Back to Basics: What discernment is

We in the body of Christ are not to judge those outside the church, (1 Cor 5:12). That is because, as Barnes Notes explains, "I have no authority over them; and can exercise no jurisdiction over them. All my rules, therefore, must have reference only to those who are within the church." However, we inside the church are to judge for ourselves whether a teaching is true or not. (1 Corinthians 5:12-13).

Romans 12:9; 1 Cor 14:29; 1 John 4:1 also reminds us that we are to judge, discern, test, etc., the teachings we  receive. The Bereans searched whether Paul's teaching was consistent with the bible, and tested what they heard against it. Paul applauded them for that. Given what we see from Christians today, even if they DO go so far as to test it out, if they find the teaching failed the test, they then remain silent so as to pursue a sense of unity. This is a wrong-headed approach. Any unity arising by silent believers suffering under a teaching they know to be false is a false unity. We are not told so many times in those verses above to test out the teachings we receive just so we can stay quiet about the false ones. We are to speak up.

We don't use the heart to judge a teaching. Just because someone says their teaching is "from their heart" or it looks to us that it is heartfelt, or it touches our heart, we are liable to hear Jesus chastise us through His word, "Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment." (John 7:24). Anyone can look sincere. Joel Osteen looks very heartfelt, his speeches come across as being from his heart. But are they consistent with what the bible says? No. Being discerning means looking deeper.

We are being gullible if we fall for the old "from the heart" standard. Why? Because the "heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick, who can know it?" (Jer 17:9). The heart is the WORST standard to judge anything. Joseph Smith's teaching is from the heart and his religion consigned many millions to darkness (Mormonism). Muhammad's teaching is from the heart and many millions following Allah are likewise consigned to darkness. Oprah is teaching New Age ecumenism from the heart and also many who follow it will end up in eternal darkness. Being heartfelt has nothing to do with whether a teaching is right.

If a person's standard to determine if a false teaching is

--from the heart
--the teacher seems like a religious person
--they are prospering so it means God is blessing them, so it must be good

then I submit that person is dangerously misled as to what biblical discernment is.

Those standards are exactly the opposite of what we should be using as a barometer for determining if a teacher is true or false. Discernment is not a "nudge from the Spirit," because that calls for subjective decisions and as per the verse about the heart, subjective assessments on any given situation are not valid. The only way to practice discernment is to test against the bible. (1 Thess 5:21).

Tim Challies wrote a book about Discernment. He defines it this way:

" 'Discernment is the ability to think biblically about all areas of life.' A longer, more thorough definition might be something like this: 'Spiritual discernment is the God-given, Spirit-empowered ability to understand and interpret truth, so that we can apply truth to our lives, thus bringing glory to God and furthering our enjoyment of Him."

"The Hebrew word for discernment is used 247 times in the Old Testament. The word has been translated variously as understand, discern, and distinguish. The Greek word is used similarly in the New Testament. It too refers to a process of separating or discriminating whereby truth may be set apart in relief from that which is false. In short, discernment is a filtering process by which a person distinguishes and separates good from the bad, right from wrong, and truth from error." (source: Tim Challies, "Defining Discernment" )

If a person does that, they are being led by the Holy Spirit. I pray you come to this understanding as well, and be unafraid to discern a good teaching from a bad, and to speak up about both. Praise good teaching, point out false teaching, and as always, pray ceaselessly. “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). Don't fall prey to one of them. Be discerning.


  1. Thanks Elizabeth, I am learning a lot here.


  2. Excellent post!

    Might I suggest a couple more books on discernment:
    "A Call for Discernment," by Jay E. Adams

    "Defence of the Truth," by Michael Haykin

    Both are fairly short paperbacks, but good teaching.

  3. Hi Elizabeth,

    There is so much errant teaching right now, it is almost mind-boggling. False doctrine for "itching ears", I guess. Just curious: Do you know anything about The Story - a novel-type Bible? Based on some cursory research, I am extremely disturbed by it; and pretty much my entire church is reading it right now. Well, not me, at least.

    Blessings, Tracy

  4. Nothing New...,

    I did a blog article about "The Story" if you care to take a peek:

    Essentially it is a condensed NIV version in chronological order. Leastways that's what I understand from all the advertisements.

  5. I find it interesting that you planted a seed about Joel. Are you diserning tat he is not a man of God or judging?

  6. Joel Osteen is NOT A MAN OF GOD. I am JUDGING that HE IS NOT A MAN OF GOD. No seeds here. No planting or insinuation or beating around the bush. Outright I say he is a heretic. I hope I was clear.

    1. Heck Elizabeth, you didn't even have to break a sweat traveling down that road, lol!

    2. LOL Gates. Yes, the tolerance police are out in full force these days. Yet...believers do not tolerate blasphemy, adulterating the Word of God, and sullied pulpits. Nope. Usually I can be kinder. And sometimes I have to shake the dust off a little more forcefully...

  7. Hello!

    I came across your sight just yesterday after a mini earthquake. And I was looking up about earthquakes and there your site was about the end times and "earthquakes" very revealing stuff! I have read a few of your other posts, and I like them! I like how you put your theroies out there and comparing them to the scriptures and contrasting them from the bible but the thing is here. Is that I have been watching Mr. Osteen for quite some time and I wanted to know what have Mr. Osteen revealed (because I do watch him every sunday with family for about a year now) that I want to know about that is so "heretic" about him or he has said or the holy spirit has revealed to you about him? Because my family really like Mr. Osteen and there have been "doubts" in my mind sometime that makes me wonder (in his eyes)if he truly is a man of God but all he really preaches about his encouragment. I always thought that was what God put in him, the spirit of encouragement for christians. However I think, he doing so well and all that, but I say well God blesses you and he doesn't want you to be poor per se in order for you to have the holy spirit, as long as you acknowlege him in why you are so blessed. But yeah that is what I wanted to find out, from you.

    God bless.

    1. Hello Anonymous, your question is great! It will take me a bit of time to answer, in a way that honors God, so please bear with me and I'll reply tomorrow morning, ok? Thanks and have a good night.

    2. Anonymous,

      I can respond some about Osteen. He is a Word of Faith teacher, and WOF is a heresy in so many ways.

      He has never demonstrated knowledge of the Gospel, and doesn't like to preach about sin "because it makes people uncomfortable." He teaches that Mormonism is just another Christian denomination and that Mormons are Christians - which is proof that he has no idea what he is talking about. He has no training in theological matters and demonstrates by his teachings that he really has little knowledge or understanding of the Scripture.

      Osteen is a motivational speaker and just makes people feel good. He is all about self-esteem and using God as a Santa Clause.

      Here is one of the articles I have written on Osteen:

      I suggest a more thorough examination of Osteen and his "church" with this article:

    3. Thanks Glenn for those links and that information. I appreciate it.

      Anonymous, when Mr Osteen was asked by Larry King if Jesus is the only way to heaven, he did not answer correctly. He hedged, saying that he doesn't like to make judgments about others' salvation. Yet the bible is clear that those who die in their sins, no matter what religion they follow, will endure an eternal wrath as punishment for those sins, and Jesus said he is the ONLY way to escape that judgment. This, in my opinion, IMMEDIATELY disqualifies Mr Osteen from preaching.

      Secondly, he does not preach about sin, and yet the bible says to preach the whole counsel of God. Paul said, "for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). Barnes Notes explains that what Paul is saying here is "I have not been deterred by fear, by the desire of popularity, by the fact that the doctrines of the gospel are unpalatable to people, from declaring them fully." Osteen does the opposite, editing God's message in deference to popularity, making it more palatable, and thus failing to declare them fully. Osteen has said on numerous occasions that he chooses NOT to declare portions of that counsel: sin, wrath, punishment, and judgment. Well, that is a pretty important half to leave out.

      I found an excellent comparison of Mr Osteen against a solid preacher John MacArthur. It is called Why Seminary?

      Reading these both will illuminate to you the stark difference between a man of the flesh and a man of God.

    4. One last thing, Mr Osteen has responded to a common question he often receives: why isn't there a cross on your pulpit? Mr Osteen has said the cross offends some people, and he doesn't want there to be any stumbling block to any who would come." My question is, if there is no cross, what are the coming TO?????

    5. Yep, the cross offends - it offends those who rebel against God!

  8. Thank you very much for your explaination!

  9. Let's be good Bereans (Acts 17), searching the scriptures. It's troubling, what these guys preach,,, (Osteen, duplantis, Hinn, Copeland, Dollar, and many more) - ‘On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
    All other ground is sinking sand.’

    Be Blessed...

  10. God bless you, Elizabeth! My church is under attack, and the Holy Spirit is using you to open eyes.

    1. Thank you Anonymous! I appreciate you letting me know. I pray for the global body, and our local churches here in America. It's getting rough out there, but the Spirit who dwells IN us and the Savior who walks With us and the God who loves us will keep the faithful's eyes open. We really need each other now more than ever. As for those who are drifting away into myths, you might be interested in this essay I wrote yesterday-

      Why discernment is important and what lack of discernment does tot he body

      Keep praying and keep looking up! :)


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