Series - Discern21

Discernment in 2021: Looking for Wisdom

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As we see in passages such as Hebrews 5:14, biblical discernment involves exercising the skill of seeing the differences between good vs. bad, right vs. wrong, true vs. false, and more important vs. less important.

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

But growth in discernment requires more than understanding what it is. Christians also need a heart that hungers for discernment and experience taking practical steps to use it in today’s world.

To put it another way, teaching discernment requires plenty of attention to Scripture—which always feeds both intellect and affections in anyone who is spiritually alive—and plenty of attention to application.

My goal in this post is to feed heart and mind through attention to Scripture. In this case, though, application is pretty built-in also, because a huge part of exercising discernment consists of habitually seeking what Scripture calls wisdom.

Habitually Seeking

Is it enough to pray for wisdom and trust God that we’ll have it when we need it? Consider three facts:

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Discernment in 2021: Biblical Principles for Selecting Sources

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Where should discerning Christians get their information? Whom should we “trust”?

Arguably, Christians shouldn’t “trust” sources at all, other than the Bible. We should consult sources on different sides of an issue and always engage our critical thinking skills. But there’s a reality we have to grapple with: nobody has enough time to personally research every important topic. Even if we were never lazy, we’d end up with favorite information conduits we draw from on a regular basis.

We had better choose well.

The sources we consult regularly become our leaders and teachers to some degree, and we’ll tend to be like them.

He also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” (Luke 6:39–40)

What we listen to, watch, or read on a regular basis influences our attitudes, assumptions, and biases.

Bad company corrupts good morals. (1 Cor 15:33)

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Discernment in 2021: It's Probably Harder Than You Think

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It seems to be everywhere these days: Christians expressing uncritical belief in random claims and conspiracy theories they’ve heard on social media, mainstream media, and right wing media. This external evidence tells us discernment is a desperate need in our churches and ministries in these times. The internal evidence of Scripture tells us that discernment is always needed—and always hard to develop.

In the context of future dangers and pressures, Jesus told His disciples they would need to be like snakes and doves at the same time (Matt. 10:16). They would need to be phronismos—prudent, shrewd, savvy. At the same time, they would need to be akeraios—pure, untainted. Here’s what He said (my translation).

Note this—I’m sending you out like sheep surrounded by wolves. Be savvy like snakes and pure like doves.

It was a call to discernment. It was also a revelation of some of what we’re up against in our efforts to help others, and ourselves, grow in this area.

Why Discernment Takes Work: 3 Reasons

The reasons discernment isn’t automatic, even for mature Christians, are many. Here, we’ll consider three.

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Discernment in 2021: We Have Work to Do

Christians understand that they have a special relationship with truth. Our Savior described Himself as “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6) and declared that faithfulness to Him leads to soul-freeing truth (John 8:31-32). Both Old and New Testaments exalt insight into truth, as “wisdom” (e.g., Prov. 4:5-7, Matt. 10:16) and “discernment” (Phil. 1:9, Heb. 5:14). We worship the “God of truth” (Deut. 32:4, Psa. 31:5, Isa. 65:16), and are called to be lights of truth in the world (Phil. 2:15).

But we’re only human.

Though truth is central to our identity as Christians, we easily fail to see the practical implications of that. We forget who we are. We get confused. We get lazy. Soon, we’re tripping over the same obstacles unbelievers do and clinging to many of the same attractive lies.

In recent years, we face some special challenges.

The rise of “infotainment” means that, more than ever, our culture overvalues drama, emotion and visual dazzle over facts and reason. The most popular sources of information have a built in bias toward stimulating emotions and senses rather than provoking thought and sound judgment.

Identity politics, all across the spectrum from left to right (yes, also the right), means that our culture overvalues fighting for the claims and language of our group and undervalues listening, seeking points of agreement, and accurate disagreement.

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