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Sunday 23 March 2014

Discernment Must No Longer Be a Spiritual Gift

I have decided to jump on the cessationist band wagon, and before you call me a heretic or write my blog off, just hear me out. I am now thinking of lumping discernment and wisdom in the category of gifts which have ceased. I know the Bible calls discernment a spiritual gift, for example, 8For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit…10to another discerning of spirits…” (1 Cor. 12:8, 10; KJV). I would argue the gift of wisdom, is synonymous with discernment, but if that is not enough, Paul tells us God also gifts us with the ability to discern spirits, aka discernment of what is from God and what is not. Note that James also tells us that God gives wisdom to all who ask, without fault (Jas. 1:5).

In fact wisdom and discernment are not just gifts, but are a big fruit of the Spirit in the Bible, just like prophecy and tongues and healing, which are seen happening left right and centre in the Bible. But as my cessationist friends have spoken up and shared that prophecy, tongues, and healing are no longer gifts for today largely because of how we see them misused and abused, I am now about ready to declare alongside of them that discernment/wisdom is no longer a gift or even a fruit of the Spirit, because I see very little evidence to support its existence at all in the church at large today.

Wow that is an extreme view Matthew, where is this coming from? It comes from a sad but true observation: I see less and less Christians who are able to discern truth from error, heretics and Bible twisters are becoming the norm for evangelical preachers across Australia and the USA, and many people are lapping it up like puppies lap up their water; naively and without even a shred of discerning whether it is good or not.

Let me give you some examples: in today’s church truth has been made a very distant second place to love. If even a hint of harshness or ‘judgementalism’ is felt in speaking against that which is heresy, the instant backlash is, ‘Ah you are harsh and critical, a judgemental Pharisee that cares only about the truth but not people…” etc., etc. goes the cry. I am sure many people have copped this one, it is closely followed by the unrepentant sinners’ motto, “You cannot judge me”, they say as they continue in their sin as if it is ok. Our Christian culture has thrown out the baby with the bathwater, sure people can at times speak the truth in a way which is harmful (I immediately have come to mind certain churches in the USA which picket homosexual funerals, that in my view is a little far guys), I am sure we can all think of some examples of this, and there are times when we have likely all have been judgemental, because no one is perfect.

But the truth is that ‘love’ or ‘grace’ are now the catchcries our politically correct, weak willed Christian culture, uses to bash down anyone who speaks up and says, “Excuse me, that is downright wrong, twisted and yes heretical.” It is now unloving to call someone ignorant because they twist the Bible, and arrogant because they refuse to acknowledge it, because ‘love’ must rule all we do; ‘love’ in the sense of never speaking a harsh word, or being forthright, or calling someone else wrong, or down right dismissing their view because it is dangerous and can lead people astray; this is the kind of love you must now display to be a loving person. You see what I mean? It is now much more Christian to be nice to the person twisting the Bible, than it is to the person pointing out the Bible twisting, this is seen as graciousness, and love, and downright ‘good’ Christian behaviour. It appears to me that discernment has left the church like a drunken sailor runs from the police, quickly and without looking back.

Don’t misunderstand me, I believe love should temper all we do, but hang on a second there, love does not mean you are always nice, sometimes love is mean (read Mal. 2:3-4, or Isa. 3:16-4:1); love does not mean you are never harsh, sometimes love is abrasive (Matt. 3:7-8, Gal. 5:12); love does not mean you cannot call someone ignorant, because sometimes love must snap us back to reality (Isa. 56:10, KJV]), and more importantly than all these things mentioned, love is not to rule the truth, or be over the truth, because “Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6). Truth does not rule over love, and love does not rule over truth, because truth and love are bedfellows, for the simple fact among other things, that God is love (1 John 4:8), and he is the truth (John 14:6). Truth and love, love and truth, walk hand in hand together because they are interconnected, lies are never loving, we must deal with each other, not with love overriding everything we do, but with a true love, a love that rejoices in truth and rejects evil, like the vile thing it truly is. The love we should display is a love that is willing to say a hard truth for the benefit of another’s soul when necessary, but is just as willing to receive the same hard truth when it is spoken to us. 

Christ beautifully exemplifies this, as we know being God, he is love and truth, which means both these attributes are in everything he does. This is why he comes to the broken and humble woman of John 4 and his words are full of gentle instruction, and clear grace, he is kind with her and patient and leads her to himself, the living water, because he is truth and love. Because Jesus is love and truth in Matthew 23 he is insulting (calling people snakes and whitewashed walls), brash (as in confronting), rude (call’s them children of hell and mocks their giving methods), harsh, gives no quarter and flails the leaders of Israel, because their falsehoods are making people into twice the children of hell they are, because he is love and truth he won’t stand for such behaviour, but confronts it. It takes discernment to see that if you place love over truth you get error, the same as if you place truth over love – then you get a different kind of error. Rather they must walk hand in hand, because we see this in Jesus.

This kind of discernment is as rare in the Christian church as are tanned people in Ireland, simply because many Christians have been corrupted by a false, hippyish, politically correct, imposter ideology called by many love, that means if you say a harsh word you cannot be loving, but must be judgemental. You cannot point out that some beloved and popular teachers may not actually be preaching the Bible, because this is not gracious. The worst thing is that these people will tolerate the false teaching and false ideas to boot. I have heard them actually say this, one person I was discussing with said they would rather be friends with someone who looked up to someone who had abused people, than with someone who criticized them for it. I have heard others say that we should never allow truth be the way we approach people, because truth must be subservient to love, and, love is too nice to point out error, even if it is great error.

This is not loving, because love rejoices in the truth, not evil, but many Christians today don’t want a bar of the truth because they see it as divisive and mean. Love must come before theology they say, not realizing that that is a theological statement itself. Really? Love must come before theology? Where do you get that idea? Is that idea based on your reading of the Bible because then it is theology, poor theology, but theology all the same. Better to say, “A radical biblical love that is kind when appropriate and harsh when appropriate, but never rejoices in error, should be the guide of our extended theology of what it means to be a Christian and act like one.”

There are other examples of this lack of discernment. For example, if your church has awesome, world influencing music, it appears that you can teach no wrong, because your worshipful heart is so evident by your music. There are many different examples of this, and look I am all for good Christian music, but we should always hold any ministry accountable for all they teach, not just the good passionate music they produce. And if reaching a lot of people was the measure of a successful ministry, than Oprah should be our Christian standard bearer in every way (scarily for some Christians I think she probably was at one point), note: we also have to measure what we are reaching a lot of people with.  

I would like to discuss this more, but I don’t want to go on forever. Let me conclude with some references about discernment from God’s words and a brief comment on each:   

Philippians 1:9-10 9And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment 10so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ…”

Notice that for love to be true Christian love it must abound more and more with knowledge and discernment. Therefore, you cannot separate true Christian love from truth, because true love is discerning, it does not overlook error in teaching, but lovingly seeks to see if what is being taught is correct, so that you may approve what is excellent, and then be pure and blameless for the day of Jesus’ return. Love, knowledge and discernment all grow together in the wise Christian.

Hebrews 5:14 “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

Here is where the angle I began my blog comes in again; in reality I do believe that discernment is a spiritual gift, but it is not one which comes at salvation necessarily. Though the gift of speaking a word of wisdom, or discerning a spirit may come at the point of salvation (or at some other point as the Spirit wills), true Christian practical discernment, (being able to discern between good and evil, what is true teaching and false teaching, what is correct teaching and what is slightly to the left of good teaching), comes from maturity in the Christian faith, from a solid diet of good Christian teaching, book by book, from careful study, and putting that study into practice in everyday life.

So is discernment no longer a spiritual gift? Well, actually it is, but the lack of it in the church says one of two things: either one, there are much less people who are saved and have the Holy Spirit’s wisdom than we have been led to believe (I hope this is not true, only God can judge this though), or two, and I believe this to be more often the case, many Christians are just immature in their faith and lack the discernment that comes from a diet of solid teaching, and practice, and of this we should not be surprised.

If you listen to some of the most influential teachers in the world, (of the seeker-driven, evangelical and charismatic variety), across denominations, rather than hearing the word of God opened, and our sinfulness and need for the atonement of Jesus expounded and the clear teaching of each text explained clearly; you will hear passage after passage misquoted to be about how special we are, how sin stops us from realizing our potential, how all we need is a clear purpose and we can make a difference in this world; and the scary thing is, most people don’t have an issue with this, they see this as solid Bible teaching.

So we can conclude discernment is still a spiritual gift (by the way I am not a cessationist), is still something God works in his mature believers, but it is very lacking in our church today, considering what passes for truthful, biblical Christianity in today’s church. This is a sad reality, but a reality none-the-less.


  1. Cool thanks brother. Something for me to think about. Just two questions for you that I'd like to know more about. 1. Do you think from the Greek that 'discerning of spirits' is someone being about to tell if someone is motivated by fear, anger, greed, hate etc. Or something else? 2. At salvation are we given a set of gifts permanently or do they come and go from us? Thanks Matt.

  2. Mathew, discernment is not dead, you have proven that by your writing. God never gives up on us, but neither does He change the rules.
    He remains the same yesterday, today and forever.
    My faith in God is encouraged immensely when I see the younger generation taking up the fight for God and shaking the tree of complacency,
    the warning from God that in the latter times there will be a form of Godliness but denying the power has come to pass, but God is not finished yet whilst a spark of His presence exists on earth He will reach out to make His people a holy people who will lift up holy hands.
    Rom 8:28 KJV - 28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to [his] purpose.
    2Ti 3:5 KJV - 5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

  3. Thanks for your words of encouragement Graham, much appreciated, great passages as well that you quoted.
    Nate, I will answer your questions briefly here, but we can talk about it more at home group if you like. 1) I think this gift can have wide application. Paul discerned that a demon was in the slave girl in Philippi (Acts 16:16-18). In 1 John 4:1-3 John tells us to discern the spirits behind prophets to see if they are false or not. The Greek just literally says, “and to another discerning of spirits” just as the KJV says. The ESV’s “and the ability to distinguish between spirits” is accurate to the Greek as well. I think this can apply to the things you mentioned right on up to: is a person filled with the Spirit of God or demonic spirits.
    2) 1 Cor. 12:7, 11, “Now to each one a manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good…All of these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” I think the Spirit gives them as he sees fit, and he may do this at salvation and at other times, it is really up to him when and how he does this. Does he take them away? Again up to him. We often can get natural talents confused with gifts. Graeme could tell you that I have always been a natural talker, ever since I was young. But it was not until I because a Christian, and received the Holy Spirit, that God manifested the gift of preaching in me, through his empowerment. I believe we can exercise a natural talent, and even appear to be very gifted and be acting on behalf of God, but are actually acting in our own power, because we have not sought to rely on God in what we are doing. Notice what verse 7 says, we are not given a little parcel of gifts, but a manifestation of the Spirit, who is God, working in us. It is when God is at work in us and through us, that our gift is being exercised and he does this as he sees fit. This is actually a very big discussion. Happy to give any clarification on Thursday night mate.

  4. Cool thanks for the info.