As I have traveled and taught all over the world this last year, it’s become clear to me that one of our most pressing needs in the body of Christ is to grow in using the gift of discernment. Many people today seem to think that discernment means figuring out what’s wrong with other people, finding others who agree with them, and then using that to justify their choice to create distance with those they have judged offensive.
This is not the gift of discernment.
Like all spiritual gifts, the gift of discernment was designed to operate through the spirit of love. As Paul admonished the Philippians:
And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which [are] by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11 NKJV)
When love governs our discernment, it produces two distinctive fruits:
1) We approve what is excellent.
2) We are innocent of offense and unoffendable.
When love is not driving our discernment, however, what happens? We can still abound in knowledge, but it will cause us to puff up, not build up (see 1 Cor. 8:1). Instead of discerning and approving what is excellent, our discernment will fuel disapproval and offense. This is a huge problem, as I will explain in a moment.
How can we grow in using our discernment so it’s actually a gift to others? Here are 3 guiding principles for growing in this gift:
Principle 1: Recognize the Other Spirit
The reason it’s such a big problem when our discernment isn’t operating through the spirit of live is that there is only one other spirit through which it can operate. It’s the antichrist spirit.
The primary drivers of the antichrist spirit are intellectual and religious pride, fear, and accusation, which produce the fruit of envy, division, and strife. I don’t know about you, but I see this fruit on display daily in our society today in the media and on social media. It’s one thing to seek the truth in the spirit of love and justice, and this we must do. But when we seek truth in the spirit of pride, fear, and accusation—which is happening everywhere these days—we are aligning with a spirit whose sole agenda is to divide and conquer people.
Principle 2: Embrace Our First Responsibility
If we can recognize how the antichrist spirit operates, then our next responsibility is to know the spirit of which we are and make sure we are aligned with the spirit of love.
When a Samaritan village refused to let Jesus enter it, James and John thought they knew the appropriate response: “Jesus, don’t worry about this. Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to call down fire and blow up the town.” And Jesus said, “What? Just because someone rejected me, you want to blow up a town? You do not know what manner of spirit you are of” (see Luke 9:55).
The antichrist spirit blows things up. It blows up people’s lives, marriages, families, and communities. As Christians, we’re called to have nothing to do with this spirit. The spirit we are to be of—the Spirit of Christ—does not destroy, but restores.
When Jesus looked at people, what did He discern? “But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). For Jesus, the pain, anxiety, and lost-ness of people were all signs that they were disconnected from the source of love. And He was moved with compassion and affection to reconnect them to that source.
What happens when you get on social media and encounter the lost-ness of people? Do you distance yourself from them, or are you moved with compassion and affection? When you post or comment, do you have affection for the people you are addressing, or do you not care what happens on the other side of what you say or do? Take responsibility for your spirit.
Principle #3: Pursue the Right Reward of Discernment
The reward of learning to use the gift of discernment through the spirit of love is that we gain what James calls “the wisdom from above.” Wisdom is knowing the right thing to do at the right time. It is utterly practical. But if our discernment is off, our wisdom will be off. And if our wisdom is off, our decisions will be off. As James exhorts us:
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. (James 3:13-17 NKJV)
We—as a nation, and as the body of Christ—desperately need to know what to do with the issues that are coming to the surface on a daily basis. The current sexual misbehavior crisis is just one example. We clearly have a problem to deal with here, but we need genuine discernment operating in the spirit of love to understand what the problem is so we can access wisdom to deal with it in a way that will lead to peace, mercy, and genuine transformation and restoration. If we don’t seek this wisdom, we make room for the spirit of accusation to capitalize on this crisis and produce solutions driven by “bitter envy and self-seeking” that will can only produce “every evil thing.”
When I look out at our nation, I see people who are starving for someone who will give them a reason and a way to heal and unite—to bring shalom into the chaos of their pain, help them to break free from the prison of offense, lay down their weapons of self-protection, and experience the restoration of their hearts and connections. This restoration and unity can only be found in one place, through one Spirit. Let’s invite Him to train us to see people the way He sees them, be moved by compassion as He is moved, and access His wisdom to bring peace, hope, and love into their lives.
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