Excerpts from 


Spiritual Survival for a Church in Crisis

By John MacArthur  - April 25, 2008

  Read the entire message at http://www.gty.org/Resources/positions/116

Emphasis added in bold and italicized letters

"In the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power." 2 Tim. 3:1-5

"There will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words." 2 Pet. 2:1-3

"As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy.'" 1 Peter 1:14-16

Today's church is like the religious leaders of Jesus' day, who could tell the difference between superficial things like pleasant and stormy weather, but not between truth and error (Matt. 16:1-3). So many churches have relinquished biblical ethics and doctrine, a deep reverence and worship of God, repentance over sin, humility toward God and fellow believers, and a profound understanding of God's character and work. All that has resulted in a low-level commitment to holy living.

In contrast, God calls all true believers to pursue perfect conformity to the absolute, holy standard of His Word....If you're going to live a holy life that pleases the Lord, it's essential that you be spiritually discerning.

What Is Spiritual Discernment?

Spiritual discernment is the skill of separating divine truth from error. First Thessalonians 5:21 says we are to "examine everything carefully." That speaks of testing something to reveal its genuineness. We as believers are to evaluate everything we come in contact with to distinguish what is true and false, good and bad, or right and wrong. That can be a difficult task. Why? First, we are constantly fighting the sinful desires of our fallen flesh. Second, we face satanic deception. The devil is doing everything he can to confound and confuse us. Third, we are inundated with worldly influences that seek to overpower us.

Opposing the world, the flesh, and the devil requires us to "hold fast to that which is good" (v. 21). We are to embrace wholeheartedly what is inherently genuine and true. We are also to "abstain from every form of evil" (v. 22). That means we are to separate ourselves from every form of perversion as though we were avoiding a deadly plague or poison. One pastor correctly wrote,

"The worst forms of wickedness consist of perversions of the truth, of spiritual lies, although today many look upon these forms with indifference and regard them rather harmless" (R.C. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus and to Philemon [Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1961], p. 363).

Many in today's church are indifferent about separating divine truth from error because they lack spiritual discernment.

Why Is There a Lack of Spiritual Discernment?

Weak Doctrine.... a shallow knowledge of God's Word because the church has yielded the trade and skill of understanding it to people who are ill-equipped to do so.... Because experience and emotion have been elevated above divine revelation, many who call themselves Christians have no biblical basis for doing so....

Some say that doctrine divides. That's true! If you set aside biblical truth and remain silent for fear of offending people, opposition will disappear, but so will some other things like truth, holiness, and God Himself. [Jude 1:3-4]

Relativistic Thinking.... Much of today's church has a continuum mindset, a continuum being that which has no discernable division into parts. Rather than seeing things as black and white--as right and wrong or true and false--it prefers to see things in infinite shades of gray....

"How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night" (Ps. 1:1-2).

Worldly Methodology.... the church's preoccupation with image and influence as the key to evangelization.

Since today's church believes it must win the lost to Christ by winning their favor, it no longer teaches the biblical doctrines of sin, hell, repentance, or the cross because those would offend the lost or make them feel uncomfortable. Instead it markets itself as a benevolent, non-threatening agency whose primary goal is to achieve prestige, popularity, and intellectual acceptance among the lost. Its premise is, "If they like us, they'll like our Jesus."....

Martyn Lloyd-Jones "saw that the elements of warning and of opposition to error were essential parts of any true commitment to the Bible... Accordingly he expected no approval from those who accepted the prevailing attitude which put 'love' first and treated arguments over doctrine as unchristian...." (The Fight of Faith, p. 650).... True believers are an offense to those who reject the truth. ...[John 15:18-20; Hebrews 10:33]

Inaccurate Interpretation...  indifferent toward God's Word. Some teachers in the church are not trained to study God's Word and end up with a wrong theology. Some are trained, but opt to tell stories or mix man-made ideas with biblical truth.... Still others arrive at what they believe is truth by some mystical intuition, experience, or emotion....

Lax Discipline... because of the failure to carry out church discipline.... (Matt. 18:15-17)....The church should be sending a message to the lost that says, "We are a holy people."

Spiritual Immaturity. Many in the church have only a shallow knowledge of God's Word, trust in personal experiences or feelings as truth, or chase personal comfort and success as a way of life...[Ephesians 4:14-15; Hebrews 5:12-14]

How Can I Be Spiritually Discerning?

Desire It. ...Proverbs 2:2-5 says, "Make your ear attentive to wisdom, incline your heart to understanding; for if you cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding; if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of the Lord, and discover the knowledge of God." Are you willing to follow the path that leads to spiritual discernment?

Pray for It....  balance your desire for spiritual discernment by depending on the Lord for it through prayer. ...James 1:5 says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him."

Learn from Others....  1 John 4:1 says, "Test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world."... It's not a matter of praying in the evening, "Lord, give me discernment," and then waking up the next morning and having it. Spiritual maturity is the result of being nourished by God's Word. ...

Depend on the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is the true Discerner who will lead you into all truth (John 16:13). He perfectly knows the mind of God: "The thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural [lost] man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no man. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:11-16).

Allow the Holy Spirit to control your life by confessing and forsaking sin and living a pure, holy life. Galatians 5:16 says, "Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh." As you are obedient to that, He will make you a discerning believer.

Study God's Word
Spiritual discernment flourishes in an environment of intense, faithful Bible study. You will not be spiritually discerning--even though you desire it, pray for it, learn from the gifted and mature, and depend on the Holy Spirit --unless you diligently study His Word. Only there will you find the principles and truths to discern between truth and error. In Acts 17, for example, the Jewish people of Berea received Paul's preaching eagerly, and then tested his gospel message by comparing it to the teachings of the Old Testament. As a result many became believers.

In Acts 20 Paul warned the church leaders at Ephesus about false teachers who would try to infiltrate and devastate the church. His concluding word to them was this: "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). Paul knew that their careful study of God's Word was essential for protecting the church from error.

Second Timothy 2:15 says, "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth." The laborer who gives maximum effort to the quality of his work will not be ashamed because of any faulty workmanship. That means the believer is to present God's Word accurately to others in contrast to those "wrangle about words" or engage in "worldly and empty chatter" (vv. 14, 16). By doing so, he will receive God's approval and be counted as one worthy to stand alongside Him. The unashamed believer can say, "Lord, I studied and presented Your Word with integrity."

What about you? How do you study God's Word? In a superficial, careless way, or carefully and thoughtfully? Digging deeply into God's Word requires effort, but remember this: "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17).


Spiritual discernment requires desire, prayer, learning from the gifted and mature, dependence on the Holy Spirit, and a diligent study of God's Word. If you follow those steps, you will strengthen your doctrinal convictions, think antithetically, be kept from worldly approaches, be a good interpreter of God's Word, and confront sin. All that will help you mature and bring honor to God!

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  To read the entire message, please go to: http://www.gty.org/Resources/positions/116

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