By R.E. Olsen

Discernment is not so much telling right from wrong, but telling right from almost right.

If I listened to a tenor singing, a very good tenor, and later listened to another tenor that critics call the greatest voice of our time, I would not be able to tell the difference. I lack discernment. To develop the ability to distinguish between them takes work. Things like: listening to a variety of performers; reading what critically astute listeners say about the performances; trying to understand what they hear. Before doing all this, before even beginning the work, I would have to care. Alas, I am satisfied to listen to the songs and then move on.

If you are interested in – if you care about – not sinning, then it will take discernment. Being a perfect person is straightforward, well defined and easy; nevertheless, no one has ever done it except Jesus.

There are many reasons for this: sin is fun, we like it; we are surrounded by sinning people, a cursed town, state, country and world. People suck up sin like candy. A tiny example is how we study the lives of movie actors, athletic performers, and politicians to get information on the way they break marriage vows, abuse drugs, and murder.

It is easy to get off the path when it is dark and foggy; we are uncertain if it is the right road and we are not even sure that we want to get where it goes. At its core, sin is rebellion against God. Jesus said in Matthew 7:14, “straight is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”

Discernment is the ability to comprehend that which is obscure, by calling on the Holy Spirit to lead or give direction.

In John 14:6, Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The Holy Spirit is your Guide, “a shield to those who walk with integrity, to guard the paths of justice and protect the way of His saints. Then you will discern righteousness and justice and equity—every good path” (Proverbs 2).

Although the first instinct may be to leave the culture and isolate yourself, you must not. The Son of God asked His Father to keep us in the world and to keep us unspotted. Matthew 10: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”

So we are here and He has some work for us. What does God do to keep us unspotted? In John 7, Jesus commands us to “judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” He wants us to become wiser, more discerning of righteousness.

How can we hope to become more wise?

He gave us some instructions, and a Helper.

Proverbs 9:10 – “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.”

Psalm 111 – “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever.”

Job 28 – “And unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the LORD, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.”

Consider the Third Commandment in the Bible:

“Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain…” (Exodus 20:7).

Most people today are more careful not to use racial slurs than to not take the name of the God that made them and use it as part of a filthy oath. This is because our culture sees the first one as unacceptable, and taking the name of the Lord in vain as not so unacceptable.

Now for the rest of the Commandment:

for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain” (misuses his name).

If you believe these words, it is easy to refrain from using God’s name in an unworthy manner. Your self-interest will guide you.

The Bible is pretty clear that if we break ANY of God’s Laws (The Ten Commandments), we are a transgressor of God’s law and commit sin. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one [point], he has become guilty of all” (James 2:8-12).

Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Matthew 10 – “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

If you fear the Lord, it is easy to not use His name in an obviously coarse, irreverent way.

What about in more subtle ways? Is it possible to use His name in vain that is not so obvious?

Studying His word closely will teach discernment.

Consider Job’s three friends. I have always had a liking for these men. They came from their homes and sat outside speechless for a week with their suffering friend. They kept silent until Job finally spoke and said (paraphrased): “I have done nothing to deserve this, and even if I have sinned why does God not pardon, why did He do this to me, He is so powerful I am so small, will He speak to me and tell me why?”

His friends were upset by such talk and tried to reason with Job.

They said God is Just and only punishes bad people; therefore Job must have done something very wicked that is known only to himself and God.

This is not bad reasoning as far as it goes; at least I understand what they are saying. But it is disastrously wrong in God’s eyes.

Job discerned this properly, warning them that they were making excuses for God. If you make excuses for someone, you are secretly inside of yourself condemning their actions. The reason for Job’s disaster was not in Job; it was part of God’s overall plan from before the world was made. Although Job was aware of this, he was broken-hearted and he demanded to know God’s plan.

His friends, by insisting that Job deserved what he got because of his own sin, condemned God. That was not the reason God allowed it to happen. They were putting words in God’s mouth. By invoking His name, they used it in vain.

At first I could not understand this; it took much study and many readings to start to understand why God had condemned Job’s friends.

Ask God for discernment. You will then know better how to apply His Word to your life. Seek Him out. He will not think the worse of you for asking hard questions. Jesus said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.”

Let us put all our trust in God as Job said, “Though He slay me yet I will trust Him.”

God, Creator of the universe, of everything that we see and all that we do not see. Most Holy God, we ask for mercy. We do not understand; we are stubborn, rebellious people. Our stubborn spirit rebels against such total sovereignty as You have. We submit to Jesus, your Son, our only hope and through Him, the Holy Spirit, our only strength and wisdom. Amen.


About the Author: A homeschool dad of three young men, R.E. Olsen takes his role as spiritual head of the household seriously. He also seeks to impart God’s truth to anyone who will listen.

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