This is the third article in a three-part series examining the Bible’s call for spiritual discernment. You can access the first article here and the second here. Yesterday we learned the bad news that Scripture portrays those who lack spiritual discernment in three ways: They are spiritually immature, they are backslidden, and they are dead. Those who lack discernment will fit into one of these three categories. These are the dangers of ignoring discernment. Today we will look at good news, for the Bible declares that there are many benefits stored up for those who desire discernment, who seek after it and who practice it.
Discernment shows life
We have seen that a lack of discernment is a mark of spiritual death. The Bible makes it clear that a person with no discernment is a person who has not been saved. The opposite is equally true. A person who exhibits spiritual discernment shows that he has spiritual life. All those who are saved must begin to progress in their ability to discern. Proverbs 9:10 tells us “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” The word translated as “insight” is a Hebrew equivalent to “discernment.” Solomon tells us here that to know God is to possess discernment and that knowledge of God is the very starting point for discernment. Those who fear the Lord, those who know God, must be discerning, for God Himself is the very source of discernment. God is also our motive for discernment, for by living lives marked by discernment we bring honor and glory to His name.
The book of Ephesians also draws a clear line between spiritual discernment and spiritual life. Paul, having told his readers how they as Christians have left the kingdom of darkness, admonishes them now to “Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” Those who know the Lord and have been brought into His kingdom of light, will do their utmost to seek God’s will in discerning what is pleasing to Him. Where there is discernment there is life.
Discernment leads to spiritual growth
Where a lack of discernment leads to backsliding, those who grow in discernment will necessarily grow spiritually. Jesus continually emphasized discernment during His ministry, sometimes scolding those who did not have it and sometimes commending those who did. In Mark 8:17-21, after feeding the four thousand, we find Jesus addressing His disciples after they began to discuss the fact that, even though Jesus just miraculously fed a multitude, they had no bread for themselves.
And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”
Jesus scolds the disciples for not understanding, or discerning, what this miracle points to. Though they watched it unfold and ate of the bread, they still did not understand just who Jesus was and what He was going to accomplish. Their lack of growth kept them from understanding. Their lack of discernment was a clear sign of spiritual immaturity.
But then in Matthew 13:16-17 the disciples ask Jesus why he speaks so often in parables. Jesus explains His rationale and commends the disciples for their ability to understand the parables that are so often hidden from others. “But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” In this case he commends His disciples for exhibiting a level of spiritual maturity. Jesus declared the disciples blessed for their ability to see and perceive. He declared them blessed for their ability to discern. Their spiritual growth was marked by an increase in discernment. Their ability to discern was an unequivocal testament to their spiritual growth.
Discernment leads to maturity
Finally, just as a lack of discernment is a mark of spiritual immaturity, the presence of discernment is a sure mark of maturity. Again, the author of Hebrews warns “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). Christians who are mature are those who have exercised discernment and have learned how to distinguish good from evil. Spiritual maturity is closely tied to discernment. You cannot have one without the other. There are no Christians who are mature but undiscerning.
The Bible makes it clear: God expects and demands that we pursue and exhibit spiritual discernment. Healthy Christians, those who are alive, growing and mature are necessarily those who seek to honor God by discerning between what is good and what is evil.
As we saw at the beginning of this chapter, King Solomon knew the importance of discernment. The early verses of Proverbs are a call for both wisdom and discernment.
My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. (Proverbs 2:1-5)
We are to incline our hearts to discernment and to cry out for it. We should desire spiritual maturity, spiritual growth and spiritual life. We can only have these wonderful benefits if we have discernment.
Proverbs 2 is a father’s call for his son to embrace and treasure discernment. There are few things that are as important, as precious, as discernment. The Bible cries for you to seek after it so you can live, so you can grow and so you can mature in your faith. Will you answer the call?