The Difference Between Judgment and Discernment

What is the difference between being judgmental and being discerning? -a reader

Judging is God’s job. Discerning is ours.

God is the Judge of the world (Rom. 3:6); He has the power and authority to condemn us all. We have every reason, therefore, to “fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt. 10:28). Only God can judge in this capacity because only He is wholly just (Rev. 19:2). Because He is perfect, all-knowing, holy, and all-powerful, He is the only one fully qualified for the job.

The word “judge” is used in the KJV to refer to both condemnation and discernment. The context always dictates which is which. For example, in Luke 6:37 we are told, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged”. This refers to condemnation. In John 7:24 we are told, “Judge righteous judgment”. This refers to discernment. We are to discern, but never to condemn. The danger is that if we condemn someone to hell, we have elevated ourselves to a position that only God can hold. This is where pseudo-Christian institutions like the Catholic church err greatly by exercising its self-given right to excommunicate members if they stray, claiming by its own authority that high-ranking members of the church can pronounce someone to be separate from God forever. Not only does the Bible forbid this, but it warns that those who attempt to do so are condemning themselves (Lk. 6:37, Rom. 2:1-2).

Our job – while on this earth in this fallen condition – is to make sure that we obey God as His followers and servants, not as His equals. By following Him, we prove that we are under His authority, not authorities unto ourselves (Jas 4:11). We will judge with Him and be glorified with Him only when our bodies are regenerated in heaven (Mt. 19:28).

Discernment is the ability to judge right from wrong (Heb. 5:14). We need discernment in order to obey God. Having discernment protects us against the evils and dangers of this world. Without it, we cannot tell the difference between what is godly and what is satanic, what is true and what is false, what is wise and what is foolish. Discernment requires us to logically, critically, and truthfully examine the facts and circumstances of any given situation in order to conclude on its merit, or lack thereof, based on God’s Word.

How do we learn to be discerning? The Bible teaches us that there are three ways. One, we can judge justly by knowing what God’s will is and seeking it first in all things. We know His will by meditating on (dedicating ourselves to learning) His Word (Jn. 5:30). Two, we must be unencumbered by the lusts of our flesh. We do this by “patient continuance in well doing” (Rom. 2:7), which is the practise and experience of walking in the Spirit of God (Gal. 5:16). Three, we must be full of age and experience in godliness, as those who “by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:14).

Those who have these three things are called “spiritually mature”. They have graduated from milk-drinking to meat-eating. They are therefore both entitled and commanded to “teach”, “restore”, “correct”, and even “rebuke with all authority” those who need it. Titus 2 women fall under this category and are therefore instructed to “teach the young women” (Tit. 2:4).

The spiritually mature among us who correct us in the ways of God are doing so in His Name for our good (1 Cor. 11:32, Gal. 6:1, 2 Tim. 2:25). Receiving instruction from them helps us to examine the motives of our own hearts so that we can confess our sin before God, seek His restoration, and receive His forgiveness (1 Jn. 1:9). Receiving instruction directly from God’s Word is even better. It convicts us and exposes the sin in our hearts (Heb. 4:12) and leads us in “the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:24). It makes us wise in those things that are from above (Jas. 3:17).

Be warned, not all women who take on the role of teacher in our lives are spiritual. Unfortunately, some ignorantly believe that they are wise on account of their age and/or worldly experience. Worldly wisdom may come through years of life lived, but godly wisdom comes from fearing the Lord and doing His will. Please be ever so careful who you choose to learn from. Instruction that enables bad habits by stroking your ego or itching your ears does not come from God.

Thanks for reading.


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