As mentioned elsewhere on this site, the ability to tell the difference between truth and lies is very important, especially when you are listening to someone explain the Bible.
The name for the ability to properly tell the difference is discernment.
Dictionary.com defines it like this:
dis - cern - ment
1. the faculty of discerning; discrimination; acuteness of judgment and understanding.
"an astonishing lack of discernment"
2. the act or an instance of discerning.
"without providing for a time of healing and discernment, there will be no hope of living through this present moment without a shattering of our common life"
But, Wikipedia adds a little:
Discernment is the ability to obtain sharp perceptions or to judge well (or the activity of so doing). In the case of judgment, discernment can be psychological or moral in nature.
Within judgment, discernment involves going past the mere perception of something and making nuanced judgments about its properties or qualities. Considered as a virtue, a discerning individual is considered to possess wisdom, and be of good judgement; especially so with regard to subject matter often overlooked by others.
One word often overlooked in the definition of the second box is "perception". Poet William Blake made a statement that explains an important concept:
"If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern."
- William Blake
There are always obstacles
While not everything is "Infinite", men generally close themselves up based on their preconceptions and personal experiences and do not start from a common point when trying to discover truth. By starting from different points, the trek to find the truth must take each man through different obstacles (untruths disguised as "truths") placed in the way by others. For most churches today, these obstacles are placed in our path by our trusted pastors and their predecessors.
Discard the rose-colored glasses
Some of these obstacles are so large that the journey stops there, with many accepting a seeming insurmountable obstacle as the final destination which is not necessarily the intended destination of truth. When these personal preconceptions and experiences are removed, the path becomes much clearer, if not always easy, and the journey results in a more direct route to the truth destination.
While it's easy to say that you can tell the difference, let's take a few examples to get an idea how easy or hard it really can be. First, speaking to someone directly, you have no point of reference unless you know the person well enough to spot the truth from the lies. One way to do that is by recognizing a direct contradiction:
If someone tells you that he always does something, and five minutes later he tells you that he never does that same thing, how do you discern the truth?
Well, both can't be true
This one is relatively straight forward. Both statements by this person cannot be true at the same time. Unless this person changed something big in that five minute period, one of the statements is a lie. For example, if he told you he washes his car every day and then five minutes later says he never washes his car, there is a way to see which is true. Even if you don't know them, you can watch the person or ask someone who knows them to see which one is true. The most important thing to be able to discern is that two opposing statements cannot be true at the same time. However, if you accept both statements as true, then you have a "lack of discernment".
What about those times when it is not so clear?
Someone tells you that she never eats chocolate, but while she is saying that, she bites into a Humphrey's candy bar. You ask her about it, and she replies "This is carob, not chocolate."
Appearances can be deceiving
OK. Now you can see where what appears to be the case can lead to a mistaken impression on the part of the observer. Anyone observing this person taking a snack, by appearances alone, may easily conclude that she is eating chocolate. This happens a lot when referring to the Bible. The author of the Book or letter may be speaking of one thing, but the translation into English often is misunderstood by the modern reader. This causes a misunderstanding of the intent of the author, leading to the passing on of ideas that are not true. Example? Let's see if we can find one.
In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul wrote of the methods by which he passed the Gospel of Christ to those he encountered. Verse 20 says:
20To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.
Clear enough, or...?
This verse is used by many Christians to "prove" that the law no longer applies to Gentiles. In fact, they claim that it never did. They show this by Paul's statement that they claim means that he is not under the law, which is what it says. However, this statement does not say that the law no longer applies to Gentiles. OK, let's look at this with discernment by seeing if there is more information on this topic before we make a decision. Is there anywhere in the Bible where Paul makes a claim that would make this interpretation of Paul's statement an apparent contradiction? How about Acts 25:8:
Then Paul made his defense: "I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar."
He keeps the law, but he is not under it?
Interestingly, Paul makes it clear that he has never broken any law, whether God-based (temple), Jewish (ceremonial), or secular (Roman law). So, how can he claim to be "not under the law" if he is proud of never having broken any of them? If you read the two statements side by side, one "appears" to contradict the other. We will see that this is not the case.
In our previous example and discussion, two contradictory statements about the same issue means that one of them is a lie. Is that what we have here? Well, look at the next verse in 1 Corinthians 9:21:
21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law.
Here, we have a little difference in the phrase where it appears that Paul is contradicting himself in the very next verse. Did he mean in verse 20 that he faked being under the law, really being outside the law, therefore lying to convince the Jews of the truth? In verse 21 did he "become like one not having the law" by lying to them because he is really under the law? If that was the case, what did he mean by that statement about "not free from God's law"? This could be confusing if you try to follow by assuming an incorrect association with the word "law" and the meaning of the phrase "under the law".
A little background
On another page of this site, I speak of the word "law", discussing how the word is used by most Christians to mean all law. If you say that we are no longer under the law of gravity, how would that sound to someone standing on the ground in front of you? If you say we are no longer under the "law of the land", how would that sound to a lawyer or a policeman? However, if you just say we are "no longer under the law", Christians substitute their own meaning for the rest of the "law of" phrase. If we get to do that, we can pretty much choose what laws we want to follow and which we don't.
But, if you look closely, Paul is speaking of two different situations, as well as two different laws, in the two passages. How can we tell? Well, to think that he means we don't have to obey any laws will cause some irreconcilable problems. When he says he is not "under the law", what does he mean? We need to use some discernment and see if we can find out what he is talking about.
Now, what could that mean to us modern day dummies? Well, in the days of Paul, there were God's laws and there were the "safety cushions" added by the Pharisees to build a hedge around the laws of God to keep people from breaking them "accidentally". These are most often referred to as the "oral law", or better yet, "traditions", because they are not real laws but manmade rules. These are some of the "laws" that Jesus spoke about in Luke 11:46:
Jesus replied, "And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.
and what the Jews referred to in Matthew 12:2:
When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, "Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath."
These oral laws are not the "law of God", but enhancements made by the non-Messianic Jews of the day.
No longer under the law
When you have broken a law, you are under the penalty required by the law. When you are exonerated, or forgiven, or pay the penalty for breaking that law, you are no longer under that law. However, if you go out and break it again, you are right back under the law. It's the same here whether we are talking about a speeding ticket or a broken commandment.
We all break a rule now and then, and most of us feel bad about it. We "ask forgiveness" and try not to do it again. This forgiving action by Jesus and the Father is called grace, comes from mercy, and is expected between people as well. If we deliberately break a rule and think that we are no longer responsible to the authority, whether God or each other, then we are not forgiven because we are not repentant (Luke 17:3
3So watch yourselves. "If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.
), and are required to accept the consequences of deliberately disobeying (Luke 13:3
3I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.
"Once saved, always saved?" Nope.
The parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?"
22 Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
23 "Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26 "At this the servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' 27 The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
28 "But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded.
29 "His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.'
30 "But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
32 "Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35 "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart."
) is often misunderstood because people stop listening at the end of verse 22. To get the whole story, you must read the whole passage. A forgiven person trying to stay within the will of the Authority is no longer under the law. One who has been forgiven but then deliberately defies the authority or does not pass on the blessing will be put back under the law and be held accountable. The authority in this case is the Father and the result is described in verse 35.
Paul explains this in many ways in his writing, but so many refuse to accept an explanation that makes all his statements agree. They insist on interpretations that cause contradictions, then deny that those contradictions exist.
A little experiment
Now, this may be hard, but I think you can do it. Go back through the statements of Paul and substitute the words "under the broken law" every time he says "under the law", except when he says "under Christ's law" or "God's law", then use "under the requirements of Christ's law" or "from the requirements of God's law". You can just use the phrases on this page, but it also works every time you see the phrases anywhere in the Bible. While you are doing that, add the concept of staying within the will of God by living in the Holy Spirit and not breaking the law. Go ahead, I'll wait.
If you are fair about it, you will see how this allows Romans 2:13-15
13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)
to make sense. You are only "under the law" if you break it and are therefore under its requirement for a penalty. You are always "under the requirements of the law" because it always limits your actions (kind of like a traffic speed limit sign), even if you don't break it it still affects you. If you do not break it, or sincerely repent and are forgiven, you are not "under it". Notice how Paul even speaks of the Gentiles as doing right when they "do by nature things required by the law", even when they do not "have the law". Breaking this down, if you do not "have the law" but still keep the law, you are not "under the law" because you have not broken (disobeyed) it. Their (Gentiles) consciences are either clear or not depending on their actions regarding God's law and Christ's law.
Now, think of that context. This is not an interpretation, just saying what Paul actually says. If you add to this the phrase in 1 Corinthians 9:21
To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law.
, when Paul "became like one not having the law", he acted like a Gentile who kept the law, which was within his own claim of obedience, and won "those not having the law". When he says "not free from God's law" and "under Christ's law", it means that he is still "bound by the requirements of" that law, not "under it" as though he has broken it. It fits perfectly in this case, and every time Paul makes the statement in other places, it now fits with every other statement in the Bible with no contradictions. When you have no contradictions, everything you read in context can be the truth. Of course, some deceivers can even confuse the issue here, but Paul is probably someone we can trust.
Put your money where your mouth is...
So, the next time you hear that the Old Testament no longer applies to us, or that the laws apply to the Jews but not the Gentiles, ask "Which laws?". If you are told, "All of them.", ask if you can borrow his wallet. His answer means that you can take a few dollars for yourself with no consequences - since the laws no longer apply to Gentiles. Unless, of course, he thinks that causes some sort of contradiction between his circumstances and his beliefs...
Taking the wrong fork in the path
If you understand the discernment discussion so far, you can see where one error in judgment can lead to a series of path changes and soon you are walking down the wrong path. Discarding the law, all law, may seem acceptable because your pastor has convinced the congregation that it is true. The trouble with this is that it still causes contradiction with the statements of Jesus and those of Paul when he taught through his letters. You know, silly things like Matthew 5:17-18
17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.
and Romans 3:31
31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.
If what your pastor tells you causes a conflict with the word of God, then either God is lying or your pastor is confused. Your pastor may not actually be trying to tell a lie, but his discernment is not assessing the truth well enough to prevent a contradiction between his words and the Bible. His error in judgment is sending believers on a false path. This is not an accusation, just a statement of fact.
"What do you mean, 'false path'? Not my pastor..."
Don't just take this word for it. Try it when you read the Book. Ask your pastor about it. If he disagrees, please have him contact me and "straighten me out". I welcome the discussion.
From now on, when you see or hear something about the Bible that does not sync with everything else in the Book, don't just ignore it. If you can't figure it out, ask someone. If your pastor tries to pass it off, ask him to explain it in a way that does not cause a contradiction. A contradiction means at least one side is a lie, and the Bible doesn't lie. If he can't explain it, well...try using some discernment regarding your church.
Disagree? Find an error? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and give us your view.