Testing All Things(4): Grace
Written by David Kranendonk
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Reformed Worldviews - Christian Discernment

Last time we saw that spiritual discernment is simply laying the compass of God’s Word beside all the directional arrows of man to discern whether they point in the same direction as God’s Word. If the practice is so simple, why are there so many different doctrinal views and such a range of lifestyles among church members who profess to hold to God’s Word as their guide? Why do people who have grown up and sat under sound Reformed preaching for decades live like the world? How can they end up in Arminian churches? The problem is the heart. God’s grace is the only remedy.

God’s Devastating Diagnosis

We naturally think well of our own ideas and actions. Even when sin abounded during the time of the Judges, everyone still did what was “right in his own eyes” (Judg. 17:6). Why do we see sin or error as right? Because the disease of sin has blinded us. By nature we do not see reality. We do not see things as the God of truth sees them. We believe our own dreams and imaginations rather than what God tells us. 1 Corinthians 2:14 confesses, “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Not only has sin blinded us, but it has also given us bad taste buds. You can set the most delicious food before someone who has undergone radiation in his throat, but it will still taste bad if the radiation has damaged his taste buds. Spiritually, our problem is worse yet because we find sin and error tasty and truth bitter. The forbidden fruit is appealing. We love darkness and hate the light. We savour sin and loathe holiness. We do not sing, “I thirst for thy commandments, Lord.” We live on poison.

The disease of sin has also given us a stiff neck. In our pride we persist in going the way we have set out to go. We don’t want to be corrected and turned. We don’t want to admit we were wrong. The Lord must declare through Jeremiah, “they obeyed not, neither inclined their ear, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear, nor receive instruction” (Jer. 17:23).

We may easily hide behind many things to excuse our sin and error. We may say, “I don’t see anything wrong with it,” but God may say, “that shows you are blind.” We may say, “I just don’t feel like doing that,” but God may say, “that shows your taste is perverted.” We may say, “I’ve never done that,” but God may say, “that shows you have a stiff neck.” These things are evidences of a sin-diseased heart.

As long as we do not come to realize the nature of our deepest problem, our remedies for ourselves, our children and those around us will remain superficial – if we acknowledge we need a remedy at all. Merely some more instruction or better examples around us are not enough, if spiritual ignorance is due to a corrupt heart. We need a remedy God alone works.

God’s Radical Remedy

The great Physician not only diagnoses our problem but also works a radical remedy: the new birth. We confess in the Canons of Dort: God “not only causes the gospel to be externally preached to [the elect] and powerfully illuminates their mind by His Holy Spirit, that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God; but by the efficacy of the same regenerating Spirit, pervades the inmost recesses of the man; He opens the closed, and softens the hardened heart, and...infuses new qualities into the will, which though heretofore dead, He quickens; from being evil, disobedient, and refractory, He renders it good, obedient, and pliable” (III/IV.11).

Jonathan Edwards’s classic work, Religious Affections, demonstrates how the new birth produces a fundamental change. The new birth gives a sinner a spiritual mind, which involves “having the indwelling and holy influences of the Spirit of God in the heart” (Rom. 8:5-11). He defines spiritual understanding as “a sense of the heart, of the supreme beauty and sweetness of the holiness or moral perfection of divine things, together with all that discerning and knowledge of things of religion, that depends upon and flows from such a sense.” The spiritual mind not only comes to see what God reveals of Himself and His work in His Word, but also comes to delight in it. It relishes what it receives from God.

Edwards wrote, “When the true beauty and amiableness of the holiness or true moral good that is in divine things is discovered to the soul, it as it were opens a new world to its views.” God’s glorious perfections, Christ’s work of redemption, the Spirit’s way of salvation, and God’s entire Word are seen in a new light. Edwards continues, “By this is seen the true foundation of our duty, the worthiness of God to be so esteemed, honored, loved, submitted to, and served, as he requires of us, and the amiableness of the duties themselves that are required of us. And by this is seen the true evil of sin; for he who sees the beauty of holiness, must necessarily see the hatefulness of sin, its contrary.” The new birth enables sinners to see God’s glory, perceive His will, delight in holiness, and hate sin. Regeneration is the source of spiritual discernment.

God’s Continuing Cure

The Holy Spirit who renews also continues to lead into the truth throughout the life of grace. As Edwards shows, the Holy Spirit gives a renewed and increasing delight in what is holy, just and good. This delight refines one’s spiritual taste to discern what is good from what is bad. Just as a musical ear knows whether a piece of music is harmonious without sitting down to calculate all the notes, and a “rectified palate” knows what good food is as soon as he tastes it without analyzing the ingredients, so a sanctified soul receives a spiritual taste to approve of what is good and be nauseated by what is bad. “In the lively exercise of grace,” Edwards says, a believer “easily distinguishes good and evil, and knows at once what is a suitable amiable behavior towards God, and towards man, in this case and the other, and judges what is right.”

Through the Spirit’s work of enlivening this spiritual hunger after righteousness, He also gives clearer insight into God’s Word. To quote Edwards again, “a spiritual taste of soul mightily helps the soul in its reasonings on the word of God, and in judging of the true meaning of its rules: as it removes the prejudices of a depraved appetite, and naturally leads the thoughts in the right channel, casts a light on the word of God, and causes the true meaning most naturally to come to mind, through the harmony there is between the disposition and relish of a sanctified soul, and the true meaning of the rules of God’s word. Yea, this harmony tends to bring the texts themselves to mind, on proper occasions.” Spiritual health and spiritual insight into God’s Word are bound together.

God’s Earnest Exhortation

If the fundamental remedy for spiritual ignorance is the new birth, then the words of the Lord Jesus sound, “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again” (John 3:7). No amount of education or social pressure is sufficient to lead us to practice what is good and believe what is true, as long as our heart does not delight in God, His Word, and His will. This reality must humble all our self-will and intellectual pride and thrust us upon the almighty God who sovereignly enlivens the dead to the knowledge of Himself.

If the continuing remedy for a lack of spiritual discernment is the Spirit’s renewing grace leading into a close walk with the Lord, then the call of God also sounds, “be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom. 12:2). Renewal of mind is a continual need for all God’s people and essential for a deepening discernment of God’s perfect will. Seek much to behold His beauty, receive from His fullness, and see the wonders in His law. The more the Spirit leads you, the more you will discern what is good and detect what is wrong (Gal. 5:18-26).

What reason there is for Paul’s prayer “that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:9-11).

Rev. David Kranendonk is the pastor of the Free Reformed Church of Bornholm, Ontario. This article was published in the FRC Messenger and is republished here with permission.