Seminary Viewpoints

man stand on cliff in fog with glimpses of blue sky and sun

Seeing Through the Fog: A Lesson on Discernment

Billy Gotcher | August 11, 2022
Theology Thursday

At 8:39 a.m. on a cloudy January 26, 2020, pilot Ara Zobayan texted Kobe Bryant that his helicopter flight was “standing by.” Zobayan had flown in those weather conditions before and knew the route, but his decision to fly in low clouds and variable terrain without instrumentation because of visual flight regulations proved to be deadly. A fog bank so disoriented the pilot that he flew directly into the mountain, believing he was climbing above the clouds. Dependent on what he could see, he was unable to discern the direction in which he was heading.

In the book of Colossians, Paul was writing to a young church that needed help seeing through a growing fog of unbelief and false teachers. The church desperately needed clear direction.

Our culture, like Colossae, has lost its ability to discern which direction we are going. A dense layer of fog has descended upon the American consciousness, and making everyone more morally disoriented than ever before. In fact, speaking out against the moral chaos is likely to get one canceled or marginalized as an enemy of progress.

The battle of ideas waging in our culture is the biggest threat to Christianity in my lifetime. Will believers see the truth through the fog of unbelief? Where do we turn for discernment among competing persuasive arguments? Paul’s solution for the Colossians is exactly what we need today.

Discernment Begins with Identity: Knowing Who You Are

When the fog of unbelief makes you doubt truth, stop and remember who you are. Paul writes in Colossians 3:1, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above.” He is not attempting to instill doubt in the believers — he is calling them to stop and realize, “Yes, we have been raised to new life in Christ!” Being raised with Christ from spiritual death to life gives hope of eternal life, God’s forgiveness, the righteousness of Jesus, and the promise of being beloved by God.

Have you been raised to new life in Christ? If yes, then stop bowing to the influence of men! Stop allowing their ideas to shape your affections and cause you to doubt God’s goodness.

Their constant appeal to be “authentic” is deadly. Authentic you and me were spiritual dead and headed down the wide road to our own destruction.

I praise the Lord that the authentic me died on the day I turned from my rebellion and trusted Jesus — that I am now a child of the King of Glory, who has everything under control!

Discernment Grows Through Engagement: Doing What I Was Created to Do

If we have been raised with Christ, then there is something we were made to do – something worth devoting our lives to pursue. Paul’s answer in Colossians 3:1: the things that are above!

This is a command to make the reality of our home in heaven guide all we think and do. This truth should shape our view of the world and transform our daily lives. We must stop wasting our lives in pursuit of temporal treasures and start investing our lives in the doing what God has made us to do. Remember, the trinkets of this world can so disorient us that we lose sight of where we are going.

Why is this so important?

Look at the rest of Colossians 3:1 — Paul tells us that this is where Christ is! He is seated at the right hand of God – the highest place of approval. If we have been raised with Him and are promised to dwell with Jesus forever, then we must be compelled by His love to engage in what really matters. Our discernment grows as we do what we were created to do: share our gift of spiritual life in Jesus with others. So speak up! Share the Gospel. Teach against moral chaos. We are silent when we fear men more than we love Jesus.

(See also Colossians 4:3-4.)

Discernment Matures Out of Right Affections: Valuing What Really Matters

Colossians 3:2 tells us also to “set” our minds on things above, not on earth. This is not a call to a mental exercise. Paul is telling us that the only way we can avoid disorientation living in a culture so clouded by unbelief is to fundamentally orient our affections on Jesus. When our minds are set, we will not wander off course. We see clearly what matters, what is valuable from Him.

The contrast in the text is meant to remind us that the trinkets of this world are not eternally valuable. They do not matter beyond this life — doing what pleases God does. Discernment allows us to lay up treasures in heaven, instead! If you have been raised to new life, then you must not waste God’s gift of life on things that are earthly bound.

So how do we get our affections right? Verses 3 and 4 continue, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” We set our affections by continually speaking these truths to ourselves:

  1. The old earthly-oriented, hell-bound slave of sin that I was died the day I was raised to new life with Jesus.
  2. I was raised to eternal life in the presence of God, and no man can take it from Him. It is hidden with Christ in God.
  3. My life here and now is about Jesus, and He is coming again to this earth to make His glory known.
  4. I am destined for eternal glory. I will dwell in the presence of the Lord forever, and in His presence is fullness of joy. These are pleasures that will never grow old.

As discussed by Billy Gotcher on The Steve Noble Show on August 11