Spiritual Discernment

By Ps Jeff O’Neil

What is spiritual discernment? Well, it is an ability to comprehend the mind of God as revealed in the Scriptures, and thereby to apply its principles to all areas of life, in doctrine, worship and conduct. The natural man, that is man with just the faculties of nature, can by reason understand the propositions of divine truth. But he can only receive them naturally and notionally, and not really and actively. That is to say, that there is no power present to enjoy, to apply, and to radically change his nature from the natural to the spiritual.

Spiritual discernment is that ability given by the Spirit of God to discriminate between truth and error, and to willingly assent to the commands, promises and government of the Gospel. It is a perceiving of the things of God, so that they govern one’s thinking and practice, and regulate one’s judgment.

Now because a person is converted, it does not mean that he or she has an automatic ability to discern what is the good and perfect will of God. Unfortunately, we lapse in our thinking, and resort to the wisdom that is from below, and not to the wisdom that is from above. We allow the first Adam, who is of the earth, to dictate our attitude, and not the second Adam, who is from Heaven.

Principles and practices that operate solely from the light of nature and reason, (as for instance in the machinery of government, of industry, and in the functioning of a secular society), are not to be imported into church life. That which is reasonable in the world is not necessarily reasonable in the functioning of the spiritual body of Christ. Reason also fell in Adam, and can be just as defective in a Christian as well as in a worldling, if ungoverned by spirituality. Faith supersedes reason, although it does not dispense with it. And whilst reason is the sphere with which the world meets and deals with us in our secular involvement, its standards are not the touchstones to resort to in the house of God. Paul instructs Timothy (1 Tim. 3:15), “That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of the living God.” That is, how Timothy should conduct himself in the handling of spiritual affairs and church decisions. And what is true of Timothy is true for us all.

If experience is to be counted at all, it has found that much of church membership functions from reason, feelings and by bias, rather than the applying of spiritual norms and discernment. Often there is an operating by natural reactions, rather than by spiritual motions. Such an approach is fertile soil for the sowing of discontent and controversy. The spiritual man, “compares spiritual things with spiritual,” and not carnal with spiritual. We are reminded by Paul that we “have the mind of Christ.” The spirit of Christ enlightening the understanding, influencing our judgments, and sanctifying our motives, so that we think and act on a spiritual plain. Deciding as Christ would decide; doing as Christ would do, and loving as Christ would love.

The world operates in its judgments, naturally, selfishly, carnally, politically and expediently, but the believer should act spiritually and discerningly. We are not to be conformed to the thinking of this world, but transformed by the renewing of our minds, and so prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

—Jeff O’Neil