denying the power of God. People are hungry for spirituality today, but they refuse the holy standards in the Scriptures.
False prophets bring in “destructive heresies,” deny the Lord, and blaspheme the truth, exploiting people with deceptive words (2 Peter 2:1-3). These false prophets, like the secular world system, want us to adopt unbiblical values, gain approval based on those values, and pursue ungodly goals.
One of the key words in the culture that confuses people today is the word tolerance. We must remember that tolerance is how we treat people, but rationality is how we are supposed to treat ideas—and for the Christian, that is biblically based rationality. We are not to tolerate false ideas. Rather, we are to sort truth from error and then expose error.
Two worldviews are in conflict. One worldview is biblical; the other is antibiblical. Christians are often called narrow-minded, but having distinctions requires a narrowing of thought. Jesus spoke of a narrow gate (Matt. 7:13-14), and we see throughout the Scriptures that there is no gray area when it comes to receiving Christ’s salvation and obeying His commands.
We are to expose and cast down anything that rises up against the knowledge of God in the Word, because someday every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord (2 Cor. 10:3, 5; Phil. 2:10-11). Jesus must be the Lord of our minds. He exercises His authority through the Word, so we must be sure we are thinking biblically.
Be Biblical – Know and teach the truth, and show it in your life.
Bank workers study genuine money, not counterfeit bills, so they will recognize bogus money. Similarly, if we want to recognize wolves in sheep’s clothing, we must know what a true sheep looks like! Because evil disguises itself as truth—and remember, Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14)—we must study God’s Word so we can quickly recognize error. Even in some evangelical churches, people are not being taught the whole counsel of God. It’s important to anchor our lives in God’s character (2 Peter 1:3), and know His standards for unchanging truth, so we will not be cast adrift by the empty, always-changing philosophies of the world (2 Tim. 2:15).
God does not want us to be spiritual babies. He wants us to mature in Christ so we will not be “tossed to and fro” by foolish, crafty schemes and teachings (Eph. 4:13-15). He wants us to grow in understanding and discernment, because he hates “every false way” (Psalm 119:104).
Likewise, God does not want His children to fall into the traps of the Enemy. If we will meditate in the Scriptures, we will be less likely to fall for the counsel of the wicked (Psalm 1:1-2). It is important to come to the Word of God in humility—as a little child—without any ulterior motives and biases, asking our heavenly Father to teach us (Matt. 11:25; 1 Cor. 1:19-20). It is also important to sit under solid, biblical church teaching and to fellowship with strong Christian believers. God wants us to “exercise” our senses and faithfully seek how to live for Him (Heb. 5:14). We need daily exposure to the Word of God so we will be able to “discern what is best”
and live holy, blameless lives (Phil. 1:10).
Truth is the most powerful corrective to error. Once we know the truth, we will want to share it with others who have fallen into error, those who are deceived by false teaching. We must teach and live out the truth of God. We can help other believers stand in the liberty of Christ and “not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1).
Part 2 scheduled for next issue.
(Learn To Discern booklets available at www.Store.ReviveOurHearts.com. package of 20- $10.00) © Revive Our Hearts. Used with permission. www.ReviveOurHearts.com Info@ReviveOurHearts.com http://www.reviveourhearts.com/LearnToDiscern/