How to be discerning in a world trying to control your choices

How can singles be discerning in a world that's trying to seduce us to follow the crowd?

I believe there are two keys to making godly decisions. First, we have to listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and second, we need a set of impeccable standards to rely on.

The Holy Spirit lives inside every Christian. The trouble is that we often prioritize our  own desires over his. Surrender to God's will corrects this problem.

Once we surrender, we have to be familiar with God's standards. They can only be found in the Bible. Let's not confuse this with legalism, the notion that we must obey the law to get saved. Jesus did everything necessary for us to get to heaven. We can't add anything to that.

Let's break this down and see how you can be discerning in separating the constructive from the destructive.

What is discernment, anyway?

Discernment is the ability to detect what is worthwhile, to sort through confusing claims to determine what is right and wrong.

In the Bible, a discerning person had the God-given skill to get at the truth. King Solomon asked God for a discerning heart, to be able to distinguish between good and evil.

Today, It's is more important than ever to be discerning. You and I are bombarded with information every day. Much of it is inconsequential, such as which margarine to buy. Other claims can take us down a path that leads us out of God's will, to sin and destruction.

For example, in my home state, Illinois, USA, marijuana is now legal when purchased from government-licensed dispensaries. But is it wise to use a mind-altering drug?

Listen to this explanation from

"Getting drunk is a sin. Whether it be alcohol, drugs, or some other addictive behavior, Jesus said, 'You cannot serve two masters.' (Matthew 6:24). When we get drunk with alcohol or high on drugs, we are serving a master other than the Lord."

After you run your life in the ditch several times, it may dawn on you that it would be smarter to let God do the driving. We all reach that conclusion at different ages, and some poor folks never reach it at all, repeating the same self-sabotaging behavior their entire life

How can we be discerning?

Solomon could have asked for anything in the world. Instead of riches and power, he asked God for wisdom. God was pleased with his request.

You and I also need to ask God for a discerning heart, and he will give it to us. When we ask God for this gift, we commit ourselves to following where the Holy Spirit leads. What good is it to know the difference between good and evil if you don't follow the good path?

We're also required to be discerning in choosing a master. That choice is between God and the world. The Bible uses the term "the world" to describe all the things on Earth that are opposed to God. We're commanded to be "in the world but not of the world." In other words, we have to live here, but we don't have to fall prey to its ways.

The gift of discernment empowers us to identify worldly influences that would be harmful to us so we can avoid them. It's pretty obvious that nonbelievers who follow the world's ways are vulnerable to falling into trouble.

Unchanging vs. different every day

God's standards, as set down in the Bible, are unchanging because God is perfect. He never makes a mistake. He is the ultimate authority who doesn't need to keep up with the times.

Compare that to our society. Values change every day. Things that used to be bad are now good. Things that used to be good are now bad. We're constantly being told what to believe, based on…what? What makes some company the most money? What helps some political party win more elections? What some celebrity thinks?

The proof that society's standards are flawed is reflected in our high levels of immorality, violence, thievery and corruption. Simply put:

The world is a mess because people are not obeying God.

Sin has bad consequences. People by the millions are making wrong choices. All our so-called "freedom" has resulted in unprecedented misery.

But you can be different. You can avoid these failures by holding yourself to a higher standard—God's standard, as found in the Bible.

Now the truth of Christianity is that no one can keep the Law. No one is capable of obeying all the Commandments and completely avoiding sin. That's why Jesus died to save us. We cannot save ourselves by good works and obedience.

The Big However is that God's standards in the Bible are a clear expression of right and wrong. Accept the world's standard of "right" and it could be a compromise. Accept God's standard of right and you have a pure and true measure. Be discerning and select God's way.

Be discerning about what you do

When you obey the Holy Spirit instead of the world, you may not be popular with some people around you, but you'll win the approval and support of God. Which would you rather have?

Here's one of the most important principles of the Bible, which still holds true today:

"Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows." (Galatians 6:7, NIV)

In today's language, it means every action has consequences. Live a selfish, sinful life, and bad things will naturally happen to you. Be discerning and live a godly, obedient life and you will miss out on those painful consequences.

We can't always predict all the consequences of every decision, but we can usually see the bad ones, if we're honest with ourselves.  Denying that the consequences of your actions will happen is lying to yourself.  If you go ahead and do something stupid and say, "I don't care about the consequences," you're not being smart.  You're not facing reality.

To most of us, obeying the government's laws is a no-brainer, and yet our prisons are overflowing. The world encourages us to eat whatever we like; eventually our body will suffer the consequences. The world says cohabitate; God says don't live together unless you're married.

It's simple, really. Choose God's way or the world's way. Be mastered by God or the world, but as Jesus said, you can't serve both.

Traits of a discerning person

1. They are skeptical but not cynical.

We should weigh the information we take in, yet not assume that everything we hear is designed to trick us.  It makes sense, as a mature adult, to stop being gullible.  If you ask "What's in it for them?" about TV commercials, political talk, and sales people, you'll drill down to the truth quickly.

2. They are kind but not pushovers.

We have a responsibility to be polite without letting ourselves become doormats.  Stand up for yourself.  Don't let yourself be bullied.  When people understand that they can't bulldoze over you, they'll respect you more.  Some of them will keep trying, but don't back down. Don't go out of your way to be confrontational but make it clear you do have ethical and personal limits.

3.  They rely on the Holy Spirit.

We're not omniscient. We can't know everything, but God does.  By obeying God's commandments, you'll receive his protection now and in the future.  Things may not always work out the way you hoped, but God will stand with you to help you through.  The better you know the simple commands of Christ, the more closely in touch you'll be with his Spirit.  Ask him for guidance and expect him to respond. 

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