Saturday, May 26, 2007

New Attitude: Joshua Harris

Some rough notes on Josh Harris's talk tonight at the New Attitude Conference:

Discernment and Humble Orthodoxy

The mission of Na is to encourage Christians to believe and to live and to represent the truth with humility. This is called “humble orthodoxy.” Orthodoxy is a commitment to the teaching and application of the established and cherished truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We want to rediscover these ancient paths and to let them shape us. We want this truth—which has always been—to completely shape us. We want to humbly live this truth, and humbly proclaim this truth—not merely as people who are right, but people who have been rescued. Because humble orthodoxy is the goal, “discernment” is the theme of this conference. You can only love the truth if you can distinguish it from error—which discernment is all about.

Goals of This Talk

Goals of this talk: (1) to introduce the theme of discernment, (2) to convince us of the importance of discernment, (3) to consider what discernment requires of us, (4) to whet our appetite for the coming talks (by Simmons, Mahaney, Dever, Mohler, and Piper).

What Is Discernment?

The simplest definition is an ability to judge well.

Discernment is closely connected to wisdom. Wisdom is the ownership of insight. Wisdom is seeing life in light of who God is and how he’s created the world, and then to make decisions in that light. Discernment means distinguishing between things—to judge between good and evil, truth and error, sound and unsound, wise and unwise.

2 Thessalonians 5:21-22: “(1) Test everything; (2) hold fast what is good. (3) Abstain from every form of evil.” This is a description of discernment. First you test, then you sort it into the “good pile” (which you hold or cling onto) or the “evil pile” (which you avoid). You must not only see, but you must act.

Why Explore Discernment in Depth?

First, spiritual discernment is not simple, and it’s not always easy. Books, churches, blogs, songs don’t come with up-front warning labels ! Eventual consequences are not always obvious. There are subtle, unhelpful tendencies. There are potential pitfalls we won’t always see. Sometimes the good and the evil are mixed together.

Second, whether or not we have spiritual discernment is a matter of life and death. This is not an exaggeration. There are areas of life that aren’t that significant, but when it comes to spiritual discernment, we’re talking about our souls, whether or not we will know truth that has the power to redeem humanity, whether or not we’ll know the living God, whether or not we’ll walk the narrow road or the broad road that leads to destruction. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Prov 14:12).

God’s glory is at stake. He has revealed himself in his Word.

Asking for and Working at Discernment

The ability to discern is not reserved for a special class of Christians. All of us can grow in this area.

First, we must ask God for discernment:

  • Ps 119:125: “I am your servant; give me understanding, that I may know your testimonies!”
  • Dan 2:21: “[God] gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding;”
  • 1 Kings 3:9: “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?"

We must not only ask for discernment, but also work at discernment. And the way to do this is to study God’s Word.

  • Ps. 119:104: “Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.”
  • Eph 5:10: “Try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.”
  • Heb 5:14: “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

Romans 12:1-2

Romans 12, building on the first 11 chapters, begins to explore the ethical implications of the gospel. These opening verses of Romans 12 describe what discernment is all about: holding on to (1) the truth of the gospel and (2) gospel living.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Paul is saying: In light of what Jesus has done for you, here is the appropriate response: give him everything that you are; make knowing and enjoying him the consuming passion of your life.

Verse 2 explains the work that is involved in maintaining such a life that pleases God. The reason that we want discernment is because we want God—to please him, to walk humbly with him, to glorify him.

Discernment Requires Four Things

Discernment requires (1) resistance, (2) renewal, (3) action, and (4) the gospel.

1. Discernment requires resistance. We must not be shaped and pulled along the godless way of thinking and acting. We must resist it. One aspect of discernment is taking the time to understand our age and its values. How is this age seeking to influence our thinking? In order for us to resist the values of this age, we must understand how the world is trying to mold us and shape us. This takes work (cf. Schaeffer, Lewis, Mohler). We must thank God for those who are older and wiser who can train us in discernment. Discernment inevitably involves being rejected by this world. If you’re not conformed, you don’t fit in—you’ll be left out. There’s a cost involved—it involves a break with the world. If we’re not willing to die to the desire to appear sophisticated and hip and together in the eyes of the world, then you will never be willing to resist conformity, and therefore will never be discerning. Discernment dies when we allow our hearts and minds to be shaped by our age in order to be approved by our age. Choosing to please God is choosing to displease the world.

2. 2. Discernment requires renewal. We must constantly renew, review, and reclaim in our hearts and minds the truth of God—right thinking as found in Scripture. God’s Word is truth. It must reset our thinking on a daily basis.

3. 3. Discernment requires action. You can’t discern God’s good will by sitting back and evaluating from a distance; armchair discernment is not true discernment. Discernment requires theologically informed action. The only way to grow in discernment is to act upon what God has revealed. It requires action, application, and implementation. You’re not going to see it till you live it. Josh highly recommends the writings of Francis Schaeffer. (A good place to start is True Spirituality.) Schaeffer (from his booklet, Two Contents): We must have a strong doctrinal content, and as then we must practice the content the way we believe. We must exhibit that we take truth seriously. It will not do to say it in world but not live it in our lives. And the converse is also true: when we fail to act on truth, discernment dies. Your inabilities in discernment about an issue may stem from your unwillingness to act on truth that has already been revealed to you.

4.44. Discernment requires the gospel. The most important point to make: Christ’s work for us undergirds everything we have discussed—and will discuss. We cannot rightly live the Christian life and be discerning unless we understand that the foundation is not what we do but what Jesus has done for us as our representative. “In view of God’s mercy,” Paul appeals to them. All teaching on discernment must be done in the shadow of Calvary’s cross. Here is where we find the ultimate display of God’s mercy. Discernment is only possible because of the gospel. Dead people don’t discern anything—but God, in his mercy, while we were yet sinners, chose to rescue us. He gave us spiritual eyes to see and the Holy Spirit, and now calls us to cling to good and turn from evil—because he first loved us. Therefore our practice of discernment must be done in great humility—with tears in our eyes as we refute error. We discern in light of God’s mercy. The only reason we see anything at all is because of his grace in our lives. There’s no place for an arrogant practice of discernment. It makes no sense! Any time you understand something in your Bible, anytime you turn away from something not in accord with God’s Word—that moment is a moment for you to thank God for his mercy in your life. Therefore, we must interact with others with courtesy and kindness, that they may receive that same mercy. Let us be a people preoccupied with the undeserved mercy of God. We see because Jesus died for us. Discernment is the fruit of a life willingly offered to God. We are living our life for the one who gave his life for us.