We are told to have discernment when we hear or read the teachings of others but what is biblical discernment and how can we have discernment as to whether a teaching is true or not?
Every single one of us has practiced discernment at one time or another. When we were buying a car, a house, or even a pair of shoes, we looked them over, we estimated whether they are worth the money or not and if the investment was a good idea or not; then we base our decision on those and other factors. Discernment is an acute judgment based upon whether something is true or not, whether someone is telling the truth or not, or in making a decision to choose or reject something. That is why biblical discernment is so very important because there are many false teachers out there today and they are leading many astray and into doctrinal error.
Paul Warns About False Teachers
Paul warned Timothy “that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” (1 Tim 4:1-3). Paul doesn’t mince words, he says that those who depart from the faith will be giving out “teachings of demons” and that they come “through the insincerity of liars.” Even today, some denominations and cults teach that we ought to abstain from certain foods even though Jesus declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19). They falsely teach that parts of the Mosaic Law are still in effect, even though this was the Old Covenant and it was not written to Christians but to the nation Israel. Even today they want “you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Col 2 :20b-23).
Jesus Warns About False Teachers
Christ Himself warned us to “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matt 7:15-20). The fact that they come in “sheep’s clothing” indicates that they will appear to be a good, godly teacher (or pastor) but are actually “ravenous wolves” cloaked in a godly covering. Jesus said that we can discern these false teachers and their teachings by the fruit or evidence that they produce. Again, Jesus warns that “many false prophets will arise and lead many astray” (Matt 24:11). Notice that Jesus said it would be “many” and not just a few who will be led astray so this is not going to be the exception but the rule. You don’t have to look very hard to see that this is a very common problem today and I believe it is increasing as the days leading up to His second coming draw nearer.
What is Biblical Discernment?
Discerning truth from error can be as simple as knowing the bible well enough to recognize error from truth. We are commanded to “test everything; hold fast what is good” (1 Thess 5:21) and “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (I John 4:1). If we study the Bible long enough we should “no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph 4:14).
How can we Learn to be Discerning?
Paul says to “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). A worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed is someone who works hard enough at studying the Scriptures because if they don’t, they are susceptible to receiving false teachings and for teaching wrongly and that would make them ashamed on the day of visitation by Christ. That is because we are to be approved by God. We don’t seek our approval from man. To put it another way, we are accountable to God alone. The more we study the Bible, the more we read the Bible, and the more we memorize the Word, the less likely we will be to teach it wrongly and the greater the possibility of discerning false teaching from truthful teaching. A strong familiarity of the Word of God doesn’t come by accident. It takes consistent, daily reading of the Word. Someone that is highly familiar with the Bible is quicker to recognize when something doesn’t sound or look right. Biblical discernment comes from hard, diligent biblical studies.
If you love reading the Bible and are in the Word on a daily basis, you’re going to equip yourself from falling into error. Someone who knows the Bible well enough, knows doctrines that are contrary to what the Word teaches. We are commanded to rightly discern or handle the Word of God (2 Tim 2:15). Lazy, inconsistent Bible reading makes a person much more vulnerable to believing error. Remember Jesus’ warning that “many false prophets will arise and lead many astray” (Matt 24:11) and by His testimony, we know that there are not but a few but there are many out there who are teaching error and leading many astray. Your best weapon in discerning false teachings is to abide in the Word so that the Word abides in you. Get into the Word and the Word will get into you. Go through the Word and the Word will go through you. By doing so, you’ll have good, solid biblical discernment.
Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon