In today’s world, although this has always been needed, we are seemingly in greater need of extra grace in the area of discernment. The messages we are hearing and resources available now inundate us with dangerous thinking and provide a path down a slippery slope. The Bible speaks of the wide and narrow gates in Matthew and we would be wise to listen:
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
~Matthew 7: 13-14
Just like we cannot be lukewarm, but are either hot or cold for the Lord (Revelation 3:15-16), we cannot have one foot walking the broad path and one foot on the narrow path. We need to make sure that we are firmly rooted in God’s Word and are walking on the narrow path that leads to life. We do this through discernment in our choices of books and resources that we utilize and people we listen to and follow.
Recently, through a blog post series over at John MacArthur’s blog Grace To You, I found myself on a rabbit trail with a sick stomach to what I was uncovering. My heart was breaking because of the subtly the devil is using to thwart the true gospel and lead people unknowingly astray. I was reminded of the verse in Revelation that warns of the deception being so slick that even the saints would be deceived, if that were possible (Matthew 24:24).
While I am not going to start pointing fingers and mud-slinging, I do want to share what I discovered. You are free to follow a similar path on your own- there are many good articles that explain the ins and outs quite well already written.
The article series that I read discussed the “christian” trend of the charismatic movement that has been gaining popularity since the 1920’s. And there was a call for discernment and to be wary of the men and women in the mainstream evangelical circles today that are attracting droves of people who are buying into it all hook, line and sinker. In this movement, if we look objectively, we can see many traits that are called out in the New Testament.
Jesus, in Matthew tells us that
For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
In 2 Peter 2: 1-3 Peter writes to a young church:
But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them, bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.
~2 Peter 2:1-3 NIV
It seems there are many false teachings in today’s mainstream Christianity that are dangerously close to the gnostic teaching of biblical times. We can see New Age thinking cleverly disguised as christian. We are seeing people claiming to have special insight from Jesus himself, just like the New Testament warns about. We are hearing a feel-good message that everything will be fine in our own power, just like the Old Testament prophets that contradicted God’s warnings to repent.
If you read through the books of Old Testament prophesy, you will find that Israel time and time again chose the feel-good message of the false prophets over God’s call of repentance and very clear description of what would happen if they did not turn back to Him. Time and time again, Israel would shun the truth in favor of a feel-good message and find themselves experiencing exactly what God had said would happen.
The feel-good message then is the same as now. It will lead no where good and certainly no where we want to go.
My rabbit trail exposed false teachings, showed me where I was embracing them and helped me discern where I would find truth. I came to see that trying to glean the good from people who give false teaching is dangerous and I should not look for truth there, but should rather seek truth from trustworthy sources. This will keep the devil from gaining a foothold in my mind. He is quite good at transforming himself into an angel of light (2 Corinthinans 11:13-15) and I can see that the false teachers are more or less wolves in sheep skins (Matthew 7:15). If we follow them, it won’t be long and we will find ourselves sliding down the slippery slope and landing on the broad path that leads to destruction.
Although we are sealed for the Lord and cannot lose our salvation if we are truly saved (John 6:36-38), it can be argued that we then have the freedom to pursue non-christian or seemingly christian books and media. But why would we want to? At worst, since the devil can’t take us out of God’s hand, he can distract us from growing in our faith and keep us from furthering God’s kingdom and being used by God. That does not seem worth the nugget of good I may find and it is not a risk I am personally willing to take.
There is clear biblical direction here, also. In Colossians we read:
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.
~Colossians 2: 6-8 NIV
And if we dig a little deeper, we find Paul’s words to the Corinthian church in 2 Corinthians:
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?
For we are a temple of the living God. As God has said “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God and they will be my people.” Therefore “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” And ” I will be a father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.
~2 Corinthians 6:14- 7:1 NIV
If we are walking with God, these are clear commands for us to follow. We should not be trying to get as close to the broad way as we can because we are “safe” but rather we should be attempting to stay as far away as we can from the broad way to ensure our walk on the narrow path. We must remember that one step toward the broad way is a step away from the narrow path!
As I have been processing what was made clear to me, I remembered praying for discernment at some recent point and I think that discernment may just be the key point of the lesson. In times such as these, we need to be asking God for discernment much like we ask him for wisdom.
After doing a little word study, I discovered that discernment is actually a type of wisdom and that wisdom and discernment share the synonym insight, also sharing both words judgement and knowledge in the meaning but discernment appears to be the application of wisdom.
The Bible clearly states that wisdom is ours for the taking as a gift and all we have to do is ask the Lord for it. (James 1:5) and then with His help we will be able to use it wisely. That then brings us to a very important question.
How then do we gain discernment and use it wisely?
First, we need to be walking with God. By this, I mean that we must be spending time cultivating our relationship with him, praying (talking with God), reading His word and worshiping him through our thoughts and choices throughout our day.
We can look at Abraham as an example for this. He walked and talked with God, brought his concerns to Him and listened for God’s response and directions, then obeyed the Lord’s commands. There was a true relationship there, one that we typically find occurring between two people.
Second, we need to be studying and applying His word. Although this does take some discernment, God will show you men and women to walk with you. Seek out solid commentary of the Bible, pastors and teachers to help you learn and really dive into understanding and applying scripture to your life.
The Bible says that His word is a “lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path” (Psalm 119:105) and when we are spending time in His word studying it, we will begin to walk with discernment and stay on the straight and narrow path that leads to eternity with our Lord.
When people are trained to identify counterfeit money, they study the real thing. They learn all the quirks, lines, colors and feel of the real thing so that the counterfeit version will stand out clearly and much like that training, we need to be studying the truth so that we can discern and identify the false teachings that come our way.
Third, we need to discern the character, ethics and theology of the authors and speakers we are subjecting ourselves to.
Friends, wisdom and discernment are on the narrow path. We need to be careful to separate ourselves from those that embellish the gospel. Scripture warns against adding to or taking away from the Bible (Revelation 22:18-19) and tells us that the Bible is complete and sufficient to live the Christian life (2Timothy 3:16-17).
In 1 Timothy 3, we read:
But evil men and imposters will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Jesus.
~ 1 Timothy 3: 13-15, NKJV
Discernment will enable us to identify and avoid evil men and imposters, preventing us from being deceived.
Again, just like we cannot be lukewarm, but are either hot or cold for the Lord, we cannot have one foot walking the broad path and one foot on the narrow path. We need to make sure that we are firmly rooted in God’s Word and are walking on the narrow path that leads to life. We do this by forsaking the popular and available teachings and resources that are not rooted firmly in God’s Word.
If we are walking with God, listening to and finding our rest in him, we can hear what is promised in Isaiah:
Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it.”
This promise comes if we throw away idols and worship the one true God. This promise comes when we find our salvation in rest and repentance and our strength in quietness and trust.
We do these things when we walk with God, talk with Him, read and study His scriptures, and ask Him for wisdom. It is then that our path will be lit and will will be able to discern truth from false teachings.
I truly believe, because I have experienced it personally and in my parenting journey, that God will grant wisdom when we seek Him and ask Him for it. And when our hearts are right with Him and we stay in His word, He will guide us and give us the ability to discern the truth from the false teaching by which we are surrounded.
For a great deeper explanation of discernment, this article by R C Sproul entitled “What is Discernment” is a great read.
I’ll leave you with the words to that sweet little song you either know from raising little ones or from memory of your little years. These lyrics have been coming into my memory, not as a teaching tool for the littles, but as a caution with a profound message:
Oh, Be careful little eyes what you see…
Be careful little ears what you hear…
Be careful little hands what you do…
Be careful little feet where you go…
Be careful little mouth what you say..
We are called to be the salt and light in this world. We are called to proclaim truth and spread the gospel. To follow those commands, it is imperative that we utilize discernment in our lives. We for sure need to be careful of what we read (eyes) and listen to (ears), careful of where we go to seek truth (feet), careful what we share, pass along and hand out to others (hands and mouth).
Seek Him so that you may stay strong in Him, Friend!
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