Christian Maturity and How it Relates to Discernment

by Mike Ratliff

Not that I have already received or have been completed, I press on that, if possible, to apprehend it because Christ Jesus has apprehended me. (a personal translation of Philippians 3:12)

There is no small ruckus going on right now online within the “discernment” ministries because of Dan Kimball’s reaction to the interview done with him by our brother Chris Rosebrough followed up by many comments by other members of the CRN team. Kimball has suggested that those of us who minister in these areas to turn our discernment inward for a change. His charge is, of course, that he does not consider what we do of any value to the Kingdom of God. Of course, I have seen some who claim to do what we do who really shouldn’t and in that I agree with him, but then again, that is no different than those apostates whom we expose almost daily by comparing what they do, say, write, preach, and teach against the only standard that counts, the Word of God. You see, that is why not everyone should attempt to do this. I have seen so many with good intentions get gobbled up as soon as they have gone head to head with some determined apostate who knew how to manipulate the English language and intimidate people. Sigh… In any case, I digress… Let’s look at a short passage from the book of Philippians not usually associated with “discernment,” but more with growing in Christian maturity. 

I placed my own translation from the Greek text of Philippians 3:12 at the top of this post. Please carefully read it. Here is the Greek, “Οὐχ ὅτι ἤδη ἔλαβον ἢ ἤδη τετελείωμαι, διώκω δὲ εἰ καὶ καταλάβω, ἐφ᾿ ᾧ καὶ κατελήμφθην ὑπὸ τοῦ Χριστοῦ ᾿Ιησοῦ.” Biblical scholars consider this a very challenging verse. Here is a word-for-word translation, “Not that already I received or already I have been completed, I pursue but if also I might apprehend on which also I was apprehended by Christ Jesus.” Here is the same passage from the ESV, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” What is Paul talking about?

I have been a Christian since 1986, but I grew up going to church and before God saved me I was faithful attending church nearly every Sunday so I have been around Christian evangelicals all my life. What I am about to say comes from my observations and experiences both before and after God saved me. Christians can easily become satisfied and content with the spiritual level they have attained. Before God saved me, I didn’t notice anyone around me that had any particular spiritual gifts or abilities that they exhibited that I really wanted other than that thing about understanding God’s Word and praying. Those things eluded me. Then God intervened. Everything changed. I found that I could not get enough of God’s Word. I wanted to read it, devour it. I attended every Bible study I could. I took classes on how to study it. I learned how to conjugate Greek verbs, et cetera. That has never changed. I have been teaching myself Koine Greek for nearly 12 years with a lot of online help from some very good Greek Scholars. In any case, that part of my Christian walk has never diminished

However, on April 19, 1995 God allowed me to be a survivor of the Oklahoma City Federal Center bombing. I was a block south of the Federal complex when the bomb went off. I had been in the Federal Employees Credit Union just the day before. I knew some of those in the V.A. office. I knew some in the Social Security office. Well, after the explosion I and one of my coworkers made our way up to what was left of the front of the Federal Building. Cars were still exploding. People were laying in the street covered in blood. Smoke was everywhere. Other than the approaching sirens, there was…silence…I had nightmares about that for months. I descended into a pit of depression and anger that lasted from that day until August 2004 when God drew me out of it for healing and I have never been the same. I look back on that period as a very dry spiritual time for me. Oh, I went to church. I taught classes. I prayed. I read my Bible. I was angry all the time. I wanted to get my hands around the throat of Timothy McVie and wring his neck.. You see, that anger was consuming me.

Did I grow spiritually during that time? I think not, but I was being prepared for what God did in 2004 to the present. There are tentacles of anger that try to pull me back to the pit sometimes. I fight depression sometimes. However, God is good. When I pull back from whatever it is that is driving me that way and seek God and His way, well, that stuff just means nothing anymore. So, what am I saying? Have I apprehended the spiritual maturity Paul was talking about in Philippians 3:12? Not hardly, but I do know that I have been apprehended by Christ Jesus and I also know that He has given me this ministry of discernment and teaching. Neither of those things come cheap.

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. (Philippians 3:13-16 ESV)

Here is v13 from the Greek, “ἀδελφοί, ἐγὼ ἐμαυτὸν οὔπω λογίζομαι κατειληφέναι· ἕν δέ, τὰ μὲν ὀπίσω ἐπιλανθανόμενος τοῖς δὲ ἔμπροσθεν ἐπεκτεινόμενος.” Here is my personal translation, “Brothers, I myself not consider to have apprehended; but forgetting the past and stretching forward to what lies ahead.” This verse sets up what the mature Christian does do instead of focusing on the past, dwelling on failures, letting life’s unfairness and tragedies overwhelm him or her as the immature or the not so mature Christian can find themselves doing…”I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way” This is what the mature, or maturing Christian does do. What is this pressing on toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus? Obviously it is the way the mature Christian thinks! What is it?

The goal is, of course, Christlikeness here and now, but the prize is Christlikeness in Heaven. The upward call of God is the time when God calls each believer to heaven and into His presence which will be the moment of receiving the prize which has been an unattainable goal in this life. Maturing Christians are to approach this life with this attitude. What will be the result? They will keep walking in progressive sanctification by the same principles that have brought them to their current spiritual growth.

What has this to do with discernment? First, what is it? Go here for a very good definition. Who can exercise it properly? Certainly not Christians who are not walking according to the example Paul gave us here for the maturing Christian. Those who attempt to do so may be gifted by God in certain areas that are useful in the battle for the Truth, but eventually they will become compromised and will become casualties and, sadly, we have seen this quite often. Our enemy hates the truth, but he can only attack us as God allows, but if we are not walking as maturing Christians then we become liabilities in the Truth War and so our Lord may allow the enemy to take us out or nullify us. On the other hand, even if we are doing it all just as Paul directs, we will never perfectly “apprehend” it all here in this life and God will allow us to be attacked and cause us to struggle and depend on Him alone in all parts of our lives because that is the nature of the Spirit filled walk.

All of that to say, God gives discernment to His servants in order for them to serve the Body of Christ to warn them of apostate teachers and heretics. They warn the sheep of wolves trying to attack the flock. They teach and preach the truth. They help the sheep learn to discern for themselves how to tell what is Biblical from what is not. They point to certain professing “Christian leaders” who are teaching or preaching things that are unbiblical and tell the Body of Christ to run from them. The real sheep hears these warnings and do run because that very voice is coming from the Lord Himself. Real discernment is not an attack to cause disunity. It is a ministry to remove pretenders from the flock who are causing harm to it, which is, of course, the real crime of causing disunity. We simply warn and tell the truth. It is God who opens hearts and speaks the truth to them.

Soli Deo Gloria!

18 thoughts on “Christian Maturity and How it Relates to Discernment

  1. Mike,

    I can’t thank you enough for this post, and for your testimony! I wasn’t aware that you had been through the tragedy of the OKC bombing. Praise God for what He has done in your life! God lead me to your site about 2 years ago through a link from the old Slice of Laodicea blog. My church was falling apart, and I was searching for answers. Through your ministry, along with those of Ingrid S., Ken S., and others, l have been learning about how the warnings in God’s Word about apostacy are coming to pass here and now. I believe that God has given me just enough discernment to recognize false teaching. I’m struggling in my Christian walk right now. I battle chronic pain and limited mobility, but I want to press on to that maturity in Christ that Phil. 3 speaks of. There are so many people I know who are caught up in Seeker Sensitive/Purpose Driven “churches”. I want to warn them about what is happening. I pray that the LORD will use me as I seek Him.

  2. You are welcome Joanne. I believe God took me through that ugliness to prepare me for what He has me doing now. That is the same for you. The complacent “Christian” is the “deceived” Christian. When I saw the parallels between Maturity and Discernment I had to post this. Let us pray for God’s people to see it as well. Oh that the Church would wake up and throw out the pretenders to walk in repentance in the power of the Holy Spirit!

  3. Hi Mike!

    You wrote: “His charge is, of course, that he does not consider what we do of any value to the Kingdom of God.”

    Can you point to where I said that?

    I made several mentions that discernment ministries are needed in my blog post and in my comments. I just believe that some have stretched their discernment to where it just isn’t accurate or credible and I am suggesting that introspection happens since your sole focus is discerning others, perhaps you need to discern each other more to see if what you are reporting on is actually based in fact or in hyper-speculation or in guilt-by-association etc.

    But no where did I say ” that he does not consider what we do of any value to the Kingdom of God.” I am suggesting that you (not you specifically but “you” as in discernment ministries) do a clean up of who is accurately reporting things and who isn’t. Since you are the ones discerning others, who better a group to then use the same level of intensity on each other. But please don’t inaccurately report that I have said all discernment web sites are of no value. I did not say that and even mentioned some I find helpful and turn to.

    Here’s the interview I did with Chris Rosebrough: http://tinyurl.com/23temnx

    and here’s a blog post I wrote about this:
    http://tinyurl.com/2csk72m

    Thank you Mike!

  4. I loved this quote “Real discernment is not an attack to cause disunity.” Great!
    So many times those who truly have discernment, (I call it true love) and warn others with tears are labeled as decisive, trying to sow discord.
    The truly discerning/mature saint will find more satisfaction in obeying the voice of their Shepherd than trying to please the wolf dressed up like a sheep! Again, this is a very lonely and painful way to live if you are looking from an earthly viewpoint, but the rewards to your soul are like manna supplied every day, always just enough grace for the day!
    Praise Jesus, that is all I can ask, grace for everyday!
    Looking Heavenward even today!!

  5. Amen, Mike. This is Jesus’ prayer in John 17: Unity. But what is often overlooked is this – it is unity IN THE TRUTH. Those of us who cling to the truth, by His grace, are unified. Why? Because we believe the truth, and by His grace, as you wrote we know it when we hear it. We get onboard with others who are like-minded because the Spirit of Truth Who indwells us, leads us toward that truth. He enables us to recognize it as truth and we embrace it because He does. We are thankful for those whom God has gifted with discernment, and we consider them critical to the health of the true Body of Christ. The scriptures are full of warnings and so many go heedless of the warnings. But those who are indwelt by the Spirit of truth listen and love the truth. Thank you and keep persevering because there are those who do love and seek the Truth as it is in Christ.

  6. Hi Dan,

    I was referring to this quote, “I believe so much of the poorly done discerning would be cleaned up if discernment web sites held each other accountable and screened each other and checked the accuracy of what they report as they do with those they discern in the church world.” As you noticed in my article I did not refute the fact that many who run “discernment web sites” do so from wrong motives and from not Christian Maturity and that not being led by God to do so. Your quote seems to me to be a charge to “back off” and “discern yourself instead of us type of of thing.” Notice I did not quote you directly nor did I claim to.

    In any case, this ministry is not in any way geared to falsely accusing anyone of anything but going to the Word of God and comparing what is done and said by anyone in ministry who is opposed to Orthodoxy in any way with what it says. However, most of time I simply teach the Word and all of that takes care of itself for that is the nature of God’s Word. Perhaps you should try that.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  7. Dan,

    “I just believe that some have stretched their discernment to where it just isn’t accurate or credible…”

    And just who are these “some”? Care to enlighten us Dan as to who these are.

  8. Dan, I listened to your interview and you seem very concerned that Christians are not buying into your ministry. If you don’t want Discernment Ministries to pick on you, then why not stop adding to the gospel?
    What about putting a salt crystal on a globe and praying that people in that area will be be salt and light is not mystical?
    I used to be mystical…and now I’m not. It makes a very big difference in what becomes more important in our focus. The gospel does not need our mystical “arts and crafts” demonstrations to make it believable. It is the power of the Spirit that makes it believable. Mysticism, and yes…you are very mystical (even though you like to call it missional) does not aid…it obscures. Please be advised…the Word IS the power of the gospel.

  9. “Discernment is not simply a matter of telling the difference between what is right and wrong; rather it is the difference between right and almost right.” by Charles Spurgeon

    @ Dan I agree with Carolyn, especially when she said if you do not want discernment ministries coming after you, then why not stop adding to the gospel……….

    Dan, you said…… I just believe that some have stretched their discernment to where it just isn’t accurate or credible and I am suggesting that introspection happens since your sole focus is discerning others, perhaps you need to discern each other more to see if what you are reporting on is actually based in fact or in hyper-speculation or in guilt-by-association etc.

    I do not see where “these” discernment ministries are discerning “you” or “others” per say ….. I see where they are judging what you and other’s are “teaching” in light of scripture and “who” you are rubbing elbows with, known heretics. If you are not a heretic like you say…..then you should not rub elbows with heretics.
    There are a lot of heretic’s out there. like Benny Hinn for instance. Benny at times does get it right “once in a blue moon” Benny teaches what is “almost right” He teaches just enough truth to hook people in. He distorts the gospel of Jesus Christ and God’s word by adding his own extra-biblical revelations and failed false prophecy’s…..He is a false prophet and a false minister of the gospel.
    Dan, there is a broad way and a narrow way. Which way have you gone and which way are you teaching.
    The broad way is popular and the narrow way is not.
    Thank you Mike R. for letting me post a comment. I would like to challenge Dan to answer the questions that Ken and other’s are asking him. God Bless

  10. I need to clarify this statement just in case it is not read right. Two seperate statements

    Benny at times does get it right “once in a blue moon”

    Benny teaches what is “almost right” He teaches just enough truth to hook people in.

  11. Mike, an excellent post. Thank you. The heart of one with biblical discernment is for the God of Truth and the Word of Truth, to help others know the Truth and avoid the error of the enemy. Its really what agape love is all about, isn’t it? People who think they are discerning, yet do not abide in the Word, but actually go outside of it –”truth in everything” mentality—will be an impediment to the Gospel b/c their loyalty will be divided, as we’ve seen in recent times. In war terms, they commit mutiny against the King of kings and Lord of lords.

  12. The issue of “accuracy in reporting” by discernment ministries is where Dan would like us to focus our attention but I see a much more important issue – lukewarmness. That is where you mix truth with error. God will not tolerate his truth being contaminated by mystical practices no matter how much we coat them with biblical rhetoric.

    Biblical is Biblical and mystical is mystical…oil and water. Where is the repentence from Dan for the “mixture” of his Emergent philosophies and the teachings of his Contemplative buddies that he has endorsed…and “denial” doesn’t count.

    I get that he doesn’t want to be challenged but rather approved. I would not be so concerned with what men think about my teaching as what God thinks. If Dan knew the Word, that is what he would be teaching…not a mixture of Word and missional, mystical. I did not get my “information” from discernment ministries as to his mystical tendencies…I heard it from his own mouth.

  13. What should we do about seduction? Run from it or outsmart it?

    How are “good, biblical sound” men/women being seduced by these characters who are endorsing the proponents of New Age? How are they mixing with them? Endorsing them, sitting on the same platforms, engaging with them?

    Seducing spirits and doctrines of demons. Shall we draw near those who distort and corrupt the Word and try to “counsel” them or should we “be separate”. I think it is a dangerous path to try and win over someone like this who is mixing orthodoxy with error by dialoguing with them. Why not just rebuke them?

    To those who are in the Word, there is no confusion. But seducing spirits bring confusion. Come out of her, my people.
    We are no match for the intelligence of demons. Be warned…seducing spirits and doctrines of demons…be warned! We are not to be wise in our own eyes!

    se·duce   
    1. to lead astray, as from duty, rectitude, or the like; corrupt.
    2. to lead or draw away, as from principles, faith, or allegiance:
    3. to win over; attract; entice:

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