Discernment is more complicated than simply checking out the endorsements or letting someone decide for us who is good and who isn’t. By discerning, we have the opportunity to grow. We have the opportunity to become more rooted in what we believe. This is the kind of noble discernment the Bereans had, and it is the kind we should strive for as well.
Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.— Charles H. Spurgeon
When it comes to discerning truth from error, sometimes it’s in plain sight. The error sticks out like the ugly duckling. But oftentimes false doctrine is hidden with biblical words, Christian clichés, half-truths, and near-truths. Spurgeon’s words sum up discernment succinctly; it’s usually knowing the difference between right and almost right. It’s like examining a well-done counterfeit painting—we need an expert, well-trained eye to see the tiny detail differences between the genuine and the fake.
But how is this eye for detail trained? How do we strengthen our discernment muscles? We begin in God’s word—studying it well and hiding it away in our hearts—and we turn to church history and qualified sources to help guide us.
Beginning in the Word
There are a group of people in the book of Acts who were deemed more noble than others because of their discernment skills. What made their discernment so noble?
The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. (Acts 17:10-12; emphasis added)
To be like the Bereans is to examine and search the word of God for the truth. When we have the word hidden in our hearts, we won’t easily be satisfied with falsehood and contradictions. In order to be discerning, we need to know our Bibles.
As we come to Scripture to find answers, humility should be our posture; we don’t come to the Bible to be proven right, but to be shaped and taught by God. Start with one particular verse on the subject, study it in context, then turn to the cross-references (verses on the same topic) and repeat the process. This shouldn’t be to the neglect of the entire Bible either; topical studies are good, but we should also spend time considering what the whole of Scripture says. As we study the Bible—the whole Bible—we grow and begin to develop a systematic theology.
This isn’t a skill that’s developed quickly. As we spend more time in God’s word studying it, reading it, listening to it, and memorizing it, we fine-tune our discernment muscles. I’m impatient. I want the answer immediately, but this process has taught me to be okay staying in the unknown “in-between” stage as I study for an answer.