Thursday, January 31, 2008

...divine truth applied skillfully in all matters of life and godliness

"The true Christian was intended by Christ to prove all things by the Word of God, all churches, all ministers, all teaching, all preaching, all doctrines, all sermons, all writings, all opinions, all practices. These are His marching orders. Prove all by the Word of God; measure all by the measure of the Bible; compare all with the standard of the Bible; weigh all in the balances of the Bible; examine all by the light of the Bible; test all in the crucible of the Bible. That which can abide the fire of the Bible, receive hold, believe, and obey. That which cannot abide the fire of the Bible, reject, refuse, repudiate, and cast away. This is the flag which He nailed to the mast. May it never be lowered!

A church, which does not honor the Bible, is as useless as a body without life, or a steam engine without fire. A minister who does not honor the Bible is as useless as a soldier without arms, a builder without tools, a pilot without compass, or a messenger without tidings. Stand fast on old principles. Do not forsake the old paths. Let nothing tempt you to believe that multiplication of forms and ceremonies, constant reading of liturgical services, or frequent communions, will ever do so much good to souls as the powerful, fiery, fervent preaching of God's Word. If men want to do good to the multitude, if they want to reach their hearts and consciences, they must attack them through their ears; they must blow the trumpet of the everlasting Gospel loud and long; they must preach the Word."
-John Wycliffe

Part One
After three rich chapters of doctrine and theology, the Apostle Paul calls the church at Ephesus to live a life worthy of their calling (4:1). In verses thirteen through fifteen of that same chapter he gives the bedrock foundation in doing so - knowing the Word of God.
"until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ," -Eph. 4:13-15
“...the faith...” This is not referring to the faith to believe; but THE FAITH; the entirety of Christian doctrine and belief. “...till we all come to...” this is a process, isn't it? Know one is born again with all points of theology firmly in tact. We will be learning till we are home with the Lord Jesus Christ - glorified with Him.

But what Paul is unmistakably saying is:
theology matters; doctrine matters; truth matters;
the Word of God matters!
This is at the heart of being
a biblically discerning Christian.

Discernment on doctrinal/truth issues is not obtained through conscience, instinct, intuition, subjective feelings, contemplative prayer walk-a-bouts, passion, trying harder and then really trying harder, or by spiritual gift. Biblical discernment is a simple yet profound function for every Christian without exception. It is the Holy Spirit (the Swordsman) using the sword of the Spirit (God’s Word) in making the simple wise by constant use to discern between truth and error; good and evil; right from wrong. IOW, it is being a faithful Berean (Acts 17:9-11).

The Need for Being Discerning: Trojan Horses in the Evangelical Camp
Dr. MacArthur shares this familiar historical story and relates it well to this issue of discernment. He says,
The conquering of the city of Troy is one of the famous stories of ancient history. Greek soldiers had laid siege to the city for over ten years, but were unable to conquer it. In exasperation Ulysses, a brilliant strategist, decided to have a large wooden horse built and left outside the city walls as a supposed gift to the unconquerable Trojans. The Greeks then sailed away in apparent defeat. The curious and proud Trojans brought the wooden horse inside their fortified walls. That night Greek soldiers hidden inside the horse crept out and opened the city gates to let their fellow soldiers into the city. The soldiers massacred the inhabitants, looted the city, and then burned it to the ground. Ever since, the Trojan horse has been a symbol of infiltration and deception.

Throughout its history, the church has embraced many Trojan horses. Satan has effectively used enemies disguised as gifts to lure people away from the truth of God into destructive error. Today's church is in a particularly severe state of confusion. That should be no surprise, for the apostle Paul said, "In the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power" (2 Tim. 3:1-5). The apostle Peter echoed that truth: "There will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words" (2 Pet. 2:1-3).

Today's church is like the religious leaders of Jesus' day, who could tell the difference between superficial things like pleasant and stormy weather, but not between truth and error (Matt. 16:1-3). So many churches have relinquished biblical ethics and doctrine, a deep reverence and worship of God, repentance over sin, humility toward God and fellow believers, and a profound understanding of God's character and work. All that has resulted in a low-level commitment to holy living.

In contrast, God calls all true believers to pursue perfect conformity to the absolute, holy standard of His Word. First Peter 1:14-16 says, "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy.'" If you're going to live a holy life that pleases the Lord, it's essential that you be spiritually discerning.
This is the great need for every believer today - to be biblically discerning. There are so many schisms and false teachings infiltrating the body of Christ today that we all need to be faithful Bereans, stewards of the mysteries of God, testing all things and clinging to what is good through the lens of God's Word. I have said this before here: "you don't go liberal by reading your Bibles."

So as we crave, read, study, meditate, obey, and apply ourselves to the truth of God's Word by the power of the Holy Spirit, we become discerning people. It is impossible to be otherwise.

"Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night."

-Psalm 1:1-2

What is discernment?
One author on this issue, that we will look at in another article in some detail, defines discernment this way: “discernment is the skill of understanding an applying God’s Word with the purpose of separating truth from error and right from wrong.” That’s not half bad... However, though that definition is simple, this same author at the end of his book provides a checklist of seventeen things (count ‘em) that he feels are necessary to be discerning in testing any truth claims or assertions. This, to be sure, is an unnecessary and arduous exercise that will not make you biblically discerning, but may prove profitable if you were to make a career path of writing tutorials for computer software programs. :-).

The following is more to the point:

John MacArthur defines discernment as: “the ability to understand, interpret, and apply truth skillfully.” I really like that - it says plainly. He goes on to say, “Spiritual discernment is the skill of separating divine truth from error.”; to which I would humbly add: “according to the truth of the Word of God.”


You can write that on a post-it note and put it on your refrigerator, desk, bulletin board, or the dashboard of your car and be constantly reminded of what it means to be a discerning Christian. The only book you need to read to learn how to be discerning, beloved, is the Word of God. All other tomes with extensive lists are just smoke and mirrors and reveal that one really doesn’t know much about this issue.

Again, discernment is for every believer in the Lord Jesus; it's a work of the sanctifying grace of God, through the Spirit of God, according to the Word of God. Every believer can and should be a discerning Christian.

In summary, we could say that discernment then is measuring, testing, and examining all things in light of Scripture rightly divided and applied to all matters of life and godliness, in order to distinguish between truth and error, right and wrong, good and evil.

Biblical Wisdom
Wisdom is the truth of God’s Word applied to life situations; discernment is the fruit that such consistent application in the power of the Holy Spirit yields. We must remember that biblical discernment is not caused by or simply the by-product of man’s own diligent efforts or abilities over time. Biblical discernment comes as a work of the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:21ff) in the life of every believer through God’s Word (2 Tim. 3:16f; Heb. 5:14) in which He gives us divine wisdom (James 1:5), guides us into truth, teaches us, and equips us to live circumspectly in all matters of life and godliness (John 16:12-16; Eph. 5:16-18; 2 Peter 1:3-4).

This is the backdrop of Heb. 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.” Good and evil, in context here, is specifically referring to sound and unsound doctrine (i.e. truth and error). Biblical discernment is having our “senses exercised” as a result of faithfully studying, craving, obeying, meditating and submitting to God’s Word and the Lordship of Christ, be-being filled with the Holy Spirit in our daily Christian walk, so that “the simple are made wise” and given the ability to recognize doctrinal departure (no matter how miniscule) from the standard of God’s Word to a lessor unbiblical standard. Discernment is greatly needed for usually those deviations from the truth of Scripture are subtle and cunning.

Is Discernment a Spiritual Gift?
However, biblical discernment is not classically a spiritual gift as either defined by or listed in Romans 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:1-11; 1 Peter 4:7-11; yet unmistakably a ministry of the Lord in His people. However, “the distinguishing of spirits” is a spiritual gift (1 Cor. 12:10). The following quotes and Scriptural examples contained below help to define this gift for us:
John Gill: To another discerning of spirits; by which gift such that were possessed of it could, in some measure, disc ern the hearts of men, their thoughts, purposes, and designs, their secret dissimulation and hypocrisy; as Peter, by this gift, discerned the dissimulation and lying of Ananias and Sapphira; and by it they could also tell whether a man that made a profession of religion had the truth of grace in him, or not; so Peter knew hereby that Simon Magus was in the gall of bitterness, and bond of iniquity, notwithstanding his specious pretences to faith and holiness, whereby he imposed upon Philip the evangelist, who might not have this gift of discerning spirits; by which also they could distinguish the Spirit of God from the lying spirits in men; of which there is an instance, Acts 15:17.

Calvin Commentary: The discerning of spirits, was a clearness of perception in forming a judgment as to those who professed to be something. (Acts 5:36.) I speak not of that natural wisdom, by which we are regulated in judging. It was a special illumination, with which some were endowed by the gift of God. The use of it was this: that they might not be imposed upon by masks, of mere pretences, (“By the show and fair appearance which persons sometimes have.”) but might by that spiritual judgment distinguish, as by a particular mark, the true ministers of Christ from the false.

Geneva Study Bible: By which false prophets are know from true, in which Peter surpassed Philip in exposing Simon Magus; (Acts 8:20).

Albert Barnes: To another discerning of spirits. Comp. 1 John 4:1. This must refer to some power of searching into the secrets of the heart; of knowing what were a man’s purposes, views, and feelings. It may relate either to the power of determining by what spirit a man spoke who pretended to be inspired, whether he was truly inspired or whether he was an impostor, or it may refer to the power of seeing whether a man was sincere or not in his Christian profession. That the apostles had this power, is apparent from the case of Ananias and Sapphira, (Acts 5:1-10,) and from the case of Elymas, Acts 13:9-11. It is evident that where the gift of prophecy and inspiration was possessed, and where it would confer such advantages on those who possessed it, there would be many pretenders to it; and that it would be of vast importance to the infant church, in order to prevent imposition, that there should be a power in the church of detecting the imposture.

Matthew Henry: To another the discerning of Spirits, power to distinguish between true and false prophets, or to discern the real and internal qualifications of any person for an office, or to discover the inward workings of the mind by the Holy Ghost, as Peter did those of Ananias, Acts 5:3.
Both the spiritual gift of “the distinguishing of spirits” and the practice of biblical discernment, though different, are both of great benefit to the body of Christ in equipping the church to guard against false teachers - their motives and methods; AND to give us wisdom so that we may learn to faithfully “test all thing and cling to what is good” being trained by constant use to discern truth from error; good from evil; genuine from counterfeit.

I hope this adds to this important discussion and much needed issue of biblical discernment to the body of Christ.

In His sanctifying grace,


Wm Mallory said...


Excellent audiocast!

Your comments on Eph 4:13-15 are well needed. I am convinced also that the faith is refering to Christian doctrine, the complete content of the gospel. Harmony and discernment among believers is only possible when it is built on the foundation of sound doctrine. That is why we see so much division and lack of discernment in evangelical circles today.

In verse 13. "the knowledge of the Son of God". Many again believe that to be salvation knowledge, when infact this verse is referring to the deep knowledge of Christ that believers come to have through the faithful study of God's Word, prayer and obedience to his commands. We see this in Col 1:9-10, Col 2:2 and Phil 3:8,10-12..

Also vs 13. "the fullness in Christ". God wants every believer to manifest the qualities of His Son Jesus, who is the standard for their spiritual maturity and perfection in the faith. Rom 8:29, Col 1:28,29 and 2 Cor 3:18.

Steve you said:

"But what Paul is unmistakably saying is: theology matters; doctrine matters; truth matters;
the Word of God matters!
This is at the heart of being
a biblically discerning Christian."

And I simply say amen!

by His Grace alone,


SJ Camp said...

Thank you Bill for your insights and encouraging words.

In this postmodern age, what a tremendous need there is to stand for the truth of God's Word.

Grace and peace to you brother,
2 Cor. 4:5-7

DaWildBoar said...


Wonderful article! I especially enjoyed the blogcast. I agree with Bill and want to encourage you to do more things like this.

I'm fairly new to the blogosphere. But of all the sites I have visited recently, this is one of the most biblically and theologically sound blogs I've seen.

Stand firm in the grace that is in Christ Jesus,


gigantor1231 said...


I have found that many times it is not that Christians do not understand discernment, or that they are not discerning but that they are simply hood winked into believing that being discerning is improper or self righteous judgment! Many Christians are cowed into a posture of fear that they will offend by exposing what they know is wrong. That is why it is so critical for us who have the knowledge and God given fortitude to stand up and resist the lies of the world.

2 Corinthians 10: 4-6;

4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (2 Co 10:4-6). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

While we need to be wise and gentle in how we confront, we still need to confront and expose in order to tear down. We need to show the same prejudice that the Old Testament saints did against idolatry. We need to uproot and burn down those lies and misrepresentations that false teachers would attempt to infiltrate the Church with, and we need to remember that in our doing we are doing God's work, it is not a work of our own.

He is our strong tower, our deliverer and our hope.


Mark said...

In the name of discernment, I'd like to point out that Wycliffe couldn't have penned those words. The first practical use steam engine wasnt invented until 1698, and the first commercial steam engine wasn't introduced until 1712. Furthermore, I've found two sources that attribute the steam engine analogy to JC Ryle writing about Wycliffe in 1902.

But I agree with your points.