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Thursday, April 3, 2014 | Comments (8)

by John MacArthur

When Martin Luther was summoned to the Diet of Worms in 1521 and asked to recant his teaching, he replied:

Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason, my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience would be neither right nor safe. God help me. Here I stand, I can do no other.

Luther’s well-known formulation, “Scripture and plain reason,” is the only basis on which we can properly ground true spiritual discernment. Discernment is the ability to understand, interpret, and apply truth skillfully. Discernment is a cognitive act. Therefore no one who spurns right doctrine or sound reason can be truly discerning.

Authentic spiritual discernment must begin with Scripture—revealed truth. Without a firm grounding in divine revelation, human reason always degenerates into skepticism (a denial that anything can be known for certain), rationalism (the theory that reason is a source of truth), secularism (an approach to life that purposely excludes God), or any number of other anti-Christian philosophies. When Scripture condemns human wisdom (1 Corinthians 3:19), it is denouncing not reason per se, but humanistic ideology divorced from the divinely revealed truth of God’s Word. In other words, reason apart from the Word of God leads inevitably to unsound ideas, but reason subjected to the Word of God is at the heart of wise spiritual discernment.

The Westminster Confession of Faith clearly recognizes the formula of Scripture and sound reason as the basis of discernment. The Confession states, “The whole counsel of God . . . is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture” (chapter 1, section 6). In other words, sound and careful logic must be applied to Scripture to yield a full and mature understanding of the spiritual truth God has revealed. This is no denial of the sufficiency of Scripture. The formula is not Scripture plus philosophy, but Scripture interpreted by careful, sensible, thoughtful, Spirit-directed reasoning. That is the essence of discernment.

In short, anti-intellectualism is incompatible with genuine spiritual wisdom. Those who think of faith as the abandonment of reason cannot be truly discerning. Irrationality and discernment are polar opposites. When Paul prayed that the Philippians’ love would “abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9, emphasis added), he was affirming the rationality of true faith. He also meant to suggest that knowledge and discernment necessarily go hand in hand with genuine spiritual growth.

Biblical faith, therefore, is rational. It is reasonable. It is intelligent. It makes good sense. And spiritual truth is meant to be rationally contemplated, examined logically, studied, analyzed, and employed as the only reliable basis for making wise judgments. That process is precisely what Scripture calls discernment.

God’s truth is a precious commodity that must be handled carefully—not diluted with whimsical beliefs or bound up in human traditions. When a church loses its will to discern between sound doctrine and error, between good and evil, between truth and lies, that church is doomed.

The apostle John drew a very sharp distinction between Christianity and the spirit of antichrist—and he zealously held the line.

Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds (2 John 9–11).

Thus John commanded those under his spiritual oversight to be watchful and discerning—and to have nothing to do with Christ-denying error or the purveyors of it.

Contrast that with Christians today who soothe themselves with the opinion that few things are really black and white. Doctrinal issues, moral questions, and Christian principles are all cast in hues of gray. No one is supposed to draw any definitive lines or declare any absolutes. Every person is encouraged to do what is right in his own eyes—exactly what God forbade (cf. Deuteronomy 12:8; Judges 17:6; 21:25).

The church will never manifest its power in society until we regain a passionate love for truth and a corollary hatred for error. True Christians cannot condone or disregard anti-Christian influences in their midst and expect to enjoy God’s blessing.

Now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. (Romans 13:11–12 KJV)

(Adapted from Reckless Faith.)


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#1  Posted by Al Burleson  |  Friday, April 4, 2014 at 6:24 AM


thanks again for being a stalwart for the TRUTH! I pray daily for an insatiable desire for God's Word so that the Spirit will reveal truth and provide discernment, and that my sanctification will progress. You have helped me understand how important and how discernment can really only be God given. May God richly bless you and protect you as you boldly battle for the truth.

#3  Posted by Cody Theman  |  Saturday, April 5, 2014 at 5:10 AM

Pastor John,

I pray your own conscience is captive to God's Word that says, "An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. (1 Timothy 3:2, 3 NASB)

I believe you are a man of integrity and great character in many ways. However, it also appears that you are "pugnacious" and that you praise Luther in his sin of pugnaciousness as well. In many ways, your blog posts as of late are not "gentle" and not "peaceable" but indeed are "pugnacious".

I believe that you need to bind your conscience to not be contentious (another word for the Greek word translated as pugnacious in the NASB). Please bind your conscience to be gentle and not quarrelsome. Please bind your conscience to be peaceable. Please bind your conscience to be a faithful example in these things and not just in causing division amongst some who really are dear brothers.

I love you and want you to be more effective for God's kingdom. Since you have such a large platform and such an influential position, I beg you though, please set a better example for the believers in word and in speech. Christ's body deserves better from you. It is not too late for you to change and begin to set a better example of binding your conscience to God's Word in all areas and not just in areas that bother you most.

#4  Posted by Madalena Machado Da Cruz  |  Saturday, April 5, 2014 at 6:36 AM

Hi John,

I also want to express my appreciation for you being a stalwart for the Truth. I have learnt a lot with you since I left the deceit I was in many years ago. I constantly ask God for discernment.

Praise God for your boldness in defending the Truth which you always do in love.

God bless you.

#5  Posted by Michael Kennedy  |  Saturday, April 5, 2014 at 8:30 AM


Thank you for these important words describing the excuses that people use to try and thwart the truth of the Bible. I can't thank God enough for using you to teach so many people the truth; I being one of them.

God does have the right plan.... "Ifffff we humble ourselves, pray, seek His face, and turn from our wicked ways.....THENNNNN....He will hear us from heaven, forgive us our sins, and...heal our land.

What that says to me, is for those who just go on His reasons alone, to listen and obey Him and carry out what He desires for us and our families (who should follow too)... then, He knows that we WILL know what it basically takes to survive here and be able to teach others to be able to do the same, all the way up to when He calls us home. Again, to trust Him alone.

It may take a while to pretty much understand that He is God and that He wants to be God to us and not us be gods to ourselves. And, since He is in total control of everything, that will definitely vary and in ways that we won't sometime understand.

Getting wisdom from God and seeing your life start changing because of using that wisdom is something exciting to see. I get insight on everything, even how to take better care of my physical body. I can see that He really does care for us and our families.

He is GOOD all the time, that is for sure....even when He has corrected me.

So, I thank God for His timing, wisdom, control and truth in my life. I just hope I can share my reasons for following Him in my walk and talk as I've been taught.

May God continue to bless John and the work he is doing and all the people who follow John's teachings. Anen.

#6  Posted by Randy Johnson  |  Saturday, April 5, 2014 at 3:21 PM

Amen to that! It is "reckless" to miss the manifestation of God's power in your life. "Spirit-directed reasoning" that is "undiluted" is incomparable to any human wisdom. It makes me think of Naaman the Syrian (1 Kings 5:1-15). It was rational and reasonable to conclude by human standards that the rivers of Damascus, Abana and Pharpar, were better than the Jordan. But, he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He rewards those that seek him. Once Naaman recognized that it was also reasonable to believe and obey rather than to perform some great sacrifice, he was rewarded, and not only with cleansing but also with God-given, "super-rational" knowledge (i.e. "For sure, I know there is no God in all the Earth except in Israel!") And so, the unbelieving world continues to label the super-rational, irrational, because it comes from a wholly different source that is inaccessible by human effort alone. "God's truth is a precious commodity which must be handled carefully" and without "dilution", for it is the way He manifests His power in the person, in the Church, and in the world.

#7  Posted by Carol Gayheart  |  Saturday, April 5, 2014 at 3:41 PM

Reply to #3, Hi Cody: Pugnacious can also mean “confrontational” but I don’t believe I Timothy 3:3 is suggesting that an overseer should not be confrontational when addressing sin or false teaching. You must remember that “context is key”. To have an “argumentative, confrontational, belligerent personality” is not the same as being confrontational when exposing and dealing with erroneous doctrine or sin. It is specifically the leadership in the church who is to set the example (the context of I Timothy 3) which does include confronting sin or error within the body of believers; they are not to “tolerate” sin or error, specifically from within.

Paul confronted the Corinthians, chastising them for tolerating sexual immorality within their midst. (1 Cor. 5) Jesus clearly confronted the Pharisees’ erroneous teachings although they were the spiritual leaders of the Jews; and our Lord also gave us the pattern to deal with disciplining members of the body in Matthew 18:15ff. In Paul’s 2nd letter to Timothy, chapter 4, he specifically directed Timothy to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort” (2 Timothy 4: 2) as he warned of the time coming when “people will not endure sound teaching” and “will turn away from truth” (vs. 4-5). And in verse 5, Paul said, “I have fought the good fight.” If your understanding of 1 Timothy 3:3, which includes being “gentle & peaceable” does not include confronting error, then to what kind of “fight” was Paul referring? There is a battle that must be fought: truth vs. lies, good vs. evil, sound doctrine vs. erroneous teaching. The truth is the foundation upon which the overseers must stand. We need men in those leadership positions who understand the truth and are willing to "stand firm" and do battle when need be to confront erroneous, as well as, blatantly false teaching. Pastor MacArthur is fighting that good fight. I encourage him to “fight on!”

#8  Posted by Rudi Jensen  |  Sunday, April 6, 2014 at 12:26 AM

My post never came trough, so maybe I have to write it another way.

There should be a deep sorrow of have acted shameful and irreverent against the Holy Spirit. But instead of sorrow, they bring up the Law, pointing out ”you have to keep the whole law”.

"Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in — who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery — to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you." (Galathians 2:4-5)

The point is not that we are all sinners, but who have been - delivered.

#9  Posted by Rudi Jensen  |  Sunday, April 6, 2014 at 1:05 PM

Thank God for mature brothers and sisters. They keep me from blatant stupidity and the devils snare, and brings me on my knee. May the gospel of Jesus Christ run without hindrance to every heart.