Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss says the best way to recognize false teaching is to deeply know the truth.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Grow up in Christ. Know Him so well that when you see something that purports to be “Christian” but really isn’t, you’ll be able to distinguish.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, February 3.

What is the best way to recognize falsehood? It’s to immerse yourself in the truth. Nancy is about to explain why it’s better to focus on the truth rather than immerse yourself in every flavor of falsehood. We’re continuing in a series called Discerning Truth in a World of Deception.

Nancy: In 1983, the J. Paul Getty Museum in California was approached by an art dealer who had a marble statue that he claimed dated from the 6th century B.C. This was a very rare statue called a kouros, that is, a statue of a male youth.

The museum considered this an amazing find because these kinds of statues are extremely rare and are usually damaged or fragmented. But this one was nearly perfect. It seemed too good to be true.

The museum assembled a group of experts to analyze and authenticate the piece. They put all their different kinds of testing onto it and they finally all concluded that this piece was authentic.

So the museum bought the piece for 7 million dollars. The New York Times applauded this purchase and art lovers from all over the country started travelling to the Getty Museum in California to see the statue.

But there were three people who weren’t convinced that the statue was what it appeared to be. They began to put pressure on the museum to dig deeper. The museum did further extensive research and bit by bit the truth began to emerge.

They discovered that some of the documentation and the evidence that had been presented with the statue had been fabricated. Long story short, it turned out the statue that they claimed dated from 600 B.C. was actually just a few years old.

The museum had paid 7 million dollars for a fake. The truth had been protected by three people who knew their subject matter and who refused to be caught up in the enthusiasm of the crowd.

We’re talking in this series about the whole issue of deception—spiritual deception, doctrinal deception. There’s a wide variety of types of deception. I’ve illustrated what some of those are: everything from your New Age eastern mysticism sorts of teaching that is penetrating and infiltrating even Christians today but also things that you can walk into your Christian bookstore and find that are much more subtle.

We’ve been talking about deception and now we want to turn the corner and ask, “How do we defend ourselves against being deceived, against buying into something that maybe the whole world thinks is true but really isn’t true?”

A. W. Tozer, a voice from the past but who always has a message for the present, said,

The healthy soul, like the healthy blood system, has its proper proportion of white and red blood cells. The red corpuscles are like faith. They carry the life giving oxygen to every part of the body. The white cells are like discernment. They pounce upon dead and toxic matter and carry it out to the drain. In the healthy heart there must be provision for keeping dead and poisonous matter out of the life stream.

You know that white blood cells are the cells of our immune system. That’s what defends your body against infectious disease and foreign materials. Tozer said we need spiritual white blood cells and he likened those to this whole issue of discernment. That’s what we want to talk about over these next few sessions.

We desperately need discernment in the church today. We need that protection against infectious doctrines, against false teaching. It’s discernment that defends the body of Christ individually and collectively against doctrinal or spiritual toxins that can infect and spread through the Body of Christ.

As we’ve seen, sometimes that deception is outright falsehood and error. Sometimes it’s much more subtle teaching, subtle error, subtle deviation from the truth. A lot of times what we’re seeing today is that it is a mixture of truth and error—a lot of truth mixed up with a little error or a lot of error mixed up with a little truth.

It’s that mixture that can make it so hard to know what’s really true. In the same way that that museum with all its experts was deceived and paid 7 million dollars for a fraud, some of us are paying a lot of money for a lot of books and a lot of teaching and a lot of psychology and counseling and help that is fraudulent; it’s not true. It’s false. We need discernment to know the difference.

So what is discernment? Usually when you bring up the term discernment I think the first thing we think of is determining God’s will for our lives. We need discernment about some course of action we’re going to take. What school am I supposed to go to? What job am I supposed to take? Who am I supposed to marry? Should I buy this car?
That’s an application of discernment. But I want to take us back to a more fundamental level of discernment. If you go to Webster’s Dictionary discernment, the first definition isn’t real helpful. It says, “The act of discerning.”

The second definition is: “The power or faculty of the mind by which it distinguishes one thing from another; the power of viewing differences and objects and their relationships and tendencies.”

Here’s a different dictionary that says that discernment is “The act or process of exhibiting keen insight and good judgment.”

In the Greek language in which the New Testament was originally penned, the word discern is a word that means “to separate or to discriminate.” What are we separating? Truth from error, right from wrong, good from bad; separating, discriminating. We live in an era that does not like to discriminate, that does not like to separate.

So what’s the most famous verse in the whole Bible today? “Judge not that you be not judged.” Well, there is a proper kind of judging biblically. We are to told to judge in the Scripture. And then there’s an improper kind of judging. That’s another series. But the Scriptural word for discern is to separate, to discriminate.

The word for discernment in the Greek means “an estimation, a decision.” You look at something, you study it, you evaluate it, you come to an estimation of what it’s worth, of whether it’s the real thing or the false and you make a decision about it. You make a judgment as to its value, its accuracy, its truthfulness. This is discernment.

Let me give you a couple definitions that I’ve come across as I’ve been in this study that have been helpful to me. Here’s one I found on a website that says,

Christian discernment is the careful process of sorting through truth claims [things that claim to be the truth, sorting through them] to arrive at the clearest possible decision concerning their trustworthiness and value. Such discernment reveals, clarifies, and proclaims truth and exposes, examines, and rejects error.

Now that’s a mouthful. Go to the website to our transcript on ReviveOurHearts.com and you can get that if you weren’t able to capture the whole thing. But it says it’s a careful process. Christian discernment is not an easy thing. It’s not a simple thing. It’s not always immediately clear even as it wasn’t immediately clear to those experts at the Getty Museum that this statue was a fraud.

It’s a careful process of sorting through these claims so that you can decide, make a wise and right decision as to which ones are trustworthy and which ones are not. That discernment is going to reveal, clarify, and proclaim the truth and it’s going to expose, examine, and reject error.

Here’s another definition that’s been helpful to me. I’m getting this definition from a book that I want to highly recommend to all of our listeners. It’s by Tim Challies who, by the way, has a website that I have found very helpful. The website is called DiscerningReader.com. You can go to that website and find very helpful, biblically based reviews of many popular Christian books and just some good counsel based on a biblical grid.

But Tim Challies, who is the one who heads up that website DiscerningReader.com, has written a book called The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment. He has a definition in that book that we’re going to use as the basis for our discussion over the next few days.

He says, “Spiritual discernment is the skill of understanding and applying God’s Word with the purpose of separating truth from error and right from wrong.” Let me read that again.

“Spiritual discernment is the skill,” and by the way it’s an acquired skill. It’s one that takes effort. It’s one that takes time and practice. You don’t develop it overnight. Three year olds are not discerning. And three-year-old Christians often lack discernment, although I’m amazed that actually some people that have only known the Lord for three years sometimes have more discernment than people who’ve known the Lord for thirty years but haven’t developed discernment.

So the length of time you’ve been a Christian isn’t what determines whether you have discernment; it’s whether you’ve developed this skill.

“Spiritual discernment,” Tim Challies says, “is the skill of understanding and applying God’s Word with the purpose of separating truth from error and right from wrong.”

Notice there are two different kinds of things we’re trying to discern—truth from error and right from wrong. First we have to think and believe right; that’s discerning truth from error. If we think and believe right, then that will lead us to live right, to do right, to distinguish right from wrong.

That’s a challenge in a world that tells us it doesn’t really matter. Just throw it all in the pot, mix it up. Truth is whatever it is to you; it’s your truth. It’s my truth; you have your truth.

We have this very relativistic mindset even within evangelicalism today that says, “Live and let live.” But God’s Word calls us to be discriminating, to be discerning. There is truth, and whatever is not truth is error. There is right and what is not right is wrong. We need to learn to discern between truth and error, right from wrong, constantly distinguishing, discerning in what we believe so that we can be discerning in life choices.

Some of those life choices are really important matters to discern—decisions relating to dating and marriage, family choices, to have children, not to have children. Why do you think the way that you do about those things? Are you discerning in these life issues? Is your discernment based on an understanding of God’s Word and proper application of it?

Career decisions, financial decisions related to investments and spending—we need discernment. In this economy we need discernment. But is your discernment in those life choices based on a discerning understanding of God’s Word?

Discernment is something that defends the church. It defends our hearts. It protects us, as Tim Challies says. I heard him say this on a radio interview. He says, “Discernment is protecting the gates to our hearts and to the church.”

There are gates and we don’t want to let the enemy have entrance. We don’t want to let him deceive us, as we saw in 2 Timothy chapter 3 over the last couple sessions, that false teachers worm their way into the hearts and homes of weak-willed women, and lead them astray.

We don’t want to be led astray. We don’t want the church to be led astray. So it’s discernment that protects, it safeguards the gates to our hearts and to the church. Let me go back again to A. W Tozer who was born in 1897; he died in 1963. So he really is a different generation than ours. But he had just amazing foresight and understanding that is so applicable to our times. He said,

Among the gifts of the Spirit scarcely one is of greater practical usefulness than the gift of discernment. This gift should be highly valued and frankly sought as being almost indispensable in these critical times. This gift will enable us to distinguish the chaff from the wheat and to divide the manifestations of the flesh from the operations of the spirit.

I have to say I am just astounded today at the lack of many, many, many Christians to discern when they walk in their Christian bookstore, when they turn on Christian radio or Christian television or they listen to their Christian friends or they listen to what they hear from the pulpit. They have very limited capacity to discern what is flesh and what is spirit, what is true and what is error, what is right and what is wrong.

Scripture tells us that the ability to discern, to discriminate, to divide between truth and error, right and wrong, is an evidence of spiritual maturity. Hebrews chapter 5 talks about this. The writer to the Hebrews says—he’s talking in the context here about a very difficult subject; it’s the whole subject of Melchizedek. We won’t go into that in this series, but it’s a complex subject. He says,

We have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time [that is, for as long as you have known the Lord, as long as you’ve been in the faith] you ought to be teachers, [but the fact is] you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God (Hebrews 5:11-12).

He says, You don’t even have the foundational things. “You need milk, not solid food.” He’s saying, you’re spiritual babies. You’re still in your spiritual playpens. You ought to be teaching others how to discern, but you haven’t figured it out yourselves yet.

He’s saying, It’s not like you’ve only known the Lord for two weeks. You’ve been around this. You should have grown to the place where you can discern some of these difficult areas.

He says in verse 13, “Everyone who lives on [spiritual] milk [nothing wrong with it, but if that’s all you eat you’re unskilled] is unskilled in the word of righteousness since he is a child.” It’s okay for a baby to live on milk, but it’s not okay for a grown up to live on milk.

He’s saying, Grow up. Grow up in your faith. Be spiritually mature. But then he says,

But solid food is for the mature [for those who’ve grown up] for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil (verse 14).

This discernment is a practice; it’s a learned skill. It’s something you have to be trained in. It’s a discipline; it takes constant practice. But as you grow up spiritually, one of the evidences of spiritual maturity is that you can distinguish good from evil. You have powers of discernment.

On the other hand, the lack of discernment is an evidence of spiritual immaturity. It brings to mind that passage in Ephesians chapter four that says that our goal is that we may no longer be children, spiritually immature. What’s the description of children here? They’re tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine (see verses 14-15).

They’re not spiritually grounded. They don’t have spiritual moorings. They’re set adrift in this sea of shifting moral and spiritual values in our culture. And they’re tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine.

So everything that comes along, it’s this new thought, this new philosophy, this new “ism” and they follow it. This new teacher, this new book and they’re “ga-ga” over it and they buy it in droves. They say, “Isn’t this awesome? Isn’t this incredible?” And they tell their friends about it.

That’s how some of these even so-called Christian books that are propagating doctrinal error, that’s how they get spread by immature Christians who don’t know how to distinguish truth from error.

He said, “Children [are] tossed to and fro . . . carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” That’s the enemy.

Then he says, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:14-15). Grow up in Christ. Know Him so well that when you see something that purports to be Christian but really isn’t, you’ll be able to distinguish.

So lack of discernment is an evidence of spiritual immaturity. The powers of discernment being tuned and developed is an evidence of spiritual maturity.

How important is discernment? Does it really matter? I’m talking about something that our generation has very little stomach for. What I’m talking about in this series is not one of the kinds of series that will get us a lot of response.

But imagine that you are having intense stomach pain and you go to the emergency room at the hospital. The doctor examines you and he says he thinks you have an ulcer. So he sends you home with some medicine and tells you to come back in a week.

No problem with that unless the fact is that you have a ruptured appendix, in which case it’s going to be very serious, costly, and perhaps deadly that that doctor did not have discernment.

Does it matter to you that a doctor discerns correctly what’s wrong with you? Does it matter in the body of Christ that we discern correctly what is going on, the kind of teaching that is coming into the Body of Christ?

It matters. Discernment matters.

I’ve asked myself over and over again, why is there such a lack of discernment among believers today—people who claim to be Christians, who claim to know the Scripture. Why is there such a lack of discernment?”

Well, one, we have this huge widespread biblical illiteracy. People do not know the Word of God. Christians don’t know the Word of God. Christians don’t read the Bible in many, many cases. There’s been a de-emphasis on doctrine in our generation. We want things that are more practical, things that will help you, things that will solve your marriage.

All those practical helps are great, but if they’re not rooted in sound doctrine, you have no strong foundation for your life. We have elevated experience and emotion above the objective truth of Scripture. We live in a relativistic culture—no right, no wrong, no absolute truth. We’ve talked about that.

We live in a culture where you don’t want to offend anyone. This is a pluralistic culture and we’re more concerned with appealing to the world than pleasing God. We have today, thankfully not in all of our churches, but in many of our evangelical churches a lack of sound preaching and teaching. We’re more interested in entertaining, in impressing, in feeling good.

And then we have this inclusive mindset. We don’t want to exclude anyone. We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. So it’s this “live and let live” mindset.

If we lack discernment in our doctrinal thinking, in our biblical thinking, then we will make wrong judgments in how we live and we will end up leading others into error. Like the virus we talked about earlier in this series, it’s infectious.

If we have discernment in our thinking, then we will end up making right judgments about life and we will lead others into truth. That’s the kind of women we want to be, true women who lead others into truth.

At the end of the book of Romans, Romans chapter 16, after chapter upon chapter upon chapter of sound doctrinal theological teaching about the doctrines of grace and the doctrines of our salvation, Paul ends that book by talking about his concern that they would have discernment, that they would know truth from error.

Then he says, “I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil” (Romans 16:19).

J. B. Phillips in his paraphrase says, “Be experts in what is good and not even beginners in what is evil.”

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:20, “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.”

I want to challenge those of you who are listeners to Revive Our Hearts to be spiritually mature, not to let me do all your thinking. I can’t do your thinking for you. You need to learn how to get into the Word of God, how to dig for yourself, how to discern for yourself, how to know truth from error, right from wrong.

There are appropriate ways to communicate our discernment and we want to do it winsomely, we want to do it in love. We’re not trying to destroy people or bite their heads off if they don’t see truth correctly. We’ll talk in this series about how we communicate truth. But we need to grow up and learn to discern, to be infants concerning evil but in our thinking about Scripture, the ways of God, the Word of God, sound doctrine, to be mature and wise.

Lord, that’s my heart’s desire. I want to be a wise and discerning woman, able to distinguish in this very complex and messed up world and in a complex evangelical world today where there are lots of ways of thinking swirling around and lots of winds of doctrine.

Lord, we don’t want to be tossed about like some little boat on a great ocean in a storm. We want to be grounded, anchored, moored to the unchanging, precious, powerful, wonderful truths of Your Word, anchored to Christ who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

So, Lord, I pray for my sisters. I pray that we might be discerning women, rooted and grounded in Your Holy Word. In Jesus’ name we pray it, amen.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been showing us how to practice discernment in a world of deceptive messages. It’s our focus all this week. Because we’re hit with so many voices saying so many different things, it’s crucial that we understand this topic. That’s why we’re making it easy to get the book Nancy has been mentioning all this series, called The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment.

Tim Challies tries to apply discernment when he reviews books on his popular blog, and he’s written this helpful book that will show you how to evaluate the messages you hear in a typical day.

When you make a donation of any amount to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts, we’ll send you The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment. Just ask for the book by Tim Challies when you call 1-800-569-5959. Look for this offer when you donate online at ReviveOurHeartsRadio.com.

When your friend has been falling for falsehood, what’s a loving response? Do you let them continue in their error? Nancy will address that tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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