“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Hebrews 5:12-14
One of our church members asked me a very interesting question this week, “What is discernment, and how would you define it.” Great question. Discernment can be defined in a number of different ways. It is the ability to determine right from wrong. To determine good from evil. It is the ability to accurately access the true nature of a thing, and to know which course of action is the most wise or righteous.
Often moral and circumstantial choices we have to make are not black and white, instead they are various shades of grey. This does not mean that the moral mandates of the Lord are unclear, but life is complicated and most significant situations have many complicating layers. It can be difficult to determine right from wrong, and very hard to know the right action to take. Having discernment is very important.
The Bible tells us that the Lord knows all our actions, and can discern our thoughts “from afar” (Psalm 139:2). Sometimes we can be overwhelmed by our circumstances and confused in our own thinking. But from His throne on high, the Lord knows even the secret thoughts and desires of our hearts. The Lord knows the end from the beginning, and will one day separate the righteous from the wicked, the sheep from the goats. It is by following after the Lord that we will grow wise and not lose our perspective on the issues of life. It is by studying Scripture, and being filled with the Holy Spirit, that we not only are able to discern right from wrong, but are strengthened in our will to act in a righteous way.
The Scripture above, from Hebrews 5, uses the analogy of growing up to help us understand the role that learning the Bible plays in developing discernment. Babies start out being fed milk, a simple diet that is easy to digest and nutritious. But babies grow into children and then adults. Adults eat a broad range of food that children cannot handle, but is necessary to sustain adult living.
It would be alarming and lead to malnourishment if an adult only drank milk, like a baby. In a similar way, the Bible contains very straightforward and simple teaching, and much more complex doctrine. The basic teachings are compared to the milk diet of a child, or a new Christian. The new Christian is just beginning to learn the ways of Jesus and is “unskilled in the word of righteousness.”
But the person who drinks deeply from the well of Scripture and constantly considers and grows in their understanding of the Lord’s character and actions, is like an adult who enjoys sustaining meat. By a deep and growing understanding of the Bible (“constant practice”) a person is able to discern right from wrong. By having the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) and thinking the way Christ would think, we are able to make wise life choices. Discernment ultimately comes from the Lord. True righteousness and wisdom are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14), and the will of God cannot be grasped, or seen as good, by those who live dead in their trespasses and sins.
Every analogy of salvation points to this. The dead cannot know how to live. Those in bondage cannot run free. The blind cannot see to make their way. Those who are deceived cannot grasp the truth. But by the grace of God, and new spiritual life wrought in us by Jesus, we are made alive, given sight, and set free from sin and death to begin to see the true nature of the world around us. As we keep seeking Jesus, and we keep growing in our understanding of the Bible we will grow in wisdom and discernment.
Do you feel like you’re way behind in this area, and that the decisions you must make every day are beyond your discernment? Keep reading the Bible daily and pray for wisdom. James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” The Lord will give you the discernment you seek. He will light your path and guide your way. Keep seeking the wisdom of God in the word of God!
May the Lord Jesus give us discernment in these troubling days,