The Truth of the Matter
In the last few months, I have been re-discovering my love of podcasts. One of the podcasts I have been listening to is “The Holy Post” which is put on primarily by Phil Vischer (the creator of VeggieTales) and Skye Jethani (author). They have been hosting their podcast for several years so there are hundreds of episodes for me to go back and explore while waiting for a new episode to drop each week. In exploring some of these older episodes, I came across episode 449 which originally was posted this past March.
In addition to the one year anniversary of COVID interrupting our lives, one of the stories in the news was a mass shooting in Atlanta. They specifically were talking about the shooter who was a young adult, white, Christian male who believed he was doing the will of God in shooting at these spas, mostly staffed by Asian women, so that he would not be tempted to sin. It is a discussion which illustrates well how the spiritual gift of discernment is radically distorted.
The spiritual gift of discernment is a special ability given to someone by God to know with assurance whether something is of God or is from another source. It is a valuable gift for the Body of Christ. It plays a key role in helping the church root out bad theology and false prophets. It is vital but the one who is gifted in this way must also always be aware of the fact that they are not infallible. Additionally, they have embrace the reality that not everything they say, do, believe, or think springs from the gift of discernment in their life. They are still human and therefore will have moments where they own, selfish, human desires will attempt to be front and center. They will have times where they are tempted to misuse the gift given to them.
It is also a gift which, on some level, is present in all mature Christians simply because we are all, if we allow ourselves to be, guided by the Holy Spirit. We should all seek to discern the Truth of God in our daily lives. It comes into play as we actively listen to sermons, not allowing the title of Pastor to lull us into believing everything that person speaks on Sunday morning is without error or above questioning. When we read our daily devotional or pick up a book from one of our favorite Christian authors, we should be actively engaging in discernment of what they are presenting to us for consideration as we live our faith. Our worship songs shouldn’t just sound good, they should also speak the truth of who God is, what He has done for us, and the relationship He desires to have with each and every one of us. In this way, we are all called to exercise the gift of discernment.
So what does it mean to have a spiritual gift of discernment? To have the gift of discernment means you have a heightened and perhaps more critical sense of this quality. And with this heightened sense of knowing the Truth of God, comes a boldness to speak out, a willingness to question apparent authority, and an openness to always be questioning and evaluating what you believe to be Truth and what others are presenting as Truth. A person with this gift has a passion and desire to be in the presence of God and bear witness to what He is doing in the world around them at any given moment. They are also likely to be one of the first to be uncomfortable in places where God’s presence is not welcome, wanted, or honored.
It is worth talking about, for a moment, how often this gift is described as the ability to discern between good and evil spirits. The reality is that, in addition to the physical world in which we dwell, there is a spiritual world which can and does affect our physical world. It has since the very beginning when Eve believed the serpents lies and ate the forbidden fruit, giving some to Adam to eat as well. So the definition of the gift of discernment which mentions or even focuses on the ability to discern between spirits of good and evil is not wrong. However, to stop with only that as a definition fails to appreciate the fullness of the gift.
Those who have the gift of discernment are those who are called to walk a fine line in their faith in many ways. They are called and compelled to expose heresy, false doctrines, and untruths but they must do so in a way which can be received by those who are willing to listen. When they step out of line from what God has called to them to do in using their gift, it is easy to find themselves labeled as overzealous or judgmental. They have to rely on God’s timing to know when to speak up which is often hard in our culture which allows us to have almost anything at a moment’s notice. They also have to be ever vigilant to keep their personal bias and opinions out of what they speak as God’s Truth.
Going back to the story of the Atlanta shooting earlier this year. If you were to ask the young man who is currently sitting in jail serving time for murder if he believed he had the gift of discernment in that situation, I believe he would say that yes, he did believe he was actively discerning the truth of God. But there are couple of red flags in his reasoning which we should all pay attention to when it comes to this particular gift.
First of all, he believed God was telling him to do something which violates what we know to be true in Scripture. He believed God was telling him to murder another human who was not threatening his life. You only have to read as far as the Ten Commandments to know that God does not support murder. If you want to know if something is Truth or not, the first question to always ask is what Scripture has to say. Secondly, he was acting in service primarily to himself, not the Church. If you’ll remember back a couple of posts, we talked about the purpose of all Spiritual Gifts; to build up the Body of Christ. If what you feel you need to speak up about benefits primarily yourself or your immediate circle of family and friends, you probably aren’t exercising the spiritual gift of discernment. This gift isn’t meant to promote your personal ideals, opinions, or priorities but to call the Church to follow the Truth of God, even when that means you will be required to sacrifice or lay aside your personal desires.
And finally, his choice did not reflect the reality that all people are made in the image and likeness of God. This regardless of gender, race, employment, or personal choices. He viewed, at least in that moment, the women he shot as less deserving of grace, mercy, and forgiveness than himself. Jesus didn’t die on the cross for certain people but for all of us. His forgiveness extends to all of our sins, not just to certain sins or a certain number of sins. It is hard, at times, to acknowledge and embrace the reality that Jesus loves me and my family and friends just as much as he loves those who don’t look the same, worship the same, or believe the same. The person who exercises the spiritual gift of discernment, speaks this Truth even when it is unpopular or unwelcome.
If are thinking you might have this gift, consider some of the following questions. Do others notice that you are able to see through manipulative behavior before it is evident to other people? Are you especially uneasy when false teaching is being presented as Truth? Are you generally aware of people who pretend to be something they are not? Is your judgement of what is good or evil based on Scripture instead of your personal beliefs or politics? Do others seek out your input or advice in matters where Truth and accuracy matter?