Imagine a group of dwarves huddled together in a stable. They are cold, hungry and scared. Their greatest fear is to be “taken in” by the notion that a lion exists who is the great king of their country. In an instance, the lion appears in their midst. With a shake of his mane, a feast appears before the dwarves. Each dwarf now holds a goblet of wine in his right hand. The troupe begins to gorge themselves on the food, but something is wrong. Even though the lion has provided the richest of foods, they only perceive the food to be what one could find in a stable. One calls his food hay, another an old turnip, yet another a raw cabbage leaf. They compare the wine to dirty water from a livestock trough. They refuse to acknowledge the lion, or the quality of food before them. They lack discernment. This picture is painted by C.S. Lewis in his final Narnia book, The Last Battle.
The Bible speaks often of discernment. Paul writes, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9 ESV). In Hebrews 5:14 ESV, “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” There is an expectation our love will be combined with discernment. And unlike the dwarves of Lewis’ story, we would be mature enough to distinguish good from evil in the spiritual food we partake. Discernment is required in our walk with Christ. Yet do we know what discernment is?
The psalmist says, “Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments” (Psalm 119:66 ESV). The phrase “good judgment is often translated “discernment.” The word means “taste.” It means to have the ability to distinguish between flavors. In a spiritual and moral sense it means to know the difference between shades of good and evil. We must learn to be ethical chefs, with a taste for the spiritual food of God, and know what spoils the feast and destroys the flavor.
The human ability to taste is a fine skill. We can taste .04 ounces of salt mixed in 530 quarts of water. Scripture calls us to develop this same skill in how we handle the Word of God. Just as a chef develops his sense of taste, so we need to develop our own sense for God’s Kingdom. Let’s examine six ways to acquire the spiritual taste of discernment.
KNOW YOUR TASTES
A chef knows his tastes. He can identify salt, sour, sweet, as well as many other flavors. Adam and Eve ignored this step. God told them the basics, don’t eat of the one tree in the Garden. This was the only command, the baseline for all their actions. Carrying out God’s desires and having a relationship with him was based on developing a taste for one thing.
Satan steps in and challenges their knowledge. He tells the couple what tastes sweet is really sour. He allures them with a recipe which is enhanced if they would only see eating of the tree will make them like God. The tree is called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Had they stuck with God’s command and made him their acquired taste, they would have gained a deeper discernment. Their minds would have tasted the deception and rejected Satan’s suggestion.
However, the universe has changed because of their choice. They introduced a new ingredient, sin. I once worked in a bakery where as the pie fillings were being made, salt was mistaken for sugar. We can’t go backwards. Sin is the same. Once the choice transpired, the couple had altered creation. Creation, including humans, would now die. Their mental processes no longer worked with godly discernment. Their relationship between one another was altered. The children they bore would kill one another and pass on a skewed longing for the world over God.
Discernment means learning what are the basics of Christianity. This comes from studying the Scriptures and gaining a foundation to build on. God helps us understand what is good and evil, the foundation of good discernment.
We need to improve our taste sensitivity. As Christians that know we are tainted by sin, we need to train our mind to know the basics of taste once again and the rightness of the things of God. As we regain the foundation, there is a need to explore each flavor and to know its intricacies. While the first step is building a foundation of facts and engaging our minds, the second step involves relationship.
Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees. These men knew the foundation, but they could not understand how Jesus’ words were to be interpreted. In John 7:17 NLT Jesus says, “Anyone who wants to do the will of God will know whether my teaching is from God or is merely my own.” Jesus speaks of relationship. They are challenged to have such a close relationship to the Father that their will is completely aligned with his. This type of relationship does not come through head knowledge alone, but through loving with all one’s heart, mind, and soul (Matt. 22:37). A truth such as grace is understood best by first knowing grace as a truth, but then embracing it in our relationship with God. The taste of grace is known, but through relationship, the sensitivity to the flavor of grace results in knowing the ingredient so well, we can know of its absence and when it should be added into life. So we learn the taste of God’s favor towards us, without works. His love for us given without merit. Our taste grows more sensitive as we encounter situations with others where grace is a needed flavor. Our relationship with God becomes a measure of good and evil. What adds and deepens our relationship is good. What tears down this relationship and distances us from God is evil.
We sharpen our taste by learning from others. Proverbs 27:17 ESV says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” Great chefs learn from great chefs. No one starts a great cooking career by ignoring what others have developed. The Old Testament Law came through Moses, grace and truth through Jesus Christ. The church is built upon the prophets and the apostles. In the 2,000 years since the giving of the New Testament, many amazing people of God have built upon the biblical foundation.
Our beliefs should be based upon Scripture and aligned with the great people of faith before us; or to stick with the metaphor, think of it like a recipe. There is a long history of spiritual connoisseurs before us. Know how these people looked at truth. We familiarize ourselves with the teachings of the Church. Keep working from the Scriptures, and compare their teachings to the basics. Apply human reason where it lines up with the Scripture. We should pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help us understand how the recipe works.
George Whitefield, a great preacher of the 18th century, began his understanding of Christianity by grabbing onto holiness. He was determined to be the most holy person the world had known. However, he soon discovered he had erred. As he read the Apostle Paul, he came to see holiness as something only God can give, not something he could obtain on his own. He read the works of the early church (theologians, like Augustine) and discovered he had the wrong recipe in his relationship with God. He spoke with his friends, John and Charles Wesley, who also had to change the recipe. These three men changed the world for Christ. Not by their innovative ways, but by relying on the foundation of Scripture, using and practicing discernment, while applying truth to their lives.
LEARN HOW GOOD THINGS TASTE
Learn how good things taste. We settle for McDonald’s when there is a gourmet meal to be had. The Scriptures tell us what tastes to seek out: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NIV). What is the result of our decisions or view of the world? Does it produce the tastes of God’s Kingdom or something different? Discernment is bringing the flavors of these fruits into our circumstances and into the world.
WORK FROM THE BASICS TO THE MORE COMPLEX
Work from the basics to the more complex. Hebrews 5:12-14 ESV says, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” We are growing in our faith. If we need to know the basics of Scripture, begin there. If our lives need a better foundation of godly morality, figure out how it tastes. As we practice discernment in small decisions through our day, we prepare ourselves for the more complicated tasks ahead.
We may wake up in the morning and ask, “What shirt does God want us to wear?” Discernment begins as we understand Augustine’s advice to “love God and then do what you will.” As we choose between a blue and red shirt, we realize our loving God is unaffected by either choice. We are free to choose as we will. God doesn’t present us with only one right choice in everything we do. Our job is to discern the flavors of good and evil in our lives and choose the good. If we like nuts, we can add them to our chocolate chip cookies or not. Not every choice contains elements of good and evil. But there are choices before us each day that need God’s truth. As our palate is changed and we go from milk to more solid food, the complexities of a Kingdom life will become more clear. We gain the skill to tackle more complex decision making, matching our level of discernment.
NEVER STOP LEARNING
Never stop learning. Proverbs 1:5 ESV says, “Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance.” Until Jesus returns and brings us to perfection, there is a need to always learn what truth is and how to recognize it. We hold to the truth of God or the lie of the enemy. The world is complex and the lines between right and wrong become blurred. By asking the Holy Spirit for wisdom and knowing the Word of God well, discernment can be applied; our tasting skills can be made sharper.
There are obstacles to good discernment. Our culture promotes its own values, which make dividing truth from error more difficult. Tolerance is a cultural value promoted at every opportunity. Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 12:31). There is a difference in flavor between loving people and accepting sin. It is easy for us to confuse the two, while loving people. Our own pleasures or lack of knowledge may be hindrances to discernment. As we taste the things of the world we must work hard to not be gullible. We need to ask God to: “Teach me good judgment and knowledge” (Psalm 119:66 ESV). This means breaking down what is presented to us in life, and learning the ingredients of what is being offered. “But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 NASB). We do this by knowing the Word of God and holding it up to what we have been given. As John writes, “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 NASB).
Even amidst these obstacles, in 2 Timothy 2:15 NASB, Paul give us encouragement, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” Paul desires for us to be great tasters of truth. This takes work. Sometimes we will fail. This is why Paul tells us to be diligent. We learn from our mistakes, take up God’s Word, pursue it, and learn to master it. Along the way we stumble, but these are the first steps in learning to taste correctly.
There is a lot to learn in discernment and good taste. These skills can be reduced to a single question we should regularly ask ourselves: “In the light of God’s truth, what is the wisest decision I can make?” This may come through our knowledge of Scripture or asking God for guidance in prayer: James 1:5 ESV, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” When we pursue God’s wisdom we will “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8 NLT).
Sampling Social Media
A great obstacle to testing our ability to discern by taste is our online life, along with our connection to social media. First, we are challenged in terms of time. What seems moments on our computers can turn to hours. Prayer, spending time in Scripture, relating to our families, investing in good works can be lost in the mire of blending Facebook posts, Instagram searches, tweets, and the endless wormhole of online activity. Even the luxury of sleep and having energy can be robbed when a steady diet of internet usage consumes our lives. While the Internet is a great tool, it can also be like binging on French fries, and finding ourselves too full to include in our diet what is healthy.
Also, social media often reveals our hearts. Jesus said what comes out of the mouth, proceeds from the heart (Matthew 15:18). This may be extended to our interaction with social media. What is produced from our fingers to the screen, reveals the workings of our hearts and what is influencing our tastes. Vulgar responses, lack of love in how we comment to others, and our choices of what we share online comes from our true ability of what we prefer to taste. As our priorities of time must be measured against God’s priorities for us, what we produce and leave on social media sites should reflect a hunger for the Kingdom of God.
The company we choose online also reflects our tastes. There is a dark side to the net, which feeds the fleshy part of our appetites. It is filled with perverse images, which corrupt the imagination, and create unrealistic expectations that we inevitably bring to our relationships. Moreover, on social media sites, seemingly innocent conversations can quickly turn into sensual flirtations. Our taste needs to be honed to recognize these dangers and flee from them. We tend to believe we are in control, but we ignore the warnings of discernment at great risk.
There is also a host of opinions on every subject to be found online. These opinions must all be tested and tasted with careful concern; even the spiritual wisdom we find must be held against the Scriptures. 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 ESV says, “Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.” Do not treat spiritual wisdom with triviality. Put it to the test of Scripture. “Hold fast to that what is good.” –Gary VanDeWalker