THE EXERCISE OF MORAL AND THEOLOGICAL DISCERNMENT

PART ONE: WHAT DOES JESUS SAY?
In John Chapter 7 Jesus enters the temple and teaches (v.14). The Jews marvelled and questioned how He could have such learning with no history of studying (v.15), and Jesus answers: “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority” (vv.16-17).

* Here is a key: Our will must be in line with God’s in order to discern truth.

In verses 18- 23, Jesus goes on to reveal that the censorious judgement and self-righteous legalism of the Jews is hypocritical. He demands that they “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgement” (v.24).

* Righteous Judgement then is the exercise of moral and theological discernment that comes only by keeping our will in line with God’s will.

In Matthew chapter 7 Jesus gives us another poignant exposition on the subject of judging correctly by discerning between dogs and swine (v.6). Before introducing this unpopular statement, Jesus is sure to carefully set the context for us. He informs us in plain text: “Judge not, that ye not be judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not see the log that is in your own eye?…You hypocrit, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (vv. 1-5).

* How do we take the log out of our own eye? By turning to Jesus and by walking in step with the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16 ff). Obedience to God–reading and DOING God’s Word– so that sanctification can produce fruit.

As the context in Matthew 7 reveals, this does not prohibit all types of judging (see v.16). There is a righteous kind of judgment we are called to exercise with careful discernment. Censorious, hypocritical, self-righteous, and other kinds of unfair judgments are forbidden. But in order to fulfill the commandments that follow, it is necessary to discern dogs and swine (Matt. 7:6) from one’s own brethren (vv.3-5).

Jesus shows us exactly what this process looks like and gives us the key to discernment in vv. 15-20. “You will recognize them [dogs and swine: false prophets] by their fruits” (v. 16a). “Every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, neither can a diseased tree bear good fruit” (vv. 17-18).

* Key: Look to the fruits! If our will is lined up with God’s He enable us to discern the truth.

PART TWO: DISCERNING WHAT IS PLEASING TO THE LORD: TRAINING AND PRACTICE.

Ephesians chapter 5 is captioned WALK IN LOVE. Paul starts this passage exhorting the Church is Ephesus to “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (vv.1-2). The rest of the chapter shows us what this looks like.

* key: Love is a factor as well as imitating God.

Verses 8b-10 brings this discussion around to our subject of discernemnt: “Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.”

* “Try to discern” carries the idea of testing or proving to learn by clear and convincing evidence what is truly honoring to God.

* As believers walk in the light of the truth, the knowledge of the Lord’s will becomes clear (cp. Rom. 12:1-2).
* Key: walk in the light.

Again in Philippians chapter 1Paul gives us a word on discernment. His prayer for the church in Philippi is that “love may abound more and more, with all knowledge and discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (vv. 9-10).

* Notice the reoccurring themes of love in conjunction with knowledge of the Word, which bears the FRUIT of righteous that come through Jesus.

Finally in Hebrews 5:14, the author tells us that “solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

“TRAINED”: Athletic training and competition form the metaphor implied by this particular word (cp. 1 Tim. 4:7-8).

The person who has come to Christ for spiritual completion is then trained by the Word to discern truth from error and holy behavior from unholy. This is how we align our wills to God’s will. Love, obedience, walking out our faith in the light, walking in the Spirit to conform our image to Christ, bearing and recognizing the fruits of righteous honestly and without hypocrisy–by this are our powers of discernment realized!

’till He comes (Written for my beautiful Robyn)

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