MLJ Monday – Why Discernment is Vital

MLJ Monday – Why Discernment is Vital September 8, 2008

As a believer living in the West, I’m constantly reminded of the need to exercise discernment, especially when it comes to matters such as claims of spiritual gifts and the activity of the Holy Spirit. I thought today I would go to one of my favorite works by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Joy Unspeakable.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Photo by Iain MurrayDirectly before this quote, the Doctor points out that in all ages there are two main dangers confronting Christians when they need to evaluate claims regarding the reappearance or revival of gifts in the church. The first danger, he says, is to immediately reject such reports, which he is not afraid to call “quenching the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). He goes so far as to call that the more common danger. The second risk is, of course, the opposite to this—uncritical acceptance of everything, which leads to extremism.

He is always very systematic in his thinking, so he goes on to list why we need to be careful to weigh and test everything we hear about. My paraphrased version of his reasons why we need to be discerning are as follows:

  1. The Bible tells us to. (See, for example, 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22.)
  2. Studying Church history throughout the ages should strongly warn us of the consequences of being naive and accepting everything that is reported to be a “work of God’s Spirit.”
  3. Clear evidence we hear of demonic activity in the occult. He argues that it is even possible for evil spirits to “heal” people.
  4. The amazing things that hypnotists can make their subjects do.
  5. The clear weakness and suggestability of people as demonstrated to us through modern psychology and what is called “hysteria.”
  6. The fact that there is a real devil whose goal is to destroy us, and as a result inspires and empowers his servants.

Matthew 24:24: For false christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible.

He then stresses that he is concerned to warn those who are passionate about God, and open to him acting today in dramatic ways. He is clear in the context that he would count himself among that number. The Doctor was clearly not an extreme cessationist.

In this quote he explains what we should not rely on to enable us to make appropriate judgments. Next week we will examine the tests that the Doctor believes should be applied.

I am speaking particularly to those good, honest, spiritually-minded men and women of any age whatsoever who are longing for revival and reawakening . . . For it is your very anxiety to know the fullness and the baptism of the Spirit that constitutes your danger and exposes you to this possibility of not using your critical faculties as you should. . . .

Do not rely only upon your inward feelings . . . that is entirely subjective, and while I do not discount the subjective altogether, I say it is not enough. You must not rely solely upon some inner inward sense, because that is the very thing the devil wants you to do. That means you are not using your full critical faculties; deciding in a purely emotional and subjective manner.

. . . do not be swayed even by the fact that something reported to you makes you feel wonderful . . .You may say, ‘I have never known such love, I have never known such peace, I have never known such joy’ . . . Do not say ‘I feel this is right, everything in me says this is right . . .’ It is not enough. The devil is as subtle as that . . .

Lastly, do not base your judgment on the people who are . . . making their report to you . . . It is often some of the best, most honest and sincere people who can be most seriously led astray . . . The devil does not waste any of his time and energy with your smug formalist — he is safely asleep, already under the drug of the devil, though he is sitting in a Christian church.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Joy Unspeakable, (Eastbourne UK: Kingsway Communications, 1995) 193-195. Emphasis mine.

For more information on Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones see this summary post, my Lloyd-Jones page, or the MLJ Recording Trust.

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