Discernment Isn’t Spiritual ESP

An online friend recently warned against a popular false teacher on her Facebook page, only to have one of her personal friends harshly castigate her in a comment. It’s a familiar scenario. I’ve been through a similar experience, so I definitely sympathize. Women can become downright brutal towards anyone who dares to challenge their favorite false teacher.

As happens nearly every time, my friend’s critic didn’t address any of the actual objections to the teacher, despite the ample documentation that my friend provided. Instead, the critic argued from emotion, twisting Scripture in an attempt to shame my friend for raising valid concerns. That common tactic often works well to silence those who call out false teachers because no one wants to step on someone’s toes. Outbursts of emotion make us want to smooth things over so that everyone feels good. It also avoids having to really think through the relevant issues from a Biblical perspective. Emotion shuts down a challenge quickly and (in the mind of the person using emotion) effectively,

So I found the avoidance of addressing my friend’s points a bit telling. I wish she had responded with more maturity, countering objections from properly handled Scripture. (Of course, Scripture really only would have validated my friend’s position.) But as troubling as the appeal to emotion was, several people were even more troubled by the women’s claim to be discerning.

I am one of those people,

Someone in the conversation about this matter remarked that, according to her observation, women who claim to have discerning spirits almost invariably have almost no Biblical discernment. Frankly, I’ve noticed the same phenomenon. I think specifically of a friend of mine in Memphis who believed God had given her the gift of discernment. I know I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating.

During my first few months in the nursing home, my friend in Memphis noticed that another middle-aged resident had befriended me. This resident happened to use thick glasses that greatly magnified her eyes in an eerie sort of way. One day my self-proclaimed discerning friend (with a knowing look on her face) informed me that she sensed a demonic spirit in the resident who had befriended me. She claimed she could “discern” it in the resident’s eyes.

Should I mention that a year later this “discerning” woman attended a Benny Hinn meeting, believing that God would use Hinn to heal her diabetes? How is it, I wonder, that a person with the gift of discernment couldn’t discern that Benny Hinn is a fraud? Looking back, I can readily see that my friend based her “discernment” on a subjective reaction to the glasses.

The woman who maligned my online friend recently has made the same error in understanding the nature of discernment that my friend in Memphis made. She loves the false teacher because that teacher causes her to feel good. My friend in Memphis disliked the woman with the glasses because of an uncomfortable feeling. Neither offered Scriptural substantiation for their declarations — they only assured us that they had discernment.

Discernment, however, is not a form of baptized Extra Sensory Perception. Biblical discernment depends on knowing God’s Word well enough to rightly apply it. Paul’s warning to the Colossian church speaks to the folly of listening to anyone with this mystical approach to discernment.

18 Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God. ~~Colossians 2:18-19 (NASB95)

We hold fast to Christ, the head of the body, by leaning into His Word, not by letting our subjective feelings carry us away. A false teacher may seem charming, vivacious and devoted to Scripture, but all the while be guilty of manipulating Scripture to lead followers into error. Biblical discernment requires us to evaluate everything (including this blog) through the lens of God’s Word.

It isn’t important, for purposes of this article, to name the false teacher that sparked this controversy. My goal is to address the erroneous idea that discernment comes through emotional impressions. Studying Colossians makes it quite plain that mysticism has no place among Christians. It has nothing to do with Biblical discernment.

Beware of people who claim to be discerning and yet refuse to consider evidence that their preferred teachers are false. When they use emotional appeals to deflect arguments from Scripture, ask yourself if their claims of discernment line up with Scripture. If their “discernment” ignores clear evidence that their teacher doesn’t really follow God’s Word, you may want to think about whether or not they are really all that discerning.

Discernment isn’t a game like Magic 8-Ball, nor is it a baptized version of ESP. It comes through knowing God’s Word and properly applying it as we evaluate what we read and hear.

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