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Tuesday, April 15, 2014 | Comments (11)

by John MacArthur

Discernment is a critical need in the church today. As we have already seen, it is required by both leaders and laymen alike for the exercise of godly judgment. It is vital in helping believers rightly inhabit and interact with the sinful world around us. Added to that, discernment is also necessary within the church as a means of correcting others and examining ourselves.

According to Scripture, we are supposed to judge one another with regard to overt acts of sin. Paul wrote, “Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves” (1 Corinthians 5:12–13). That speaks of the same process of discipline outlined by Jesus Himself in Matthew 18:15-18:

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

God’s desire for His children here on earth is purity of life. It is impossible to study Scripture attentively and not be overwhelmingly convinced that God wants His people to be, above all else, holy, and that He is grieved by sin of any kind. Directly quoting God’s command to His covenant people, Israel, Peter wrote the same command to Christ’s church: “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16; cf. Leviticus 11:44).

Because God is so concerned for the holiness of His people, they should be equally concerned. The church cannot preach and teach a message it does not live and have any integrity before God, or even before the world. Yet in many churches where there is no tolerance for sin in principle, there is much tolerance for it in practice. And when preaching becomes separated from living, it becomes separated both from integrity and from spiritual and moral effectiveness. It promotes hypocrisy instead of holiness. Divorcing biblical teaching from daily living is compromise of the worst sort. It corrupts the church, grieves the Lord, and dishonors His Word and His name.

It is not surprising, therefore, that public discipline for unrepentant sin is rare in the church today. Where there is little genuine desire for purity there will also be little desire to deal with impurity. The misinterpreted and misapplied statement of Jesus to not judge lest we be judged (Matthew 7:1) has been used to justify the tolerance of every sort of sin and false teaching. The ideas that every person’s privacy is essentially to be protected and that each person is responsible only to himself have engulfed much of the church. Under the guise of false love and spurious humility that refuse to hold others to account, many Christians are as dedicated as some unbelievers to the unbiblical notion of “live and let live.” The church, however, is not nearly so careful not to gossip about someone’s sinning as it is not to confront it and call for it to stop.

The church has always needed to confront the sins of its people. During its early days, many foreign visitors to Palestine were converted to Christ and decided to stay in or near Jerusalem in order to enjoy the fellowship of believers there. A large number of native Jewish converts were ostracized by their families and lost their jobs because of their new found faith. To help support those needy brothers and sisters—many of whom were virtually destitute—the believers who had property and possession sold them and gave the proceeds to the apostles, who “distributed to each, as any had need” (Acts 4:35). That practice was the spontaneous reaction of generous, Spirit-filled hearts to meet the practical needs of fellow Christians.

During that time, a couple named Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of their property and pledged to God that they would give all the proceeds to the apostles for use in the church. Somewhere in the process, however, they decided to keep back a portion of the pledged money for themselves. In order not to appear less generous than their fellow believers, however, they falsely reported that they were giving the full amount. When the Lord revealed the duplicity to Peter, he first confronted the husband.

“Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God.” And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last. (Acts 5:3-5, NASB)

Several hours later, Sapphira came to the apostles, not knowing what had happened to her husband. When Peter asked her if the property was sold for the price claimed by her husband, she confirmed his lie and suffered his fate. Not surprisingly, “great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things” (Acts 5:11, NASB).

The selfishness of Ananias and Sapphira was deplorable, but their great sin was in lying about what they had done, not only to the church but to God. In this particular case in the early church, God took discipline directly into His own hands and demonstrated before all how sin is to be dealt with by removing the offenders from the church (and from the earth!). The purity of the church was protected not only by making God’s people more fearful of sin but also by removing from the fellowship those who were not true believers (Acts 5:13).

Even in apostolic times, such direct and severe divine intervention in chastening apparently was rare. Although Acts 4:32-5:11 records such a case with Ananias and Sapphira. And Paul reports that some of the Corinthian believers became weak, ill, and even died as a result of gross immorality and disregard for the sacredness of the Lord’s Table (1 Corinthians 11:30; cf. 1 John 5:16–17). God has not changed His attitude about sin or about purity. He is every bit as much concerned about the holiness of His people today as He was when the church was born. Sin has to be dealt with or it will destroy both those who practice it and those who tolerate it. While God may still act in supernatural ways to purge the church, He has primarily given that responsibility to the church itself. The church must be “self-policing” with regard to sin. The horrendous scandals that all too often occur tarnish the church, and reflect the abysmal failure of believers to confront sinning leaders and followers. The world often has had to expose what the church tried to cover up.

The Lord has always disciplined His people, and He has always instructed His people to discipline themselves. Old Testament believers were told not to “reject the discipline of the Lord or loathe His reproof, for whom the Lord loves He reproves, even as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:11–12). Just as human fathers discipline their children out of love in order to correct them, so God disciplines His children. Human parents know that instruction without enforcement is futile. Children not only must be told what is right but must be led to do what is right—by correction, rebuke, and often punishment. “He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently” (Proverbs 13:24). Contrary to popular thinking—even among Christians—it is not love but indifference that causes parents to allow their children’s misbehavior to go uncorrected. “Discipline your son while there is hope,” the writer of Proverbs wisely advises (19:18; cf. 22:15; 23:13).

After quoting Proverbs 3:11–12, the writer of Hebrews says:

It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (Hebrews 12:7–11)

The church that takes a strong verbal stand against sin without practicing discipline cannot expect its members to conform to God’s standards of holiness. Physical children generally do not respond to that approach in discipline, and neither do spiritual children. Because of the remaining sinfulness of the flesh, Christians still have a strong bent toward disobedience. Without enforcement of its standards, holiness will never flourish. That is why correction is so essential to the spiritual well-being of a church. 

In this post we’ve looked at external correction whereby we examine others. Next time we’ll look at the internal correction required of every believer: honest, biblical self-examination.

(Adapted from Reckless Faith and The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Matthew 16-23.)


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#1  Posted by Natan T  |  Tuesday, April 15, 2014 at 3:25 PM

I appreciate your works, your dedication, your life, and your commitment to the truth. I thank God for giving the body of Christ a teacher that teaches the true Gospel of Jesus Christ boldly, without any fear. Although there are some things I disagree, I am a living witness that your teaching has changed my life, especially in the area of holiness, soverenity of God, true worship, humility, commitment to the word, fruit of the spirit, and all the characters of Christ. God bless you and keep on doing Gods work until the Lords coming.

With a sincere gratitude,


#2  Posted by Richard Wong  |  Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at 12:33 AM

Totally agreed with Pastor MacArthur said here . Nowadays too many church leaders and pastors are too over preoccupied with the guise of false love and spurious humility, and misinterpreted and misapplied about Our Lord's teaching about judgement, causing a lot of sins embedded in the House of Our Lord. Many practices which are against the teaching of holiness, are being accepted in according to the secular world's standard and explanation. Practices such as tattoo and ridiculous type of body piercing, even after conversion become Christ's followers, just rationalized it and continue to go to tattoo parlor and even take other Christian to those places and promote their belief that there is nothing wrong to tattoo and body piercing for a Christian. Other examples such as twisting the teaching about now the government accept 21 yr old as an adult, for an adult Christian once he/she reaches 21 yr old, some Christians will encourage the other that they do not have to obey their parents because they are grown-up man/woman. Examples like that happened in different churches which might for some reasons being ignored or put under the rug, truths are gradually being corrode, and the bad influence just like the yeast/leaven waiting for the right timing to bloom, causing troubles and conflicts in the House of the Lord; and that is just because we, Christian do not take discerning judgement seriously, we do not understanding this will sooner or later we bring dishonor to the name of Our Lord.

#3  Posted by Rod Evans  |  Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at 9:08 AM

I have a question regarding sin in the lives of believers vs. unbelievers: Using as the backdrop 1 John 5:16, were Ananias and Sapphira believers, then? And looking at the recent Strange Fire, were Nadab and Abihu true followers of the LORD? Since God has and can deal with sin in the Church in such ways, and people such as these die instantly without confession or does God see this? Purging is essential in the camp/church. If you see where I'm going with this, I ask humbly: Could someone please be so kind as to clarify? Thank you in the name of Christ!

#4  Posted by Rudi Jensen  |  Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at 11:59 AM

#3 Rod Evans

The apostle Paul, deals with some of this issues.

2 Corinthians 13:1-8

Final Warnings

“This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them - since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? unless indeed you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test. But we pray to God that you may not do wrong not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.”

They did chose side with the Apostle, and it was a time where everybody had to examine themselves. Is Christ in you? Are you able to judge right and fair? I hope you will not fail to meet the test.

Chapter 12 speaks about the heart issues involved in this.

#5  Posted by Joshua Ballanger  |  Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at 2:21 PM

Amen! Now more then ever before, we all need godly discernment. I pray for it all the time, after repenting of my sins. Thank you again, Pastor MacArthur and the GTY staff for your exceptional work all for God's glory to give us insight to things not so clear, to me, until blogs and sermons on here put my questions and confusions to rest! On a side note, could you (GTY staff or Pastor MacArthur), give us (or maybe through e-mail or other resources), the significance of the four "blood moons" that are supposed to occur this year? One already has just two days ago. I was wondering if Pastor MacArthur has insight to these lunar eclipses and their significance, if any, to end the times Jesus Christ referred to several times throughout Scripture. If there is any resources that he has on this matter, I would greatly appreciate it. I praise God even more as the day approaches. It is every believer's joy (or should be), the expectation of his return as He says for us to keep watch in His Word! Thank you all again for your faithfulness to the truth that is in God's Word. God bless!

#7  Posted by Joshua Ballanger  |  Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at 2:47 PM

I know John Hagee has a book about the "blood moons." At face value, it would be easy to believe his book, but I know better. Pastor MacArthur has said stay away from false prophets and teachings, and I believe he is one of them. With that said, I am not going to read the book because of this.

#6  Posted by Joshua Ballanger  |  Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at 2:39 PM

I have a question. Does anyone agree or disagree that spiritual discernment comes through age and experience? I know God can/will change hearts as he sees fit. I am 30 years old. My ways of thinking, maybe you could put it as paradigm shifts, change as I go day to day in my growth as a person and as a man leaning on and learning God's ways, such as dealing with everyday events and people that I work and am surrounded by daily. I hope people understand. Some people have told me you have hit the big 3-0 and that their outlook on life in general changed as well as spiritually at this age, like they knew or has some clarity in the direction God wants them to go in life. I ask this because I think this goes sort of hand-in-hand with discernment (the difference to know right and wrong as a believer in Christ.) If anyone could respond or clarify my comment, I would appreciate it

...Thank you and God bless!

#9  Posted by Johanne Dufour  |  Thursday, April 17, 2014 at 7:13 AM

Hello, I'd like to answer Joshua's question concerning the four blood moons. Do not buy John Hagee's book, he is a false prophet.

You can listen to Chris Rosebrough's Pirate Christian Radio at Fighting for the In two of last week's episodes (see archives) he has debunked John Hagee and explains what really are the four blood moons.

God Bless...and have a great day.

#13  Posted by Jay David  |  Thursday, April 17, 2014 at 7:09 PM

Thank you, Johanne. I will have to check that out. I ask God daily for discernment to know the false teachers from the true ones. We as believers need godly, biblical discernment. Satan is working hard to distort God's Word into the church more than ever. Thanks again and have a good evening. God bless you!

#11  Posted by Corey Fleig  |  Thursday, April 17, 2014 at 10:50 AM

IN response to Joshua's question in #6, I have a couple of thoughts. 1) Discernment is a spiritual issue, and is developed through knowing Scripture intimately, and I think age and maturity helps us as we develop spiritual discernment. We don't become good discerners just because we're older - we improve because over time we gain more and deeper insights into the well of wisdom from Scripture. Weak preachers, for example, may be older than me (Oral Roberts was about 30 years older than me) but for his age and experience, his discernment was abysmal. So its more about how deeply do you dwell on Scripture, rather than how old you are, which is why apostle John wrote not to despise the younger ministers of the Word.

2) I'm not sure if you're thinking the age of 30 is a magical number. I know I was really lacking when I was 30, but I can think of many others who were brilliant at 30. The difference? Sure, some of it is simply growing up, but ultimately its a deeper and better grasp of Scripture. Experience and age just gives us a platform to practice what we've learned from God! (that's my 2 cents). Stay faithful, Joshua. I appreciated your question!

#14  Posted by Jay David  |  Thursday, April 17, 2014 at 7:30 PM

Thank you, Corey! I appreciate your response and clarifying my question for me. To me, you were spot-on in your response on how we believers should grow in discernment. I'm a young believer, so I believe you are right. The age and experience thing does come through being spiritually and biblically grounded. As you put it, age and experience gives us a platform to practice what we've learned from God. Very well said! Thank you again and have a good evening. God bless you!