When we think of the discerning people in our churches, they are often known as judgmental, unkind, rude, crazy, uptight, nit-picky, obnoxious, hard to please, and a host of other poor characteristics. The discerning church members are stamped with this label because discernment isn’t always done well. As humans, our tactics can be sin-filled rather than grace-filled.
Knowing this, discerning church members sometimes decide to call it quits when they see that their labor provides no fruit and no change of heart. They decide to simply be “gracious” and ignore that their fellow church members are deep in false teaching.
However, that is not the grace-filled response to discernment. You don’t need to stop warning others and pointing out false teachings in order to be gracious. You can be both a grace-filled and discerning church member simultaneously. But first, it requires remembering the grace of the gospel.
Heart Attitudes for Discernment
Our attitude for discernment must be a gospel attitude. Think back to the person you were before salvation. Though we all have various stories, I believe we can at least agree that we were rebellious, God-hating sinners. We all ran from God. We spit upon the gospel and kicked the dust off our feet when invited to believe. We considered ourselves self-sufficient—we didn’t need God. We were in an obsessive relationship with ourselves and our sin. We were rebels in God’s universe.
But what happened? Did you miraculously change your mind one day and turn to God? Did you finally get your act together and start doing good works that eventually earned your salvation? No, God showed you grace and melted your heart before Him. He opened your eyes to both the horrendous part of your sins and the glory of His salvation offer. Your stony, rebellious heart was given new life as God revealed the truth of the gospel to you, and you believed in His Son and were clothed in His righteousness.
Something similar happened when you realized the true interpretation of God’s Word and He pulled you out of the false teaching you were perhaps immersed in. God showed you grace once again, though you were still undeserving of it, and made you see the horror of the false teaching you had clung to as truth.
We can’t forget these grace-filled stories as we come to others with the truth. They give us two important attitudes to cultivate when doing discernment: giving grace and trusting the work of God.
We must remember the grace we were shown by God and then reflect that same grace to the people we are trying to minister to. Remember the patience God showed you in your rebellion and resolute disobedience. God didn’t shake His head at you and scoff. Rather, He patiently worked with you as you heard and read His Word.
We must be patient with our fellow believers. Rather than trying to shove the truth down their throat with articles, videos, essays, sermons, and the like, we need to remember that we also didn’t change overnight. Give them time to mull over the information you have given. Don’t spend every moment shoving truth at them. Be willing to spend time with them to show that you care. Hand the information over to them in a loving manner. They don’t need you to yell, mock, or be rude and bashful. They need the truth, not your sarcasm.
Take note: There is a time when false teaching is twisting the gospel or the character of God when we need to take the matter more seriously. Sometimes church discipline or leaving a church altogether may need to happen. But in the previous situation, I am referring to teachings that don’t hinder someone from being saved.
Like our salvation, this is a work of God in the heart of each believer. Ultimately, you cannot force someone to believe what you believe or stop them from following a false teacher. God needs to reveal that to them by the work of the Holy Spirit in His Word. The believer’s heart needs to be changed, and that is not something you can do. For that reason, we need to prayerful and trust God with His timing and sovereignty.
Stop placing the burden on your shoulders to change hearts and minds, because that is a burden you were never meant to bear. You are simply called to be faithful to the Word.
Practical Tips for Grace-Filled Discernment
With our new heart attitudes in place, we can start working on our presentation of the truth. Each of these tips is set with the gospel attitude in mind that you are giving the information in grace and that you are trusting God with the results.
Be Concise (Unless Asked Otherwise)
Most people either do not have the time or patience to sit down to read ten articles and watch two hour-long videos. Instead, give the person your concise summary of what they need know. They are more likely to read or hear your concise summary than listen to a 90-minute lecture by a person they don’t know. Then, if they want to know more, they will either find it themselves or ask you.
Don’t simply tell people, “You are a false teacher,” and leave it. That is not how we do discernment. You want to give people biblical reasons as to why they are a false teacher, rather than forcing them to believe your judgment. Teach people to be students of God’s Word, not students of your opinion. If you want others to value Scripture and be more discerning, then you should lead by example.
Do Your Research
Do your own research and determine whether or not a person truly is a false teacher before making claims. Examine some of their material and compare it to Scripture. Don’t make allegations you can’t back up.
A Final Thought
People don’t want to hear that they are immersed in false teaching. It is not only a blow to what they love but also their pride. This is why we must tread carefully upon the ground of discernment and seek to do it in a grace-filled manner. There will still be people who hate what you say and may still call you judgmental, unkind, rude, crazy, uptight, nit-picky, obnoxious, hard to please, and the like. But when we approach discernment in a grace-filled way, we can know we are faithfully reflecting the gospel.