Friday, October 19, 2012

The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment- Chapter 3

(A few friends and I are reading this book together. Each week we are reading one chapter. On Fridays, I am posting my comments, then giving them the opportunity to add their thoughts as well. If you would like to join us or simply find out more about the book, you can read about it here.)
Chapter 3
In chapter 3, the author went about the task of definining the term "discernment."  Here is what stood out to me:

- Throughout the chapter he pointed out that at the root of discernment is knowledge of God's Word.  Without that root, one cannot have discernment.  In some ways, it seems obvious to me, but I am glad for His emphasis on the Word of God. 

- Similarly, he noted that few people "understand that to know God's will we must first know God's truth."  This is needed- people throw around the phrase "God's will" yet they often do things directly contrary to God's will.  We must live and teach that God's will must align with His Word.

- He made the case that wisdom is knowledge with a moral and ethical dimension to it.  I appreciated this- it helped me separate them in my mind.  In the same way, showing that discernment is the application of wisdom to a real-life situation helped me delineate those two.

- "Discernment is thinking in black-and-white terms, drawing clear lines between what is truth and error, what is good and evil."  (Page 59)  Being able to rightly discern is so important in our world because so much is seen as gray and so many people look down on those who will dare to speak out the truth of God's word and call things white or black.

- I think he defined the word really well: "Discernment is the skill of understanding and applying God's Word with the purpose of separating truth from error and right from wrong."  (Page 60)

- The illustration that the skill of discernment is like reading or public speaking (learned) and not breathing or chewing (inherent) was helpful to me.

- I think John mentioned something about this concerning the last chapter, but it stood out to me here.  The author said, "We can only worship and glorify God on the basis of what we know of him."  The older I get, the more I am realizing that people are basing their view of God not on what is revealed in His Word, but from something/someone else.  We both say we are worshiping God, but there is such a difference in our understanding because there we have learned from different sources.  This compels me to study His Word so I can know, worship, and glorify Him correctly.

- He explained that God's Word helps the light appear lighter and the dark appear darker.  This captured it for me.  A familiarity with God's Word will allow us to point out why something is right or wrong instead of just having an intuition that it is the case.

- For awhile, I was failing to understand the difference he was making between right/wrong and truth/error.  I finally got it that truth/error referenced doctrine (what we believe) while right/wrong referenced the practical application (how we live).

- "Any method [of discernment] that points anywhere but Scripture implicitly points away from Scripture." (Page 68)  This helped me with another quote I heard recently: "A man with an experience is not at the mercy of a man with an opinion."  I realize now why this quote bothered me: it is putting too much value on experience.  In some instances, this quote could be correct (experience with money as opposed to a mere opinion), but since the quote is not always correct, I find it misleading.
- He again emphasized that discernment is work.  It takes time and effort.  Too often I want the easy way- I want a "proof text" instead of rolling up my sleeves and doing the work to discern the mind of God based on the principles He has put in His Word.  May we be men who embrace the challenge and not shy away from it!
I've had my say, what say you?


  1. Here are my comments from Chapter 3...

    - "We can only know God's will when we first know God's truth, for what God desires and requires of us must always be consistent with His character." If we must know God's truth prior to knowing God's will, it would be wise to consider what is God's truth. In John 14 Jesus said that HE is "...the truth..." and in John 1 we see that Jesus is also the Word. God's truth is then directly tied to God's Word and THAT will always be consistent with God's character.

    - "Those who make decisions that honor God are those who have invested effort in studying what God says to be true." This was a helpful statement as it placed an emphasis on INVESTED EFFORT...a key element that is lacking in the lives of many Christians today. The Bereans of Acts 17 were commended as being "...more noble..." because they "...received the word..." AND "...searched the scriptures daily..." May God help us to be Christians who are not afraid to apply ourselves and give of our time to search and study out God's Word and God's will.

    - "Truth comes first and application of the truth follows later. And so we must know God's truth before we can know God's will." This was good and yet there is somewhat of an issue today of Christians who KNOW what God SAYS and yet refuse to ACT upon it. They are simply hearers of the word and not doers of the work.

    - "Wisdom is the application of the fear of God to life." I would like to further clarify or simplify that to say that wisdom is the application of the Word of God to our life. God's Word must be the final authority for our lives.

    - "Wisdom is more than merely attaining or collecting facts. A person may have a great deal of knowledge and may be a master of trivia but still not have wisdom, for there is a moral and ethical dimension to wisdom. Wisdom is not an end in itself, but a means to molding human behavior in a way that pleases God." Not much to add to pretty much stands alone.

    - "Wisdom allows us to pursue what is good in life, not as judged by our standards but as judged by the Creator. Wisdom allows us to see what is important to God, what values he gives for our own benefit, and it allows him to teach us how we can pursue them." I thought this was an excellent point drawing attention to the wisdom we are pursuing is established by God's standards not our own. We must allow HIM to teach us HIS way that we might walk in it.

    - "Without the Holy Spirit - without spiritual discernment - Christians would be no better off than unbelievers, for we would stumble blindly in our search for truth, never being able to separate truth from error." This was a very interesting and good point that the author brought out and it should be an assurance to us as Christians that we have an advantage in Christ that the unsaved world does not. May we yield ourselves to that advantage and allow the Lord to use that to His honor and glory.

    - "Thus we see that discernment begins and ends with God. God provides the ability to know him and to make decisions that please him so we may serve him and bring glory to his name." This is a good summary statement I thought that summed up this matter of discernment.

    All in all, this chapter was a great encouragement especially as it was careful to draw and focus the attention of the reader to the authority of God and His Work in regards to spiritual discernment.

  2. I was very curious to see his definition of discernment and how he distinguishes it from wisdom. The beginning of the chapter was a little slow and somewhat redundant to me as I was reading it, but it picked up the pace and continued to gain momentum to the end with many good truths.

    Jacob and Thad, you both highlighted many of the same quotes that I found helpful. Jacob, you mentioned the quote regarding discernment’s enabling us to see more in black-and-white terms rather than gray. This coupled with the statement that it is developed just as any other skill, made me think of the shock I have had over the past 10 years over things I used to watch or do that I would not dream of doing today. Even cartoons that I watched as a child have become clearly “unclean” in my mind today. So many included the occult or pure rebellion against authority (which includes many of the Disney films), or other elements that are offensive to us today because we believe they are offensive to God. While some may look at our “standards” as being more strict or conservative (or “legalistic”), my conclusions on different “gray areas” have come from reading the Bible and asking, “What does God think about this?” We adopt many standards in life based on what “so-and-so” thinks or does rather than what God says in His Word.

    “The tragedy is that most of the young people in the church at large do not know it [that to know God’s will we must first know God’s truth]. They’re trying to find God’s will, often very sincerely, but don’t know what the Bible says.” (pg. 54) This is very true. I know personally several who talk about wanting to know God’s will but are looking for it everywhere but they have many excuses as to why they are not into the Word of God.

    “Discernment involves ‘the divinely given ability to distinguish God’s thoughts and ways from all others.’” (quote by Jay Adams, pg. 60) This really makes quite a line in the sand for everything…. Either it is man’s thoughts or God’s. His statement later on page 69 further says, “Any method that points anywhere but Scripture implicitly points away from Scripture. It must be rejected.”

    On page 61, the author gives a hypothesis that Solomon did not receive all the wisdom from God at once but that it had to be exercised and developed. I had never considered this. I have wondered how Solomon could have been so wise and yet fall into idolatry and such, but if he had ceased to exercise what God had given him, it would explain a lot. Maybe Solomon’s problem and downfall was not his lack of wisdom but of discernment.

    “People who do not have the Spirit cannot be discerning.” (pg. 66) Ever experienced this when witnessing or talking with lost people? Thought this was a good statement.

    I loved the conclusion when he states the discernment will also be done away with eventually. I knew that faith would be done away with, but had not thought of discernment. Wisdom will remain, but the need for discernment will cease.

    Once again, I was challenged to study more in His Word and eagerly await the next chapter.

  3. -A great chapter, I think his best yet.

    -I felt his definition of discernment was accurate and thorough. His explanations helped me understand various terms alot better. Prior to reading, I had always heard that knowlege was facts, and wisdom was the application of facts. Now, I see that knowlege is facts, wisdom is understanding the relationships between facts, but discernment is being able to apply the facts and relationships to specific situations.

    -the aspect of morality in discernment was powerful. An undisciplined life will not discern because it is too lazy to (a) study to get knowlege (b) think to understand relationships or (c) stop to apply Biblical principle. His pointing out of the character qualities of Prov. 1-9 helped me understand that character is an underpinning for discernment. Education only solves one aspect of the problem. We emphasize knowlege over the character that must precede all else.

    -truth and error vs. right and wrong one is knowlege the other is discernment. How perceptive!

    -"Spiritual discernment is a gift from God." Just as righteousness is a gift, so the discerning what is right and wrong is also a gift. However, the danger is to assume that if we lack discernment, we missed out when the gifts were given. God has given many gifts that must be developed, awakened, and put on. Paul told Timothy to stir up the gift. The righteousness of the Word has been given, The Holy Spirit has been given, now discernment must flow from these gifts. It is God's will.

    -Very helpful chapter. I will not rehash other great comments from above.