Discernment is becoming an ever-increasing rarity in the world. Everywhere, people are calling good what is evil, and evil what is good. It is no surprise, for the prophet Isaiah said as much in chapter 5, verse 20:
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness;
Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
Even within the church, this phenomenon is sweeping! People make bad choices, accept wrong ideas, indulge in wrong theology, and are prone to wrong teaching. They are unwise in who they listen to, what they watch, and what they read. Sadly, in many of those cases, the lack of discernment is met with apathy. People just don’t care to be discerning, especially when it comes to spiritual matters.
In his book, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, Tim Challies gives this definition for discernment:
The skill of understanding and applying God’s Word for the purpose of separating Truth from error, and right from wrong.
Many churches have some people who are discerning. All churches have many who are not. However, all churches should be striving to develop a congregation in which every member is a discerning member, teaching them to search the scriptures. But there is more to searching the scriptures than just opening and reading the Bible.
In the New Testament, we are told of two groups who searched the scriptures. In Acts 17, the Apostle Paul is quickly rushed out of Thessalonica under the cover of night, and sent to Berea. There, he went to the synagogue to teach. Then, in verse 11 we read:
Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, searching the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.
The Bereans searched the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul and Silas were teaching was accurate. The result was that many of them believed, including many prominent Greek women and men.
The other group who searched the scriptures was the Pharisees. In John, chapter 5, Jesus has just healed a man on the Sabbath, and called God his own father, making Himself equal with God, and the Pharisees were not happy. In fact, they were seeking to kill him (v.18). In verses 39-40 and 46-47, Jesus makes this stunning accusation:
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, (40) yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life… (46) For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. (47) But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
The Pharisees searched the scriptures to see if they could prove Jesus wrong. They were looking for error. Their source was identical to the Bereans. Both had the same scriptures, but their motives were different.
Approaching scripture for any purpose other than to discover and believe the truth is contrary to, and defeats the purpose of discernment. Its not enough to simply search the scriptures. One must have the correct motives and goal. Through discernment, error is detected in order to enable a person to distinguish it from truth, so that he may learn and live by that truth.
“The Christian faith requires much of the listener. It requires him to think, to be on the alert, to know his Bible well, to weigh and evaluate all that he is exposed to.” – (A Call to Discernment, p74)