Why Discernment is important, and what lack of discernment does to the body

"For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths." (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

Why is sound doctrine important? At the World View Weekend conference in Branson MO, Mike Gendron explained why. A former Catholic for 30 years, Mr Gendron became saved. He left a career as a rocket scientist (really) and evangelizes widely. He is specifically ministers in bringing the Gospel to Catholics. A graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, he writes at Proclaiming The Gospel. He said at the conference,

"Why there is so little discernment in the church? Preachers preach what the people want instead of what they need. They don't want sound doctrine, so pastors give feel good messages that tickle their ears build up their self-esteem. So without sound doctrine many in the church today don't really think it matters what you call a Christian as long as you label it Christianity...they want to feel good, not made good by the preaching of God's word. ... So what's at stake if we abandon sound doctrine? The glory and honor of our great Lord. The purity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, the eternal destiny of those who are not hearing the truth from pulpits today. ... Without discernment we will not know if we are believing and proclaiming the true gospel or a compromised distortion."

Mr Gendron's words echo what John MacArthur said, that lack of discernment is a number one problem today. In his sermon, Deliverance: From Sin to Righteousness, Part 2, we read,

"Today, as we've been saying, evangelical church and leaders are saying anyone who says he's a Christian is a Christian. Anybody who says they believe in Jesus is a Christian...liberal, Protestants, charismatic, Roman Catholic, orthodox, sort of free-floating unattached people who believe in Jesus. Anybody who claims to be a Christian can be tested by truth and virtue. This is critical. Real deliverance produces a changed life."

Remember not everyone who says they are a Christian IS a Christian. The proof is the fruit produced from a Holy Spirit empowered changed life. In order to even see fruit (or lack of fruit) we need to be discerning.

"If there's any problem that outstrips all other problems in the church, it is this problem of a lack of discernment, the lack of spiritual discrimination because then everybody is vulnerable. And imagine living in a time when not only is the church undiscerning, but sees discernment as a threat to its life and unity. It's just amazing. Widespread ignorance, shallow understanding of Scripture, superficiality interpreting the Bible, faulty reasoning, bad decisions just bring horrendous agony to the church. How foolish can we be? I mean, the Bible is so consistent in telling us beware of ear-tickling teachers, beware of departing from the faith, beware of heresies, doctrines of demons, destructive myths, perverse teachings, commandments of men, speculations, controversial issues, old wives fables, deceitful spirits, worldly tales, false knowledge, science falsely so-called, empty philosophy, traditions of men, worldly wisdom, adulterations of the Scripture and on and on and on and on." "The Responsibilities of the Church"

"As a result, evangelical Christianity, listen to this, is fighting for its very life. I'll say that again, evangelical Christianity, in my view, is fighting for its very life. And our time cries out for people with discernment." "A Call for Discernment, Part 1"

You can see it nowadays, can't you. Christianity is under assault from every direction, every day. The Lord said that His church will not fail, so we can thank Him for stalwart believers. But the assaults to the faith are real and very potent.

AW Tozer wrote, "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. Thus the two kinds of cells working together keep the tissues in good condition. In the healthy heart there must be provision for keeping dead and poisonous matter out of the life stream."

It's a vivid and apt metaphor, isn't it? I can really picture how faith and discernment works in the body. I'd like to add one more medical metaphor to the situation, Paul's use of the word gangrene in 2 Timothy.

"But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, 17and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some." (2 Timothy 2:16-18)

Paul's use of gangrene is good here. In his time, the smallest cut could render a person dead in days. Even in the twentieth century, blood poisoning was an extreme issue. The Earl of Carnarvon died that way. George Herbert (Earl of Carnarvon) family was of the family that owns Highclere Castle, the setting for the well-known British production of the television show Downton Abbey. The 5th Earl of Carnarvon was the chief financial backer on many of Howard Carter's Egyptian excavations, and sponsored the excavation that discovered King Tut's tomb. While in Egypt on expedition on March 25, 1923, the Earl Carnarvon/George Herbert got a mosquito bite. He nicked it with his razor when shaving, and the bite became infected. He died on April 5th. It only took ten days for blood poisoning to kill a healthy man.

Gangrene was a worse killer in Paul's day. It's important to realize that the white blood cells (the discerning among the body) must leap on the toxic cell. The toxic cell is not there to unite with you, praise Jesus with you, or do good works with you. The toxic cell is there to kill you.

What does gangrene do to a body? Staying with the medical analogy for a moment, put into your mind the Tozer analogy of the white and red blood cells and the blood flowing in your veins. Blood actually flows in your body as it metaphorically flows in the body of Christ.

The medical definition states, "Gangrene is the death of tissue in part of the body." We know the global born-again church is a body. Jesus uses the metaphor of us being the body and He being the head. (Colossians 1:18). Gangrene is literally the death of some of the living tissue by not allowing the blood to pass through. No blood means death to living tissue.

Gangrene spreads fast. Where the dead tissue exists, it must be cut out, or it will contaminate the adjoining tissue and kill it too. So in continuing the metaphor, if the infectious doctrine is not cut out  immediately, it will spread like a toxic wildfire and consume the flesh of all who come into contact with it and deny the blood. The corrupted flesh must be excised, either by a medical procedure called a debridement, or an amputation.

Jesus said in Matthew 18:8, "And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire."

The word is the answer. The word is always the answer! In order to proclaim it, one must read it and study it. Paul was speaking to Timothy as pastor, and we are all not pastors, but we are all evangelists. We must be ready in season and out of season to know our doctrine. The absence of sound doctrine means you could make a shipwreck of your faith. (1 Timothy 1:20).

When you're at sea and in a storm, what's the first thing they do for you? Throw out a life ring.

Wikipedia Commons

If you hang on to sound doctrine, you will not be shipwrecked, you will be reeled back in. Knowing your sound doctrine means also that you will be discerning. If you think of it this way- reading your bible and studying sound doctrine is the most loving thing you can do not just for yourself, but for your brother. If you see a fellow sister or brother wandering off to myths and turning away, don't you want to have the right tools to throw out to them?

If your doctrine is weak, this is your tool-

And that's just not helpful at all.

"And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God." (Philippians 1:9-11)


  1. I agree whole heartedly with this post. I do wonder though, if you believe in once saved always saved, which you do, then whatis the "danger" in turning or falling away with false teaching/doctorine? I mean....they are saved always according to that doctorine.......?

    1. Good question! Thanks for giving me a chance to answer.

      The danger is because our salvation is not about us. If we drift away, we are not glorifying the Lord.

      if we are following a false teacher or promoting a false doctrine, it blasphemes the Holy Spirit.

      We would not be effective for the Lord.

      We accumulate weaker brethren to the doctrine who we would cause to stumble

      false doctrines allow satan to come in and plant tares

      we'd be failing to follow the commands of the Lord to be vigilant, test the spirits, and stay strong

      By our acceptance of it, we give voice to satan's lies

      and so on.

      I want to honor Jesus to the utmost. Pure doctrine does that. False doctrine doesn't

    2. Anonymous, here is what John Calvin said about your question:

      "John Jefferson Davis writes:

      Even though Calvin believes that regeneration is irreversible . . . he does not conclude that the Christian has any cause for spiritual complacency. Persevering in God's grace requires, on the human side, "severe and arduous effort." . . . The believer needs to continually feed his soul on the preaching of the Word and to grow in faith throughout the whole course of life. Since it is easy for the believer to fall away for a time from the grace of God, there is constant need for "striving and vigilance, if we would persevere in the grace of God." Calvin thus balances his theological certitudes with pastoral warnings. . . . The believer must continually exercise faith and obedience to make "his calling and election sure.""
      Davis, "The Perseverance of the Saints: A History of the Doctrine," 222.

  2. Since He (Jesus) is keeping those He has saved, once He has us, He never will let go of us. Those with His Spirit cannot "fall away". Those who "fall away" were never born again of HIS Spirit to begin with.
    There is no danger of losing of losing our salvation because of falling away. The flesh wanders its own way always, but His Spirit within is always leading us to where He will have us. Even the experience of having been involved with false teaching is used for His purpose and glory. He uses the experience to show others, through us, that false teachings are very real, that His discerning Spirit within those born again of His Spirit is leading us to maturity according to His timing, Heb 6:1,3.
    All of us have/are susceptible to false teachings, but He is leading us.

    John 1:12,13 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

    John 10:4,5 “When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.”

    John 10:27-29 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

    1. You're so right, thanks for the verses.

      False teaching weakens the church. Sound doctrine strengthens it. And since salvation is about being redeemed to give HIM glory, not about us, if we are weak we are not honoring Him as well as we should. That is to our shame.

      In addition, there are so many commands to keep the Gospel pure, allowing it to be tainted by tolerating what they knew to be false is something that Jesus told the church at Thyatira was to their shame and detriment. We are never to be cavalier about doctrine- the word is important because He IS the Word!

      Nowhere does Paul say, 'oh, forget it, you're "in" anyway so don't worry about Hymenaeus, Alexander, Philetus, Simon the magician, the demon possessed slave girl..." and so on. No, Paul and Peter and other apostles were serious about keeping doctrine pure. If it is in the word that we should keep it pure and sound, then we should keep it pure and sound.

  3. Hey Elizabeth, may I suggest a sermon John MacArthur did on this in his 1st John series. It is titled "Holy Affections".Really good! And Jonathan Edwards treatise called "Religious Affections" is also helpful.



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