"Discernment is Not a Gift"
May 5, 2023, 9:56 AM

Discernment is Not a Gift

The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

I’ve observed a false teaching in the evangelical church that continues to cause damage to believers. The false teaching is that discernment is a spiritual gift given to some believers by the Holy Spirit. The truth is every believer is accountable to God to exercise discernment. Discernment — the ability to choose the good, right, and true action — is available to every citizen of the Kingdom. The final chapter of the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew’s Gospel is all about acting wisely, making the right choices about people and actions.

Jesus said that His disciples are to judge what is the action that God requires. In order to do that, He said that the Father will give us wisdom (Matthew 7:1-12). James also wrote that if anyone lacks wisdom, he should ask God and He will give it to him (James 1:5).

In response to all that God has done to make believers His, Christians are not to be conformed to the world, but to be transformed by the renewal of the mind. The result is “That by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2). Ephesians 5:11 points out that Christians were once in darkness but are now “light in the Lord.” Therefore, believers are to live as children of light, that is, to follow Jesus. Disciples of Jesus Christ are told that the “fruit” of living as children of light is “found in all that is good and right and true.” Knowing what is good, right, and true is called discernment. Doing it is wise living.

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10a). To live wisely the creature must know the Creator. God’s word is His self-revelation. Just as the church in the Old Testament knew to apply God’s word for wise living, every believer ought to do likewise. God’s means is as follows: The Bible reveals that God is good, righteous, and true. All three are attributes of the One True God. To know the One True God one must know His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. As the Father is the source, discernment only grows through a personal and intimate knowledge of His Son, Jesus. Discernment is a learned ability, not a gift, and it is available to everyone who professes Christ. Genuine believers are intentional in studying and applying God’s word.

The key to discernment is to know what is right, good, and true. The method for knowing is not easy but is a blessing. The method is the systematic, intense study of the Bible and the theology which proceeds from it. This is not only a personal endeavor; God has ordained that we grow in discernment and wisdom corporately. I am speaking of the necessity of growing in a church that teaches “sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1).

Discernment leads to wise living. Wise living follows the way of blessing. God said the way of blessing was to obey Him. Conversely, He warned that a cursed life would follow the one who disobeyed Him. I have yet to meet someone who wanted to live a cursed life. Yet, by ignorance, neglect, or misinterpreting God’s word, we head towards destruction. Avoid blindly following popular teachers. First, know yourself what is right. Then do it. Be a Berean (Acts 17:11).

The Apostle Paul addressed the barrier to growth in discernment and it is recorded in 2 Timothy 3. He wrote of the “last days,” those days between Jesus’ first and second coming. Paul said that people would be “lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.”

Paul was not describing the world in general. He was describing the visible church corrupted by those who only looked godly. He gave a timeless answer to the problem. Paul’s answer then was for Timothy to continue in what he learned and firmly believed. Paul reminded Timothy that all Scripture was breathed out by God and it’s the Scriptures which are able to make the believer “competent and equipped for every good work.” God’s answer remains the same. The visible church is the place for growth in discernment through personal and corporate study of all that is good, right, and true.