Receive my words
And treasure my commandments within you, Make your ear attentive to wisdom,
Incline your heart to understanding; For if you cry for discernment,
Lift your voice for understanding;
If you seek her as silver
And search for her as for hidden treasures; Then you will discern the fear of the LORD And discover the knowledge of God.
For the LORD gives wisdom;
From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.
One of the most commonly-quoted but frequently misconstrued verses in all of Scripture is Matthew 7:1, popularly paraphrased as “Judge not, lest you be judged.” Even the most biblically illiterate unbeliever knows those words. People love to wield that phrase as a kind of all-purpose retort to any hint of biblical reproof or correction. The typical skeptic may be seething with contempt for the Bible, utterly ignorant of everything else Jesus ever said, and totally enslaved to the world, the flesh, and the devil. But he will invariably quote that verse with all the gravitas of a seasoned seminary lecturer, using a tone of devout finality that suggests God has spoken on this matter and any further discussion would be the ultimate sacrilege.
Thus the skeptic dismisses even godly counsel with a face-slap from a proof- text that has been twisted and wrenched out of its context. Ironic, isn’t it? Those who mishandle God’s Word in that way are guilty of precisely the kind of hypocrisy Jesus goes on to condemn in the verses immediately following His “judge not” admonition (vv. 2-6).
Of course, biblical texts are always best understood in light of their immediate context, and Matthew 7:1 is no exception. In verse 2 Jesus Himself explains His actual point: “In the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” He is not prohibiting sound, righteous judgment; He is warning (and rebuking) smug, self-appointed, self-righteous spiritual leaders who held people to a more burdensome standard than they themselves could possibly bear (Matthew 23:4). It was a manmade, legalistic standard of their own making, too (Mark 7:9-13). Their judgments were therefore tainted, wicked, hypocritical, oppressive—full of unwarranted pride in themselves and undue scorn for others.
But Jesus clearly desires for us to make sound judgments about important matters, because elsewhere He urges us to judge righteously. He makes this vital distinction in John 7:24: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (emphasis added). Notice: the last phrase in that verse is an imperative; it is a command that we are obligated to obey. Christ holds us responsible to apply justice and holy wisdom; making necessary judgments in a careful, impartial, and discerning way; tempering judgment with mercy, as God Himself does (James 2:12-13).
It should be obvious, then, that Matthew 7:1 cannot mean we are forbidden to make any kind of judgment whatsoever. If that were the case, Jesus’ teaching elsewhere—starting with the remainder of the Sermon on the Mount—would make no sense at all. In the culminating illustration of this very sermon Jesus calls for a judgment to be made. He makes a sharp contrast between the small gateway to a narrow road that leads to life, and the wide on-ramp to a broad thoroughfare that leads to destruction. Jesus is urging His hearers to evaluate the two ways, distinguish between them, and choose accordingly.
He then concludes the sermon with that famous illustration of two men—one who was wise and built his house on solid rock; the other who was foolish and built on sand. As He wraps up his sermon with that contrast, Jesus admonishes his hearers to listen carefully to His words and act on His teaching (vv. 24, 26).
The implication is impossible to miss. We have a duty to discern between the right gate and the wrong one; to follow the true path instead of the much-traveled thoroughfare; and to build on a solid foundation rather than on weak and shifting sand. Note, too, that Jesus was speaking of spiritual realities, not things that can be marked on a physical map. His teaching demands that we make judgments about spiritual things, and that we judge correctly—by exercising careful, precise, biblical discernment.
This truth is not limited to the Sermon on the Mount, of course. Throughout Scripture it is abundantly clear that we do need to judge properly between truth and falsehood, spiritual virtues and fleshly lusts, earthly wisdom and biblical truth, sound doctrine and demonic lies, true righteousness and mere hypocrisy. The Bereans were commended for judging even the teaching of the apostles by comparing it to the biblical standard (Acts 17:11). As a matter of fact, one of the most important signs of spiritual maturity is an ability to make precisely that kind of judgment. A person cannot properly digest biblical truth at all without learning to differentiate properly between sound and unsound doctrine. “Solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14). In short, those who suggest that it’s always wrong to make any kind of judgment are themselves guilty of making a false judgment.
WHAT IS DISCERNMENT?
The Greek verb translated “discern” in the New Testament is diakrin∩, meaning, literally, “to separate; to make a distinction.” Peter uses the word with a negative modifier in Acts 15:9 to answer the Judaizers’ error, citing the conversion of Cornelius’s household as proof that God “made no distinction” between Jews and Gentiles.
So the biblical word for discernment speaks of the ability to make keen and careful distinctions. A discerning person is someone who can discriminate accurately between truth and error. Discernment starts with the recognition that righteousness and lawlessness cannot be made partners; light and darkness have no fellowship; there is no harmony between Christ and Belial; believers and unbelievers have nothing in common; and the temple of God has no agreement with idols (2 Corinthians 6:14- 16). Scripture gives us those contrasts in stark black and white. It is sheer folly to pretend every moral judgment must be shaded in tones of gray. If the goal of discernment is to separate truth from error, it is both foolish and spiritually deadly to blend everything together in the mud of endless relativism.
But could anything be more at odds with the spirit of the present age? The prevailing opinion today is that stark clarity is not only impossible; it is undesirable as well. Mystery is celebrated; certainty is scorned. Questions are encouraged; answers are repudiated. Truth itself is viewed as an outdated concept. Blurry lines, shades of gray, compromise, ambiguity, and equivocation are the preferred tools of human discourse. Nothing is deemed absolute except the absence of any absolute standard. Certainty and assurance are condemned as arrogance.
And confidence in the revealed truth of Scripture is the most politically incorrect certainty of all.
The church, desperate to catch up with the times, seems to have lost the will to discriminate between truth and error. Many professing Christians today are just as committed to ideological relativism as their unbelieving neighbors. Brian McLaren, for example, whose books are published by Christian publishers and promoted in Christian bookstores, says it upsets him to hear any pastor proclaim biblical truth with conviction. “The more sure he seems, the less I find myself wanting to be a Christian,” he writes. “Life isn’t that simple, answers aren’t that clear, and nothing is that sure.”1
With the decline of biblical conviction, the evangelical movement has been overrun with storytellers, entertainers, entrepreneurs, mystics, and self-proclaimed prophets. They operate on the basis of personal feelings and individual experience while heedlessly (and sometimes deliberately) trampling the authority of Scripture. Some influential church leaders openly discount the importance of sound doctrine. They practice a “teach anything, criticize nothing” policy, effectively spurning discernment altogether.
The head of the world’s largest charismatic television network, for example, is blithely apathetic about the need for careful doctrinal discernment. In his words, “one theologian’s heresy is another theologian’s orthodoxy.”2 His network features a nightly lineup of gospel-twisters, hucksters, heretics, and prosperity-gospel charlatans. He claims that his stable of faith-healers and televangelists would all affirm the basics of the Apostles’ Creed, and based on that minimalist profession of faith, he believes it would be wrong and uncharitable for anyone to subject them to any further sort of doctrinal appraisal. “The true apologist [would] NEVER judg[e] a brother or sister by name with whom he may disagree,” he writes.3 To do so, he claims, is hurtful to the cause of Christ. He opts instead for the don’t-worry-be-happy approach to doctrine: “When we get [to heaven] the true believers should have worked it out in agape love and, if not, the Lord Himself will reveal to all who was right and who was wrong.”4
That attitude is now surprisingly widespread among people who self-identify as evangelicals, and it has been devastating to the cause of truth among our congregations. An undiscerning church has no defense against false teaching.
- Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christian (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003), 14.
- Paul Crouch, in the foreword to James R. Spencer, Heresy Hunters (Lafayette, LA: Huntington House, 1993), vii.
- Ibid., viii.
- Ibid., ix.
It is quite true, of course, that exercising real discernment and being merely judgmental are two vastly different things. There are people who seem to take sinful delight in fault-finding, and they do sometimes try to justify their censorious spirit in the name of biblical discernment. But it isn’t terribly hard to distinguish true discernment from mere judgmentalism. Watch out for the full-time critic who constantly reproves and rebukes others but rarely offers any edifying instruction or exhortation when he is the one doing the teaching. Beware the self-styled discernment expert who is always hostile, scornful, or angry toward the subjects of his criticism. There is a place for indignation, sternness, and even sanctified sarcasm, but animosity should not be anyone’s default mode. Also, be especially cautious when you encounter someone who seems to take delight in uncovering others’ sins or constantly publishing shocking exposés. Gossip, guilt by association, mud-slinging, and personal slurs are fleshly weapons. “The anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). Some who fancy themselves skilled in the art of discernment are merely being fleshly and factious.
But in these postmodern times, the far greater danger comes from the opposite end of the spectrum. Evangelical churches are full of people who simply “will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they [have accumulated] for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and [have turned] away their ears from the truth and [turned] aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). It is tragic that real discernment is considered out of fashion by so many evangelicals, because the church has never been more desperately in need of sober, discerning hearts and distinct, authoritative voices to call the people of God back to the clarity and authority of His Word.
The apostle Paul outlines a very simple three-part strategy for discernment in 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22: “Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” Each imperative in that triad is vital.
EXAMINE EVERYTHING CAREFULLY
Paul is writing to the church at Thessalonica. The Thessalonian believers had not been as careful as the Bereans to examine what they were taught (Acts 17:11). Both of Paul’s epistles to them reveal how susceptible they were to confusion from false teaching. Someone had evidently planted among them the fear that believers who died before the return of Christ would miss the Second Coming completely, and Paul had to correct that misunderstanding (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Whoever was sowing confusion among them then forged a letter as if from Paul, suggesting that they had already missed the coming of the Lord after all (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2). That’s one of the main reasons Paul wrote a second epistle; he had to reassure them once again and reiterate precisely what he had taught before. (“Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?—v. 5.)
So as Paul draws his first letter to this church to a close, he turns to the issue of discernment. The whole epistle has been an expression of pastoral love and encouragement. He has admonished the Thessalonians, commended them, reassured them, exhorted them, and reminded them that the Lord is coming. Now he sums up his charge to the church in verse 6: “Be alert and sober.” Then he concludes the epistle with a list of simple, basic commands that explain in detail what it means to be “alert and sober”—people “of the day” as opposed to drunken revelers at night (vv. 7-8).
Specifically, in order to maintain vigilance and stay ready for the Lord’s return, they needed to encourage and edify one another (v. 11); appreciate the labors of their ministers (v. 12), esteem their leaders highly (v. 13); live in peace with one another (v. 13); “admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (v. 14); and don’t repay evil with evil, but seek after good (v.15).
Then comes that familiar string of compact commands—five of the shortest verses in the New Testament: “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances” (vv. 16-20).
The next words are the first of three imperatives dealing specifically with the subject of discernment: “Examine everything carefully” (v. 21). The italics signify that the word “carefully” was added in the translation. The King James Version says, “prove all things,” and the English Standard Version simply says, “test everything.” The addition of “carefully” in the New American Standard Bible is a good one, however, because it conveys the true sense of the Greek word dokimaz∩ (“examine”). That word was commonly used to signify the meticulous process of assaying precious metals. It suggests the idea of putting something into a crucible and subjecting it to extreme heat or acid. If it’s impure gold, the dross will be burned away. If it’s not gold at all, the fire will reveal that, too (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:13). So the word “examine” speaks of giving something the closest possible scrutiny for the purpose of determining whether it is true or counterfeit.
Remember, this admonition comes at the end of the epistle, as the culminating charge in a list of basic duties. It is a reminder that discernment is as vital to healthy Christian devotion as prayer, rejoicing, and thanksgiving.
Furthermore, this command is addressed to the rank-and-file people of the church—not the leadership only. Many Christians tend to think of discernment as a uniquely pastoral duty. It is, indeed, a vital qualification for every man in ministry (Titus 1:9). Elders in the church are responsible not only to feed and lead the flock of God, but also to protect the sheep from wolves—false teachers who corrupt and deny truth and destroy souls in the process. Defending the fold from such intruders calls for skill in discernment. This is such an essential part of the shepherds’ task that those who lack the will to do it should not be in ministry at all.
But pastors and elders have no monopoly on discernment. Paul is cataloguing basic Christian responsibilities. This short bullet-list of duties applies to each one of us. Every Christian needs to cultivate discernment.
The command is tied by a conjunction (“but”) to the verse that immediately precedes it. What, specifically, were they to examine so carefully? “Prophetic utterances” (v. 20). Paul was urging them test everything they were taught—no matter who the teacher was (cf. Galatians 1:8-9)—by comparing the teaching with Scripture, using the same careful strategy the Bereans employed.
Incidentally, the phrase “prophetic utterances” is not a reference to every aspiring prophet’s attempts at soothsaying. Paul is talking about the authoritative apostolic message. He was not envisioning some chaotic charismatic outpouring of weird private prophecies, as if it were our duty to heed every deluded clairvoyant and try to sort out truth from an admixture of false claims and human fantasies. False prophecies and failed prognostications should be despised (Deuteronomy 18:20-22).
But Paul was talking about true, authoritative prophetic utterances such as the Thessalonians had heard directly from him. They did not have the complete New Testament in written form yet, of course. All the gospel teaching they heard at first came to them from Paul with full apostolic authority. It was the same teaching that is now preserved for us in the New Testament. It was, in truth, the authoritative and effectual Word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13). Paul had already commended them for receiving that message with genuine saving faith, but here he also urges the Thessalonians to be like their noble neighbors, the Bereans. They needed to learn to subject every teaching they heard to careful scrutiny under the infallible light of Scripture (Acts 17:11). Paul wanted them to examine thoroughly every doctrine they were taught, whether the preacher was Paul (who according to Galatians 1:11 received the gospel by direct revelation) or Timothy, who taught from Paul’s epistles (and other Scriptures) and who spearheaded the process of training subsequent generations of church leaders to teach likewise from the written word (1 Timothy 4:11; 2 Timothy 2:2).
In other words, whenever the true Word of God is faithfully proclaimed, that is a “prophetic utterance” in the sense Paul means here. This meaning of the word prophecy is stressed in 1 Corinthians 14:3-4, where Paul writes, “One who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation. [He] edifies the church.” Any biblical sermon, prepared and delivered correctly with appropriate conviction, is a true prophetic utterance according to the way Paul employs the expression.
So this is a command to subject every truth-claim to the test of Scripture. Again, that is the duty of every Christian. We’re not to believe everything we hear just because the preacher says he comes in the name of Christ (2 John 7-11). We are not to be like “children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14). Gullibility is not a virtue. Searching the Scriptures to see whether something is true is not uncharitable. Scripture says that is the noble thing to do.
HOLD FAST TO WHATEVER IS GOOD
The kind of discernment Paul is encouraging the Thessalonians to cultivate is the polar opposite of a merely academic approach to truth and sound doctrine. A merely clinical examination followed by a neutral analysis is not what Paul has in mind. Authentic discernment calls for a thoughtful, cautious, but active twofold response.
First of all, he urges a positive response to whatever is good: “Hold fast to that which is good” (v. 21). He says the same thing in Romans 12:9: “Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.” He wants all believers to own the truth, hold tightly to it, and treat it as a treasure to be safeguarded. Paul himself had that perspective of truth. It was a stewardship he had been entrusted with (1 Corinthians 9:17), and as Timothy’s mentor, he labored to instill the same attitude in him: “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you” (1 Timothy 6:20). “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me . . . Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:13-14).
There is a definite note of militancy in Paul’s frequent appeals to hold fast, cling to, and guard the deposit of truth. The person who turns his back or abandons the truth when it is under attack is not a faithful steward. Nor is this a call to hold the truth privately, keeping it to ourselves. Our duty is to proclaim it, defend it when necessary, and answer every challenge against it. There is no place in this command for appeasement, compromise, or indifference in the face of threats to the truth. Indeed those are the very tendencies Paul is hoping to eliminate in Thessalonica.
But the thrust of this imperative is wholly and enthusiastically positive. The verb translated “hold fast” carries the connotation of a tight embrace—not a casual assent or a nod of agreement, but a wholehearted, passionate commitment to the truth.
Love for the truth is one of the necessary features of true saving faith. In 2 Thessalonians 2:10, Paul describes unbelievers as “those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.” Thus Scripture treats love for the truth as one of the distinguishing features of authentic saving faith. Any brand of “faith” that is devoid of such love is no faith at all.
Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 15:2, Paul says the proof of authentic faith is that it holds fast the truth of the gospel. “You are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you.” Conversely, Paul says those who abandon the truth have “believed in vain.” He’s not suggesting that regenerate people can lose their salvation; he is saying a failure to persevere in the truth is proof that the apostate’s belief was empty and superficial to begin with; it was never saving faith at all. That is precisely what the apostle John said about apostates: “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).
Paul was not questioning the salvation of the Thessalonians, however. He made clear from the outset of this epistle that he was confident in their election (1:4). He commended them repeatedly for the way they received the gospel from the very start: “Our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (v. 5). “You became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything” (vv. 7-8). “You turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God” (v. 9). The epistle is full of confident statements about the Thessalonians’ faith: “When you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (2:13).
But while He was confident that the Thessalonians’ faith was generally sound and genuine, he saw that they were weaker than they should have been in the discipline of discernment. Paul wanted them to cultivate their love for truth and develop a Berean-style commitment to distinguishing the truth from error.
Paul would have had no sympathy whatsoever for the postmodern notion that the way to achieve true unity is to lay doctrine aside and cultivate good works and personal relationships instead. This is a relentless refrain in the rhetoric of so-called Emergence religion: Christians should worry less about being right and more about being and doing good.5 The apostle Paul said good deeds and purity of doctrine are both vital (Titus 2:7), but sound doctrine is foundational. Good works are the natural fruit and the adornment that make the doctrine of God attractive (vv. 1, 10).
That is not to say that the truth will always be attractive to unbelievers. Fallen people love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil (John 3:19). The gospel is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks (1 Corinthians 1:23). The cross is an offense to the whole world (Romans 9:33). It is not our prerogative to tone down the truth, soften it, or alter it in any way for the sake of eliminating the offense. Indeed to do that is the opposite of what Paul means when he says “hold fast.”
Notice: no teaching is exempt from Paul’s command to “examine everything carefully.” If it was noble for the Bereans to put the apostolic message under the light of Scripture in order to verify the teaching, then no teacher, no preacher, no doctor of divinity—and certainly no modern prophet—has any right to claim immunity from critical examination. “Examine everything carefully.” Paul has elevated the importance of discernment above any scholastic honor, any ecclesiastical office, or any revelatory gift.
This much ought to be clear: nothing that is not in full agreement with the Word of God can possibly qualify as “that which is good.” The Greek word translated “good” speaks of value and virtue—good character, not merely beauty or usefulness. The word speaks of something that is really and authoritatively true, not merely something that looks good superficially. There’s a stark and deliberate contrast between “that which is good” in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 and “every form of evil” in verse 22. It is the difference between the truth and a lie; sound doctrine versus false teaching; light and darkness; righteousness and evil. Nothing could be further from Paul’s meaning here than the popular pragmatic notion that “good” is any idea or tactic that’s useful for drawing a crowd, entertaining people, or gaining the appreciation of the unchurched masses.
5. See, for example, McLaren, 61.
God’s Word is what defines good. Indeed, Scripture is the distilled essence of what Paul means by “that which is good.” Whatever accords with Scripture is therefore to be treasured, guarded, and held fast.
But that’s only part of the work of discernment. That is merely the positive side of the equation.
SHUN EVERY FORM OF EVIL
The negative aspect of discernment is succinctly expressed in 1 Thessalonians 5:22: “Abstain from every form of evil.” Paul employs an emphatic Greek verb, apech∩— “shun,” or “keep your distance.” The expression has connotations of abhorrence, loathing, revulsion. It is the proper response to anything impure or morally filthy. It is the very same word Paul used a few verses previously, when he wrote, “Abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). Peter used the same word in a similar context: “Abstain from fleshly lusts” (1 Peter 2:11).
Bear in mind the context here at the end of 1 Thessalonians. Paul is talking about our response to people who claim to speak for God (“prophetic utterances,” v. 20). He says to examine carefully everything they say, and shun “every form of evil.” So the context suggests this applies particularly to false doctrine. The principle clearly applies, of course, to evil behavior, evil companionship, and “every [other] form of evil.” But Paul is specifically addressing the problem of false doctrine—teachers who claim to be speaking prophetically when in fact they are spreading error and false doctrine. Examine their teaching carefully, critically, Paul says, and if it doesn’t agree with Scripture, shun it.
That puts false teaching in its proper light. It is a gross evil that must be shunned in exactly the same manner we would recoil from sexual immorality and fleshly lusts. False teaching is no better than the grossest of moral evils; it is arguably worse. The comparative gravity of false teaching is seen in the fact that Jesus was known as a friend of publicans and sinners (Luke 7:34), but he was an outspoken and relentless adversary of Pharisaical legalism.
Incidentally, when Paul says, “examine everything carefully,” he is not ordering us to become full-time students of error and evil. Some people who fancy themselves apologists and discernment experts immerse themselves in studying cults and human philosophies more than they study Scripture. It quickly becomes a dangerous obsession. That’s not what Paul is calling for here. Remember, the truth is what we should cling to. Evil is what we must shun. To the church at Rome, Paul wrote, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). And, “I want you to be wise in what is good, and innocent in what is evil” (16:19).
Many people are familiar with 1 Thessalonians 5:22 from the King James translation: “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” That version is often quoted and sometimes misapplied as if Paul’s chief concern had to do with the appearance of things—as if he were mandating abstinence from anything that looks bad. I once spoke with a man who insisted no Christian should ever ride a motorcycle. It has the appearance of something evil, he said, because motorcycles are associated with biker gangs.
That isn’t really the point of this text. The Greek word translated “appearance” is eidos, which is translated “form” in Luke 3:22 (“the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove”) and John 5:37 (“You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form”). Paul’s point is not that everything that appears evil must be avoided on the basis of what it looks like. He is saying rather that whatever is evil in character must be shunned no matter what form it takes—even when the false teacher comes disguised as an angel of light, claiming to want peace and unity.
One other common misunderstanding of this text needs to be corrected. When Paul says, “Hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil,” he is not urging the Thessalonians to try a little bit of everything, eat the meat, and spit out the bones. I’ve heard people use that expression in a way that seems to dismiss or minimize the grave danger of heresy and alternative gospels. Paul wants the church to turn away completely from false prophets and purveyors of different gospels— repudiate them altogether. He is not suggesting that we should look for nuggets of truth in the doctrines taught by false teachers. He gives no latitude whatsoever for blending bits of gospel with popular ideas borrowed from other religions, cultural fads, highbrow philosophies, lowbrow entertainment, secular psychology, or whatever is currently popular in the world.
We’re warned frequently in Scripture about the subtlety of Satan. He disguises himself as an angel of light. He quotes Scripture. He makes arguments that sound reasonable. But his specialty is twisting the truth, mixing it with lies, giving evil the appearance of good. That is why we must examine everything with the utmost care, embracing teaching that concurs with Scripture and shunning everything else.
How vital is discernment? It is the difference between infantile gullibility and mature faith (Hebrews 5:13-14). It is the mark of authentic, vibrant, abundant love for Christ (Philippians 1:9). And it is the ultimate difference between someone who functions in the flesh and a truly spiritual person: “A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one” (1 Corinthians 2:14-15).