Last week, we were reminded of the words of Jesus:
Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.
We quickly came to the conclusion that we cannot easily categorize things as good and evil. We learned that Satan, our enemy, knows that we are quick to categorize in such ways, and therefore gains an easy foothold in our lives and deceives us. We were challenged as we learned that he deceives many through counterfeit signs, wonders, and miracles that we categorize as good deeds and not through outright evil deeds as we would like to believe about him. We were warned:
2 Corinthians 11:13-15
13 For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15 It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.
Now if you felt as I did, you left last week feeling a bit uneasy and confused. As we become aware of the enemy’s schemes and just how easily we can be deceived, it leaves us feeling a bit uncomfortable. However, we know that:
1 Corinthians 14:33 (KJV)
God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.
therefore, we meet this morning to allow God to continue revealing the plans and schemes of the enemy, but also to bring peace and clarity to this issue. The tool that God has given us to see beyond the apparent and to see things at their source is discernment. Now, there is a spiritual gift of discernment through which God enables us to distinguish between spirits. This gift enables us to see the spiritual source working behind the scenes. I actually had planned to speak primarily about this gift this morning, but the Lord is taking us a different path.
This morning, I felt that Jesus was taking us back to the basics of our faith. Sometimes we have a tendency to so over-emphasize the spiritual that we actually give the enemy control over our actions. While we are believing that we are doing what God would have us do, but actually doing the precise opposite. Sometimes, we do the same by under-emphasizing the spiritual and not seeing what is actually happening spiritually behind a situation.
For example, you see someone pulled off of the side of the road needing assistance. It’s a good and Godly thing to help people in their time of need and distress. However, this could also be a setup intended for evil, especially if you take note of the guy hiding in the trees just beyond the car pulled over. The enemy will often use apparent good works to ensnare us into causing hurt, division, and destruction of what God is working to accomplish in someone’s life.
Solomon, when God told him that He would give him whatever he asked for, asked for a discerning heart. He asked to be discerning of all things by being discerning at his very source. God, of course, granted this request. Solomon wrote from his wise and discerning heart:
16 Do not be overrighteous,
neither be overwise—
why destroy yourself?
17 Do not be overwicked,
and do not be a fool—
why die before your time?
18 It is good to grasp the one
and not let go of the other.
Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.
We would be wise to take this saying to heart, memorizing and applying it. For example, suppose that a little girl that you know well walks into church wearing this hat. Some of us are thinking, yeah, so what? Some of our hearts just began beating twice as fast and blood pressure just increased significantly. Some see a sign of peace, some see a portal of Satan, a gateway into the demonic.
Some of us would do something that we think would be the godly, loving thing to do. After all, we sincerely care for this little girl and her family and would feel that we were being moved of the Holy Spirit and acting in love to do something about this. Having a little bit of knowledge that we have learned about this symbol, we would proceed to harshly rebuke this little girl’s parents for permitting her to wear such clothing and teach them all about the demonic roots of this symbolism and the serious dangers that they had put their child in.
Now within the course of that service, this little girl was praising and worshiping God, she gave testimony about acts of kindness and love that she had shown to someone, she memorized and learned all about God’s word, she even prayed for someone and saw the Lord heal them. Her life always had been marked with submission to the Holy Spirit and a genuine love of God. Wearing this symbol on her clothing had literally no negative impact in her life, her thoughts, or her actions. In fact, when confronted, the little girl said that she picked it out because it reminded her that Jesus is the prince of peace and the commander of the angel armies.
Would have we been moving truly inspired by the Holy Spirit in love, would we have been truly using Godly discernment in how we responded to this situation?
Now if that little girl had consciously worn that symbol with pride that it represented an upside down or broken Neronic cross, or a witch’s foot or crow’s foot or the Teutonic rune of death or began chanting “Aum” to awaken the serpent power of Brahma during worship, or some other anti-Christian or Satanic thing that people may think the peace symbol represents, there would be cause for concern. This, however, was far from the case.
However, that harsh encounter could have easily driven even the most faithful and committed follower of Jesus running away from that church telling everyone else to steer clear of it as well! Despite the overwhelming evidence that these parents were raising their children to know and love the Lord, this one little symbol caused all of that Christian parenting to be bluntly questioned and doubted.
Why could have this family rightly ran from this church or have called this individual into question for their actions? It was because we were literally doing what Jesus told us not to do; judging by mere appearances and not correctly judging. Were we using Godly discernment or not? In this case, I would say no. Had there been consistent intentional use of pagan and occult symbolism and their associated behaviors, would we have been using Godly discernment? In that case, I would say absolutely yes.
In this case, that symbol was actually a portal of Satan and a gateway of the demonic. However, it wasn’t the little girl that head dove straight into that portal and came out foaming at the mouth under the influence of the demonic speaking curses, tearing down God’s people, and dividing the body of Christ. It would have been us who fell for this sly trap of the enemy!
That little girl would probably never wear that symbol again. Not because of her conviction that she did anything wrong, but so that she would no longer be a stumbling block to others. Every one of her actions would have been truly Spirit-lead and done in love. Her actions would be righteous in every way and handled far more maturely than her accusers, even at her young age.
Now I use this example to not teach that the enemy cannot use symbolism to truly lead God’s people away from Him nor to teach that there is nothing behind pagan or demonic symbolism that can become a gateway for the enemy to work in our lives. I do so to show a real-life example of how deceitful our enemy truly is and how critically necessary it is for us to look beyond mere appearances and to carefully judge things correctly. As Solomon wrote, we cannot be over-righteous, but also cannot be over-wicked. We must avoid all extremes if we truly fear God and want to stay free from deceit.
Even if we have the best intentions and think that what we are doing is good and can defend our actions with scripture and some knowledge, that doesn’t mean that we are actually being moved of the Holy Spirit and acting in love. Praise be to God, He has given us a tool to help us to not be so easily deceived! After all, I know that all of us here this morning do not want to be tools of the enemy, none of us want to be deceived. We want to be ones who truly know truth and who handle and apply God’s word of truth correctly and lovingly being lead of the Holy Spirit alone.
Discernment is the tool that takes all available information into consideration and makes a judgment call. This is the tool that God has given us to look beyond mere appearances and to the source of things. Being quick to categorize everything and everyone as good or evil is not at all discernment. Judging a current issue based solely on a single past experience or on a little bit of information that we know and disregarding the pertinent and current information is the precise opposite of discernment. Again, Jesus tells us to:
Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.
Paul also warned us that:
1 Corinthians 8:1
We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.
Sometimes, a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing!
What is unique about the spiritual gift of discernment is that the Holy Spirit supernaturally gives us knowledge about a spiritual source in action that we would not have been able to discern using our natural senses and knowledge. It is an awesome gift, but one that can be difficult to manage. After all, we all know how difficult it is to love someone who intentionally hurts and attacks us.
Having the gift of discernment and knowing that a person is under the influence of a demonic spirit can make it difficult to act toward them as we must. It’s difficult for all of us to remember what Ephesians 6 teaches, that our battle is not against people, but against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Having the spiritual gift of discernment makes this battle all the more real and the influences that much clearer. On the positive flip side of that gift, being able to see what God is doing in the spiritual realms makes cooperating with Him a whole lot easier!
Now we all have made bad judgment calls in life and we have all acted without using discernment. We all know that acting without discernment generally brings about negative results whereas acting with discernment generally brings about positive results.
Most of us have seen these memes that start, “Dude, hold my beer.” and the stupid acts that follow the foolish act of getting drunk to begin with. This is the clear evidence of merely acting without discernment.
Discernment is the tool that God has given us which gathers knowledge and leads us to apply wisdom. Literally, that is what discernment is. It gathers as much knowledge as possible about something and correctly works that knowledge together to produce wisdom. Discernment gives us the ability to see beyond what is apparent to the source. Discernment is what enables us to truly and correctly determine what is good and what is evil.
I’m sure that we would all agree that receiving a break on our property taxes is a good thing, right? Well, what if that discount comes from legalizing something that can potentially destroy families and neighborhoods, is it still a good thing? We faced that exact decision when it came to legalizing gambling in Pennsylvania so that we might receive a property tax break. Was passing that law done so with discernment? Well, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board proudly boasts these partial truths:
“The Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act was designed to produce tremendous benefits for Commonwealth citizens through the legalization of casino gaming. To date, more than 16,000 new living wage jobs have been created along with more than $9 billion of tax revenue that is improving the quality of life in local communities, reinvigorating our horse racing industry, and lowering the property tax of homeowners. For every dollar produced as revenue from slot machine play, between 54¢ and 55¢ is returned to Pennsylvanians.”
How many individuals here have had their property tax reduced by even a dime as a direct result of this $9 billion of revenue that came in? Exactly… Oh, and those jobs created? They are jobs created to help those with compulsive gambling and other gambling addictions, compliance officers to enforce gaming laws, etc. Has the quality of life improved in our communities if we have had to go so far as to establish an entire organization to help pull people out of the destructive behavior of compulsive gambling? God’s word rings true:
Proverbs 14:12 (AMP)
There is a way which seems right to a man and appears straight before him,
But its end is the way of death.
There are many life examples of good things that cloak the evil behind them. In fact, all sin is exactly this. We don’t chase after sin and become ensnared by it because it is purely evil. We are ensnared by it because there is some type of good and satisfaction that we receive from it, but also the death that slowly accompanies all sin. Sin itself is evidence that we are acting without discernment. Paul wrote:
2 Corinthians 11:3
But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.
We were reminded last week that the things that deceived Eve were not evil, but rather good. She disobeyed God because:
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
God told Adam not to eat of that tree. Adam apparently told Eve not to eat from it or even touch it. Eve looked at the tree and saw all of the good in it. It’s a trait that we admire in others; the ability to prophetically see the good in everything. She also did a good thing and shared with her husband. All of these “good” things unfortunately lead them to do what God called evil and look at where we are at as a result of that simple deceitful leverage of our enemy.
Now aside from the spiritual gift of discernment, there is another way in which we can gain Godly discernment. Paul writes about it here:
11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
We gain discernment through life training by the constant and correct application of God’s word. Paul wrote the same to Timothy warning him about the deceiving, demonic spirits that we encounter:
1 Timothy 4:1-9
1 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 3 They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. 4 For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
6 If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. 7 Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.9 This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance.
To gain discernment, we must also train ourselves in godliness. We must hold onto the truths of our faith and nourish ourselves on them. For it is by knowing more fully God’s truth and His character through personal relationship, that we will be able to discern the deceit of our enemy. It is by knowing and correctly applying God’s word that we become trained in discernment.
It is through compassion and empathy that we then become more fully aware of what has lead people to where they are today that will enable us to use discernment in how we approach them and lead them to Christ. We can condemn an atheist man to hell for denying the existence of God. Have we declared truth? Sure. Have we acted as Jesus did? No! Have we just become tools of the enemy speaking his accusation and condemnation against that man? Yup. If we had used discernment, instead of simply condemning this man to hell, we would agree that this man is exactly that, but also offer him hope and show him the path to abundant life through Jesus. We wouldn’t wash our hands because of this man’s doubt, we would lovingly reach our hands out. We would know the truth that not only has Jesus not yet given up on this man, but also that he gave His very life for this man.
Paul could have walked into Athens and simply rebuked them for their hunger and thirst for polytheism and their worship to many false gods. He would have the understandable right to do so, but he would have lead very few to Christ, if any. Instead, Paul chose to use discernment and found their common ground, the altar to the “unknown god.” Through that common ground, he was welcomed to share the gospel and many believed and asked him to remain there and to teach them more about Jesus.
This morning, we are being encouraged to stop falling for our enemy’s deceit and to become aware of his schemes. We are being encouraged to dive deep into the truth of God, further into His Presence, so that we might know Him more fully and more easily see the counterfeit. We are being encouraged to be able to have confidence on the day of our judgment, that in this world, we are like Jesus (1 John 4:17). No longer will we puff ourselves up with a little bit of knowledge, we will lay ourselves down to humbly learn from others and lead them to Jesus. We will no longer judge by mere appearances, but will judge correctly.
Join us next week as we learn a more in-depth way to use discernment and to be able to correctly judge if our actions, as good as we may think they are, are actually Spirit-lead or not. This is actually easier to do than we may think!