This is a word that is tossed around in Christian circles but can often be misunderstood. What is it? Who has it? What are the signs that you have discernment?
John Bevere titles Chapter 15 of Good or God? “Discernment.” He explains that this is a key factor in being able to determine good from evil. His whole book is about Christians who think they are following Godly lifestyles but really they are following society’s standards [not God’s at all].
He opens his chapter talking about spiritual growth vs physical growth. Physical growth is a process of growing from babies until we are physically grown adults. Time and health are the main factors. If you maintain a healthy body, over time you will reach physical maturity.
Spiritual grow is a very different animal. Sadly, I have known some seventy year old spiritual babies in my life, people who have no idea how to lead a Godly lifestyle. Bevere asks “Have you encountered believers who are only one year old in Christ but are more mature than those who’ve been saved for twenty years?”
According to Hebrews 5:14, discernment occurs when our inward senses can accurately detect the difference between good and evil. Detecting good and evil is essential. Life is about this all-important choice.
But how can you know you have discernment or those around you have discernment? What are the signs of discernment?
Bevere says a healthy fear of God is one key. Godly fear is our motivation to cooperate with God’s grace in order to cleanse ourselves from impurity. People who are not living a Godly life don’t have discernment; in fact their lack of discernment is a major factor in their very frequent struggles. Remember, Bevere proposes that God’s grace is an empowering factor in the Christian’s life, empowering us to have a closer relationship with our Lord. Christians who lack solid spiritual understanding think of grace as a way to “cover” sin.
Christians with discernment are adept at handling adversity. They understand difficult circumstances and know that all people have them. Just because one professes belief in God does not make one immune from trouble. Bevere says “they are more concerned with God’s desires, plans and kingdom than with their temporary discomfort.” Complaining is not a word that applies to this type of person.
Discerning Christians do not approach worship as a duty. Worship is not something that you must do on a weekly basis and after you have fulfilled your hour, you go home and feel good about yourself. You want to participate in Church, you want to attend Bible study, you want to help your church in projects to serve others. You want to grow and you know that Church can help you do that.
In a related idea, discerning Christians know they don’t know it all. God’s intelligence is not man’s intelligence and when we don’t understand, we must act on faith. Immature Christians get “legalistic,” declaring anything that they don’t understand as evil, mysterious and “of the devil.” I once knew a mature Christian who threw his hands up in my Sunday school class and declared “God’s ways are not man’s ways.” He was mature enough to admit his limitations.
Mature Christians are not easily offended. They know that people have needs that are not just like their own. There are different points of view in this world and to be an effective witness, one must exercise flexibility, empathy and understanding. Conversing with someone who has different views does not mean they are wrong and they must be discredited. Learning another’s view can be educational and at least, helpful in knowing the other person.
Discerning Christians can delay gratification. Here is where abundance or lack of abundance is not a problem. Whatever you have is a blessing from God and is appreciated. Greed is not a factor as the source of abundance is acknowledged. Envy is not a factor if lack of abundance is where you are at the moment. Bevere says it best “resources, riches, wealth and abundance are good. But if those are your target, you’ll lack discernment to recognize if the means to acquire them are evil.”
Last but not least, discerning Christians have the capacity to have intimate relationships. The mature Christian cherishes relationships and is able to have fulfilling, long-term connections with others. Christians who are immature cannot maintain relationship in friendship or even marriage. They have issues of brokenness that must be addressed and they leave behind a trail of botched relationships. I have heard it said that their friendships “barely make it out of the kiddie pool.”
If discernment is a key to Christian maturity, as Christians we should all want it, shouldn’t we?
Just as a mature person wants solid food instead of pureed baby food, we should want to know God more intimately. Then Hebrews 5:14 makes a lot of sense “Solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil.”