The Loving Purpose of Discernment

Posted by Dan Jarms
on June 12, 2022
The Loving Purpose of Discernment
Illustration of Christian and Hopeful from Pilgrim’s Progress and Holy War by John Bunyan (Cassell, © 1870). Licensed from Look and Learn.

Comments I made in a sermon about the TV series The Chosen have sparked some interest here at Faith Bible Church. Garry Morgan helped us with some excellent correspondence on the writing and production of The Chosen in Faith Weekly on May 22. You can read that article here.

Dallas Jenkins, the show’s creator and producer, is clear that The Chosen is not the Bible. When presenting Jesus, he aims to be faithful to the Bible.

But one of the things Jenkins has said repeatedly that makes many Christians puzzled is, essentially, “The LDS friends I know and work with love the same Jesus I do.” He is not affirming Mormonism in these references to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). Jenkins affirms the authority and sufficiency and inerrancy of the Bible.

So what does he mean? I can only guess. But I have heard similar statements from different Christians at Faith for 30 years. They know someone who identifies as Roman Catholic, a liberal Protestant or something else that is different than biblical Christianity, and yet they maintain that this person is a genuine Christian.

I am not going to defend or disparage Jenkins here. But, what I want to do is help us grow in loving discernment toward people in our lives who claim to be Christians.

"If we truly love someone, the most important thing for her is having an eternal relationship with the one true God."

Why would we want to do that? Wouldn’t that be judgmental? Not at all. If we truly love someone, the most important thing for her is having an eternal relationship with the one true God. We would want to have some level of certainty that our friend had a saving faith in Jesus Christ.

In John Bunyan’s classic allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress, the main character Christian spent a great deal of time in a place called House Beautiful. There he was thoroughly questioned about his faith by several caring people so they could be sure he was really saved.

Loving Christians will take the time and care to make sure their professed Christian friends are genuine Christians. Far too often, we don’t do any of this with people in our Growth Groups or in church life. We just assume they are Christians because they attend church with us.

There are good and loving ways to inquire about these matters. I love being asked these kinds of questions. I could talk about them all day.

Ask good questions

The first and easiest place to start is with the Gospel. In every baptism and membership interview I do, I ask something like this: “Tell me what the Gospel is and how can I be saved?” A good answer will explain something about God being our holy Creator, man’s sinfulness, Christ’s perfect life, His death for sin, His resurrection and soon return. It will call for a response of faith and repentance.

The second place to go is to Christ himself: “Tell me about Jesus Christ.” Look for the important realities of the Trinity and especially of Christ being eternal deity and taking on real humanity. LDS official teaching is that Jesus the man became God. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims deny that he was ever God.

The third place to look is in man’s role in salvation. Ask the Philippian jailer’s question from Acts 16:30, “What must I do to be saved?” Any answer that includes some work that he does or some way to earn salvation is not biblical. The most natural default of man is to try to earn his way to heaven. A good answer will express the truth found in Ephesians 2:8-10:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

The final place to look is love and obedience. People who are born again by the living God love God’s Word and love God’s people in a local church. Say to your friend, “Tell me about what you are reading in God’s Word and how you are loving God’s people in a local church.” Responses will indicate one of three things: a lukewarm faith (Revelation 3:5), a living faith (1 Peter 1:22-25), or dead faith (James 2:14-26). All of us need to make progress, but there is a difference between progress and no movement at all.

Good answers will both affirm the Bible and deny false teaching in other places. I have pressed some Roman Catholics on their view of the eucharist, and some don’t agree that Jesus is really being re-sacrificed, even though that is what the priest says is happening.

"You might just find out she was really a Christian but wasn’t good at describing it. You have helped her. Or, you may lead her to Christ."

What do you do when one of their answers isn’t in line with the Bible? Ask your friend if you can read some Bible verses with her. See if she is willing to study the Bible with you. If she is willing, you might just find out she was really a Christian but wasn’t good at describing it. You have helped her. Or, you may lead her to Christ.

Love takes the time

Perhaps the LDS people Dallas Jenkins knows deny or are unaware of official LDS doctrine, which includes as scripture books that make Jesus entirely different than the one in the Bible. Perhaps they don’t believe that Jesus was born as a man and became a God, like the LDS teaches. Perhaps they deny the Mormon teaching that later revelation cancels or changes earlier revelation.

Perhaps they do believe the Biblical account that the second person of the Trinity took on flesh, died for sin and was raised for the salvation of His people. Perhaps these LDS friends are on their way out of the LDS church. I can only guess.

But there are ways you can be more certain that someone you care about has eternal life in Christ. Love takes the time to do this.

Dan Jarms

Dr. Dan Jarms is teaching pastor and team leader at Faith Bible Church in Spokane Washington, as well as associate dean at TMS Spokane. He has been married for over 30 years to Linda, and has three adult children. He earned his B.A. in English at the Master’s College, B.Ed. at Eastern Washington University, M.Div and D.Min in Expository Preaching at The Master’s Seminary. His other interests include NCAA basketball, gardening, brick oven cooking.

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