Portraits of a Mature Christian: A strong desire and ability to practice spiritual discernment

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A teen raises her hand in Bible class and asks, “How far can we go on a date?” An 11- year-old boy unwillingly hands over his iPod to his mother and exclaims, “Mom, that song is not that bad. It didn’t have any curse words in it!” As she listens to the song for herself, she finds that it encourages drunkenness. A college student starts attending a nondenominational church. When her dad asks her about what they teach there, she says, “Dad, they believe in Jesus just like we do.”

What do all of these people have in common? They all exhibit a lack of discernment regarding what they take into their minds and hearts. When God created us in his own image, he always intended that we would think his thoughts. He never wanted us exposed to evil ideas much less stack them like cord wood in our minds. He wanted us to understand that his thoughts are truth and bring many blessings.

There is a saying in the computer world that applies to our minds, “Garbage in, garbage out.” If you put garbage in the memory of a computer, it won’t drain out later when you turn the computer off. It stays piled there until it is erased. It often comes out later to affect other computers connected to it on the Internet. We call them computer viruses. Just like computer viruses, worldly ideas infect people all over the world every day. God wants us to filter out what opposes his truth and would harm our faith. He wants us to be careful so we are not drawn away from his grace.

Spiritually mature people understand this. They put safeguards in place to guard their minds and lives from evil influences.

The writer to the Hebrews wanted his readers to start practicing discernment regarding all the worldly and wild religious ideas they were hearing. Let’s study what he told them and reclaim for ourselves an aptitude for discernment. Read Hebrews 5:11-14 and answer the following questions.

Hebrews 5:11-14

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.


1. After you read the entire passage, what clearly is God’s goal for every Christian?
God desires that all Christians keep growing into mature believers who can handle ever more solid theological food. He doesn’t want anyone to stop at an entry level of biblical knowledge.

2. What does it mean to be acquainted with the teaching about righteousness?
It means to have a full understanding about how we derive our righteousness from God and not from our own doing, thinking, or choosing. It also means that we understand how the gospel changes us to live faith- and love-motivated lives that have a righteousness from faith instead of from the law. It means that we understand how the Scriptures display God’s plan to bring this righteousness to humanity from the first time he walked into the Garden of Eden and found our sinful parents to the end of Revelation.

3. What does the writer say in verse 14 that the mature person does?
A mature person is trained in discerning good from evil in choices of human behavior, in theology, philosophy and any other issue having to do with people, God, and his world.

4. How do we use the Scriptures to help us discern good from evil?
We use Scripture to discern good from evil by taking the questions, temptations, and opportunities we have in this life and filtering them through what the Bible has to say. We also learn to discern by having a regular diet of Bible reading and study so that the insights of Scripture are flowing through our minds and hearts in a fresh way all the time.


1. Describe what happens to a person who does not discern right from wrong when taking in different media.
If a person does not practice discernment then he or she becomes like a wave tossed to and fro by every wind of idea or teaching. What we watch and listen to will affect us. We cannot stop it from doing so. So, we must learn to confront every story (i.e. movies and TV shows), thought, and idea with good faith-based questions and biblical answers that help keep the good and throw away the bad.

2. How does discernment help us to live happier lives?
We can avoid huge mistakes that will affect us for years to come by practicing discernment today. Also, we will leave more room in our lives for the good things that bless us if we keep from being distracted by silly and harmful ideas and actions.

3. How does truth demand discernment?
There really is only one truth about anything. So, true discernment is getting down to what the truth of any matter really is. Then we learn to avoid all other ideas that counter that truth. This is shown very well at the beginning of the Bible when Eve was tempted by Satan to go against the one simple truth of what God wanted for Adam and her.

4. What are the reasons we might become lax in discernment?
Our hearts are very deceitful, and they love to sin (Jeremiah 17 and Romans 7). So, we easily fall into laxity regarding God’s will and ways. Also, we can get tired of the exhausting task of filtering everything we read, see, and hear. Then there also is peer pressure. It is not always popular in a fallen world to stand up and go against the tide.

Related Scripture passages

1 Timothy 4:15,16                                                                                                                            Philippians 4:8

Contributing editor Donald Patterson is pastor at Holy Word, Austin, Texas.
This is the fifth article in a 12-part series on Christian maturity.
Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © March 2010 reprinted with permission.