Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Principles of Spiritual Judgment (Discernment)

The judgment we shall be talking about here is not 
the judgment of a court as seen in modern society. It is 
spiritual judgment. First and foremost, we must
recognize that unless we can discern, we will have trouble in serving
the Lord. For we can be too easily deceived. On this matter of 
judgment or discernment, therefore, we need to take note of a few 

The Five Principles (Criteria) of Judgment 

The first principle concerns truth or the discipline of the Holy 
Spirit. As you converse with a brother or a sister, you should notice if 
his or her lessons are learned from the truth or from the discipline of
the Holy Spirit. Some incline to the one side and some lean to the 
other. Some bend to the truth, while some tilt to the discipline of the 
Spirit. Learning from truth means that a person acts according to the 
word and relevant teaching of the Bible which he has heard. Or he 
obeys the Lord when he is moved by what he reads of the Scriptures 
or what he hears from preaching. On the other hand, learning from 
the discipline of the Holy Spirit means that after a person has
experienced the dealing hand of the Lord upon him, he is gradually 
broken by the Lord and is delivered from his early stage of 
insubordination, murmuring, fret, or opinions into a state of
obedience. This is a learning from the circumstances of his 
environment as so arranged by the Holy Spirit. 

Hence one person may learn to obey through teaching and another 
person may learn to obey through dealings. As a worker for the Lord 
you need to discern on which side of this issue that brother or sister 
belongs. If there is learning on both sides, that is the best. With such 
a balance as this, a Christian can walk uprightly. God’s worker must 
therefore be acquainted with both ways of learning. Then he can 
detect which way is absent or present in a given brother or sister. He 
must know in his heart where the need is in this person or that. Some 
believers know nothing about the discipline of the Holy Spirit, and 
hence they are hard and raw. Others are in just the opposite 
ignorance; that is, they have no ability to learn from truth and 
relevant teaching. Thus they are ignorant of many truths and are not 
obedient to many commandments in the Bible. 

The second principle or criterion by which to render judgment has 
to do with the outside versus the inside. Some have only the first and 
none of the second. They may learn much in matters of the truth, but 
their obedience to these truths is all outward: they are outwardly 
baptized, they outwardly practice head-covering, and so forth. 
Nevertheless, there is no inward learning. Some others, though, may 
encounter various unpleasant situations and pass through many 
difficulties—all these being the result of the discipline of the Holy 
Spirit upon their lives—and yet all these things touch only the 
outside, stop there and never reach the inside. From this we may 
conclude that a life under the discipline of the Holy Spirit may be 
lived outwardly or lived inwardly. 

Let us take, for example, the case of a person who is sick. He is 
one who is under the Spirit’s discipline. Now on the one hand he 
may appear to be submissive outwardly, but on the other hand he 
does not have inward joy and praise because of his illness. Though 
outwardly he may declare, “If I am sick, I am sick,” this is at most 
patiently and passively accepting the discipline; it is not an inward 
attitude of praise and thanksgiving. Such discipline has merely 
touched the outside. Yet if in accepting the sickness he not only 
patiently endures the discipline of the Holy Spirit but also takes the 
further step of praising the Lord, such discipline impacts upon the 
person inwardly.

As we have seen, however, this person can neither give thanks nor 
praise. He is simply forcing himself to subject himself under the 
mighty hand of God. The impact of such discipline upon him is only 
outward. But if he can bring himself to praise and thank God for 
giving him this discipline and if his heart can be full of joy, then 
God’s discipline will reach its end in that life. When discipline 
becomes something inward, the person will not ask for quick relief 
from his sickness so as to feel comfortable. Instead, he will be able to 
praise and thank the Lord for what He has done and to confess that 
what the Lord has done is all well. 

As another example, someone may see the error of being in a sect 
and come out of it; but in his having done so, sectarianism has 
unfortunately not left him. For his love of the brethren has not 
increased and his fellowship is still restricted. For instance, when he 
meets a brother he may appear to be open, even embracing and 
kissing that brother. Even so, though he exhibits an outward 
expression of brotherly love, there is no real sense of love inwardly. 
All is acting and pretending. All is outward, not inward. 
Let us who seek to serve the Lord understand that all the virtues 
mentioned in the Bible point to the being of a person, not his doing. 
So that in the process of discerning, we need to have a clear picture 
of the life of a given brother or sister as to whether it is inward or just 
outward. If only the latter, we must lead him to the inward. Many say 
a certain brother is very good. But how good is he? Is it an inward or 
an outward goodness? The difference is great. We must learn to 
distinguish the inward and the outward of a life. 

The third principle or criterion to be used by God’s workers in 
rendering judgment or discernment pertains to the issue of the spirit 
versus the mind. On the one hand many spiritual things register in 
man’s spirit and on the other hand in man’s mind. It is very difficult 
for some to judge from the words and terms which another person 
uses whether the thing to be judged is emanating from the spirit or 
from the mind. For people can adopt the same words and terms from 
either source because they have had little or no dealings of renewal 
in their mind. But if you as one who must judge in such matters have 
had spiritual experiences and have learned much in your spirit, then 
you can perceive whether a person’s speech is coming from his mind 
or from his spirit. You can discern the inward difference. When 
someone speaks out of his spirit, you can touch that spirit as soon as 
he speaks. Conversely, you touch the mind of the speaker when he 
speaks out of his mind. Spiritual things that stay only in the mind 
become ideals which carry no spiritual value. Furthermore, if 
someone’s spiritual life relies solely on mental knowledge, his life 
becomes empty and devoid of any spiritual worth.

 The lives of believers must not be managed by the mind. 

Let us see, then, that to judge a speech whether it emanates from 
the spirit or from the mind is the initial step in spiritual discernment. 
He who cannot distinguish spirit from mind is unable to render 
spiritual judgment. Such an inability is a serious problem in divine 
service. For wherever we who serve the Lord come and go we must 
learn to discern. We must be able to sense at once whether a person’s 
spirit or mind has come forth. For though the words may be the 
same, those which come out of the mind do not have the same flavor 
as the words which come out of the spirit. People 
frequently reported that a certain brother spoke well. When I went to 
hear him, however, I found that all he said came out of his mind. I 
made the same discovery when another person was reported to have 
preached exceedingly well. In several contacts I then had with this 
man I could only meet his mind. 

Let it be recognized that some words we hear spoken are from the 
spirit and some words from the mind; which means we must not be 
deceived by the spoken words. Sometimes young people may think 
they can speak the same words that other brothers have spoken, and 
even speak better. But actually those other brothers speak out of their 
spirit whereas the young people too often speak out of their mind. 
The quality between the two is quite different. Yet unless you are 
able to discern this qualitative difference, you will be easily 

 A person who grapples with God’s word in his mind 
without any engagement of his spirit in the learning process may 
have something to say; but because his spirit was given no place, 
what he said was useless. A worker for the Lord must learn to 
differentiate between what is of the mind and of the spirit. 

The fourth principle or criterion to follow when rendering spiritual 
judgment relates to the natural and the spiritual. When you who are 
God’s worker are dealing with a brother or listening to his testimony, 
you should use your spirit to search out his spiritual condition. You 
might make up a list showing what kind of person he is naturally and 
what kind he is spiritually. As he opens his mouth, you will 
recognize what kind of man he is: whether clever, fast-speaking, 
lazy, confused, quick-tempered, careless, humorous, joking, 
talkative, naughty, inaccurate, or whatever.  Each person has his own
 characteristics, and if you have the time, you can put the predominant 
characteristics of each person on a list, for no one is able to conceal 
himself for too long. True, at the beginning he may be able to control 
himself; eventually, though, he will expose himself, for as he 
continues to speak, he will reveal his characteristics to you. Hence 
when you listen, you can generally disregard his initial words since 
usually they are spoken under control. But after a while, his own self 
will begin to show forth, for “out of the abundance of the heart the 
mouth speaketh” (Matt. 12.34). 

Now once you have discovered his natural characteristics, you can 
then shift your attention to the other facet to this to learn how he is 
before the Lord. Perhaps his temper has been dealt with; perhaps his 
speech or attitude or self-love has been dealt with. Through his 
experiences a person may have learned some lesson about physical 
problems. By this you may know that God has done something in his 
life. From the word of his testimony you can discern how much he 
has learned before the Lord, how much God has worked in his life,
and how much Christ is being incorporated in him. All these are 
building up his life. ;

For this reason, you need to know a person both on the natural side and the spiritual side. You must determine what kind of a man he is naturally, and also how much upbuilding is taking place in his life. You should also take note how his spirit and natural characteristic blend together. With regard to some people, of course, this point may be rather hard to ascertain. Yet even if you are able to 
judge this, you may not be able to prescribe the remedy. For example, some people are quick in thought, but due to their much discipline, you will need to ask yourself whether such quickness needs to be dealt with. This depends on discerning whether their natural characteristic of quickness interferes with their being good Christians. How we must learn to discern! We need to know people’s condition clearly 
before we can direct their way. 

The fifth and final principle or criterion that needs to be 
mentioned has to do with distinguishing between the spirit and 
emotion: between what is emanating from a believer’s spirit and 
what is emanating from his emotion. It is much easier to apprehend 
the difference between the spirit and the mind than to discern the 
difference between the spirit and emotion. It is quite difficult to 
differentiate when man’s spirit comes forth and when his emotion 
comes forth. Even so, we still must learn this difference, for some 
speak out of their spirit while others speak out of their feelings. 
The spirit, like the soul, has its knowledge and emotion. Spiritual 
knowledge differs from mental knowledge in that the latter proceeds 
from the mind and therefore you cannot touch the spirit at all. If a 
person’s knowledge springs forth from his spirit you will inwardly 
sense reality and respond with an amen. You will feel comfortable 
inside. If a person’s speech originates from his mind, though, his 
words may sound correct and yet you inwardly detest them. 

Now when a believer’s speech sallies forth from his spirit, it gives 
you a comfortable and joyful feeling. As his spirit comes forth, your 
spirit echoes. If, however, what he says arises from his emotion, it is 
difficult for you to discern whether he speaks from his emotion or 
from his spirit. If the spirit of a believer launches out with thought 
we will only sense his spirit and not his thought. But if his spirit 
pushes forth with emotion we can feel both, for the spirit is in the 
emotion. We will sense the spirit as well as the emotion. How easily 
we mistake emotion for spirit. 

How, then, are we going to distinguish between these two? It is 
really difficult to explain, but I will try my best to elucidate. We say 
that when a person’s spirit comes forth it carries with it emotion. If 
his emotion and spirit are at one, his spirit will be echoed in you. By 
this you know that his spirit is clean and gentle, yet strong. But when 
a person’s spirit comes out with his emotion and you sense that his 
spirit and emotion do not agree, then his emotion is released but you 
cannot find his spirit. And as your spirit is being touched by his 
emotion you have a sense of being defiled. As a matter of fact, 
whenever there is emotion but not spirit present, you always feel 
inwardly polluted. When the spirit and emotion are one, however, 
you inwardly experience joy and can amen it. Now should we ever 
detect any defilement of our spirit, we must reject it altogether. In 
this entire matter, we must apply ourselves diligently to learn to 
discern between the spirit and emotion. 

Basic Condition for Spiritual Judgment 

Let me mention one more thing. In our endeavor to exercise 
spiritual judgment, there is a fundamental condition to be met: we 
ourselves must receive strict judgment before God. I cannot give you 
any method as to how to discern. I can only say that your knowledge 
of others depends on your knowledge of yourself. Unless you know 
yourself, you will not be able to know others. After you yourself 
have been strictly judged by God, you can easily discern your 
brothers and sisters. When another person’s spirit comes forth, how 
can you know if his spirit is right or wrong? You can only know 
because you have inwardly learned your own lessons, you have 
passed through judgment, you have had inner experience. You can 
measure those things which come out from other people by your own 
experiences, and thus you will be enabled to know immediately 
where they stand. If there is a lesson you have not learned, then you 
cannot detect its error in others and thus you will unknowingly let it 
pass. But if in that area you have been severely dealt with by God, 
then as soon as something similar appears in others, you will know 
and recognize it at once. 

Hence the basis of our knowledge of people is found in ourselves 
being judged. To the degree that we know ourselves, to that degree 
will we know our brothers and sisters. If we have not been judged 
before God, no amount of methods will be effective. What we 
ourselves have not passed through can never help other people 
through. But with sufficient dealing we shall be able to detect others’ 
problems and help them get through their difficulties. 
We ourselves need to have more dealing. The more we learn 
before God about ourselves the better we are able to know our 
brothers and sisters. Otherwise, we are unaware where and how they 
have gone wrong. We need to be dealt with by the Holy Spirit in 
large and small matters. What we ourselves have experienced 
enables us to understand the actions or proclivities of others. For as a 
matter of fact, men are more or less alike. Their temper, nature, 
desires and so forth are not that far apart. Their ways of error and sin 
lie within a limited range. Everyone is a descendant of Adam; all 
therefore inherit Adam’s life. And hence, should we be enlightened 
to better know ourselves, it is almost certain that we can better know 
our entire world. Just bear in mind that in every descendant of Adam 
can be found a full-fledged Adam. It therefore becomes relatively 
easy to diagnose others if we have learned to know ourselves. Let us 
not fancy that if we can just learn a certain technique we can know 
people. No, we must first learn the lessons about ourselves before we 
can ever use any method. Our usefulness depends upon our 
willingness to be dealt with by God. Whatever dealings we avoid 
experiencing before God will be precisely those areas in which we 
cannot help others. So let us not be so foolish as to play truant in this 
regard. For if we do play truant, it will only lessen our spiritual 

What is ministry? Ministry is supplying others with what we have 
learned before God. No learning, no supply. All our happenings, 
arrangements and disciplines are for the sake of preparing us for the 
ministry. True discipline of the Holy Spirit increases the richness of 
ministry. The less you pass through, the less help you can give to 
others. The more difficulties you encounter and the more discipline 
you experience, the better you are able to lead people to fullness. The 
scope of ministry will be determined by the amount of the Spirit’s 
discipline in your life. If you have not learned anything, then all you 
can say to your brothers and sisters are but trivial, humorous 
words—words which can never hit the target. But if you have 
learned much, you can discern whether or not people’s problems 
have been resolved. Moreover, you will not be easily deceived. 
Take, for example, the matter of the gospel. This is at least one 
issue about which you know something. No person can deceive or 
cheat you about whether or not he is saved. Even so, the principle 
will be the same for you when it comes to deeper spiritual issues: it 
all depends upon your learning and experience before the Lord. The 
more you learn, the sharper will be your discernment. A casual touch 
with a brother will quickly tell you what is wrong. 

May I therefore beg you, for the sake of fulfilling your ministry in 
serving the Lord, that you gladly and willingly put yourself in God’s 
hand and accept the discipline of the Holy Spirit. Unless there is a 
building up within, there can be no work without. All God’s works  
are done deep within a man, not merely in his mind. Not because of 
two or three years’ study of the Bible are you able to be a preacher. 
How easy it would be if the Lord merely required His disciples to 
recite some sermons. Instead, He desires to bring them through much 
practical learning. 
The reason why we desire to know people is for the sake of 
helping them, not for the sake of curiosity. It is to build them up, not 
to destroy them. In order to be useful, we must unconditionally, 
unreservedly, and joyfully commit ourselves into God’s hand and 
accept the discipline of His Holy Spirit. The measure of your 
acceptance here determines your future usefulness elsewhere. The 
more the discipline, the more the enlargement and usefulness. We 
should not instruct people merely with teaching. We must accept the 
discipline of the Holy Spirit that can lead us into spiritual fullness 
and service.

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