Discernment – Develop ‘Jesus-y Street Smarts’ for 2024 


By Ed Rybarczyk 

The year 2020 was one that made history, several times over! Here’s a quick recall of the epic 2020: the Covid pandemic burst forth and rampaged; George Floyd was killed; the nation’s cities were wracked with rioting, looting, arson, and police being shot; historic statues were pulled down and destroyed across the nation; millions of children had their educations at school interrupted and thrown into chaos; families were divided; friendships were ruined; churches were brutalized: giving dropped, church staffers were laid off, and entire church communities closed down; concerts and sporting events were cancelled around the globe; and the global economy was baptized into a simmering stew of chaos. And then, like gasoline thrown on a fire, it was an election year. Election years are notorious for propaganda, widespread gamesmanship, and gaslighting. In short, the whole year was overwhelming. 

Three years later – headed into yet another presidential election year – it is critical that we are able to discern the times in which we live. Me? I’ll be utterly shocked, yet sweetly surprised, if 2024 isn’t replete with mayhem, dramatic news stories, and fear-mongering of epic proportions. This time around, those of us who confess Jesus as Lord and Savior need to be able to read the signs and respond accordingly. 

Two thousand years ago a not-classically-educated outsider from Galilee could read the signs of the times. He told his listeners to be ready. Jesus warned them of a coming Middle East apocalypse: the Jewish Temple was going to be torn down, families would flee into the hills, and it would be better, he said, if women were not in the middle of childbirth (Lk. 23:29). In short, Jesus called his followers to practice historical discernment. 

Among believers there is a dynamic known as spiritual insight. The apostle Paul wrote about it in 1 Corinthians 12:10 and called it the gift of “discernment of spirits.” It is the ability to know the difference between lying spirits and authentic spirits. Alternately put, it is the ability to readily sniff out the distinction between authentic biblical teaching and doctrines that defy Scripture. Me? I’m all for that gift from the Holy Spirit. But here today I’m writing about discernment as a kind of Jesus-y street smarts. And it won’t be enough if a few pastors, priests, and bishops recognize what is actually going on. The whole body of Christ needs to be able to sense the difference between fact and fiction. 

In the New Testament the word for discernment is diakrino: to separate, make distinctions, and differentiate. Its cousin is krinein: to judge. Matthew 7 is a stellar case study for differentiating because the entire chapter unpacks our need to correctly understand the matter at hand. In verses 1-5 Jesus warns against improper judgment: fault-finding, character assassinating, blame shifting. He says it is hypocritical to call-out a friend for a matter about which he stumbles when you yourself stumble even more with the same thing. But then, turning on a dime, in verse 6 Jesus says we positively have to know the difference between a dog and a swine – swine being those who do not deserve to receive holy things. And, sorry, but there’s just no way to tell the difference between a dog and a swine without making some differentiating observations! 

In Matthew 7:7-11 Jesus teaches that there are differences between good and bad fathers. The former give good gifts like bread and fish. The latter give loser gifts like rocks and snakes. Clearly, Jesus wants us to grasp the difference between different kinds of fathers. And knowing the difference requires a judgment that goes between and discriminates. 

Another example for our necessary discrimination follows in verses 12-20. Therein Jesus says we can discern the difference between good leaders and false prophets by virtue of their fruit. False prophets can appear to us in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are like wolves who are driven by avarice and power. Building out our own powers of observation, Jesus says we can distinguish between the good and the bad leaders in light of the fruit – the product, consequences, orientations, and outcomes – of their lives. 

Further down in verses 21-23 Jesus himself separates those who publicly say they follow Jesus from those who by their faithful obedience actually follow Jesus. And then, to top it all off, in verses 24-27, our Lord taught there is a difference between those who build their houses on the sand (i.e., those who only hear His words) and those who build structures on rocks (those who hear and obey). And in crescendo fashion, Jesus issued a grave warning to sand-builders: great will be their fall! 

In my podcast – the Uncensored Unprofessor (www.uncensoredunprofessor.com) – I am in the middle of an entire series on discernment. We need to have a perceptive ability that goes between, one that sifts and sorts, one that differentiates and discriminates, and an awareness that there actually are evil schemers who work evil (Ps. 10:2; 28:3; Prov. 6:16-19; Eph. 6:11). But an in-between-judgment, the ability to distinguish, is not present at birth. We need to develop it, practice it, and even evaluate our use of it. 

The ability to distinguish is neither neutral or unformed. In the biblical presentation, discernment is informed by goodness, truth, and beauty; those three transcendentals serve both as guides and laser-targeting for our differentiating abilities. The truth is, God positively wants us not to be played by bad-actors, or manipulated by propaganda, or gaslit by emotionally-wrought storylines. Because, as we saw to the umpteenth in 2020, they all end in broken relationships, suffering, and widespread ruination. 

King Jesus, come quickly! Guide your Church into discerning truth and piercing light, for the sake of Your mission and glory. 


Ed Rybarczyk, PhD, is both an ordained minister and a retired History of Theology professor. He now produces and hosts the Uncensored Unprofessor podcast @ uncensoredunprofessor.com. He can be reached at [email protected]. 



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