By Dr. Shelton Smith*
Used with permission.
Spiritual discernment! What is it? Where do you learn about it? Is it something we need? If so, how do we get it? Okay, let’s see if we can find the answers to these questions.
There are many things that we can do without spiritual discernment.
We can go to a fast-food restaurant, order a hamburger, pay for it and walk out with everything settled without one scintilla of spiritual discernment. People do it all the time. They read the menu, they speak up and they use their math skills to pay the bill.
If you have no spiritual discernment at all, you can still get a hamburger. But many are the things in your life that cannot be solved by mathematics.
Doctors run tests to assess why we are being bothered by some physical malady or difficulty. We are glad they can do so much so well, but not everything can be solved by medical science.
Recently there was a man on TV who said he believed it is just a matter of time before robots could actually run the world. I don’t know if that’s true, but the expansive long arm of technology is accelerating at an enormous rate these days.
Somebody said something to me yesterday about an eight-track tape. They came on the scene a few years back but then quickly disappeared. I thought cassette tapes were exciting; but now there are CDs, MP3s, iPads, smartphones and a whole lot more coming.
But technology is not a panacea for solving the great problems of our world or in your life.
You can do all kinds of things with the vast knowledge available to you; but there are things so vital to you that if you don’t have the dimension here described as ‘spiritual discernment,’ you are going to miss them by a country mile.
But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.—1 Corinthians 2:9–14
Now you may ask, “What is this spiritual discernment?”
Spiritual discernment is that decisive ability to see things as God sees them, to count things as God counts them, to understand things as God reveals them and to accept things as God declares them.
Lack of Spiritual Discernment Leads to Ill-Judged Decisions
The first thing we learn here is that some decisions we make prove to be foolish simply because we do not have access to the “spiritual discernment” God offers to us.
Amazingly, there are times when we try to figure out a way to wiggle around the meaning of something we’ve read in the Bible. It is the folly of fools to do such, but it happens.
Spiritual discernment not only reads it; but it also sees it clearly, understands it, and receives it fully. He who has spiritual discernment says, “God has revealed this and I’m going to accept what He has said!”
Sometimes we can see things clearly, but we get balky and then we back up on God. We must not do that if we want to be enabled with the eternal, God-given ability of discernment.
God says, “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (vs. 13).
The Unsaved Cannot Have Spiritual Discernment
There is a second truth revealed here. Unsaved people cannot have spiritual discernment. Verse 14 says, “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
That’s why the unsaved laugh at the concepts of Creation, why the world laughs and mocks us for urging people to live pure lives instead of living like animals in a barnyard. The unsaved world despises us!
That’s why when you turn on the TV, you cannot surf the channels without seeing some ploy being presented that promotes the immoral lifestyle. It is glamorized everywhere. It is presented as exciting, but they do not tell you the whole story.
The unsaved world does not have spiritual discernment, and they cannot have it as long as they are unsaved. They may be smart. They may be clever. But spiritually wise they are not because they do not possess spiritual discernment.
Do you wonder why the Supreme Court makes some of the absolutely stupid decisions it does? The answer is obvious. The majority of the judges that sit on the Court are unsaved people.
Do you wonder why the United States Congress does some of the absolutely unthinkable things it does? It does not take a calculator to figure this out. Many of the people who sit in those legislative bodies are not saved. Consequently, they are lacking spiritual discernment.
Do you wonder why some of the things coming from the state capitol are absolutely crazy? Do you wonder why we just can’t seem to get folks flowing in the right direction?
Because the unsaved do not see what God sees. They do not understand what God has revealed. They do not count things as God counts them.
The unsaved simply do not accept what God has declared to be the truth! In other words, the unsaved do not have spiritual discernment, so they go out and make crazy decisions about all kinds of things.
Not All the Saved Have Spiritual Discernment
The third truth revealed here is this. Although spiritual discernment is imparted to spiritual men, not everyone who is saved has it. When a person gets saved, he has the opportunity to become a spiritual person. But if he continues to dally in the world’s carnalities and not follow the directions God gives, he will be saved; but he will be a carnal saved person.
If a saved person lives in carnality, you can put him beside an unsaved person and probably not be able to tell any difference.
And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?—1 Corinthians 3:1–3
Spiritual discernment is imparted to saved men who are spiritual men. Notice in this passage the contrast which is drawn between the carnal and the spiritual. Verse 1 says, I couldn’t talk to the Corinthian church like they were a spiritual church because they’re more like babies.
They didn’t have any maturity or tutoring whatsoever. They were simply doing whatever they wanted to do. They were functioning by their emotions, by their feelings and by their “want-to’s.” In so doing, they were carnal.
Verse 3 has given us a powerful formula: ESD. When God’s people are driven by Envy, Strife and Division, there you will find carnality. That carnality blocks our ability to make spiritual decisions.
You say, “There are some people in our church who seem always to be in some kind of a stir.” This is the problem! ESD! Envy, strife, division!
You know what happens when you come to Christ? Your conversion starts a war in you between the flesh and the spirit (Galatians 5). If you feed the flesh, carnality results. If you feed the spirit, then a spiritual man emerges.
The principle here is a major one. Spiritual discernment accrues to spiritual men.
I remind you that the wisdom of God is contingent upon our walk with Him. If you expect to be able to do things as God decrees them—see what God sees, feel what God feels, understand what God has revealed—it is necessary that you walk with Him.
You are kidding yourself if you say, “I’m going to social drink and party with the world, but I’ll come to church on Sunday and get enough so I can make the right kinds of decisions.” Worldly, carnal behavior robs a Christian of spiritual discernment.
Get this fixed in your mind, and don’t forget it. Spiritual discernment is imparted only to spiritual men.
The Word of God Advises Spiritual Discernment
This passage teaches us that spiritual discernment is taught to us by the Holy Spirit of God. How does He do that? He wrote a Manual for us, and it’s right here in front of you! It is called the Bible.
Some read the Bible and then say, “Paul said,” or, “Moses said,” or whoever. Listen, when you pick up the Bible, you are not listening to Paul or Moses; you are getting the very Word of God.
Paul and Moses were secretaries; they were not the authors. They put down what God dictated to them. Second Peter 1:21 says, “The prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
We have the Word of God, the mandates of God, written in the Bible. That’s the reason we need to read it, study it, memorize it, hear it preached, and then take it to heart. The Holy Spirit of God can teach us the concepts that will enable us to be spiritual.
People ask about whether or not they should smoke or drink beer or go to honky-tonks or play rock music or dress like the world and so on. They are wanting some verse which says specifically, “Thou shalt not smoke filtered cigarettes,” or, “Thou shalt not drink light beer,” or whatever.
God, being omniscient, wrote for us what we need on those subjects before cigarettes and beer were invented. He gave us the concepts that enable us to view the issues through the lens of the God-given Book. We are then prepared to make a decision by discernment to judge like we ought to judge.
You say, “Wait a minute! You’re talking about judging.” You’re exactly right! The favorite verse of the weak, compromising, carnal crowd is Matthew 7:1: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”
They quote it with a preconceived conception of its truth. Consequently, they misapply it to support their own ideas and agenda.
It amazes me that they don’t read the following six verses. The full context makes clear we are not to judge unjustly, but it does not mean we are not ever to act on information and make decisions. How do I know? Because 1 Corinthians 2:15 says, “He that is spiritual judgeth all things.”
Spiritual discernment helps you judge whether or not a preacher to whom you listen is a real man of God. In fact, Matthew 7:15 and 16 say,
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits.
Do you not inspect fruit before you buy it? That is judgment. Not all apples are alike, nor are all cantaloupes or watermelons or peaches. And not all “prophets “are alike. As there are good and bad apples, so are there good and bad “prophets.” . . .
Matthew 7 tells us a Christian should have a spiritual ability that enables him to make the right judgments.
The decisions we make must be taught of the Holy Spirit of God as He has revealed them in the Manual—the Book—the Bible.
How to Discern Spiritual Discernment
He that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.—1 Corinthians 2:15-16
Spiritual discernment is discernible as we identify ourselves with the mind of Christ. We learn to think like He thinks, “comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (vs. 13).
Sometimes we say, “Why can’t we do things in our church like the churches around town do?”
You cannot compare the spiritual things with a worldly institution or organization, but you should compare a spiritual matter with a spiritual standard.
In other words, go to the Bible, and base your judgment on what the Bible standard is, not on the standard of what everyone else in town is doing.
We begin to do things not based on the consensus of the local ministerial association or the local ecumenical movement but on the consensus that is built out of the mind of Christ.
In so doing, this spiritual discernment He gives us allows us to make decisions and judgments that need to be made, and we make them properly.
The Bible says, “I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 3:2)
We need milk sometimes; but to make a balanced diet, we also need meat—something with vitamins and protein. If we are going to have a good, solid feeding, we’re going to have to eat at God’s table.
Spiritual discernment recognizes the human and the divine. God is not going to do His work unless we give Him our hands, our bodies, our minds. He has chosen to do His work in any given place through human instruments. That is why He says one plants, another waters, but He gives the increase.
If I say, “I will let God do whatever He wants to do, but I’m going to do what I want to do,” then I have missed it because I have not spiritually discerned and ascertained what it is that God is up to in our town.
Spiritual Discernment or Lack Thereof Has a Payday
Whenever we discern things as we ought to, we understand the payday is out there someday and “every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour” (3:8).
Some may read that and think it is a work-your-way-to-Heaven verse. That’s not what the passage says. It says he who is saved will be rewarded and he will be rewarded for his labors.
But if he is not saved, he will not even be at the Judgment Seat of Christ when the rewards are handed out. Instead, he will be at another place called the Great White Throne Judgment where punishments are handed out (Revelation 20).
If we do things God’s way, see things as God sees them, count what God counts, and accept the things God has declared, spiritual discernment has a payday.
Without spiritual discernment, you may let acid get into your soul, and bitterness will build up. You’ve swept the church, cleaned out the choir loft, polished the furniture, but nobody tells you you’ve done a good job.
Some of you work very hard building up your bus route, going out soul winning—and every time you come in third. Somebody always beats you out of first or second place. You don’t get the certificate or the Bible. You don’t get to go out to eat with the pastor. You’ve labored hard, but nobody publicly recognizes your efforts.
Understand that the rewards for God’s work are coming! Your pastor may miss it, your friends may miss it, but God never misses a thing!
I had the privilege to be the pastor of a great church for a long time. I’d had a taste of being bruised and kicked around. But when I came to the Sword of the Lord, I quickly learned I had stepped onto the frontlines of the battle where I would face hostility every day.
You never get used to it, and you hope it will go away someday. In the meantime, I still get up every day so excited I can hardly stand it. I say, “Thank You, dear God, that You let me be alive today. Thank You that I have the privilege to stand in the gap and do whatever it is that You want done today!”
You ask, “What if somebody knocks you over the head and walks on you?”
That’s not only likely to happen, but I expect it to happen. I live with it because I know who is keeping the score. I know one of these days God will distribute whatever reward He has in mind for me.
When you get weary in the work or you get overshadowed and passed over, remember that “every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour” (1 Corinthians 3:8). Don’t let some little piece of trash get lodged in your craw.
This Scripture teaches that when we discern things as we ought to discern them, we will see the approaching of the day of reckoning.
Verse 10 says, “Let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.” I don’t want to be a part of some liberal outfit. I don’t want to be in a church that is a part of the National Council of Churches. I don’t want to be connected with a church where the money in the offering plate goes to support some lobby which is promoting homosexual causes.
I don’t want to be a part of a denomination where they are congregating in their executive committee to debate whether or not to ordain homosexuals to the ministry. I don’t want to be a part of that! I have a responsibility to give my tithe, but I don’t want it to go to fund those wicked causes.
There is a payday coming. I must reckon and take heed how I build upon the foundation of Christ! God is not going to make all of our decisions for us. We have a responsibility to make them ourselves. To do so necessitates we possess spiritual discernment.
When I get up in the morning, I’m glad God has not preordained what I shall have for breakfast. I’m sure He would do a good job if He did, but He allows me to make that choice.
If we walk with God and get the wisdom of God, we will have spiritual discernment and the spiritual ability to see what God sees, count what God counts, understand what God reveals and accept what God declares. It is out of spiritual discernment that we are equipped to make wise choices like we ought to make.
I remember the Saturday morning in September many years ago when as a lad I heard the Gospel for the first time. I remember getting saved and shortly after, I began to think differently and to feel differently about things. I began to ask myself, Is this what a Christian should do? Is this the way I should think?
In my early teen years, I knew I needed to go to church. We lived four miles from the church, and I walked to church every Sunday morning. Several folks gave me a ride home, and I walked back on Sunday night and Wednesday night.
In the wintertime, even in the dark, I walked to church Sunday and Wednesday nights. The Lord put it in my heart that was where I needed to be. I thank God I decided early on to get into the habit of going to church.
In high school, I had already announced I was going to be a preacher. In fact, God had already given me numerous opportunities to preach. I received some “pet names” from the folks in the Egyptian school I attended—some were complimentary; some were derisive. . . .
Spiritual Discernment Magnifies Christ
I was just a young preacher about twenty-two years of age when I was first influenced by the Sword of the Lord. I read in its pages about soul-winning churches and the men who were winning hundreds of people to Christ.
Oh, brother, did I get excited! I had been winning people to Christ, but I didn’t know you could go at it and win them all the time!
God had said it in the Book. He had revealed it in the Book, and I accepted what God said. I asked, “Can God do something with a little guy like me?” Glory to God, I found out He could! . . .
I decided a long time ago I would not put off soul winning. I would not put off doing what I knew I ought to do, because God said I ought to be following Him and in following Him I am fishing for Him. So I just set about to do it.
How successful have I been? The success ratio is not the big issue. I need to get to plowing the ground and sowing the seed. Letting God do His work through me—that’s the big issue.
I decided as a young preacher I would be excited about every opportunity I had. I determined I’d try to remember I was representing the Lord every time I got up to preach, and I wouldn’t waste people’s time if I could help it. . . .
I’m just saying, use whatever opportunity God gives to you. Don’t look at the numbers and say, “Well, we’ll do this if there is this much or that much.” No! Do what God has given you to do, no matter the numbers, and do it fervently.
I made some personal choices, one of which was that I would not be for sale. There have been some times when it would have been a whole lot easier to have turned and looked the other way, when it would have been easier to have said, “All right, let the guy preach,” or, “All right, let that singing group come.” But I didn’t do it. Why? Because I made some choices.
Somewhere along the way, you have to see what God sees, count what God counts, understand what God reveals. If you are going to act upon and accept what He has declared, then you must say, “I’m going to do it God’s way! Whatever the price, I am not selling out!”
If we get this spiritual discernment, it does something in us to make us want to magnify Christ in our lives. We all have to deal with the old ego—our humanness, our wanting to be somebody. We should just remember that we are not much—we were even less before Christ found us, and we wouldn’t be headed anywhere or doing anything except for the grace of God.
Remember that you “are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s” (vs. 23); then make the decision that you will be a billboard for Jesus, a mouthpiece for the Saviour. Magnify Christ, living or dying. If we get up every day and say, “That’s who I am; that’s what I want to be about,” it will keep us from doing a lot of silly stuff and getting trapped in a lot of foolishness.
Magnify Christ. Make a big to-do about Jesus.
I heard this as a teenager: “I’ll do the best I can with what I have, where I am, for Jesus’ sake, today.” It reminds me of that piece that says, “Only one life, ’twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”
The unsaved world does a lot of crazy things we can avoid. But in order to avoid them, the saved must shake off the carnality, come into the spiritual arena, and see what God sees, count what God counts, understand what God reveals and accept what God has declared to be truth.
When we do that, we are in possession of an unusual, unique ability called spiritual discernment. When the Devil comes peddling his wares, we have the know-how to deal with it. When someone says, “Come and run with this hang-loose, half-hearted, ecumenical crowd,” we have wisdom about how to say no. . . .
You cannot get a graduate degree in spiritual discernment. I don’t know how much of it you have, but you need to keep working at it so you’ll be sure to have it on any given day. If you don’t have it, you’ll fall back into carnality and begin doing things the way the world does and that’s always a mistake!
Spiritual discernment: seeing what God sees, counting it the way God counts it, understanding it as God reveals it, and accepting it as God declares it. Get it and don’t let go of it!
*Dr. Shelton Smith is the editor of the Sword of the Lord newspaper. The website is: http://www.swordofthelord.com. The article above is an extract from an article in the paper; it is used with permission.
(photo added by Lighthouse Trails from bigstockphoto.com; used with permission)
(Part 2) From v. .10 that passage says, “But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. — 11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. — 12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” — It is obvious that we do not now “know as we are known”. That is still to come in Heaven. Ronald, indeed we need to pay attention and observe the signs of the times as Jesus the Christ instructed all His disciples to do.
I agree with the writer’s definition of spiritual discernment, and I agree that only people who have been born again by the power of the Holy Spirit, who are filled with and led by the Holy Spirit, have spiritual discernment. The Lord tells us in I Corinthians 12 that discernment is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He says the Spirit gives each believer spiritual gifts as He pleases. He knows what we need in order to be able to live an obedient and fruitful life. I don’t understand why people read 1 Corinthians 13 to mean the gifts of the Holy Spirit have been rescinded, for this reason: (Part 1)
This is a wonderful article. I realize that when I had children, and they looked to me for how a christian should behave, I really poured into my bible. I now know the decisions my husband and I have made (asking God for direction) He has been faithful to direct our family. I also do not look back later and question, did we make the right decision? I know we did. There is comfort in that.
Seems lacking discernment is sort of like drivers that end up getting in an accident because they are not paying attention. Either they have a cell phone, or they are doing makeup, or something like that.