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The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment

Have you ever heard a sermon, read a book, or had a conversation that brought some biblical issue into the spotlight for you in a way that perhaps you'd not even considered before? You knew the Bible dealt with the topic, in fact maybe you were even familiar with several verses on the subject, but you'd never seen just how pervasive, or important, that particular biblical issue was.

This is what it has been like for me, reading Tim Challies' new book The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment. To be honest, I knew spiritual discernment was important, even critical. But Challies has spotlighted the biblical prominence of spiritual discernment in a way that is most helpful and, well, enlightening.

The Scriptures are full of the stories of people who brought either great joy to themselves and pleasure to God through right and careful discerning, or great misery to themselves and shame on the name of Christ through careless and thoughtless living. There is a distinct and unavoidable call throughout the pages of God's Word to exercise purposeful, knowledgeable, Scriptural discernment in the big and small decisions of life. Just like any other sin, we cannot excuse careless living by pleading ignorance.

But of course none of us are where we ought to be, yet. The exercise of spiritual discernment is exactly that -- the sweaty, determined, goal-oriented exercise of our souls. If we desire to be spiritually mature, we must be willing to do the hard work of becoming spiritually discerning. As Challies writes:

The Bible places great emphasis on spiritual maturity because, like children, immature believers are prone to sample anything. They are attracted to what looks good to their untrained eyes. Only as they grow in maturity are they able to differentiate between what pleased God and what does not. Because of this there can be no growth without discernment.

My wife and I have learned something else about children: children hate to be called children. Babies hate to be called babies. They don't like to be known as immature or childish, even when they clearly are. Every little boy wants to be a big boy. Every little girl wants to be a woman. God has somehow built into us a desire to mature. Every person want to feel mature and grown up. When the author of Hebrews describes his readers as children he is not paying them a compliment, and he knows that they will be insulted. He hopes to show them their desperate condition and to impress upon them how serious their spiritual condition is. God demands and expects maturity, and maturity is inseparable from discernment. A Christian cannot have one without the other.

The admonition to which he is referring is found in Hebrews 5:11-14 . There the writer reminds us that the art and grace of genuine, spiritual discernment comes only to those who " by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil." Only by regularly using God's Word (not jut hearing it, not just reading it, not just talking about it), do we become skilled with God's Word. And only when we are skilled with God's Word will we be able to accurately discern right from wrong.