Links Daily Devotional

Judgment and Discernment

The LORD says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Isaiah 29:13, NIV)

Yesterday’s discussion, where we considered hating things (and even people) that are evil, may have sat uncomfortably with you. “It’s one thing,” you might have said, “for Jesus to hate someone who is evil, for he knows the hearts of all people. But who am I to make such judgments about others?”

Well, here lies another misunderstanding. When we define love only according to its common contemporary expression, we cannot understand its full nature in the way God exercises it. And when we allow those in the world to commandeer passages like Matthew 7:1 and tell us that we should never judge another, we again land in a place of misunderstanding. Jesus did say in that opening line of Matthew 7 that we should not judge others, lest we be judged. But in the ensuing verses of the chapter, he also taught that we should not throw our pearls to “swine,” that we should “beware of false prophets,” and that there are those who will cry “Lord, Lord,” but who are actually evildoers. How are we to recognize wicked people in this way without determining who is evil and who is not?

One help on the road to unlocking this conundrum is to realize that the Bible speaks both of discernment (good judgment) and sentencing (permanent judgment). Without question, we are to be discerning people, recognizing what is righteous and what is not. For one, this equips us to deal rightly with people, rather than in door-closing judgment.

Paul wrote of believers and unbelievers in 1 Corinthians 5. Almost surprisingly, he makes a strong case for leaving the wicked to their wicked ways. Look: “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of the world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world” (vv. 9-10). Do you see what Paul did here? He called sin sin. He identified the wickedness in the people. But he also recognized that these people were not pretending to live in any other way.

Scripturally speaking, those identified in nearly every context as truly evil are those who want everyone to think that they are good, but whose hearts are far from God. These are those who would lead God’s people down paths of pride and falsehood; they “secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them” (2 Peter 2:1).

Let’s end with an illustration that may be meaningful to you. Let’s say that I am entered in a tournament for the weekend at a course I have never seen. When I show up and play my practice round, I discover that the course is fraught with all sorts of trickery, spots that could be deemed as nothing other than unfair in the normal context of the game. And yet I must find a way to negotiate this course, to play away from its oddities and rough spots while making my way around it all the same. In judgment, then, I may declare this course “unfair,” “ugly,” even “stupid.” I may say to myself and others, “I’ll never play here again.” But in discernment, I must learn to walk well around that course, avoiding its “evil” and “clinging to its good.”

This is how we walk in the world. We cannot judge someone as though that is the end of our interaction with them, for who are we to know but that God has salvation in mind for them? Aren’t we those who believe in miracles, even miracles of salvation? But we must use discernment, especially when it comes to those who claim Christ but live intentionally unholy lives. We must steer clear of their evil ways at all costs.

Jeff Hopper

June 27, 2012

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