In the first chapter of his book, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, blogger Tim Challies explains that a lack of discernment in one’s life is evidence of spiritual immaturity, backsliding, or possibly even spiritual death. In other words, no Christian can claim to be spiritually mature and growing if he is not developing the ability to tell truth from lies, and many who claim to be Christians actually reveal that their professions of faith are worthless because they completely lack all discernment. But we can look at this from another perspective and say that any person who demonstrates spiritual discernment is giving evidence that he has spiritual life and is growing toward and actually gaining spiritual maturity. And just as there are no mature Christians who do not have spiritual discernment, so “Healthy Christians–those who are alive, growing, and mature–are necessarily those who seek to honor God by discerning between what is good and what is evil.”
But what is the purpose of spiritual discernment? Why is it to be prized and pursued? Well, Challies explains in the final pages of chapter 1 that it is “to guard the purity of the gospel,” and he cites Paul’s message to a young pastor in the city of Ephesus. “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you” (1 Tim. 6:20), and “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Tim. 1:14). Challies spells out what this has to do with us today:
In his letters to Timothy, Paul, who knows that he will not always be able to encourage and mentor Timothy, entrusts to him the gospel message. Timothy would be expected to guard his message and to find worthy, godly Christians to whom he could in turn entrust it. And so the gospel has been protected and has carried from one generation to the next through the long, storied history of the church. And so it has been handed in trust to you and to me and to all who believe.
Our calling is the same as Timothy’s: guard the deposit that has been entrusted to us by discerning false teaching in order to avoid it, follow the example of godly men and women who have proven themselves faithful to the truth, and engage in passing on the deposit by teaching others the same things we ourselves have been taught.
My only disagreement with Tim Challies in this chapter is more a point of emphasis or clarification rather than any serious variance. Whereas he defines the deposit that Paul refers to as “the gospel,” I would contend that it is broader than our redemption by the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. In fact, in the context of 1 Timothy 6, I believe Paul is referring to the entire body of Christian doctrine which constitutes “the faith” from which some have strayed having become entangled in “profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge.” And in 2 Timothy, it was “the pattern of sound words” to which Timothy was to hold fast, and “the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses” which Timothy was to entrust to other faithful men. Clearly, the deposit which Timothy had received included the gospel of Jesus Christ, but it also included the whole body of teaching which he had received from Paul. And so we ought to seek discernment and wisdom from God, in order that we may guard the treasure of his truth which has been given to us as the means by which we may demonstrate spiritual life, experience ongoing spiritual growth, and come to have spiritual maturity.