Discernment vs. Judgment–Part 3

Thoroughly Discerning Judgment—

Discerning Degrees of Purity

             Years ago as a bi-vocational pastor, I sold jewelry for J.C. Penney and learned a lot about the degrees of purity of gold and diamonds. I also learned a similar scale for determining the purity and value of diamonds and other gemstones. I discovered that some of the Old and New Testament terms for discernment were used in the Bible for the process of assaying gold. The assaying of gold involves the process of determining whether the gold is real gold or fool’s gold as well as the degree of purity of the gold—10 karat, 14 karat, 18 karat, 24 karat gold, etc.
            Thoroughly Discerning Judgment not only distinguishes right from wrong, truth from error, but also degrees of purity. Thoroughly Discerning Judgment is expressed by the Greek terms diakrino (verb) and diakrisis (noun), meaning “to judge through” or “judge thoroughly,” as well as by dokimazo, “to assay or test for purity.” In the Bible these terms are used of assaying gold—determining not only if something is real gold, but the degree of the purity of the gold (Job 23:10). The Apostle Paul makes a clear parallel connection between dokimazo and diakrino (1 Cor 11:28-32). God exercises diakrino, assaying for refined gold (Job 23:10) and dokimazo, examining our hearts (1 Thess 2:4), as well as assaying or refining us like gold (Prov 17:3; 27:21; Ps 12:6).
            We are exhorted to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove (dokimazo) what the will of God is, that which is good, acceptable, and perfect” (Rom 12:2). Some commentators like Origen and A.B. Simpson see a progression of stages here, as with assaying the purity of gold, distinguishing between that which is good, that which is acceptable, and that which is perfect. Simpson explains the nuances: “There are some who only aim to reach the good will of God. There are others who press on to the pleasing will of God, to a life which pleases God and has the testimony constantly of his acceptance. But there is a perfect will of God into which we may enter and realize all for which he has called us save us.”
            God’s will is good, acceptable (well-pleasing), and perfect. However, not everything that is good or even well-pleasing is God’s perfect will. God’s permissive will is not His perfect will, but it is good nonetheless. Only that which is good, well-pleasing AND perfect is God’s complete or perfect will. So we need to discern whether the good and the pleasing are God’s perfect will. The perfect will of God goes beyond what God requires to what God desires. Doing what God requires is good and is acceptable, but just doing only what God requires is not the perfect will of God. Oswald Chambers avowed, “The greatest enemy of the life of faith in God is not sin, but good choices which are not quite good enough. The good is always the enemy of the best.”
            Thorough discerning judgment is the provenance of the church. According to Paul, the Church, not secular courts of law, should discern thoroughly (diakrino) between believers (1 Cor 6:4-5). Such discernment is also to be used in the exercise of spiritual gifts: “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment [diakrino]” (1 Cor 14:29).
            This level of discernment is manifested in two ways: 1) through practice and maturity (Heb 5:13-14); 2) through supernatural gifting (1 Cor 12:10).
Who Then Can Exercise This Level of Judgment?
Scripture itself gives us three key qualifications for Thorough Discerning Judgment:
  • Only those who have first thoroughly discerned themselves. Paul uses these terms to stress the importance of discerning ourselves, assaying ourselves for the degree of purity in our lives and discernment: “But a man must examine [dokimazo] himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not discern [diakrino] the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we discerned [diakrino] ourselves rightly, we would not be judged (1 Cor 11:28-31).
Paul shows us that to examine (dokimazo) ourselves is to thoroughly discern (diakrino) ourselves, assaying the purity of gold in our lives. How do we do that? First, we acknowledge that God examines our hearts for the degree of purity (1 Thess 2:4). Then we pray, “Search me, O God, and know my heart, try me and know my thoughts, and see if there is any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps 139:23-24). Then we respond in contrition to what He reveals to us.
  1. Those who are endowed with the gift of discerning (diakrisis) of spirits (1 Cor 12:10). This is a supernatural gift not based on merit, but on the grace-gifting of God. For some, this may be a major gifting from God that characterizes their lives on a more frequent repeated basis. However, anyone may be endowed for the moment with this gifting as the Holy Spirit deems fit.
  2. Those who are experienced and mature. “But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern [diakrino] good and evil” (Heb 5:14). Paul explains that this kind of judgment is for those who are wise: “Is it so that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide [diakrino] between his brethren, but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers? (1 Cor 6:5-6). Paul is indicating that “wise” people gifted in diakrisis should decide disputes.
            Regardless of gifting or maturity, Scriptures recognize that all believers should strive for this thoroughly discerning level of judgment. Let us pray to be able to discern between good, better, and best. Let us receive discernment through the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, and maturity to identify the degree of purity in what we experience and encounter.

Types of Judgment Off-Limits to Believers

In my earlier blogs, I shared from Scripture the difference between discernment and judgment and the types of discerning judgment we can exercise. Now we look at the types of judgment God’s Word tells us are off-limits to us.

     Accusing Critical Judgment. I mentioned in an earlier blog that both Oswald Chambers and Corrie Ten Boom caution that God never gives us discernment in order that we may criticize or find fault, but that we may intercede. This is a crucial principle of distinguishing between discernment and judgment.

         In Scripture, usually the Greek terms for judgment (krino, krisis) are used in a negative sense, as faultfinding, blaming, accusatory, or critical judgment. Jesus asserts that such critical judgment not discernment, but is of the flesh: “You judge after the flesh; I judge no man” (John 8:15). He defers to the Father for judgment. He warns disciples not to exercise this kind of judgment, especially without exercising critical judgment towards one’s self:

Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? 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 (Matt 7:1-5).

Failing to judge ourselves critically makes us hypocrites, for when we critically judge ourselves we will not critically judge others. Scripture gives several additional admonitions not to exercise critical judgment (Rom 14:13; Col 2:16; John 7:24; 1 Cor 4:5). Scripture has a lot to say about critical judgment:

  • We Are Not to Judge Critically the Liberty of Another Person’s Conscience, nor should someone critically judge the liberty of our conscience (1 Cor 10:29).
  • Judging Others Can Bring Condemnation on Ourselves (Rom 2:1-3).
  • Only the Holy Spirit Can Critically Judge Appropriately (John 16:8; 1 John 3:19-21).
  • Pride Makes Us Vulnerable to Critical Judgment by Satan (1 Tim 3:6). Pride results in accusatory judgment condemnation from the devil. Francis Frangipane wisely counsels, “We will never possess mature, ongoing discernment until we crucify our instincts to judge.”

         Partiality is Prejudicial Judgment (1 Tim 5:21). The word Paul uses for partiality means to pre-judge, to judge before the appropriate time. It is to judge without discernment—without analytical judgment (anakrino) and thoroughly discerning judgment (diakrino). It is to jump to conclusions, looking at appearances rather than the heart.

Worse Than Critical Judgment Is Condemning Judgment—that pronounces a person guilty (Luke 6:37). If we condemn, we are guilty of judgment God does not permit us to exercise, and we are ourselves condemned (Matt 12:36-37).

To Judge or Not to Judge? That Is the Question.

To review, only God is the Righteous Judge. Only Jesus exercises righteous judgment. Only the Holy Spirit can make comparative judgments. Only the Word of God is the Gold Standard criterion for judgment.

We can only exercise righteous judgment when we see as Jesus sees—in the heart. As believers, we can exercise discerning judgment in three ways: 1) the gift of discerning spirits; 2) discerning analysis through the Holy Spirit; 3) thoroughly discerning judgment that distinguishes degrees of purity through maturity in the Spirit.

Above All, Love

All true discernment is done in a loving spirit, not a critical spirit. Paul prayed, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment (aesthesis), so that you may approve (dokimazo) the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ” (Phil 1:9-10). Discernment and love walk hand-in-hand, examining ourselves first.

Believers are not to judge critically, unless clear and severe sin is involved, and even then very carefully in an attitude of love for the purpose of restoration. No one should exercise such critical judgment cavalierly, but only for the severest most blatant sins, and even then, it is not for the purpose of damning someone, but for restoring the person to repentance and reconciliation.

While at times, like with our children, we need to exercise tough love, a critical spirit does not manifest the love of Jesus. “Speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15), Paul emphasized. Discernment and love work in tandem with each other to handle truth appropriately in a Christ-like manner. Even when our discernment calls for rebuke or correction, we must always remember, “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet 4:8).

Excerpted and adapted from my new book Is It of God? A Biblical Guidebook for Spiritual Discernment. Available for purchase through my website http://www.paulkingministries.com 

Is It of God cover