The Spiritual Gift of Discernment

August 16, 2011

In C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair, children accompanied by a Marshwiggle find themselves in an underworld realm looking for Prince Rilian. The heir to the Narnian throne is under the spell of the Queen of the Underworld, unable to break free of the enslaving darkness. In the climactic scene, the otherworld intruders confront the queen in order to return the prince to Narnia, to the light and fresh air of his own land. However, the queen, threatened by this challenge to her power, regains a momentary advantage by tossing what can only be described as green fairy dust in their faces. The effect is immediate: they cannot see her evil intent, they lose their energy for resistance, and they forget what they came to do. I won’t spoil the rest of the story—because you really should read this classic—but let’s just say the world is introduced to an unlikely hero in the end.

People of this present age have been blinded and weakened by a sort of fairy dust which has robbed them of their spiritual sight, weakened their resolve to obey Jesus Christ, and fogged their memory of the mission they were sent to accomplish. The question is, where did this fairy dust originate and who tossed it? The one who attempts to answer this needs the spiritual gift of discernment.

Discernment is listed in Paul’s catalogue of spiritual gifts in 1 Cor 12:10. The NIV translates it “the distinguishing between spirits,” the NRSV “the discernment of spirits.” John reveals the need for such a gift: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). Discernment is the God-given ability to recognize the spiritual origin —God, the world, or Satan—of a teaching or action and to differentiate between truth and error.

When the snake in Eden’s garden claimed, “Surely God did not say . . . ,” it was throwing fairy dust into her perception of reality, undercutting her defenses, and erasing her memory of God’s word. The same thing happens to us when we entertain the teaching of those who contradict scriptural truth; we drift off into theological oblivion before we even know what hit us. This is the spiritual condition of many in our PCUSA flock, led by every wind of (false) doctrine and carried into a state of spiritual blindness and ineffective mission.

The gift of discernment is given to the church as the antidote to this tragic circumstance. As a gift of the Spirit of God, it is given in order to be received and used. It is also to be appreciated when exercised, and relied upon when the church must sort out the tangle of inputs in its so-called discernment processes. It means people will have to cut between truth and error using “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” Its exercise requires openness to the Holy Spirit, a knowledge of the Bible, and a courage to rely upon it and to flee the enslavement of false teaching. In other words, it means sticking one’s hand in the fire to keep alert to the green fairy dust and resist its charms, in favor of obedience to God and responsiveness to biblical teaching.


2 Responses to “The Spiritual Gift of Discernment”

  1. William L. Goff Says:

    While searching the web I found your guidelines for speaking the truth in love. Although I think you indended them primarily for discussions at formal Presbyterian gatherings, I think they can be applied in all venues where there is discussion and argument – especially if the topic is controversial. I found the guidelines to be precise and complete. In my experience of reading and commenting in the vast blogosphere, it appers that such guidelines are almost never followed. I will try to follow them in commenting on your blog and elesewhere. One addional guidelne I follow for myself is to use my full name on a comment. So now that you have recognized my academic and ecclesiastical credentials, you may call me simply Bill Goff.

  2. Barb Moody Says:

    Favorite scene in a book of all times…especially when Puddleglum embraces the courage to shake himself of the witch’s spell: thrusting his arm in the fire. Sometimes it takes sacrifice and pain to do the right thing, lead you back on the right path.

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