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