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Monday, May 12, 2014 | Comments (11)

by John MacArthur

We cannot simply flow with the current of our age. We cannot elevate love while downplaying truth. We cannot promote unity by repressing sound doctrine. We cannot learn to be discerning by making an idol out of tolerance. By adopting those attitudes, the church has opened her gates to all of Satan’s Trojan horses.

God gives us the truth of His Word, and He commands us to guard it and pass it on to the next generation. Frankly, the current generation is failing miserably in this task. Our failure to discern has all but erased the line between biblical Christianity and reckless faith. The church is filled with doctrinal chaos, confusion, and spiritual anarchy. Few seem to notice, because Christians have been conditioned by years of shallow teaching to be broad minded, superficial, and noncritical. Unless there is a radical change in the way we view truth, the church will continue to wane in influence, become increasingly worldly, and move further and further into all sorts of error.

How can we cultivate discernment? What needs to happen if the church is going to reverse the trends and recover a biblical perspective?

Desire Wisdom

Step one is desire. Proverbs 2:3–6 says, “Cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding; if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.”

If we have no desire to be discerning, we won’t be discerning. If we are driven by a yearning to be happy, healthy, affluent, prosperous, comfortable, and self-satisfied, we will never be discerning people. If our feelings determine what we believe, we cannot be discerning. If we subjugate our minds to some earthly ecclesiastical authority and blindly believe what we are told, we undermine discernment. Unless we are willing to examine all things carefully, we cannot hope to have any defense against reckless faith.

The desire for discernment is a desire born out of humility. It is a humility that acknowledges our own potential for self-deception (“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” [Jeremiah 17:9]). It is a humility that distrusts personal feelings and casts scorn on self-sufficiency (“On my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses” [2 Corinthians 12:5]). It is a humility that turns to the Word of God as the final arbiter of all things (“. . . examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things [are] so” [Acts 17:11]).

No one has a monopoly on truth. I certainly do not. I don’t have reliable answers within myself. My heart is as susceptible to self-deception as anyone’s. My feelings are as undependable as everyone else’s. I am not immune to Satan’s deception. That is true for all of us. Our only defense against false doctrine is to be discerning, to distrust our own emotions, to hold our own senses suspect, to examine all things, to test every truth-claim with the yardstick of Scripture, and to handle the Word of God with great care.

The desire to be discerning therefore entails a high view of Scripture linked with an enthusiasm for understanding it correctly. God requires that very attitude (2 Timothy 2:15)—so the heart that truly loves Him will naturally burn with a passion for discernment.

Pray for Discernment

Step two is prayer. Prayer, of course, naturally follows desire; prayer is the expression of the heart’s desire to God.

When Solomon became king after the death of David, the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Ask what you wish me to give you” (1 Kings 3:5). Solomon could have requested anything. He could have asked for material riches, power, victory over his enemies, or whatever he liked. But Solomon asked for discernment: “Give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil” (1 Kings 3:9). Scripture says, “It was pleasing in the sight of the Lord that Solomon had asked this thing” (1 Kings 3:10).

Moreover, the Lord told Solomon:

Because you have asked this thing and have not asked for yourself long life, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have you asked for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself discernment to understand justice, behold, I have done according to your words. Behold, I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you. I have also given you what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that there will not be any among the kings like you all your days. And if you walk in My ways, keeping My statutes and commandments, as your father David walked, then I will prolong your days. (1 Kings 3:11–14)

Notice that God commended Solomon because his request was completely unselfish: “Because you have asked this thing and have not asked for yourself.” Selfishness is incompatible with true discernment. People who desire to be discerning must be willing to step outside themselves.

Modern evangelicalism, enamored with psychology and self-esteem, has produced a generation of believers so self-absorbed that they cannot be discerning. People aren’t even interested in discernment. All their interest in spiritual things is focused on self. They are interested only in getting their own felt needs met.

Solomon did not do that. Although he had an opportunity to ask for long life, personal prosperity, and health and wealth, he bypassed all of that and asked for discernment instead. Therefore God also gave him riches, honor, and long life for as long as he walked in the ways of the Lord.

James 1:5 promises that God will grant the prayer for discernment generously: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”

Desire and prayer are the first two key ingredients in the recipe for true biblical discernment. Next time we’ll look at two more.

(Adapted from Reckless Faith.)


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#1  Posted by William Johnson  |  Monday, May 12, 2014 at 4:40 AM

My heart longs for discernment, as should all of us. The reason we see so much confusion today is because there is a great lack of wisdom in making decisions. Why do we have the politicians we do? People lacking discernment have elected them. In churches, no one seemingly stands against the wrong headed dictates of those in charge. We all have to follow the advice and look for wisdom as gold and silver. When we find it what a joy it is! But how sorely lacking it is in the world today. In fact we see so much of the opposite type of wisdom; worldly, carnal, fleshly. There are getting to be fewer and fewer places to find Goldly wisdom and discernment. Salvation is found only in Jesus, and what He has done on the cross. No other Name is given to call on for the Peace that exists because He has given it. Yet even when there is no "peace" in the world out there, Jesus has given a steadfast resolve to abide in the Peace that exists in the quiet of His Spirit.

Thanks for being true to His Word.

#2  Posted by Michael Kennedy  |  Monday, May 12, 2014 at 7:21 AM

EXCELLENT! I read all of THAT w/my bad eye; lol (and copied it for the boys in jail too). Once again John has hit the nail on the head and hammered it into MY heart (but for how long?... until I mess it up again).

But WITH that, I really enjoyed, as I very often do, the way that John explains God's word. Whenever I am trying to discuss discernment of truth to my wife or whomever, I never seem to be able to say it like Dr. MacArthur does.

Regardless, I thank God for putting John in my life to be able to learn this discernment. I've been getting a steady diet of his teachings for over 35 years and I pray it will go on for a lot more (there's a selfish prayer) .

It's so satisfying to know that God had saved John for such a job as this ; to be studied up and be able to preach like he does ...(something about a car accident?) like Jesus did...with authority! And John never exalts himself in all the years I've listened to him... especially when he's come to my town where I've had the distinct honor of meeting him a few times.

So, thank you John for filling my life with the wisdom of God's Word. It is so gratifying to be able to hear people when they're talking Bible, and to genuinely KNOW if they have it right or not. Maybe not in everything of course, but still, the challenge of trying to gently steer them in the right direction is just one of the sanctifying things that God has me doing too. Talk about discerning something new every day... is definitely true.

Thank you again John and I pray God continues in your life for a long time to come.

(now was that a selfish prayer? Hmmm... if so, I hope it falls in line with having righteous anger)

God bless. MKK

#3  Posted by Janie Hildebrand  |  Monday, May 12, 2014 at 11:31 AM

Many people sympathize with me in that I was raised as a Jehovah's Witness and I always reply, "I am so glad I was!" The discernment that has brought me has been invaluable in my walk with Christ.

As a new Christian I never felt I would need to be discerning of other Christians or Christian teachings, but I was wrong.

Shortly after being saved (by reading the Bible) we had a couple over (an elder and his wife) that tried to convince me I now needed to speak in tongues. They stated that God wanted to "give me more" and that I lacked something, yet I was so full of joy and peace that I couldn't understand what I lacked. They talked about how as an elder board they would pray and "feel angels hands on their backs." I became increasingly uncomfortable and was actually afraid.

As they drove away, I remember thinking, "That is not my God, that is an unfamiliar spirit." I was only a Christian for a few months.

Deception is always the same, it distorts and twists the truth and magnifies itself. I thank God for John MacArthur who sees what I saw all those years ago. I watched the entire Strange Fire conference from my home and wept and clapped through almost all of it.

Please tell Pastor MacArthur that we are so grateful for his boldness and for not being afraid of those who oppose him in declaring this truth and exposing this deception in the church. I continue to pray for him and am so grateful for his ministry.

#4  Posted by Denise Grimes  |  Monday, May 12, 2014 at 11:52 AM

Sadly, discernment is the most hated spiritual gift God has given to His churches. I believe the reason is because it is seen as a negative gift. It doesn't go down well to have to warn people of their favorite famous speaker, teacher, book, author, movement, or church. The gift of discernment is considered divisive, judgmental, and unloving. The freedom and ability to use this gift is often prohibited for these very reasons. Those with the biblical gift of discernment aren't "yes men", bobbleheads, nor do they rubber-stamp teachers. Rather they are humbled before God and thus fear HIM rather than man and cannot be silent when error is being promoted, coddled, or ignored. It also seems that most will reject it out of hand when it comes through a woman, as if God gives spiritual gifts according to gender. Therefore it is doubly rejected. Yet ironically, it is this very gift that is for the edification and purity of His body of believers. People will only accept this gift if it is wrapped up in in their personal preferences and qualifiers (flattery and fake humility (phrases which remove dogmatism)--both of which soften the sharp blow of Scripture's condemnation of serious error), and even then is still remains rarely used. We can see the harm in grieving the Spirit of God who has gifted these believers and it is so very grievous to the soul.

Gal 4:16 Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? 17 They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them.

#5  Posted by Jeremiah Johnson (GTY Admin)  |  Monday, May 12, 2014 at 2:42 PM


While true biblical discernment is vital in the church, I think there are lots of valid reasons to be cautious when it comes to so-called discernment ministries.

First of all, many of them operate outside any legitimate biblical leadership structure. They don’t answer to a church or a body of elders—in fact many are nothing more than the pet projects of aggravated armchair theologians. Their authority wasn’t established, granted, or governed by any biblical authority—it was simply asserted from their digital soapbox. While that doesn’t automatically discredit everything they say, it’s a good reason to approach with caution.

Hand-in-hand with the lack of biblical authority is the issue of anonymity. Plenty of discernment ministries are intentionally cloudy about who writes their bulletins, emails, and blog posts. It might just be humility that keeps their bylines blank, but it reads more like an attempt to avoid accountability, and as such, is an extension of the problem mentioned above.

Most of all, though, my main problem with these discernment ministries is that they too often let one issue become the only issue of importance. Whether it’s an eschatological matter or some other theological fine point, they too often allow one secondary issue to wag the entire dog of their faith and practice. Others try to stamp out a specific stripe of false teaching by publicly bashing anyone who has even a passing connection to books or teaching they deem dangerous. I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen particular “ministries” calling for respected, faithful Bible teachers to repent because of a single, decades-old sound bite that’s been ripped from its context and spat across the Internet in frothy rage. In fact, it seems many of these organizations exist not to preach discernment, but to threaten, boycott, and disavow an ever-growing list of Bible teachers they find fault with.

As I said in the beginning, I believe discernment is one of the most vital needs in the church today. And I trust you’re not attempting to defend the kind of discernment ministries I’ve described. But we need to be careful of thinking about it as a gift that only certain believers possess. God’s Word doesn’t call us to merely listen and follow the special few who have discerning insight—we’re all supposed to cultivate the gift of discernment.

#6  Posted by Marilyn Grenkow  |  Monday, May 12, 2014 at 3:22 PM

I am thankful for this place to come for encouragement, sound teaching, and clear instruction in the Scriptures... thank you to all who are apart of the Grace to You ministry, and help the Body of Christ in this way. I am so concerned for the gullableness of professing christians to give even a moment of consideration/credibility to the false demonstations of what is said to be(and is so dishonoring)of the Holy Spirit. I really can't tolerate such dishonor... where is the fear of God, that even those who claim His favor would be identified with such dishonoring of His Holy Character?

#7  Posted by Jasmine Henning  |  Monday, May 12, 2014 at 3:32 PM

I enjoy listening to the truth. John MacArthur God Bless You in standing for the truth!

I was deceived by the church I was going to. The church talks more about the false gifts of the spirit more than relationship with Jesus and more than the true works of the Holy Spirit. This charismatic movement needs to stop! This demonic presentation in the church is not worshipful. I had to leave this church that I was going to for 6 years of my walk with God. They sucker you in by false doctrine mixed with truth and give you false gospel about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I thought I was doing right until I did research by listening to John MacArthur's video (Does the Truth Matter Anymore? Series). He is right about discerning truth and error so you will not be deceived and suckered into Satan's trap! I thank God for John MacArthur and others like him standing for the truth of Biblical doctrine!! I was heartbroken and angry when I found out that I was not right with God in my fake walk of half truth that I was believing. Many churches are falling due to wrong acts of worship, false doctrine, and counterfeit Holy Spirit at work. People are going to hell for believing in false doctrine false Jesus! Please Pray for discernment in the churches around the world, so more people will be awake to know that what they might be believing in will be sending them to hell. Oh, Woe to all the churches! I pray that John MacArthur's message about false churches will be told about constantly! I could have gone to hell myself thinking I was in the truth.

I now go to a new church that preaches the truth and the service is conservative. No charismatic chaos!

Thank You Grace to You and John MacArthur for always telling the truth about the Bible!!!!

Keep it going!!

#8  Posted by Debbie Howerton  |  Monday, May 12, 2014 at 6:56 PM

With genuine gratitude, I say "thank you" for your insight, your love for the Savior, and your seemingly tireless proclamation of the gospel. I listen to scores of your sermons each week, and am gobbling up the truth as fast as I can. May God continue to bless you, and give you many more years to preach of Jesus, and feed his sheep.

#9  Posted by Ben Enders  |  Tuesday, May 13, 2014 at 7:01 AM


I concur with your post. This is my experience inside of the church. I find that the common thread is biblical ignorance (of course). Only a small percentage read their bible with diligence and many are not aware of how to study their bible nor do they care to. This unfortunately is true with many of the small group leaders. The contemporary church favours studies done by others and therefore the leaders are not leaders who have studied the word for themselves, they are facilitators. Nobody likes to be told they are wrong. Nobody wants to hear, “you know that eight week study you just did on spiritual formation with Richard Foster’s book is full of biblical error and potentially will lead people down the wrong path”.

Dr. MacArthur has put out some wonderful material in regards to leadership. My church is in love with Bill Hybels and his leadership conference. The differences between Hybels and MacArthur's view on leadership are night and day and so there is no shortage of material to contrast and discuss yet, only two people of the dozens I have spoken to are even willing to hear a dissenting opinion. I only caught some of the radio broadcast this past week but, I do recall Dr. MacArthur commenting on the state of the church right now in regards to hostility towards Christians. It made me stop and think that this is one reason why there is such a push for love and tolerance without regard to doctrine. Maybe this is why we are at the point where very few people can define what it means to be a Christian.

I’m not overtly aware of any such groups or blogs such as Jeremiah has mentioned. If he says they exist I’m sure they do. However, I think Denise was referring to what’s taking place inside the church under a ‘legitimate biblical leadership structure ‘. Those of us who can’t find a solid bible believing, reformed, cessationist church that doesn’t force us to use a King James and teach wine was really grape juice anywhere near us are in this battle daily.

#10  Posted by Patty Duke  |  Wednesday, May 14, 2014 at 8:26 AM

I agree with Denise and Ben. I did not think she was talking about some "discernment" ministry when I read her reply, I took her to mean that in the church in general, there is a lack of discernment of believers who take too much at face value and do not test the teaching up against Scripture. I have found this in my own church, which by the way is a wonderful, Bible believing church with a wonderful pastor. But I have also been told by some members that we should not make anyone feel bad and say an opposing view, like in Sunday school, if they say something contrary to Scripture. And that comes from too many Christians not reading or studying their Bibles on a daily basis, only getting what they receive on a Sunday morning. Which is the reason that discernment in the church is at an all time low. I also agree with Jeremiah that discernment is to be practiced by all believers, like love, mercy, giving, hospitality, etc. However, just as those gifts have some with an extra God given grace to practice them, so do some believers have the grace to be more discerning. We need, as a church body, to have more of them speaking up for Christ.

#12  Posted by Denise Grimes  |  Wednesday, May 21, 2014 at 11:59 AM

Correct Patty. While all Christians are to be serving, exhorting, giving, have faith, be discerning, etc., God gifts specific people with those specific gifts to help everyone in those areas. This is basic understanding of the gifting of spiritual gifts we see in 1Cor. 12 and Rom. 12.

Also, I keep hearing the rebuke to those who want to deal with error, "now's not the time or place" when it's at church. That's getting very old and is unbiblical. What better and needful time to correct error but when it's done, say, in Sunday School or a Bible study? When someone puts forth an unbiblical notion, it must be refuted immediately so that the one who spoke it and the ones listening, will both be admonished to reject the error and correct their thinking according to Scripture. But people want to avoid controversy even if it is at the expense of the Truth----and it always seems to be in favor of the one who is in error. This grieves the Holy Spirit of Truth, I am sure.