The Pilgrim’s Heart Part 13 – The Discerning Heart

by Mike Ratliff

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 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. (Hebrews 5:11-14)

Several years ago, I was sent to training by the bank I was working for. It was a Microsoft NT Networking class. The teacher was great. I learned many new skills and honed old ones. I became part of the network rollout team after I came back from training. One of the things the teacher taught us was how to get under the covers of the operating system. He called it looking under the hood. He made it clear it was impossible to do proper diagnostics without digging into what was happening under the covers.

Look closely at the scripture passage I placed at the beginning of this chapter. There is an intimate relationship between our maturity levels along with how deep we dig into the Bible. Without the constant exposure of God’s truth to our hearts, they become shallow and unable to discern spiritual things. However, if we saturate our lives with the depths of God’s good Word, we mature and develop a godly Discerning Heart.

Why do we need a Discerning heart? I am convinced most believers are Soul-led. That means they are not saturating their lives with Jesus. They are not fasting from the world and feasting on God. Instead, they are fasting from God and feasting on the world. Their spiritual discernment is so shallow nothing really bothers their conscience anymore. Why? They are hardhearted. Their consciousness of God’s value system is out of focus to their Souls. The culprit is that hard layer of callous. That callousness is the result of their unbelief and disobedience. Their hearts are not Discerning hearts. Instead, they have hard hearts that can tolerate all sorts of false doctrines that tickle their ears. Carefully read the following passages.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. (Proverbs 14:12)

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:1-5)

False doctrines are the result of submitting to the ways that seem right unto man, but are completely opposed to the doctrines of grace. We need a Discerning heart so we cannot only avoid the evil in the world, but also, so we can know which doctrines to grasp firmly and those to reject and stay away from. Why is this a big deal? I used to think it really did not matter what our doctrinal positions were as long as Jesus was our Lord. However, once we submit to His Lordship that all changes. He will not tolerate our wallowing in false doctrine. Why? False doctrines will either teach false views of God or cause believers to be satisfied with being Soul-led. Proper doctrine teaches the right view of God. It will lead believers to submit to His Lordship in all parts of their lives. Many will refuse to repent to God’s conviction about this. The result is a hard heart full of unbelief.

God gives us the wisdom we need when we need it and as we ask for it. This is a wonderful promise, but we must ask believing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5-8)

Godly wisdom and our Discerning hearts are like hand and glove. God’s wisdom populates our Discerning hearts not our own puny fleshly wisdom. This discernment is from Him. It is not our common sense or learning. God will take our learning and apply His wisdom to it. When He does that, we live enlightened lives with spiritual eyes that are fully open and discerning. The Discerning heart sees all things as being in God’s complete control. Nothing happens to this believer unless it comes through God’s hands first. This believer knows this because he or she has discerned it. They have discerned it because God has revealed it to them.

Our part is to stay immersed in the Word of God. We must never stop digging for the wonderful treasure found there. When we do this, our hearts become even more discerning. If we allow God to teach us instead of relying on the doctrines of men we will never fall for false teaching or latest Christian fads. Instead, we remain anchored and grounded in the solid foundation of the Word of God. Even those false doctrines that we grew up with are dropped. This can cause much friction with family and friends though.

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints. Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you, delivering you from the way of evil, from men of perverted speech, who forsake the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness, who rejoice in doing evil and delight in the perverseness of evil, men whose paths are crooked, and who are devious in their ways. So you will be delivered from the forbidden woman, from the adulteress with her smooth words, who forsakes the companion of her youth and forgets the covenant of her God; for her house sinks down to death, and her paths to the departed; none who go to her come back, nor do they regain the paths of life. So you will walk in the way of the good and keep to the paths of the righteous. For the upright will inhabit the land, and those with integrity will remain in it, but the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the treacherous will be rooted out of it. (Proverbs 2:1-22)

The Spirit-led believer has submitted to God’s cleansing fires which results in the Lord giving them an insatiable hunger and thirst for the truth. The Spirit-led believer no longer tolerates old stale doctrines of men. Why? The Holy Spirit, empowering their Discerning hearts, will constantly convict them of any false way in them. Since they are Spirit-led, their conscience is fully participating in this. The conscience uses God’s value system to give the believer little or no peace with false doctrines. Since this believer knows they must keep their conscience clear, he or she will respond by seeking God’s face, asking for wisdom and direction. This believer will shun all activities that their conscience warns them about. With a clear conscience and a heart trained to hear the conviction of the Holy Spirit this believer would be able to discern the errors of bad theology (false doctrines).

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:1-16)

False doctrines can appear to be very comfortable and glorious. Their very popularity is the result of their appeal to the Soul-led. They always cater to the self-focused. They are not of God and He will not tolerate His disciples being part of them for long. What should we do when it becomes apparent we are being seduced, or have been seduced, by false doctrine? When we find ourselves in this position, it is as if we have been cast adrift in a small boat that has no oars or motor. The truth is calling us to get out of the boat, by faith, and then walk back to where our Lord is. It means stepping out of the apparent safety of the boat, which is nothing more than a comfortable tolerance of false doctrine, then walking on water to where our Lord wants us to go. When we find ourselves in this boat, there are only two choices. We either stay in the boat, wallowing in our guilt and false doctrines, or we respond to our Lord’s calling to come as we step out of boat and walk to Him. To make this sort of step of faith our Discerning hearts must be up and fully clear. We must keep our eyes on Christ the whole time. We must dig deep as He guides us into the truth. When the truth comes, we must take the next great step of faith as we abandon our false doctrines and grasp the ones He shows us. Our Discerning hearts must be fully functioning the whole time because we must be able to tell the false from the true, the good from the evil so we will obey our Lord by His Grace.

As I started trying to find my doctrinal center, I relied heavily on my Discerning heart. That means I dug for the truth and asked God to show me which was true and which was false. I asked many questions. When I compared opposing doctrines, I prayed and obeyed. The result was a very warm and safe place to be. Why? There was no longer any condemnation coming from my conscience. The Holy Spirit was not convicting me. My Discerning heart had found the doctrines the Lord wanted me to grasp and live by. Without research, prayer and my willingness to obey I would never have made these steps down this path of maturity. God was the catalyst for it all. He gave me the hunger and thirst for the truth. He guided me into the proper research, drew me into prayer, and gave me the grace to obey. My part was simply to come by stepping out on faith.

I am certain this process is not complete. However, I have committed myself to finding where the Lord wills for me to be at all times in all circumstances. I am completely submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. That means my doctrines are His. When He reveals godly truths to me through His wisdom, I grasp them and hold them close. I will never let go. When He reveals a false doctrine that I have held, I drop it like a hot potato then pursue the truth with all the passion He gives me. My Discerning heart is at the center of this entire process.

Some people are very uncomfortable when it comes to discussions about doctrine. They do not want to go there at all. Instead, they want to simply go to church and feel better about themselves. Sorry, but that is what the Soul-led do. If we make the commitment to be Spirit-led it is inevitable God will cleanse us to the point where we must take on the wisdom and understanding to know what we believe and live by. It is important we understand at least the basics of what we believe so we can share our faith with others. We do not have to be theologians to witness to the lost. All who are in Christ can and should witness at every opportunity.

The closer we get to the Lord as we become Spirit-led, the more He will seek to use us in deeper and deeper situations as our maturity level allows. That means we must learn what we really believe. Our Discerning hearts need this wisdom and knowledge to enable our Kingdom Walk all for His glory. Soli Deo Gloria!

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™ Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

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10 thoughts on “The Pilgrim’s Heart Part 13 – The Discerning Heart

  1. Mike states, “False doctrines will either teach false views of God or cause believers to be satisfied with being Soul-led. Proper doctrine teaches the right view of God.”

    Yes it all begins with the correct view of God. The lies that many believe cause us to have a “god” in their mind that in no way favors the God of the Bible. In order for us to have a discerning mind as you stated Mike, we must be immersed in the truth of the Word.

    Mike states, “I am convinced most believers are Soul-led. That means they are not saturating their lives with Jesus. They are not fasting from the world and feasting on God. Instead, they are fasting from God and feasting on the world.”

    This is an accurate diagnosis of the many that sit in the church pews yet have no godliness in their lives. We, the remnant, must be committed to grounding ourselves and our children, and families in the word, preparing to be ready in season and out of season to give an answer for the Hope that lies with end. When we do that we can be assured that God will used the Word to transform our hearts and this by nature produces discernment. The Word is truly amazing!

    Thank you Mike for reminding us of another mark of a true believer!

  2. The sad part of this is if we go by these attributes of a genuine believer and compare them with most professing believers it get’s scary. I read an article just the other day where many theologians believe that the number of genuine believers within those professing to be believers is about 1% of the total. Scary indeed! That is why need to examine ourseleves daily that we are in the faith and preach the gospel to ourselves as much as possible.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  3. Wow. Your Scriptural presentations are unassailable. I have often wondered, who do the Rick Warrens of this world say that II Tim. 4 refers to? How sad that the church has not spent it’s time laboriously attempting to remain as Scriptural pure as possible, but has instead spent it’s time trying to make it as palatable as possible to the carnal mind and the anti-christ culture. We’ve done a good job of it. We owe Christ so much more than we have given Him! Our Savior pulled no punches and softened none of the unpleasant parts of the Roman crucifixion for us, but we have now considered His sacrifice somewhat unsophisticated and distasteful in this “upbeat” ecclesiastical climate. Forgive us, Lord, You deserve so much more than the strategic scraps from the carnal and hedonistic minds of religious men in this day. You desrve everything!

  4. Thanks Rick. That passage tells us to rebuke when called for. The R.W. bunch tell us that that only drives people away. They say we are self-righteous and legalistic when we do that. I think I would rather not have to stand before my savior and give an account of why I thought it was more important to not offend people about their sin than to offend Him by not doing so.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  5. I read the same article….I guess few really means…few.

    Mat 22:14 “For many are called, but few are chosen.”

    And just to justify my self….he he…I do know the difference in “end” and “in.” Sorry about the typo.

  6. Jesus’ own words! How dare we try to say that decisional regeneration is valid! No one comes to Jesus unless the Father gives them to the Son. The way is narrow and hard and FEW find it. I cannot believe that a simple Uhuh during an easy believism “gospel” presentation is the same as entering by the narrow gate that few find. I have been told that what I just said was legalism. My insistence that the full gospel be presented starting with God’s holiness and righteousness and wrath against sin is seen by these people as being judgmental and self-righteous. Huh? How is that me being self-righteous when all I’m doing is telling the truth from God’s Word?

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  7. People do not like the truth….in the words of Col. Nathan Jesup (A Few Good Men) “You can’t handle the truth.”

    We want to be told how happy we can be. We want to hear how God is going to meet our needs and give us what we want. Don’t you dare tell me I deserve Hell. Don’t you dare tell me that God is Holy, and that I cannot enter into His presence as I am. And certainly you are not narrow enough to tell me that Jesus is the ONLY way to God???

    Tickle my ears….and bless me….then we will be friends! HA!

    Thank you for standing on the truth here on this site Mike. We can not handle it…but we DESPERATELY need it!!!

  8. Thank you bruisedreed for doing the same. So many professing Christians scoff at Isaiah’s throneroom experience. They seem to think that they can walk right up to God and demand happiness or whatever because they are something special. Oh man! I would be flat on my face weeping and crying for mercy if I was there.

    It must start with that realization of our offense against His holiness and righteousness. Without it we a bunch of spoiled children who think we have been wronged by some sanctifying fire.

    Are we ready to stand before the Lord and give an account?

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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