One characteristic of Christians with the spiritual gift of discernment is that they are very hard on themselves. The continual conviction of sin and desire to keep short accounts with God is not a bad thing, yet there are times when those so gifted feel like saying, “God, give me a break.”
The reason for this sense of continual conviction is that the sins of others cannot be seen clearly unless I see my own sin first. Jesus started out with . . .
“For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:2)
Romans 2 lays this out in the same terms that Jesus does . . .
“Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Romans 2:1–5)
However, Jesus goes on to say . . .
“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3–5)
Notice that the usual reaction to seeing sin in others can be the desire to fix it for them but not do anything about it in me. Yet that is hypocrisy. If I can see it in others, it is because I’ve already become aware of that sin in myself.
Example: If I am critical of my neighbor because they are always competing with others for status, it is because I know exactly what that attitude looks and feels like. As Jesus says, I cannot help the other person overcome their envious spirit if I have not confessed and been cleansed of my own envious spirit.
The psalmist expresses this principle this way . . .
“With the merciful you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless; with the purified you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.” (Psalm 18:25–26)
God is telling me that I see others through my own lens. It may not be an error in judgment, but a true evaluation, yet the next step is to look at my own life, not to focus on the sins of others. God says we are all sinners and capable of falling into any and all sins. I can see hypocrisy and fraud and all sorts of ugliness in others because sin is also in my own heart.
What then is the point of discernment? It is not to judgmentally condemn someone else. It is also not to smugly say, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Yes, grace is a wonderful truth yet I am not innocent of the sins that I criticize in others.
Instead, God wants humility. He wants me to realize that I have no right to judge, but also that in discerning sins in others, I absolutely must see those things in myself and bring them to Him in humble confession and repentance. Without removing those logs in my eyes, I cannot see how to properly use the discernment God gives.
That gift of discernment is not so I can change the world around me. It is so God can deepen my walk with Him by revealing and removing my sin. This too is grace. I’ve often said that God accepts me as I am but loves me too much to leave me that way.
Grace gives the ability to see, to discern, to call sin sin, and to fall on my face before Him. He forgives sin because of the marvelous atonement of the cross where Jesus took the judgment that I deserve. Discernment is not supposed to elevate anyone above others, but make us realize that we are sinners together — and also together gifted with His merciful salvation.