Discernment. I have a love-hate relationship with that word. On the one hand, some Christians use discernment as an excuse to go on a witch hunt, disqualifying as many leading voices as possible and labeling people “false teachers” at the drop of a hat. Entire ministries are built on this kind of paranoia, and it’s a little sad.
On the other hand, discernment can also be an overlooked and under-valued virtue. In our desire to remain positive, sometimes we accept non-truths and half-truths without thinking through them deeply. When we’re not careful and discerning, we’ll say a hearty “Amen” to any pithy saying that gives us the warm fuzzies.
This is nothing new. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians about our imbalance with discernment two millennia ago. In the closing remarks of his first letter to them, he gave them five big pieces of advice about discernment (I’m inserting #’s for emphasis):
(#1) Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. (#2) Do not scoff at prophecies, but (#3) test everything that is said. (#4) Hold onto what is good. (#5) Stay away from evil of every kind.
– 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 NLT
Paul’s advice sounds a lot like the tip W. A. Criswell used to give about reading, “Read a book the way you eat fish – swallow the meat and spit out the bones.”
An over-active discernment muscle will cause us to be critical of anything that might disturb our spiritual comfort, including the Holy Spirit himself. But failing to test what we think we’re hearing from God is equally dangerous. Let me zero in on Paul’s phrase “test everything.” I live by five tests. When I think I’m hearing from God, here are five tests I apply that I believe will help you be appropriately discerning too: