What Are the Communicable Attributes of God?

Posted by on Jul 6, 2015 in Featured, The Attributes of God

What Are the Communicable Attributes of God?

Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what the attributes of God are and their importance to the Christian faith.

  • Today Dave opens our series by looking at what the communicable attributes of God are.
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attributes of godTheologians often like to use fancy words to describe biblical teaching and categories. In this series, we’re going to consider the attributes of God. At the start of this series, I thought it would be helpful to lay out in two posts what the communicable and incommunicable attributes of God are. Today we’ll start with the communicable attributes of God. Dr. John Frame helpfully explains these terms for us when he notes:

“Theologians have chosen different approaches to describing the attributes of God. The most common in Presbyterian circles has been the distinction between communicable and incommunicable attributes. The former are attributes that God and man can share in common, the latter attributes that they do not share. But in on sense there are no communicable attribute. Human love at its best is analogues to divine love, but it is not the same thing, for God’s love is original and ours is derivative from his. On the other hand, no attribute of God are entirely incommunicable, for we are his image in a comprehensive sense. Our love, at its best, is the love of God imaged in our own lives. So in presenting the attributes of god, Scripture does not emphasize the contrast between communicable and incommunicable.”[i]

The attributes of God are important to study. They help us sort out what kind of God the God of the Bible is. Our God is independent, immutable, immortal, and eternal. This cannot be said of any creature. That is why most of the attributes of God carry the negative prefix and is why we call them incommunicable attributes—attributes that cannot be shared with us. However, because human beings are created in God’s image, they do share other attributes with God. Where we have attributes similar to God’s, He is always qualitatively different and greater. Therefore, these communicable attributes will often have the “omni” all) prefix attached to them. The communicable attributes of God are wisdom, knowledge, power, holiness, righteousness, justice, jealousy, wrath, goodness, love, and mercy. God’s communicable attributes are those attributes that we have to possess and manifest.

The Scriptures teach that God is holy. The term holy, as it is used in the Bible to describe God, refers to both His nature and His character. Primarily, God’s holiness refers to His greatness and His transcendence, to the fact that He is above and beyond anything in the universe. In that regards, the holiness of God is incommunicable. He alone in His being transcends all created beings. Secondarily, the word holy, as it is applied to God refers to His purity, His absolute moral, and ethical excellence. This is what God has in mind when He commands holiness from His creatures: “Be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44; 1 Peter 1:16).

When we are grafted into Christ, we are renewed inwardly by the Holy Spirit. The third person of the Trinity is called “holy” in part because His primary task in the Trinitarian work of redemption is to apply the work of Christ to us. He is the One who regenerates us and the One who works for our sanctification. The Holy Spirit works in us and through us to bring us into conformity with the image of Christ, that we might fulfill the mandate for holiness that God has imposed upon us.

In our fallen state, we are anything but holy; nevertheless, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit we are being made holy, and we look toward our glorification, when we will be completely sanctified, purified of all sin. In that sense, we are imitators of God. Even in our glorified state, however, we will still be creatures; we will not be divine beings.

Love

When Paul speaks of our responsibility to be imitators of God, he mentions that we are called to manifest love (Eph. 5:2). The Scriptures tell us that God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). The love of God is descriptive of His character; it is one of His moral attributes, and therefore it is a quality that does not belong to God alone but is communicated to His creatures. God is love, and love is of God, and all who love in the sense of the agape of which the Scriptures speak are born of God. God’s love is an attributes that can be imitated, and we are called to do just that.

Goodness

The goodness of God is another moral attribute that we are called to emulate though the Scriptures give a grim description of our ability in this regard. Mark 10:17-18, “And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Jesus was not denying His deity here, but simply asserting the ultimate goodness of God. Elsewhere, the Apostle Paul, quoting the psalmist, says, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). In our fallen condition, we do not imitate or reflect this aspect of God’s character. Yet believers are called to a life of good works, so with the help of the Holy Spirit we can grow in goodness and reflect this aspect of God’s nature.

Justice and Righteousness

There are other communicable attributes of God that we are to imitate. One is justice. When justice is spoken of in biblical categories, it is never as an abstract concept that exists above and beyond God, and to which God Himself is bound to conform. Rather, in the Scriptures, the concept of justice is linked with the idea of righteousness, and it is based on the internal character of God. The fact that God is just means that He always acts according to His righteousness.

Theologians make a distinction between the internal righteousness or the justice of God and the external righteousness or justice of God. When God acts, He always does what is right. In other words, He always does that which is in conformity with justness. In the Bible, justice is distinguished from mercy and grace. If we were to be treated by God according to His justice, we would all perish. That is why, when we stand before God, we plead that He would treat us, according to His mercy and grace.

Justice defines God’s righteousness; He never punishes people more severely than the crimes they have committed deserve, and He never fails to reward those to whom a reward is due. He always operates justly; never does God do anything that is unjust.

There are two universal categories: justice and nonjustice. Everything outside the circle of justice is in the category of nonjustice, but there are different kinds of nonjustice. The mercy of God is outside the circle of justice and is a kind of nonjustice. Also in this category is injustice. Injustice is evil; an act of injustice violates the principles of righteousness. If God were to do something unfair, He would be acting unjustly. Abraham knew the impossibility of that when he said to God in Genesis 18:25, “Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” Because God is a just judge, all His judgments are according to righteousness, so that He never acts in an unjust way; He never commits an injustice.

People get confused, however, when considering this alongside of God’s mercy and grace, because grace is not justice. Grace and mercy are outside the category of justice, but they are not inside the category of injustice. There is nothing wrong with God’s being merciful; there is nothing evil in His being gracious. In fact, in one sense, we have to extend this. Even though justice and mercy are not the same thing, justice is linked to righteousness, and righteousness may at times include mercy and grace. The reason we need to distinguish between them is that justice is necessary to righteousness, but mercy and grace are actions God takes freely. God is never required to be merciful or gracious. The moment we think that God owes us grace or mercy, we are no longer thinking about grace or mercy. Our mind tend to trip there so that we confuse mercy and grace with justice. Justice may be owed, but mercy and grace are always voluntary.

In terms of God’s external righteousness or justice and His internal righteousness or justice, God always does what is right. His actions, His external behavior, always correspond to His internal character. Jesus put it simply when He told His disciples that a corrupt tree cannot produce good fruit; corrupt fruit comes from a corrupt tree, and good fruit comes from a good tree (Matt. 7:17-18). God always acts according to His character, and His character is always righteous. Therefore, everything He does is righteous. There is a distinction between His internal righteousness and His external righteousness between who He is and that He does, though they are connected.

The same is true of us. We are not sinners because we win; we sin because we are sinners. There is something flawed about our inner character. When the Holy Spirit changes us inwardly that change is evidenced in an outward change of behavior. We are called to conform outwardly to the righteousness of God because we have been made as creatures in the image of God, with the capacity for righteousness. We have been made with the capacity to do what is right and to act in a just fashion. Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,[a]
and to walk humbly with your God?” God’s justice and righteousness are communicable attributes that we are called to emulate.

Wisdom

God is seen as not only wise but all-wise, and we are told to act according to wisdom. The body of the Old Testament literature that falls between the Historical Books and the Prophets is called the Wisdom Literature, and it includes Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon.

Proverbs tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). For the Jew, the very essence of biblical wisdom was found in godly living, not in clever knowledge. In fact, the Old Testament makes a distinction between knowledge and wisdom. We are told to get knowledge, but above all we are told to get wisdom. The purpose of gaining knowledge is to become wise in the sense of knowing how to live in a way that is pleasing to God. God Himself never makes foolish decisions or behaves in a foolish manner. There is no foolishness in His character or activity. We, on the other hand, are filled with foolishness. Yet wisdom is a communicable attribute, and God Himself is the fountainhead and source of all wisdom. If we lack wisdom, we are called to pray God that in His wisdom, He would illuminate our thinking (James 1:5). He gives us His Word that we might be wise.

[i] John Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg, New Jersey, 2013), 232.

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Weekly Roundup 6/30/2015-7/4/2015

Posted by on Jul 5, 2015 in Featured, Resources

Weekly Roundup 6/30/2015-7/4/2015

weekly roundupThis is our weekly roundup of posts for 6/30/2015-7/4/2015. If you have any feedback on how we can serve you our readers better, I would appreciate it.  Thank you for reading and allowing us to minister to you throughout this past week through these posts.

Monday 6/29/2015-

The role of discernment in spiritual growth by Dave Jenkins http://servantsofgrace.org/the-role-of-discernment-in-spiritual-growth/

China’s Reforming Churches reviewed by Jonathan Tomes http://servantsofgrace.org/chinas-reforming-churches-ed-bruce-baugus/

A Balanced Study of the God-Man by David Dunham http://servantsofgrace.org/a-balanced-study-of-the-god-man/

Tuesday 6/30/2015-

Developing a Doctrinal Framework for discernment by Dave Jenkins http://servantsofgrace.org/developing-a-doctrinal-framework-for-discernment/

Arianism: Early Church Heresy and the Doctrine of Christ by Brian Cosby http://servantsofgrace.org/arianism-early-church-heresy-and-the-doctrine-of-christ/

The World and the Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament reviewed by Mike Boling http://servantsofgrace.org/the-world-and-the-word-an-introduction-to-the-old-testament/

Wed 7/1/2015-

Developing a personal plan for discernment by Dave Jenkins http://servantsofgrace.org/developing-a-personal-plan-for-discernment/

Counter Culture by David Platt reviewed by Mike Boling http://servantsofgrace.org/counter-culture-2/

The Human Growth of Jesus by Nick Batzig http://servantsofgrace.org/the-human-growth-of-jesus/

Thursday 7/2/2015-

The New Man Becoming A Man After God’s Heart reviewed by Dave Jenkins http://servantsofgrace.org/the-new-man-becoming-a-man-after-gods-heart/

Assurance through Union by Nate Palmer http://servantsofgrace.org/assurance-through-union/

Friday 7/3/2015

Inside the Nye Ham Debate: Revealing Truths from the Worldview Clash of the Century reviewed by Mike Boling http://servantsofgrace.org/inside-the-nye-ham-debate-revealing-truths-from-the-worldview-clash-of-the-century/

Deity of Christ Series Recap http://servantsofgrace.org/deity-of-christ-series-recap/

 

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Deity of Christ Series Recap

Posted by on Jul 3, 2015 in Deity of Christ, Featured

Deity of Christ Series Recap

the-deity-of-ChristOver the month of June, we have posted many articles here at Servants of Grace as part of a series on the Deity of Christ. The purpose of this series is to help Christians think through what the deity of Christ and it’s importance to the Christian faith.

This series has endeavored to help you our readers think through the crucial doctrine of Deity of Christ that is under attack from cults. To that end, the contributors have endeavored to help you understand what Scripture and church history teaches about the deity of Christ in order to contend for the Christian faith.

I hope this series has encouraged you, exalted in King Jesus, and has helped you grow in the grace of God.

Here are the articles in order:

1) Jesus the Divine Word by Dave Jenkins

2) Seeing But Not Believing by Dave Jenkins

3) The Revelation of the Father and the Son by Nick Batzig

4) Jesus, the True Light of the World by Dave Jenkins

5)  The Strongest Evidence for the Deity of the Son by Nick Batzig

6) Killing Arianism With a Cross: Why Christ’s Deity Matters by Zach Barnhart

7) Why Did God Come as a Man? Part 1 by Dave Jenkins

8) Jesus’ Growth in Wisdom and Knowledge by Craig Hurst

9) Why Did God Come As a Man? Part 2 by Dave Jenkins

10)  Why Did God Come As a Man Final by Dave Jenkins

11)  Responding to the Claims of Deity by Jesus by Dave Jenkins

12) Four Important Implications to Jesus’ Claim to be One with God by Dave Jenkins

13)   The Hypostatic Union: Its Construct and Importance for the Believer by Mike Boling
14) Jesus the Resurrection Life by Dave Jenkins

15)  The Incarnation and High Priestly Ministry of Jesus by Dave Jenkins

16) A Balanced Study of the God-Man by David Dunham

17) Arianism: Early Church Heresy and the Doctrine of Christ by Brian Cosby

18) The Human Growth of Jesus by Nick Batzig

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The New Man Becoming A Man After God’s Heart

Posted by on Jul 2, 2015 in Christian Living, Featured

The New Man Becoming A Man After God’s Heart

41e7Pm0UMpL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Biblical manhood in our culture is under assault today on a variety of fronts. On one hand, men today are taught to have strong sculpted bodies so that women can drool over them. Movies portray men of strength as those who will get the girl of their dreams and overcome all obstacles they face. Manhood is something many people are greatly confused about in our culture. This is why I was excited and greatly encouraged by the recent book The New Man Becoming A Man After God’s Heart by Dan Doriani.

As part of my ministry as a lay leader at my local church, I minister to men. I lead the men’s Bible, help provide leadership and vision to the men’s ministry, and often engage in counseling men at our church. The more I do this the more I’m convinced that we have a real crisis on our hands in relation to biblical manhood in the local church. Men need to understand who they are in Christ so they can lead their families. This is what this book does so well. In thirteen chapters, Dorinai walks men through every topic that they would want to know about – from being a man after God’s own heart, to attacks on manhood in our culture, marriage, love, fighting against pornography, friendship, work, leadership, wealth, taking care of one’s self, play, and more.

The New Man is an excellent contribution to the ongoing conversation going on about biblical manhood. This book speaks the truth in love but does so without pulling punches. Men will appreciate the refreshing approach of the author as he speaks honestly to men about issues related to manhood. Given that fact that I write often on the topic of purity I was happy to see the author address the topic of pornography and am pleased with how he handled and discussed that particular issue.

Men today need frank conversation about what biblical manhood is. As I’ve noted already, biblical manhood is under assault in our culture. We need books like The New Man that focus not only on principles for how we should live but ground those principles in the grace of God. This is not your typical manhood book with five things to improve your marriage. This book gets to the heart of manhood by helping us to see how we sin as men and then brings in the cure of the gospel to issues related to manhood. While men today do need principles for how they are to live, along with understanding how to implement their faith into everyday life,, what they need more than that is to see their sin and to behold the Savior who died in their place for there sin so they would put their sin to death. As you read this book you’ll be confronted with where you need to grow in your own walk with God, in your own approach with your wife, how you view work, and more.  As men, we need to be confronted with the truth so that we can see ourselves rightly.

This book challenges men where they are. It will challenge your apathy by calling you to abandon it for an all-sufficient Christ. Biblical manhood requires courage—courage that is fueled by the gospel of Jesus Christ. The New Man is a book grounded in the gospel that calls for gospel-transformation in all of life for the purpose of biblical manhood. I highly recommend this book for every man and believe it will be a blessing to you and help you to understand what biblical manhood is all about.

I received this book for free from P&R Publishing for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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Developing a Personal Plan for Discernment

Posted by on Jul 1, 2015 in Featured, The Gospel and the Christian Life

Developing a Personal Plan for Discernment

bible-199x3001This post ends the series on discernment. The first post on discernment is here. The second article is here.

Today, we conclude this series on discernment by developing a plan for discernment. The importance of personal discernment cannot be overstated because those who are unable to distinguish right from wrong will likely fall into serious error. Christians need to realize that this error comes in many forms, and it often looks good at first glance- that’s why it’s called deception. Yet, God has given His children all that they need to “test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess. 5:21-22). Thus we can be confident that those who learn to think biblically will be adequately equipped to “turn away from the snares of death” (Prov 14:27). By asking the question, “How can we do this?”- and looking to God’s Word for the answer- this post will help us spot, and reject false teaching.

By God’s grace, Christians have a standard to test the authenticity of any incoming religious message. That’s why even when we are bombarded with doctrinal frauds and spiritual knockoffs, we need not lose hope. God has not left us defenseless. By arming us with His Word, He has given us everything we need for life and godliness” (2nd Peter 1:3).

Believers’ reliance upon Scripture becomes more and more crucial everyday, as new errors are introduced into the church and as old errors continue to resurface. Whether it’s new ways to evangelize or new ways to fill the auditorium, these innovative trends always seem to provide the perfect solution for the church’s present needs. These new solutions are primarily based on secular wisdom and driven by whatever works, and this does not solve anything. By suggesting that the “old and original” methods of the New Testament are no longer good enough for today, these theological trends are just worldly philosophies dressed up in religious garb.

Theological traditions (sometimes centuries old) also vie for our attention. Many traditions are good, but some of them are not. And they have been established for almost every aspect of Christian thought, from methods of church government to philosophies of Bible interpretation. Unlike their “new and improved” counterparts, these historic systems appeal to their distinguished heritage for added credibility. Nonetheless, when these theological legacies begin to replace the clear teaching of Scripture, the results are disastrous.

How can believers discern between trends, traditions and the truth? The answer to this question begins with the Scriptures. God has given us His Word; so that we can evaluate every spiritual message we receive, discriminating between what is right and what is wrong. In 2nd Timothy 3:16-17, the apostle Paul said, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

Do you want to be equipped for every good work? Do you want to be able to teach truth and correct error? If so, you must become a student of the Scriptures- trusting that His Word is a sufficient guide for any problem you encounter. The maze of modern religious thought is no match for the Sword of the Spirit which is able even to “discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

How can Christians, begin to apply biblical discernment to their daily lives? In the previous blog posts, you’ve seen several examples of poor theology and the confusion it can cause. How can you prepare yourself for the battle? How can you make sure you are guarding the truth of God’s Word, so that you will be able to faithfully pass it on to the next generation? Scripture outlines the plan for us to follow.

Step one is to desire. Proverbs 2:3-6, “If you call out for insight and raise your voice or 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.”

If we have no desire to be discerning, we won’t be discerning. If we are driven by a yearning to be happy, healthy, affluent, prosperous, comfortable, and self-satisfied, we will never be discerning people. If our feelings determine what we believe, we cannot be discerning. If we subjugate our minds to some earthly ecclesiastical authority and blindly believe what we are told, we undermine discernment. Unless we are willing to examine all things carefully, we cannot hope to have any defense against reckless faith.

The desire for discernment is a desire born out of humility. It is a humility that acknowledges our own potential for self-deception (“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick: who can understand it?”- Jer 17:9). It is a humility that distrusts personal feelings and casts scorn on self-sufficiency (“on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weakness,” (2 Cor 12:5). It is a humility that turns to the Word of god as the final arbiter of all things (“examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things are so,” Acts 17:11).

No one has a monopoly on truth. My heart is as susceptible to self-deception as anyone’s. My feelings are as undependable as everyone else’s. I am not immune to Satan’s deception. This is true for all believers. Our only defense against false teaching and doctrine is to be discerning, to distrust our own emotions, to hold our own senses suspect, to examine all things, to test every truth- claim with the yardstick o Scripture, and to handle the Word of God with great care.

The desire to be discerning, therefore, entails a high view of Scripture linked with a passion for understanding it correctly. God requires this very attitude of every believer (2 Tim 2:15). The heart that loves Jesus will burn with a passion for discernment.

Step two is prayer. Prayer, of course, naturally follows desire; prayer is the expression of the heart’s desire to God.

When Solomon became king after the death of David, the Lord appears to him in a dream and said, “Ask what I shall give you” (1 Kings 3:5). Solomon could have requested anything. He could have asked for material riches, power, victory over his enemies, or whatever he liked. Solomon asked for discernment. “Give your servant, therefore, an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil” (v.9). Scripture says, “It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this” (v.10)

The Lord told Solomon “11And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12behold,(A) I now do according to your word. Behold,(B) I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. 13(C) I give you also what you have not asked,(D) both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. 14And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments,(E) as your father David walked, then(F) I will lengthen your days.” “ (1st Kings 3:11-14).

Notice that God commended Solomon because his request was unselfish: “because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself.” Selfishness is incompatible with true discernment. People who desire to be discerning must be wiling to step outside of themselves.

Modern evangelicism, enamored with psychology and self-esteem, has produced a generation of believers so self-absorbed that they cannot be discerning. People aren’t even interested in discernment. All their interest in spiritual things is focused on self. They are interested only in getting their own felt needs met.

Solomon did not do that. Although he had an opportunity to ask for long life, personal prosperity, health and wealth, he bypassed all of that and asked for discernment instead. Therefore God also gave him riches, honor, and long life for as long as he walked in the ways of the Lord.

James 1:5 promises that God will grant the prayer for discernment: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him.”

Someone will point out that with all his abundance of wisdom Solomon was nevertheless a dismal failure at the end of his life (1 Kings 11:4-11). “His heat was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father” (v.4). Scripture records this sad sediment of the wisest man who ever lived:

“ 1Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, 2from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of ….Israel…., “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. 3He had 700 wives, princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. 4For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. 5For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. 6So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and did not wholly follow the LORD, as David his father had done. 7Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of ..Moab.., and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of ….Jerusalem….. 8And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods.” (1st Kings 11:1-9).

Solomon did not suddenly fail at the end of his life. The seeds of his demise were sown at the beginning. First Kings 3, the same chapter that records Solomon’s request for discernment reveals Solomon “made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh kings of ….Egypt….” (v.1) Verse 3 tells us “Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statues of David his father, only he sacrificed and made offering at the high places.”

From the very beginning his obedience was deficient. Surely with all his wisdom he knew better, but he tolerated compromise and idolatry among the people of God (v.2)- and even participated in some of the idolatry himself.

Discernment is not enough apart from obedience. What good is it to know the truth if we fail to act accordingly? This is why James wrote, “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). Failure to obey is self-delusion; it is not true discernment, no matter how much intellectual knowledge we may possess. Solomon is biblical proof that even true discernment can give way to a destructive self-delusion. Disobedience inevitably undermines discernment. The only way to guard against that is to be doers of the Word and not hearers only.

Fourth in our series of steps toward biblical discernment is this: Emulate those who demonstrate good discernment. Do not follow the leadership of people who are themselves “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph 4:14). Find and follow leaders who display an ability to discern, to analyze and refute error, to teach the Scriptures clearly and accurately. Read from authors who prove themselves careful handlers of divine truth. Listen to preachers who rightly divide the Word of Truth. Expose yourself to the teaching of people who think critically, analytically, and carefully. Learn from people who understand where error has attacked the church historically. Place yourself under the tutelage of those who serve as watchmen of the church.

I do this myself. There are certain authors who have demonstrated skill in handling the Word and whose judgment I have come to trust. When I encounter a difficult issue- whether it a theological problem, an area of controversy, a new teaching I have never heard of before, or whatever- I turn to these authors first to see what they have to say. I wouldn’t seek help from an unreliable source or marginal theologian. I want to know what those who are skilled in exposing error and are gifted in presenting truth have to say.

There have been outstanding men of discernment in every area of church history. Their writings remain invaluable resources for anyone who wishes to cultivate discernment. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and J. Gresham Machen are just two of many in the past century who distinguished themselves in the battle for truth. Charles Spurgeon, Charles Hodge and scores of other writers from the nineteenth century left a rich legacy of written material to help us discern between truth and error. In the century before that, Thomas Boston, Jonathan Edwards, and George Whitefield battled for truth, as did many others like them. The preceding era was the Puritan age- the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which gave us what is undoubtedly the richest catalog of resources for discernment. Before that, the Reformers fought valiantly for the Truth of God’s Word against the traditions of men. Virtually every era before the Reformation also has godly men of discernment who stood against error and defended the truth of God’s Word. Augustine, for example, preceded John Calvin by more than a thousand years, but he fought exactly the same theological battles and proclaimed precisely the same doctrines. Calvin and the Reformers drew heavily on Augustine’s writings as they framed their own arguments against error. In 325 A.D. a contemporary of Augustine, Athanasius, took a decisive stand against Arianism the same error that is perpetuated by modern-day Jehovah Witnesses. His writings stand today as the definitive response to that error.

Much of the written legacy these spiritual giants left is still available today. We can all learn from these men of discernment- and we would do well to emulate the clarity with which they spoke the truth against error. Those who can expose and answer the errors of false teachers are set in the body of Christ to assist us all to think critically and clearly. Learn from them.

As important as human examples are, however, the Spirit of God is ultimately the true Discerner. It is His role to lead us into all truth (John 16:13). First Corinthians 2:11 says, “no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” Paul goes on to write, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.15The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.” (1st Corinthians 2:12-15).

So discernment ultimately depends on the Holy Spirit. As we are filled with and controlled by the Spirit of God, He makes us discerning.

Finally, we return to the point we have touched on repeatedly: True discernment requires diligent study of the Scriptures. None of the other steps is sufficient apart from this. No one can be truly discerning apart from the mastery of the Word of God. All the desire in the world cannot make you discerning if you don’t study the Scriptures. Prayer or discernment is not enough. Obedience alone will not suffice. Good role models won’t do it either. Even the Hoy Spirit will not give you discernment apart from the Word of God. If you really want to be discerning, you must diligently study the Word of God.

God’s Word is where you will learn the principles for discernment. It is there that you will learn the truth. Only there can you follow the path of maturity.

Discernment flourishes only in an environment of faithful Bible study and teaching. In Acts 20, when Paul was leaving the Ephesians elders, he warned them about the deadly influences that would threaten them in his absence (vv.28-31). He urged them to be on guard, on the alert (vv.28, 31). How? What safeguard could he leave to help protect them form Satan’s onslaughts? Only the Word of God: “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (v.32).

Lets look more closely at 2nd timothy 2:15, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” Notice what this mandate to Timothy implies. First, it suggests that the d discerning person must be able to distinguish between the Word of Truth and the “irreverent babble” mentioned in verse 16. That may seem rather obvious, but it cannot be taken for granted. The task of separating God’s Word from human foolishness actually poses a formidable challenge for many today. One look at some of the nonsense that proliferates in churches and Christian media will confirm that this is so. Or note the burgeoning stacks of “Christian” books touting weird views. We must shun such folly and devote ourselves to the Word of God. We have to be able to distinguish between truth and error.

How? “Do your best”. Being diligent pictures a worker giving maximum effort in his or her work. It describes someone driven by a commitment to excellent. “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God”. The Greek phrase literally speaks o standing alongside God as a co-laborer worthy of identifying with Him.

Furthermore, Paul says this approved workman “has no need to be ashamed.” The word “Ashamed is very important to Paul’s whole point. Any sloppy workman should be ashamed of low-quality work. But a servant of the Lord, handling the Word of Truth carelessly, has infinitely more to be ashamed of.

What Paul suggests in this passage is that we will be ashamed before God Himself if we fail to handle the Word of Truth with discernment. If we can’t distinguish the truth from worldly and empty chatter, we can’t identify and refute false teachers, or if we can’t handle God’s Truth with skill and understanding, we ought to be ashamed.

And if we are to divide the Word of God rightly, then we must be very diligent about studying it. There is no shortcut. Only as we master the Word of God are we made “competent, equipped for every good work” (3:17). This is the essence of what it means to be discerning.

Put simply, spiritual maturity is the process o learning to discern. The path to real discernment is the path to spiritual growth. Growth in grace is a continuous process through this earthly life. No Christian ever reaches complete maturity this side of heaven. “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to ace. Now I know in apart; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor 13:12). We must continually “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). We should hunger “for the pure spiritual milk, that by it we may grow” (1st Peter 2:2).

As we mature, our senses are exercised to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:14). As we cease to be children, we gain stability (Eph 4:14-15). Mature people are discerning people.

We know this from the natural world. Parents continually help their child to be discerning, even when they become teenagers. Parents help them think through issues, understand what is wise and unwise, and prompt them to make the right choices. We help them discern. The goal of parenting is to raise a discerning child. The same is true spiritually. You don’t pray for discerning and suddenly wake up with abundant wisdom. It is a process of growth.

Stay on the path of maturity. Sometimes it involves suffering and trials (James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 5:10). Often it necessitates divine chastening (Hebrews 12:11). As always it requires personal discipline (1 Tim 4:7-8). The rewards are rich:

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare to her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed. My son, do not lose sight of these- keep sound wisdom and discretion, and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck. Then you will walk on your way securely, and your foot will not stumble. (Prov 3:13-18, 21-23).

And these riches unlike diamonds, will retain their value and brilliance for all eternity. The alternative is a life of theological confusion where spiritual treasures are confused with spiritual fakes. Hosea 14:9, “Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.”

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