Discernment vs Judgement

Discernment vs. Judgment

Discernment vs. Judgment

It is important, grace-filled, and loving to give something time to unfold while investigating, gathering information, and noting red flags along the journey. This is part of what is considered ‘discernment’ and or discerning a matter, event, thing, person, or spirit. This should not be confused with ‘judgment’.

A “Judgment” is a final decision on an investigation, not an investigation itself. Judgment and discernment are very different acts. Each requires a specific heart posture, motive, and overall outcome to distinguish and qualify. A judgment says, “this is what it is, hands down, no more questions asked, and it’s no longer up for any discussion.” It’s final.


Discernment and Investigation

Discernment and or what we might rightly describe as righteous investigation looks more like this: “I’m not 100% sure but I’m investigating, taking notes, giving it time to play out, and waiting for full clarity. Along the way, here’s what I’ve found, let’s possibly compare notes, and share the journey. My goal is to walk in ‘the way’, be a person of grace, truth, and mercy, guard my heart, and navigate potential pitfalls for myself and my brothers and sisters so they aren’t deceived or as Paul put it ‘bewitched’ by what seems to be something it is not.”

While we as Christians are called not to judge unjustly, unrighteously, or hypocritically, we are all called to discern, investigate, and test even to the core or spirit of a thing or person. These are clear New Testament protocols given to every believer everywhere without exception.


That’s not to say discernment can’t or doesn’t ever lead to judgment or that a Christian is never to judge. But when discernment does lead to judgment, it must be righteous and just judgment free from hypocrisy according to Christ. We’ll touch more on that in a moment.


Gathering Information and Evidence

An investigator gathers information, evidence, insight, first-hand knowledge, and can also assist in making proper decisions based on the findings. We should all be good investigators, discerners, and testers in all matters of life be it politics, social issues, or spiritual subjects.


Take a look at social media for example and you’ll find tons of video reviews on every popular product on the market. Those people who are taking their time to review a product are doing so in order to inform you what is good, bad, or otherwise about said product. We have reviews on everything from car dealers to Facebook marketplace transactions. This helps us discern and make good calls based on someone’s first-hand experiences, gathered information, and testing.

As consumers who are financially impacted, we know these reviews are not only valuable, but sometimes invaluable! As we file through the information, we are saved from wasting time and money on gimmicks and products that do not provide what they promise. Simply put, we don’t fall trap to the false promises because of the information we gathered. Through the gathered information, we find out if what the manufacturer and marketer told us is really true by putting the product to the test.


Testing and Validation

Likewise, we must test what we hear from all people in general and see the long-term fruit. We need to take things slow, give it time, and discern if something or someone can be trusted. We must also take the time to qualify language, terms, definitions, and see if what a person is saying is indeed truthful at face value. This takes time, work, prayer, energy, and spiritual insight.

During this process, one must avoid making final judgments that are unable to change on a matter when all the facts, evidence, and in most cases first-hand experience has not been gathered and or handled rightly.


First-Hand Experience

The first-hand experience can and often must include witnesses rather than hearsay, gossip, or worse, slander. In the case of Yelp or Google, you’re probably going to get a lot of witness testimonies that’ll help you select a good place to eat on your night out. But there’s also always the person that can never be satisfied leaving negative reviews out of childlike tantrums. So, we again, must be slow.

All this to say that we all exercise discernment when we are skimming the reviews others have left in society. Discernment is neutral, neither evil nor good until a true or false motive is attached. When it comes to discerning people, an important tool is to hear what they mean to communicate and not always what they say. This goes back to definitions, language, and culture.


Hearing and Understanding

Hearing what they mean when someone misspeaks is love and we need to give them grace. However, hearing what they mean also means distinguishing when they are hijacking language for another cause, redefining words, or are self-deceived by thinking they are something they are not.

For example, everyone is a Christian these days it seems. And yet, that term is so loaded it requires us to seek much more detail to know what someone means when they use that word. I have a family member who is a Mormon. I’ve known them since I was a child. We both lived in sin together for a long time before I was saved at 26. In recent years he gave himself to the Mormon community and was baptized into their belief system.

My family member has been in this Mormon LDS community for many years, still lives in willful unrepentant sin, and truly believes he’s Christian. But when we slow down, gather information, take testimony from those within the LDS community, and look at the facts and teachings of the LDS community in comparison to the Bible, we can agree:

  1. Mormonism is not Christianity.
  2. Joseph Smith is the main figure, not Jesus, and a false prophet.
  3. Living in willful unrepentant sin is not Christianity.
  4. There is no genuine born-again salvation offered in the LDS.
  5. LDS is a works-based system void of true Grace.
  6. Discernment Leading to Judgment

You ask, but how did you deduce that? Aren’t those final judgments? We know these things by studying what is true, investigating, and discerning. We know these things by reading their own literature. And we know these things because Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon LDS community, died in 1844 and has left us over 100 years of history and teachings to discern.

I’m not looking to go after Mormonism here in this post but it’s a fitting personal example to help you see the discernment process and how that can indeed lead to correct and biblical judgment. But it’s not always that clean-cut and easy. Source materials can be hard in other situations. And this is why grace and mercy with patience is necessary in every situation.

We all know we have a need to hear from trusted sources when it comes to discerning. And like my above example, sometimes discernment does lead to righteous judgments that are just, holy, and pleasing to God. Let’s go deeper on judgment vs discernment in a heavier example by going toward another subject for a moment.


Leadership and Scandals

Let’s talk about leaders who are called to guide, instruct, warn, and correct but won’t warn or discern. We’ve had a lot of scandals recently and a lot of controversial folks entering the church sphere. Many want to speak into our space who don’t rightly understand the space. And still others who want to be a voice in the space but only have social media cred and not a clear revelation of what the church is, her beliefs, doctrine, practice, and so on. Additionally, we have people who have been speaking into the church as strong leaders for decades and yet have recently fallen.

Who do you trust? How do you know what or who to listen to? Well, again, this is why discernment is valuable. In the case of certain leadership abuses, there have been leaders who aren’t cooperative with any investigation and or they deny any abuses. Yet these abuses are provable through a multitude of witnesses, texts, emails, and data.


Relying on Victims’ Information

While the primary source is tainted, the leader, we still have enough to file through and discern, as we should. We must also rely on the victims to give us information when we discern. It is true that some will just walk away from the situation and say it’s not their job to discern. It is also true that other abusive leaders will tell those who want to discern that they have no authority in the matter. But both of those responses are not the right response. And telling a believer, as a leader, that the believer has no authority to discern is abusive.

If it is a matter of the Church, the church is responsible to keep itself governed lest we be governed by an outside source and found bringing reproach on the name of Christ. This happened to Israel many times in the Old Testament account. Israel refused to govern itself according to the law of Moses so God sent outsiders to judge them and in most cases much more strictly than what was required.


Fear of the Lord

We as the church should have a holy fear of the Lord over such things. As Paul said, “what happened to Israel was written for us an example” (1 Corinthians 10). And Peter said in 1 Peter 4:17 that “Judgment begins at the house of God”.


Current Culture of Corruption

Why does all of this matter? We currently live in a culture of corruption in all facets of society and even the church. There is a popular posture of yelling ‘mercy, mercy’ in exchange for power and influence which is the social media sauce of the day that’ll get you propped up quickly. Just brush it all under the rug, brother. God gives mercy to the merciful.

But mercy triumphs over judgment!!!!!!! True, that’s why we must distinguish the difference between judgment and discernment. Mercy doesn’t triumph over discernment because mercy is at the core of true discernment. There is no true discernment without mercy.


Mercy vs. Discernment

But, everyone loves a nice guy. So mercy is screamed loudly by the nice guy while discernment is denounced as judgment and self-righteous, and those who fear being called Pharisee simply smile, nod, and like-share-subscribe the seemingly merciful dismissal of error, abuses, and falsehoods. But be careful when you get on the nice guy’s bad side because you’ll be shamed. Many of these nice guy leaders do not wish to be exposed themselves so they shame and victim blame. Or worse, they make you feel as though you are a Pharisee or against God if you don’t agree with their conclusions on a matter. In other words, they are allowed to discern and judge a matter but you aren’t. Sounds hypocritical right?, more on that in a moment.

They seem as if their high tower of popularity is actually final authority. As if they are the pope speaking ex cathedra on a matter. In all actuality, scripture is the final authority that governs practice for all believers, not how popular a person is. We are Protestants for a reason. Scripture is what differentiates the categories of righteous judgment, hypocritical judgment, unjust judgment, testing, and discernment.


Scripture as Final Authority

Leaders who fail to permit these to be defined and rightly practiced and or denounced when it is hypocritical judgment are negligent in their role. These folks are even abusive and controlling at times through calling something pharisaical or hypocritical when it is not. The goal is to shame you into feeling like you don’t want to be a Pharisee so you step into the shadows and silence on a matter.

Imagine if they did that to Paul when he called out Peter. Or to Peter when he rebuked Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8:9-22. Simon was a new believer who was baptized and confessed Christ but had some very off ideas on how to go about spiritual practices. Peter rebuked him sharply as a new believer for his errors. The nice social media church leader would have just yelled ‘mercy’ and would have most likely told Peter he was being a Pharisee and judgmental for telling Simon he needed to repent of his erroneous spiritual approaches that needed cleansing from his heart. Peter knew exactly what Simon needed, called him out on it, and Simon repented. That was true mercy in the eyes of the Apostles. Not shaming those who bring things to light or calling people Pharisees for pointing to concerns and red flags.

Guarding Your Heart

Friends, it is important to guard your heart and not allow these nice leaders and others around you to make you feel like you are wrong, in sin, or against the Holy Spirit for investigating, discerning, and even sharing some of your thoughts when you see red flags. We are in a unique moment for example.

A Case Study: IHOP

For over 20 plus years we watched as the International House of Prayer (IHOP) grew to a powerhouse of influence within the church. We watched a man named Mike exalted in the body of Christ who appeared on the surface to love Jesus like no other. Only to find out he was a predator taking advantage of women the whole time and even pulled the wool over the eyes of many great and POPULAR leaders within the body of Christ.


Let that sink in for a moment. Your favorite voices sat with this man, ate with this man, traveled with this man, and promoted this man completely unaware at best. At worst, they saw the red flags but decided to be nice rather than biblical. And yet, leaders get it wrong too. They miss things and need mercy as well as grace. Sincere leaders need not be ashamed or shamed for missing it. And that’s certainly not my goal in bringing it up. I’m not blaming anyone, just using this as a real-world example as to why each believer needs discernment and should not solely trust what any leader says on a given situation.

Distorted Culture of Honor

Still, the point remains, a distorted culture of honor (niceness) permitted decades of abuse. And those who brought up the red flags were deemed enemies of revival, enemies of the move of God, Pharisees, and partners with the accuser of the brethren. The discerning were demonized by the ones who swore to protect them, LEADERS! My point is this, lack of TRUE biblical discernment and investigation was one of the issues that empowered the predator.

To shame discernment is to empower predators! Full Stop! If a leader is judging you for being discerning and investigating on your own, calling you judgmental, or worse pharisaical, get this; they are actually the hypocrites for doing the very thing they accuse you of. They discern but you aren’t permitted. You are judged for discerning, but they are right in their own eyes. They themselves are judging you! And for doing what scripture calls you to do! That’s actually what the Pharisees did to Jesus.


Hypocrisy of the Pharisees

The majority of the Pharisees were hypocrites. They lied and consistently tried to trap Jesus. They had no intention of discerning if what he was saying was true, they only sought control and power. ‘Discernment’ is not about seeking control or power. And if it becomes that it is no longer discernment it is unrighteous judgment. A totally different biblical category.

But let’s explore the Pharisees even further. Nicodemus was also a Pharisee and he went to Jesus personally, investigated, asked questions, and eventually became a believer, even burying Jesus’ body in the tomb!!!! To compare someone to a judgmental unhealthy religious practice because they are being slow and discerning is exactly what the Pharisees themselves did to Jesus. Don’t worry, the big shots will handle all the discernment for you, we are the chosen, we are the leaders.

Sure folks, but these niceness mercy honor culture leaders allowed men like Mike, Paul Cain, Todd Bentley, etc. to continue harming the church. Let me repeat this for you: To call someone who is trying to discern rightly a ‘Pharisee’ is exactly what the Pharisees did! Name-calling!


Controlling Leadership


A leader who does such things simply wants to control what you think and doesn’t want people to discern and think for themselves. They hate that you think through things. And even worse if you disagree with their conclusions or feel they are jumping the gun and possibly putting others in harm’s way. But the fact remains, that’s not judgment, that’s not being a Pharisee, and that’s not unholy or against a move of God. IT IS FOR A GENUINE MOVE OF GOD that we discern. Because he told us to.

So feel free to slow down a bit and think! Proverbs 18:15 “The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out.”



– John Davison


Visit our home page: https://kingsfellowshipchurch.com/

See more about our state: https://oklahoma.gov/