Before we examine ways that Biblical discernment directs our actions, leading us to personal holiness, let’s look at the relationship between discernment and judging. Certainly, discernment is an aspect of judging ourselves, others and the surrounding culture by the standard of God’s Word.
Some of you are probably objecting to what I just typed, frantically wanting to remind me that the Lord Jesus Christ specifically taught against passing judgment. Even the most militant non-Christians believe that verse, which they’ll quote without hesitancy. And of course, I can’t deny that Jesus did, in fact, command us not to judge. But looking at the verse in context helps us understand what He actually meant.
“Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
6 “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you. ~~Matthew 7:1-6 (ESV)
And later in the chapter:
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. ~~Matthew 7:15-20 (ESV)
In the first passage, Jesus condemns hypocritical judgment, commanding that we judge ourselves before judging someone else. Once we’ve properly addressed our own sin through confession and repentance, however, we can discern sin in others. That discernment, in turn, enables us to correct our brothers and sisters in Christ. It also helps us determine when someone wouldn’t receive godly correction (and therefore should be left to God’s judgment).
The second passage goes even further by commanding us to judge whether or not someone is a false teacher by evaluating that person’s teachings and conduct. In essence, the Lord tells Christians to judge those we listen to and read to see how their teachings and conduct lines up with Scripture.
In making judgments, we must first judge our own teachings and conduct. No, we don’t have to be perfect before we judge someone else, but we do need to humbly admit our sin with an attitude of repentance. We can’t coddle our sin, especially if we then condemn the very same sin in another person. We must be willing to turn from that sin through the grace God gives us.
If we self-righteously judge someone for (as an example) dressing immodestly when we’re flirting with somebody at the gym, we need to readjust our focus and deal with our own immodesty before we address that gal who shows too much cleavage. Once we’ve stopped our immodest banter with the guy at the gym (do we really need to work out during the time he goes?), then maybe we can talk to our friend about her wardrobe, acknowledging the struggle both of you have in the area of purity.
Discernment is a good thing, unless we dispense it hypocritically. Jesus calls us to make judgments between good and evil, truth and error and obedience and sin all the time. But discernment must begin with a willingness to judge ourselves first.