Restoring Repentance Part 5

My basic contention, which I have shared with many over the years, is that the salvation and sanctification of our spirit is instantaneous at conversion. We receive Jesus life in our spirit (2 Cor. 5:17). For our body it will also be instantaneous, either when we are resurrected or transformed if we are alive on the earth at Jesus return (1 Thess. 4:13-17). However the salvation and sanctification of our souls however is a process (Jas. 1:18-21). I will come back to this later.

To understand the distinction between spirit and soul it is helpful to lay a scriptural foundation. The scriptures below teach that there is a distinction.

23  Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 (NKJV) 12  For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 (NKJV)
1 Thessalonians tells us there is a distinction between our spirit and soul and Hebrews tells us that while it is difficult, we can understand the distinction by applying His word. The verse below tells us we only need two or three witnesses to establish the truth of something, in this case the truth that spirit and soul are not the same thing has two witnesses above.

1  This will be the third time I am coming to you. “By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established.” 2 Corinthians 13:1 (NKJV)

While the two witnesses above are sufficient, according to scripture, when we actually apply Heb. 4:12 in practice the spirit and soul distinction become clearer. My qualifier is that I use a bible that is more literal in translation because much is lost in the translations that use more of a dynamic equivalence or paraphrase. This is clearer in the verses below.

9  With my soul I have desired You in the night, Yes, by my spirit within me I will seek You early; For when Your judgments are in the earth, The inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness. Isaiah 26:9 (NKJV) 46  And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47  And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” Luke 1:46-47 (NKJV)

The tense in the NKJV and the other more literal translations is important. For example the same two verses in the NIV do not clearly bring out the different functions of the soul and spirit.

9  My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you. When your judgments come upon the earth, the people of the world learn righteousness. Isaiah 26:9 (NIV) 46  And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord 47  and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” Luke 1:46-47 (NIV)

The important distinction lies in the tenses, particularly in the Luke passage. Something is released by our soul after it has already happened in our spirit. Isaiah speaks of his soul desiring something but using his spirit to encounter Yahweh. Mary tells us that her soul magnifies Yahweh because, past tense, her spirit has already rejoiced in an encounter with Him.

I believe that our soul has three aspects, it expresses our mind, will and emotions. Similarly I believe our spirit has three functions, conscience, communion and intuition. The verses above speak of the result of Isaiah and Mary experiencing or desiring communion in their spirits.

So, back to repentance and sanctification. The task of seeing Christ formed in us is accomplished by submitting the desires of our soul to the leading of our spirit, the place where Christ dwells within ever true believer. Peter, a man who had more than a little experience with this said it well.

22  Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, 1 Peter 1:22 (NKJV)

Our souls are sanctified when we repent of whatever He reveals to us in our spirits. What we carry from time into eternity is the degree to which the nature of Jesus has been formed in our souls (Gal. 4:19). The question is how our formation is going?

Restoring Repentance Part 4

How much attention do we give to the idea that salvation and the new birth are intended to bring about freedom from both the power and penalty of sin? To understand this it is helpful to read Jesus dialogue with Nicodemus in John 3.  Jesus spoke of the difference between seeing and entering the kingdom. I have been in high office towers in downtown Edmonton from where I can see great distances into the river valley. However, having entered and walked and biked in the river valley I can say from experience that seeing and entering it are not the same thing. Similarly I have driven by mountains and viewed their beauty. However, seeing them is very different from entering them and hiking up a steep mountainside with a heavy backpack on.

In a similar manner at conversion we ‘see’ or become aware of the kingdom of God moving in our lives. However, the degree to which we ‘enter’ depends upon the degree of ongoing repentance in our lives. Conversion frees us from the penalty of sin, ongoing repentance frees us from the power of sin. Look at the verse below.

21  “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21 (NKJV)

How we view this verse is very important. Without thinking about it, it may seem that this is about Jesus saving us from the penalty of sin. However, what about Jesus saving us from the power of sin? Believing that may require some repentance. That is, we may need to revise our thinking about this verse.

Understanding the verse requires understanding what the angel communicated to Joseph in his dream. The angel never spoke to Joseph in English. The language of the day was Aramaic (very similar to Hebrew). Understanding this requires a little side trip to Hebrews chapter 4.

8  For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. Hebrews 4:8 (NKJV)

14  Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. Hebrews 4:14 (NKJV)

Joshua in verse 8 refers to Joshua who led the nation of Israel after Moses, and in verse 14 reference is made to Jesus the Son of God. The translators are being helpful in giving us the names we are familiar with but in Greek the words translated as Joshua and Jesus here are the same word. This is why the writer qualifies his statement by making it clear that he is referring to Jesus the Son of God. In Hebrew and Aramaic Yeshua/Joshua, means Yahweh/Jehovah is salvation. If we were being a bit more literal we would have translated Matthew 1:21 as, “You shall call His name Yeshua (Yahweh is salvation) for He shall save His people from their sins.” In fact the complete Jewish Bible translates the verse in a similar way,

21 “She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Yeshua, [which means ‘Adonai saves,’] because he will save his people from their sins.”

While the core of the NT teaches the need for the new birth and salvation, Paul in particular builds on that foundation by talking about how we get free from the power of sin. Look at the theology of Romans that goes from the foundation of conversion to how to walk in freedom from sin and encapsulates our call to be conformed to Jesus image in our character and behaviour (Rom. 6-8). If we miss that salvation from sin is a dual process we walk in half a salvation when a whole one is available.

To be clear I am not advocating some type of sinless perfection, though others have and some appeared to have walked in it. What I am advocating is that we seek to conform our lives to the scriptures rather than our culture! We will never fully arrive in this life but I think we can go much further than most of us ever attempt.

In my next post I will lay out the connection between repentance and sanctification and how they relate to our spirit and soul (which are not the same thing by the way).

Restoring Repentance Part 3

I will expand a bit further on repentance in general and then look at the post conversion role of repentance. I think we often assume that repentance is preceded by an emotional experience and guilt. That may be. Conviction of sin may create deep emotions or it may simply create an awareness of the need for a change of purpose in our lives. Brother Lawrence, the author of the teaching in the little book The Practice of the Presence of God, was converted when he saw a tree lose its leaves and be dead and barren while awaiting a ‘rebirth’ in the spring.

If we recognize that repentance leading to conversion is a “thoroughgoing change in one’s thinking, attitudes, and purpose” then post conversion repentance is not about a wholesale change in perspective. It is a shift in perspective when we recognize that our values or behaviour are out of line with scriptural values and behaviour (Rom. 12:1-2). If we have fallen to some gross darkness after conversion (Eph. 4:17-19) a more thoroughgoing change may be required.

Something I have noticed is that in some circles it is popular to say that ‘sin is sin and one is no worse than another.’ It sounds nice but it is not scriptural. Certainly the Mosaic Law, upon which English Common Law, and by extension our justice system were based, is very clear about different consequences for different transgressions. We may argue that the OT no longer applies. However Paul made a similar distinction when he referenced sins outside the body and how sexual immorality is a sin against our own body (1 Cor. 6:15-20). There are a number of other passages in the NT if we read the scriptures with an open heart.

What about the connection between repentance and judgment? While we may not think much about it, post conversion repentance is tied to the Judgment Seat of Christ. We are rewarded based on how we continue to respond to Christ after conversion. The passage below was directed to believers.

9  Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. 10  For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 11  Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences. 2 Corinthians 5:9-11 (NKJV)

Below is something I have written over the years that is a regular part of my prayer life because I believe there is an inextricable link between repentance and the Judgment Seat. I encourage you to read not only the two introductory references but all of the scriptural references that accompany it. A key factor I reference is the need for us to discern the difference between conviction and condemnation. When the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin He shows us the path to freedom and wholeness through repentance. Condemnation focuses on making us feel bad and shows no healthy path to freedom and if followed leads to a downward spiral.

Judgment

2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

Romans 14:10-12 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. [11] For it is written: “As I live, says the Lord, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.” [12] So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.

O Righteous Father, as I live my life before the great cloud of witnesses, and Your throne, I know I will give an account before the Judgment Seat of Christ. Knowing this I ask You; continually reveal Your heart to me that I might walk in Your will and ways. Fill me with Your holy perfect love and passion for Jesus that I may express and reflect Your heart. Grant me discernment and sensitivity between conviction and condemnation; that I may walk in wisdom, rightly dividing soul and spirit. Continually give me the grace, wisdom, courage and perseverance to pull down and break strongholds. Shepherd my heart into a holy passionate fear of You, that I might live a life that fully pleases You and is fruitful in every good work, that I may stand before You. Jn. 17:25, Ps. 25:12-14, 139:23-24, 51:10, Rom. 14:10-12, 2 Cor. 5:10, 10:1-6, Col. 1:9-11, Heb. 4:10-12, 12:1, 1 Jn. 2:28

In my next post I will continue with the points below. I have to some extent addressed the first two but believe there is also a need to understand the distinction between the sanctification of our spirit and soul and how they differ and relate to repentance.

  • What is the role of repentance in conversion and after conversion?
  • Is repentance after conversion qualitatively different than repentance leading to conversion?
  • Do we repent of our behaviour, nature or both?

Restoring Repentance Part 2

In this installment I will define scriptural repentance so that we can see it clearly. Remember, I noted previously that repentance is not ‘turning and going the other way.’ Turning and going the other way may be the result of repentance, or it may signify false repentance, but it is not in and of itself repentance. So how do the scriptures define repentance? The word translated as ‘repent’ in Mark 1:14 is used over 30 times in the NT.

3210. μετανοω metanoeō verb, To repent, change one’s mind, be converted.

The most extensive repentance is a thoroughgoing change in one’s thinking, attitudes, and purpose. This is the deep-seated repentance spoken of in passages like Matthew 3:2 and Acts 3:19 where a thorough change of mind is urged. When compared to metamelomai (3208) (used 5 times), metanoeō (used over 30 times) is much more prevalent, especially when referring to repentance linked to salvation. This repentance is stronger than remorse or emotional regret. Metanoeō portrays a change of mind so effective that Luke 15:7,10 assumes salvation for a sinner who has “repented.”

This “repentance” is required for entrance into the kingdom of heaven and is a subject of the apostolic preaching in Acts.

The Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary.

So, if we look at the definition from this Greek-English dictionary we see the critical importance of repentance. The definition begins by saying, “repentance is a thoroughgoing change in one’s thinking, attitudes, and purpose.” An important point is that the precondition for repentance is the conviction of the Holy Spirit and His drawing our heart to Jesus.

When we see conviction and repentance as necessary to salvation how does it compare to the idea in our culture that we are supposedly saved by surreptitiously slipping up a hand with no one looking or repeating a prayer we don’t understand? This has more in common with a magic incantation than biblical salvation. If there is genuine conviction some people will be genuinely converted through this process, however the foundation we will have laid in their lives is that they need to be ashamed of Jesus.

My goal here is to discern rather than judge but if we have been ‘converted’ and there is no change in our “thinking, attitudes, and purpose” has anything really happened? Have we been converted to Jesus or instead to a congregation, denomination or social group? One leads to a change in purpose manifested as a change in behaviour and one leads to moderating our behaviour to fit in with the new culture we have now joined. This may go a long way toward explaining how difficult it is to engage many ‘believers’ in giving, evangelism and other scriptural activities.  

While repentance is not a change in behaviour, if there is no change in behaviour to scriptural beliefs and practices there has been no repentance. At the same time it is rather difficult to change our thinking, attitudes and purpose if we see nothing wrong with the current ones we hold. Coming to Jesus is not adding something to our life, it is recognizing that our goal and focus in life is wrong and needs to change. It is putting to death an old way of thinking and acting and seeing the need for new life. If this sounds hard or judgmental consider what Paul had to say when he addressed the ongoing issues with the church at Corinth.

5  Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless indeed you are disqualified. 6  But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified. 2 Corinthians 13:5-6 (NKJV)

When he did not see the heart contrition, behaviour change and commitment to his teaching that he expected from believers Paul questioned the genuineness of their conversion. In a similar manner, while we are not called to be judges, we are called to be fruit inspectors. Jesus taught this clearly in Matt. 7:15-23. If we are walking with Him the evidence will be there in our lives, not based on what we say, but based on the actions that flow from repentant hearts. If we are wise we will heed Jesus teaching and apply it first to our own hearts in the way Paul advised the Corinthians.

So, I have touched on the first half of my first point below and trust there is some understanding of scriptural repentance. I will continue to address these points in my next installment.     

  • What is the role of repentance in conversion and after conversion?
  • Is repentance after conversion qualitatively different than repentance leading to conversion?
  • Do we repent of our behaviour, nature or both?

Restoring Repentance Part 1

When was the last time you heard a sermon or teaching on the place, power or purpose of repentance? Do you need to think back a long way? Do you remember one?

Repentance is one of the greatly neglected teachings in our current church world. To understand the place and significance of repentance we need to look to the New Testament (NT). When we look to the NT we see that John the Baptist began his ministry preaching repentance (Mk. 1:4), more importantly, Jesus did the same (Mk. 1:14-15). In the first ever sermon as the church was birthed on the Day of Pentecost Peter answered the question of salvation by pointing to repentance (Acts. 2:37-38). It is clearly an important issue. In fact in defending himself at trial Paul looked back over his many years of apostolic travail and said his fellow Jews wanted to kill him because he had been preaching repentance.

19  “Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20  but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance. 21  For these reasons the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me.” Acts 26:19-21 (NKJV)

The writer of Hebrews in summing up the Christian faith says clearly that repentance is foundational to our walk with Jesus.

1  Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2  of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. 3  And this we will do if God permits. Hebrews 6:1-3 (NKJV)

Think about some buildings you are familiar with. Can you imagine a building without a foundation? Everything stands on something. We cannot put up a building then remove the foundation and have the building stand. Nor can we walk closely with Jesus if we remove the foundation of our faith, repentance.

So, given the importance of repentance in the foundation of the church corporately and us individually it seems wise to understand it. Understanding repentance obviously requires defining the term. While I will later provide some definitions from NT words it important to understand that what many of us may have been taught is not true. I grew up hearing that to repent means, ‘To turn and go the other way.’ It does not. Repentance is a change of mind and heart that produces a corresponding change in behaviour. We can for a time modify our behaviour without ever having actually embraced repentance. In true repentance a behaviour change is the fruit or result of repentance, it is not repentance itself.

It is also important to note that biblical forgiveness is for sins not excuses. If we are still caught up in justifying our behaviour then we are not yet at the place of repentance.

So, some questions I will address as I develop this series on repentance and our continuing walk with Jesus are as follows.

  •   What is the role of repentance in conversion and after conversion?
  •   Is repentance after conversion qualitatively different than repentance leading to conversion?
  •   Do we repent of our behaviour, nature or both?

More to come…

Deepening our Discernment Part 5

In my first post on discernment I said that ‘general discernment is not a gift, it is a skill we develop.’ The last area I want to look at regarding discernment is the relationship to maturity, understanding how discernment develops and is the fruit of spiritual maturity (Heb. 5:13-14)

13  For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14  But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Hebrews 5:13-14 (NKJV)

There is an expression, ‘Age is inevitable, maturity is optional.’ The way that applies here is that to deepen our discernment we need to practice discerning, just like improvement in public speaking requires practice speaking. The phrase ‘of use,’ in the passage above is the Greek word hekin and is explained below.

This form appears in the New Testament only at Hebrews 5:14. It refers to a thoroughly established habit or skill achieved through repetition. Here the writer held up as a model those who were “ethically mature” by virtue of their experience and skill in discerning good and evil (Bruce, New International Commentary on the New Testament, Hebrews, p.109).

The Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary.

A key phrase in the definition is ‘a thoroughly established habit.’ We start with different levels of potential, just as in math or hockey, people bring different capacities; the same is true of discernment. Yet no matter where we start we can all deepen our discernment by becoming grounded in the scriptures.

So what does discerning rooted in the scriptures look like? If we are grounded in the Word when we hear something that doesn’t align with the scriptures our spirit is disturbed. We live in a culture that generally exalts experience and feeling over truth. Yet the Word tells us the truth is in Jesus (Eph. 4:21). When we get Jesus word in us through spending time in the scriptures something within us comes alive to truth in a deeper way.

Deepening discernment is a cyclical process,

Ø  we pay attention to our spirit,

Ø  feed it on the word, and

Ø  apply truth to our experience.

Tied into this is something I have referenced many times, Revelation, Interpretation, Application. We receive something, we seek to interpret the meaning and then discern the application. What is important in the discernment process is the corporate nature of the body of Christ.

26  How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 1 Corinthians 14:26 (NKJV) 29  Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. 1 Corinthians 14:29 (NKJV)

The word ‘judge’ in verse 29 could just as easily be translated ‘discern.’ In fact is used that ways in places in the NT. We discern best not as the final decision maker in all things but in the context of a body of believers.

The Quakers use a discernment circle to make major decisions. One Quaker shared a story where he had been offered the positon of head of a bible college. Trying to discern whether or not to take the position he called a discernment circle. Here mature believers would sit in a circle with him and could ask any question the felt pertinent. He said one wise individual asked him what he really wanted to get if he accepted the positon. He said this question arrested him and when he faced to truth he realized he wanted to see his name in the newspaper as the head of the institution. When he heard this the old fellow said, “Couldn’t you think of some other way to get your name in the newspaper?” The fellow who called the discernment circle saw his own motives and turned down the position.

So, I pray that our discernment deepens as we spend time with Jesus and in His Word. At the same time I also pray that we recognize our need for one another and learn to discern together, be open to being wrong or ‘missing’ it, and remain humble and teachable. In the revelation, interpretation, application process one may have the revelation, two or three others the interpretation (we may have different pieces) and another the applications. Let us grow together in maturity in Christ.

Deepening our Discernment Part 4

There are two more areas I want to cover in relation to discernment.

      Testing our discernment.

      Understanding that discernment develops and is the fruit of spiritual maturity (Heb. 5:13-14)  

As I look at testing our discernment I am focusing on my definition, ‘Seeing the reality that lies behind appearances.’ The other qualifier is that I want to focus on discerning what the spirit is saying and look at how to bless others with what we discern.

Years ago in a message I heard Francis Frangipane say, “The only thing we need to find problems in the church is one good eye and a carnal mind.” That expression has stuck with me as I used to be good at that and I think much of what we put forth as discernment is really suspicion and judgment. We do need to discern and deal with what is wrong but we first need to walk in love and speak life.

So, how do we test our discernment? Over the years in teaching I have done on conflict resolution a number of times I have taught about the distinction between intuition and insight and where there was an openness have shared that intuition is in fact a spiritual function (insight is a function of the mind). Very briefly I believe our soul encompasses three parts – our mind, will and emotions. I also believe our spirit has three functions – conscience, communion and intuition. I want to focus on the last one from a scriptural perspective.

11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. 1 Corinthians 2:11-12 (NKJV)  

In the verses above in Greek the word ‘know’ refers to being aware of something rather than an acquired knowledge and in the rest of the passage we can see that this ‘knowing’ something via our spirits is an intuitive knowing.

The same Greek word is used in the passages below that refer to Jesus intuitively perceiving or knowing something.

But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” Matthew 12:25 (NKJV)

When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them,
“Does this offend you?” John 6:61 (NKJV)

Now, unlike Jesus, who was always accurate, when we perceive or become internally aware of something we need to test it. In essence we become aware of or discern something in our spirit but need to test it with our mind. The process is that we discern something via intuition, a ‘gut’ feeling in our spirit that initiates a process. We then engage our mind to test it and the ‘aha’ experience, insight completes the process. In essence to test our discernment there needs to be a marriage between our spirit and our mind.

So how does this work in practice? In ministering to people, usually in a group setting, I have frequently shared with people things about their lives that I had no natural intellectual way of knowing. For example I remember sharing with someone that the Lord wanted to dance with them. I only knew the person’s name and nothing about them. The person was deeply emotionally impacted by what I said and it was confirmation of the accuracy.

I have done this numerous times and remember many of them. Once many years ago when leaving a job I shared with the manager some things I sensed in prayer that morning. He was not a believer but was interested and asked me about them later in the day to write them down. They both took place within a few months.  

A very important factor is that when I share this way, and I encourage others to do the same, I always share it as my sense of something I believe I am hearing from the Lord as I offer it to them. I often preface what I am sharing with, ‘This may sound odd.’ This is wise as on a few occasions I have not been accurate. We need to test what we discern and present it as something for others to weigh (1 Cor. 14:29). I only remember one occasion of being insistent on something and the person became angry with me. A week later they came back and affirmed that I had been correct.       

So, discerning requires paying attention to what we are hearing in our spirits and then testing that discernment with our minds. There is much more that could be said but I think this lays a basic foundation for knowing how to test what we believe we are discerning. I give the last word to Malachi from a portion of 2:16

“Therefore take heed to your spirit.”

Deepening our Discernment Part 3

In my last post I looked at basing our discernment upon the heart rather than outward appearances. Now I want to look at how walking closely to Jesus helps us to accurately discern.

Many of us pray Ephesians 1:17 asking for ‘the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.’ What does this have to do with discernment? A great deal. Wisdom and revelation about Him, in context, is actually about the Father. To know the Father is to know Jesus and the Spirit. Further, wisdom and revelation about Jesus is more than information about Him, it is an encounter with Him. It is a pulling back of the veil over our hearts so that we can encounter more of His heart. It can be painful if our heart is not aligned with His heart. 

So what happens if we have this prayer answered? If we receive a revelation of His heart we know how He feels about us, which brings release and freedom, and as our ear gets near to His heart we can also know how His heart beats for others!

Seem too simple? Perhaps it is analogous to the idea that ‘Christianity has not being tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried.’ That is obviously a generalization but we live in a culture that denies the power and place of suffering and sacrifice. I’m not suggesting pursuing suffering, I am suggesting that if we deeply follow Jesus we will walk in some difficult places with Him, yet He will be with us through them and as we pursue His heart we will find His grace is sufficient. We will understand our own need for the cross and His grace and be more willing to extend it to others. We will become passionate and compassionate carriers of His heart and our discernment will greatly deepen. After all, not only does faith work through love (Gal. 5:6) so too does discernment.

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, Philippians 1:9 (NKJV)

 The Greek word translated as discernment refers to insight, perception, discernment and judgment – in the sense of being able to rightly judge something. So, if we want deeper discernment let us pray for the spirit of wisdom and revelation with a renewed understanding.

Deepening our Discernment Part 2

In my last post I referenced four areas that I want to take a deeper look at.

      Not basing our discernment upon outward appearances.

      Walking closely to Jesus to see accurately.

      Testing our discernment.

      Understanding that discernment develops and is the fruit of spiritual maturity (Heb. 5:13-14)  

I will start with outward appearances. What does it mean to base our discernment on outward appearances? It is easy to see behaviour, it is hard to discern hearts. This is the first area to grow in. We must commit to stop judging by outward appearances (2 Cor. 5:16). My qualifier is I am certainly not saying we should not address clearly sinful behaviour. I am saying we need to in general look beyond behaviour to try and see hearts.

Many years ago I read of an experience a man had on the subway. He saw a man get on with two young children. The children seemed ‘out of control’ and were bothering other passengers. He judged the man a poor parent and decided to bring this to his attention. When he got the man’s attentions he said, “Sir, I don’t know if you have noticed but your children are bothering the other passengers?” The man seemed to come around to greater awareness and responded, “I’m sorry, we just came from the hospital where their mother died.” What do you think happened to his assessment of this man as a neglectful parent? Did judgment turn to compassion?

If we are to discern rightly we can’t judge books by their cover. We need to suspend judgment and seek to understand hearts. We do well to consider whether there are things we need to lay down that colour our discernment. Do we have a history with someone that we need to lay down? Do we disagree with their doctrine? Is their doctrine our measure of their hearts?

George Whitfield, John Wesley and Charles Finney were three of the most effective evangelists in church history. Whitfield was a Calvinist (some are preordained to salvation, some to damnation), Wesley was an Arminian (all may be saved) and Finney very strongly rejected the doctrine of original sin (being born with a sinful nature). Three different theological positions. Was their effectiveness based on this area of their theology? How could they be effective with differing theologies? Each of the three had a deep love for and commitment to Jesus. They didn’t condone what was clearly sinful and all three believed deeply in the need to be born again. So while they differed in one area, in this key area they were in agreement.

So, beyond appearances their commonality was a commitment to Jesus and holiness in spite of their different theological underpinnings. If our heart is to pursue Him then Jesus can bring forth fruit through our lives not always because of our theology, but at times in spite of our theology. When it comes to discernment our call is to embrace the truth at a heart rather than head level. We need to pursue not a unity of belief in every single point of doctrine, rather we need to pursue unity around intimacy with Jesus (this will sort out a lot of our doctrine over time). Paul said,

13  till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; Ephesians 4:13 (NKJV)

When we lay down our judgments and pursue His heart He will correct us, after all, the Holy Spirit is a fairly good teacher!

24 These also who erred in spirit will come to understanding, And those who complained will learn doctrine. Isaiah 29:24 (NKJV

Deepening our Discernment Part 1

I recently began reading a book by Francis Frangipane called “Spiritual Discernment and The Mind of Christ.” I highly recommend it. I have read most of his books over the last 25 years and in my opinion this is his best one. Francis is someone for whom I hold a deep appreciation and respect. While I will reference some things from his book in this series I am not going to teach from it.  

I began writing about discernment over two decades ago and defined discernment as “Seeing the reality which lies behind appearances.” Part of what I have been emphatic about over the years is that while there is the gift of discerning of spirits in 1 Corinthians 12, general discernment is not a gift, it is a skill we develop. Francis makes this same distinction in his book but refers to general discernment as a gift while functionally describing is as I would, as a skill to be developed. I found his definition similar to mine as well, “Spiritual discernment is the grace to see into the unseen.” (page 32).

I think we are basically saying the same thing. Francis just has more practical experience. I think an important point is that if we are to discern accurately there are some requirements to meet;

      We cannot base our discernment upon outward appearances.

      We must walk closely to Jesus to see accurately.

      We need to test our discernment.

      Discernment develops and is the fruit of spiritual maturity (Heb. 5:13-14)  

13  For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14  But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Hebrews 5:13-14 (NKJV)

I will address all four of these points but my main point is that while our discernment can deepen through practice we need to actually practice for that to happen. As Hebrews says, our discernment develops “by reason of use.” I am confident we have many opportunities every day to discern, we just need to see and intentionally apply them.  

I know in my own life I have changed over the years from judgment to discernment. I used to be very good at what Francis Frangipane said, “The only thing we need to find problems in the church is one good eye and a carnal mind.” It is still an easy default position to go to.

When we actively seek to understand discernment we find a lot of judgment masquerading as discernment. Let’s take off the mask and seek His heart to guide our discernment that His body may be built up.