When someone is witnessing, teaching or preaching on God’s behalf, are they always telling the truth? We hope so but is there a possibility that they could be lying? Is there a possibility that they are not revealing the whole truth?
As believers, how do we determine truth or lies? How do we decide whether a person is truly representative of God? Are they representing “dark” forces not related to God at all? Billy Graham* writes that the world has “hundreds of religious leaders who are not servants of God, but they serve the Anti-christ. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing; they are tares instead of wheat.” I don’t know about you but that sounds a bit ominous.
As Christians, we are commanded to “hate what is evil; cling to what is good” [Romans 12:9]. But, unless we have true discernment, how can we determine what is “evil” and what is “good”? In order to maintain the purity of the gospel, the church must distinguish truth from heresy. Wisdom also demands that we properly discriminate between what is “best” and what is merely “good.”
What do we have to do in order to know what to do in situations like this?
The problem is that not everybody has this Holy Spirit gift.
The word “discern” is translated from the Greek word anakrino in the New Testament. It means “to distinguish, to separate out by diligent search, to examine”.** Many think discernment is like wisdom, and one could make an argument that it is related, but discernment is much more than just wisdom. Hebrews 4:12 says that the Word of God is said to discern the thoughts and intentions of one’s heart. It has the ability to “discriminate.” This goes beyond head knowledge; it is spiritual knowledge.
The previous reference gives you a tip about discernment. People who have discernment have a deep familiarity with God’s word. A discerning person acknowledges the power of God’s word and studies The Word. Proverbs 8: 8-9 states “All the words of my mouth are just; none of them is crooked or perverse. To the discerning, all of them are right; they are faultless to those who have knowledge.” Naturally, people who want to walk in righteousness have a hunger for the Bible and they can apply their Bible knowledge to situations that call for discernment. They may be able to separate the wheat from the tares.
Graham also says believers need to respect the opinions of those who have this gift. The Apostle John said “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” [1 John 4:1].
This again brings up something that was mentioned in the fourth sentence of this post, that term “dark forces.” Many Christians don’t like that reference. They don’t want to acknowledge that there are people who are actively working against God in our world today. Graham writes “Spiritism, the occult, the worship of Satan and activities of demons have increased rapidly throughout the western world.” In a Chapman University poll conducted in 2017, fifty-five percent of Americans believe that paranormal spirituality is real. Membership numbers for the church of Satan vary greatly due to the fact that many people practice privately and participate mostly online, but these people do exist. It is much easier to say that Satanists are not real rather than admit that they may pose a threat, but probably the “false teacher” does more damage than people who dabble in the paranormal or people who align themselves with Satan. The false teacher is one who appears to be a knowledgeable believer but they are not. They are the “wolves in sheep’s clothing” that Graham refers to above. They direct believers down the wrong path.
The Christian with discernment believes what Jesus said about fruit: “a tree is recognized by its fruit” [Matthew 12: 33]. First of all, what does the Jesus-based teacher say about Jesus? Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God, but a false teacher may not acknowledge that clearly. Anyone who denies that Jesus is equal with God, who downplays Jesus’ sacrificial death, or who rejects Jesus’ humanity is suspect. Examine this; does your teacher preach the Gospel? The gospel is defined as the good news concerning Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection; any teaching other than that should be condemned. Does your teacher exhibit character qualities that glorify the Lord? In other words, a false teacher “can be known by his pride (Cain’s rejection of God’s plan), greed (Balaam’s prophesying for money), and rebellion (Korah’s promotion of himself over Moses). Jesus said to beware of such people; that we would know them by their fruit.”***
Certainly God gives some individuals extraordinary abilities to discern the truth. Scripture tells us everywhere that anything religious should be evaluated very carefully; that even the churches where we go to worship must be examined to see if they are sound in truth.
It seems to me that discernment is a useful spiritual gift and maybe we should all desire it. After discussing it, maybe we should use the prayer that is expressed in Psalms 119: 125 as our guide: “I am your servant; give me discernment that I may understand your statutes.”
The more that we dedicate ourselves to understanding God’s statutes in His word, the more we can separate the wheat from the tares, the wolves from the sheep.
Or maybe we can consult the Jesus believer who has the gift of discernment; they can certainly tell the difference between what is God and what is not…
*from his book The Holy Spirit
**from the “Got Questions” website “Discernment”
***from the “Got Questions” website “How Do I Recognize a False Teacher?”