Disappearing Discernment – by Pastor Curt Sharbaugh
Discernment seems to be a vanishing virtue among professing Christians today. Facebook is awash with quotes that sound positive and even Christian at first glance but come from those who are ultimately enemies of the faith. And who is the most dangerous person in any war? The person who appears as an ally but is, in fact, on the other side. Brothers and sisters, we are in a great conflict. It’s not a war over territory; it’s a battle for our souls, fought at the level of our hearts and minds (see 1 Peter 2:11). In this war, there are false Christians disguised as friends, and we must discern who these imposters are.
A discerning Christian should expect there to be impostors. We were warned from the beginning that “evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13 ESV). But that’s just it. So many Christians act as though there’s no need to be careful. Paul warned the church in Ephesus, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30 ESV). And yet so many Christians act like gullible sheep, willfully walking into the wolves’ den because they lack the discernment to recognize a wolf in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15).
Just so we’re all on the same page, the tactics of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the tactics of an imposter, are notovert. They write books that are found in Christian bookstores. They preach and teach on Christian radio and television stations. They make Study Bibles. Such is the crisis of discernment, those in charge of stores and programming can’t discern the difference either. And if we are not careful, these imposters will lead us to a false gospel, and our false profession will be revealed by our new-found faith.
Impostors, as Paul said, go around deceiving people, but they are also deceived. That means that they may be sincere. They may speak out of their own personal experience and say things that you have felt but have been afraid to admit. They may be witty or captivating as a speaker or author, and please understand that without discernment you will not be able to escape their allure. They will say what you want to hear, and they will say it in a way that sounds like it came from the Bible.
How do we gain discernment so that we can recognize impostors? Proverbs 28:26 says, “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered” (ESV). The word for “mind” here is more often translated “heart.” Another way to translate this might be, “Whoever follows his heart is a fool.” That’s counter to the wisdom of our age, but the Bible says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9 ESV). The first key to discernment is knowing who to trust, and it starts with recognizing that we can’t trust ourselves.
The second line of Proverbs 28:26 points to what we should trust—wisdom. The book of Proverbs is clear from beginning to end; wisdom starts with the fear of the Lord (1:7). The fear of the Lord is a response to knowing the truth about the Lord. We know the Lord by hearing from his Word. Scripture reveals who God is, and we respond to that knowledge with a proper reverent fear, living in light of this holy, all-powerful, omnipresent, sovereign God. This is where discernment begins.
In Acts 20:32, Paul’s solution to the problem of imposters was to point the Ephesians to God’s Word. Since we cannot trust our hearts with natural discernment, Hebrews 4:12 directs us to the Word of God which can discern our hearts. Through the Word, our minds will be renewed by the power of the Spirit so that we can discern God’s will (Rom. 12:2). And as we are fixed in God’s Word, we should be in constant prayer for discernment (Phil. 1:9).
If you desire advice for Christian living but you don’t look to God’s Word, prayerfully reading it, listening to it preached, and meditating on it, then you will be at the mercy of your deceptive heart and deceptive imposters. You may find comfort in the introspective and seemingly insightful advice of other professing Christians, but that comfort may simply be the appeasement of your sinful heart. If you think you’ve graduated from the Bible to books that really speak to your heart, realize that your heart is desperately wicked and longs to hear what in the end is simply poison masquerading as medicine. To find true wisdom, you must fear the Lord, recognizing and seeking his wisdom. If there is no fear of the Lord, you will suffer the consequences of foolish, undiscerning choices (Prov. 1:28-33). Seek true wisdom at all cost through prayerful dependence on God’s Word.