Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Balancing Boundaries: Discernment

Many people see boundaries one of two ways: as either an arbitrary guideline which can be dispensed with at will or a as an inviolable box which can never change or flex. Yet both views mix truth and fallacy together in dangerous ways—ways which will lead us to push our boundaries incorrectly and cripple our growth as humans and Christians.

What are we to do? God desires us to grow, but growth cannot occur without stretching our boundaries. How then should we view boundaries, so that we might push them rightly and grow correctly?

This is where discernment comes in.

Yet even here a cloud of confusion impedes our progress. Discernment means many things to many people. To some, it is a spiritual gift provided by the Holy Spirit to the select few. Others see discernment as a natural intuition that develops as we age. Many think it’s merely a supernatural prompting, that tap on the shoulder by the Holy Spirit.

Each of these views is true to a point. Yes, there is a spiritual gift of discernment, called the discernment of spirits, but this is a supernatural and specialized application of discernment. And yes, your discernment should develop as you mature. However, just as growing older doesn’t make you wiser, neither does it make you more discerning. Finally, the Holy Spirit does promise to guide us—absolutely! But most of the time, He expects that guidance to rest on what He has already given—the Bible, a brain, wise counselors—using the supernatural only when natural means will fail.

So each of these is a form of discernment, but on their own, they don’t aid much in growth. Rather, the discernment I have in mind is the one described in Hebrews 5:14: “Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to separate good and evil.” The word translated here “separated” is the idea of distinguishing between things or discerning.

This means that good and evil do exist (which is why boundaries aren’t arbitrary) and that good and evil are frequently mixed to together (which is why inviolable boxes don’t work). Discernment acknowledges both of these truths and seeks to separate the good from evil.

Hebrews 5:14 also reveals that discernment is for everybody, not just a few specially-gifted people. After all, God desires us all to become spiritual mature. Since a mark of maturity is discernment, it then follows that God desires us all to become discerning too.

Moreover, discernment is personal. The mature have trained themselves. You don’t inherit discernment from your parents. You don’t absorb it by osmosis from a pastor or teacher. Rubbing shoulders with brilliant theologians won’t pass it on to you either. Rather, discernment is something you must seek for yourself. Because ultimately discernment is not primarily instinctual but acquired. The mature train themselves. They learned it through constant use.

So first and foremost discernment—this ability to separate good and evil—is a spiritual discipline which we gain over time through practice.

No comments: