In the more supernaturally aware parts of the church, I’ve run into a particular kind of rot: a fake “discernment” that is anything but. These folks are actually a lot like the anti-supernatural Christians; they just have different expectations. These folks are often okay with prophecy and tongues; you might even get away with anointing with oil. There’s frequently a collection of weird shibboleths around the way those gifts are practiced. (My personal favorite was “Don’t touch the person you’re ministering to.” Yeah…I’m a massage therapist. Not gonna happen.)
But the core of this attitude is not its particular prohibitions or practices. The core of this attitude is its reliance on a set of man-made, visible standards, rather than on the hard work of real discernment. God is not permitted to do anything outside of our expectations…whatever they happen to be. If it’s outside the lines we drew, there must be something wrong with it?
That’s ridiculous. Jesus surprised everybody. You’ve got to expect God’s people to continue to be surprising today.
And Jesus was all the time getting in trouble with the “discernment ministries” of His day. Stands to reason that His followers would be getting into trouble with “discernment ministries” today–and sure enough, there’s plenty of that going around.
But Jesus gave us some simple, effective measures by which to discern.
- If the fruit is good, then so is the tree. See what happens, and then judge. Do more than just check to see if the thing violates your expectations. Do the hard work of examining the results. If the results are good, then there you go.
- If you can’t believe the words, believe the works. Pay attention to what God actually does in time and space. God will never violate His Word, but He will happily violate your domesticated interpretation of it. The concepts might be hard to grasp, or fly in the face of your theology, but when necessary, you need to believe what God did and revisit your theology.
Jesus’ beloved disciple John also gave us a useful rubric for discerning spirits: “Every spirit that confesses Jesus Christ come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God” (1 John 4:2-3). So now you know. Want to know if the spirit is from God? Ask: “Do you confess Jesus Christ come in the flesh?”
The practice of real discernment isn’t tremendously complex; it’s just hard work. It’s harder than having a predefined set of expectations and rejecting everything that’s outside them. But it’s worth it.