6 Thoughts To Help You Discern Truth and Give Grace

  1. Share
5 1

Over the past several months, many of you have messaged our team here at Authentic Intimacy asking for my opinion on a recent book or controversy within the Christian community. Most recently, people want my opinion on the new film adaptation of Redeeming Love. You may have noticed that I’m not quick to write reviews of Christian books or media. Yes, I have opinions, but often they are nothing more than that… my opinions. 

I can remember the days when Christians argued about the evils of Harry Potter and whether or not The Shack was heretical. Today, it’s Jesus and John Wayne, "The Rise & Fall of Mars Hill," and The Making of Biblical Womanhood. Next year, there will assuredly be another round of books and podcasts that stir conversation and debate. 

Rather than share my opinions, I am far more passionate about helping you develop a God-honoring framework through which you can evaluate and understand what’s happening around us. 

When I consider how God wants us to approach whatever new debate pops into our social media feed, I think of two qualities: discernment and grace. These are absolutely essential character traits to be growing in as we mature in the Christian faith. Grace without discernment leaves us vulnerable to becoming rudderless Christians, “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14 NIV). Discernment without grace will turn us into the “clanging gong” Paul described in I Corinthians 13—an annoying sound no one wants to listen to. 

Discernment and grace are not qualities we are born with or that magically appear when we become Christians. They are meant to be cultivated on the journey of becoming like Jesus. Paul prayed for the Philippians, “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best…” (Philippians 1:9-10 NIV).


Growing in Discernment

I had a college professor who was a professional orange juice taster. I always think of him whenever I hear the word “discernment.” His palette was so discerning that he literally got paid to sip orange juice. 

When we read a book, listen to a podcast, or watch a film, we want to be like that: to have such a discerning spiritual palette that we can taste the difference between pure truth and a message that is just a little bit off. 

Everything you hear or read from a human being (including me) will fail the test of “pure truth.” Even with the best intentions, we are still imperfect with a limited perspective of the world. My experiences, personality, and worldview flavor everything I say, write, or read. That means that you can’t just sit back and consume without engaging and asking good questions. You will never read an author or listen to a teacher who is always one hundred percent spot on. 

Discernment is crucial, so how do you get it? 

1. Listen more than you speak. 

“Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19 NIV). Just as my professor swished orange juice around in his mouth to fully taste it, we need to be quiet and thoughtful about what we consume. 

We live in a soundbite culture. We are prone to take one sentence or one episode in a person’s life and rush to judgment. If you want to be discerning, do your homework. Don’t react to one paragraph someone posts from a book. Consider the larger work and then pause. 

You will never meet a discerning person who is impulsive or always in a hurry. Nor do we become more discerning while we are talking. Discernment requires the time and stillness to listen. 

2. Study the Bible.

The author of Hebrews wrote, “You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:12-14 NIV).

Let’s unpack this metaphor. Milk is predigested food. A mother eats food and then her body digests the nutrients and transforms the food into milk, a substance a baby’s digestive system can handle. When you are a new Christian, you often need God’s Word digested for you. An author or teacher wrestles with the Scripture and puts it in a framework you can understand. As you grow in your faith, you too need to learn to do the reading and wrestling. This is how you grow in discernment. 

As helpful as you may find devotionals and podcasts, never let them become a substitute for reading the Bible for yourself. 

3. Pray for discernment.

Sometimes, we reject the truth because it doesn't feel right and we embrace wrong ideas because they align with what we want to believe. Only the Holy Spirit gives us discernment to see truth beyond what we feel. This discernment is the wisdom God promises to give us when we ask for it. 

Before checking in with your favorite teacher or podcaster on a particular topic, do you ask God to guide you and give you wisdom? Honestly, I often fail to do this. I become more interested in a person’s opinion than I am in hearing from the Lord. 

I need to always pray, Lord, search my heart. Guide me in truth. Teach me wisdom in the innermost parts of my heart.


Growing in Grace

Who is the most gracious person you know? What actions communicate grace? I think of a person who is grateful for any kind gesture. Give her a Dollar Store mug for a Christmas gift—a gracious person is moved by the fact that you thought of her at all. Gracious people are unassuming and always looking for the good in others. 

The trait of discernment can sometimes make us critical. We walk away from every book and sermon with a glaring awareness of what was lacking. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think on these things” (Philippians 4:8). My mentor Linda Dillow once pointed out to me that this verse says if anything, not if everything

A gracious heart comes alongside discernment, tempering our response to what is lacking. Here are a few ways you can grow in grace. 

1. Assign the best motives.

I am blessed to know a lot of people in ministry. I know authors, speakers, and high-profile Christian leaders. While none of them are perfect, they minister with a sincere heart to honor God and help people. 

I often read books by fellow Christians and find things I don’t agree with. Discernment helps me press into these questions and debates, but grace reminds me that these are my brothers and sisters. “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10). Paul wrote this in the context of the early church, in which there was disagreement about a lot of things.

2. Remember human frailty.

It encourages me deeply to read about Moses’ insecurity, Elijah’s fearful flight from Jezebel, and John the Baptist’s doubts about Jesus. Why? Because I’m reminded that there is no such thing as a spiritual superhero. 

Studying church history will readily reveal the flaws of Martin Luther, Augustine, and Billy Graham. Jesus said, “Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi’ (or teacher), for you have one Teacher” (Matthew 23:8 NLT). Even very devoted and godly people are going to get some things wrong. Don’t put them on pedestals. God has given us a body of teachers, evangelists, counselors, and shepherds across the world who together help us grow. Be wary of becoming overly reliant on one person’s opinion. This will help you approach leaders with grace rather than unrealistic expectations. 

3. Confront with love and humility.

Paul, who wrote so much about Christian unity, also reminded us that there are times to confront. Paul modeled this in his letters to the Corinthians as well as in his disagreement with Peter about the Jewish Christians. 

Part of Christian love is calling out bad teaching and ungodly behavior,  sometimes with strong words of rebuke when warranted. When we do this, we are reminded by Jesus to first prayerfully examine our own hearts. Only when God has humbled us can we confront someone else with the right spirit.

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently (emphasis mine). But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted”(Galatians 6:1 NIV).

Regrettably, much Christian confrontation in 2022 is far from prayerful and gracious. We publicly spew opinions about people we’ve never met and judge from a heart of arrogance. While calling out sin or bad teaching, we ourselves fall into the sins of slander and self-righteousness. 


Imagine how the world would be different if God’s people were known for their discernment and grace. Revival of that sort can actually happen, and it could begin with you. 

I’m so glad that you trust Authentic Intimacy to help you grow in your Christian walk. May we grow in discernment and grace together!


Community tags

This content has 0 tags that match your profile.


To leave a comment, login or sign up.
  • Anna Seid

    Anna Seid

    Thank you for this thoughtful article on the importance of growing discernment with grace and for the practical suggestions that help to mark growth in this area.

Related Content

What's the Purpose of Your Sexuality, Really?
(Presione aquí para leer en español). If someone asks you, “What are your thoughts on cohabitation?” or “Do you believe God is ok with gay marriage?” how would you respond?  To answer those questions, you will (without even realizing it) tap into your underlying beliefs about the purpose of sexuality.  Every opinion you have about sexual issues is rooted in a larger narrative of what you believe about sex—and ultimately, God. Your sexual narrative is the background that helps you make sense of sexuality. It’s the backstory on why our sexual experiences and choices should matter.  Our culture’s changing views on issues like living together or gender fluidity come from an evolution in our sexual narrative. The larger culture now predominantly tells a humanistic narrative that honors human sexuality as a primary form of self-expression and identity.  In a recent study, the Barna group concluded, “Sex has become less a function of procreation or an expression of intimacy and more of a personal experience. To have sex is increasingly seen as a pleasurable and important element in the journey toward self-fulfillment.” If sex is an important part of self-fulfillment, experimentation and sexual “freedom” become very important avenues to maturity.  In contrast to this narrative, the traditional church narrative presents sexuality as a “pass or fail” test of moral character and religious commitment. In my last blog post, I wrote about the limitations of the traditional “purity narrative” of sexuality. If you read that post, you might have been left wondering. If “saving yourself for marriage” isn’t the complete Christian narrative about sex, then what is? To understand the fuller picture of Christianity and sex, we need to start with the premise that sexuality isn’t just about what happens here on earth. It was created by God as something sacred. Sexuality is fundamentally linked to intimacy. As much as our culture tries to push the concept of “casual sex,” there is nothing casual about it. Sexuality, as created by God, taps into our deepest longings and vulnerabilities.  Sexuality must first and foremost be understood as an earthly aspect of humanity that points to a heavenly truth. That truth is that we were made for intimacy. We were created with deep longings to be known, embraced, and loved eternally by a God who will never leave us nor forsake us.  We cannot understand marriage and sexuality until we understand what they were designed to point to. Our sexual longings symbolize the experience of being incomplete. A sexual encounter at best provides a momentary taste of what we were created to experience for eternity. Even within marriage, we continue to have these longings because marriage was never meant to fully satisfy them. C.S. Lewis eloquently states the angst of desire and disappointment: “The longing for a union which only flesh can mediate while the flesh, our mutually excluding bodies, renders it forever unattainable.” Marriage is the metaphor for the answer—not the answer itself!  God created the covenant of marriage to be an earthly experience that points to the eternal reality that Jesus Christ is the Bridegroom of His Church. He pursued her, sacrificed to make her holy, and was united with her through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. As Christians, we are most fulfilled when we abide deeply with God. We get glimpses of that intimacy here on earth, but we are still left wanting! As Paul says, all creation groans for Christ to come and claim His people. While the cultural narrative worships sex as a source of our personal fulfillment, the biblical narrative presents sex as a sacred picture of longing, unity, and covenant. Its power is not in attaining sexual satisfaction but in recognizing the deeper longing it represents. This narrative gives a greater context to all things sexual. It explains the why behind the what.  It also helps us understand why sexual intimacy is celebrated within marriage but wrong when it happens apart from a covenant. It fleshes out why sexual betrayal is so difficult to recover from. Within this narrative, male and female are not interchangeable, because they represent Christ and the church. The Christian “rules” around our sexuality are there because they frame the picture of the true purpose of our sexuality. We were not created for sexual expression. We were not even created for marriage. We were created for intimacy. The greatest sex in marriage is a wonderful thing, but still a temporal pleasure meant to point to deeper longings. This is why the New Testament holds singleness in such high esteem. The ultimate good for a Christian is not a happy marriage but surrender to and unity with Christ Himself. Marriage and sexuality are holy metaphors to be honored but should never become idols that overshadow our longing to know God Himself.  Over the past several years, I’ve been studying and “unpacking” this biblical metaphor. The deeper I press into this mystery (and it is a mystery!), the more I’m understanding God’s heart for our sexuality. It helps me put into context my struggles as a wife, the disappointments I see and experience, and also why everything sexual is such a massive spiritual battlefield. My heart for you is that as you engage with Authentic Intimacy materials, you are not simply learning the Christian “rules” about sex, but are encountering God’s heart for you. Sex is not just about sex. It is a physical way that you experience what you were created for… eternal intimacy with a faithful God.    Read the first and second blog in this series. You may also find these follow-up resources helpful:  Java with Juli #218: Rethinking Sexuality in Your Life (member exclusive) Java with Juli #160: Why God Created You to Be Sexual Java with Juli #166: We Are All Sexually Broken  Java with Juli #182: Your Generation and Your View of Sexuality
How to Have Tough Conversations
(Presione aquí para leer en español)  If you listen to our podcast, Java with Juli, you know that I don’t like small talk. Ever since I was a little girl, I have been able to acutely sense unspoken tension in a room. I’m anxious when I have a conflict with a friend or family member, and have trouble finding peace until it is addressed. Maybe this is why I chose to become a psychologist: The counseling room is one of the few places where we are allowed—and even expected—to bring up the “elephant in the room.” It’s a counselor’s job to ask about shame, regrets, secrets, and fears. While good counselors will also give advice, he or she only does so after creating a safe space for someone to share without fear of rejection or judgment.  Topics around sexuality are filled with unspoken tension: A wife who suspects her husband is looking at porn. A dad who notices his daughter is hitting puberty and abruptly stops hugging his “little girl.” A woman who had an abortion many years ago that’s she’s kept secret. A good friend or relative who decided to go through a gender change and wants you to use his/her/their new name.  Most often, we simply avoid these situations, pretending as if all is normal and our discomfort doesn’t exist. This strains our relationships and makes them anything but authentic. And when we do attempt to talk about such issues, the dialogue often ends in an argument with both sides communicating from a place of fear, hurt, or anger.  As Christians today, we often spend a lot of time debating what we should believe about sexuality. We may devote some time to ensuring we are personally honoring God with our own sexual choices. However, we often spend little to no time wrestling through how to represent the heart of Jesus as we interact with people with whom there is disagreement or tension. I believe it is imperative, both within the Christian church and outside her walls, to be able to engage in tough conversations about pain and brokenness. We don’t run around looking for those conversations, but we also should not run away from them.  Jesus stated that He Himself was truth and that knowing the truth would set us free. Tough conversations are all about together pursuing truth—truth as a concept and Truth in the person of Jesus Christ. We must learn to effectively talk about difficult things like sexual issues, racial tension, and theological differences.  I’d like to share with you a few tips that can help you to engage gracefully with people in the raw, messy conflicts of human life.    Enter with Grace  I live in Northern Ohio, not far from Lake Erie. This means we get a lot of snow and ice. I’ve had my share of white-knuckle commutes through treacherous winter storms. One of the first lessons you learn about driving through a snowstorm is to give other cars lots of room. You use the brake several feet before a stop sign just in case your car decides it doesn’t want to stop. And no one tailgates on ice! For even the most seasoned driver, winter driving is unpredictable.  These same principles apply in tough conversations: Talking about sensitive issues is unpredictable. You’re not quite sure what will trigger pain or anger as you converse. Give each other a lot of grace and space, not taking every word personally, but appreciating that some things are simply difficult to articulate. You have to give grace to have these conversations imperfectly if you ever want to learn to have them well.    Listen to Learn James gives the advice, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” Bestselling author Steven Covey wrote that one of the habits of highly successful people is “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” The principle is clear: Listen before you speak. True listening is not just waiting for your turn to talk, but striving to understand the other person’s experiences, beliefs, and feelings. Being a good listener includes asking insightful questions, allowing for silence instead of always filling it, and responding with caring statements that demonstrate that you have actually heard what the person shared.  Listening is critical for two reasons. First, listening shows respect to the other person. It means that you care and builds an emotional bridge. Secondly, when you listen, you can speak with greater discernment. By listening you will learn how to speak effectively to the heart of the other person.    Share Without an Agenda When we dialogue with people with whom we disagree, we commonly feel the pressure to change their minds. We want to convince them that our perspective is the right one. That’s not all bad! Certainly, we want to be persuasive and compelling as we share what we believe is true. But sometimes our eagerness to share truth (or even our opinions) can come across as aggressive.  Teachers like Paul and Peter were passionate about sharing Jesus, yet they encouraged fellow Christians to share truth winsomely. Paul told his spiritual son, Timothy, that “A servant of the Lord must not be quarrelsome, but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, and forbearing. He must gently reprove those who oppose him, in the hope that God may grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, who has taken them captive to his will.” Peter wrote, “In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”  As one who teaches on sexual issues, I’ve learned that biblical truth is offensive. The gospel itself offends our autonomy and the belief that we are “good people.” While the truth we share is offensive, we should be careful not to add to that offense with an abrasive or aggressive approach.  Remember that it isn’t your job to change someone’s heart or mind. Your job is to be faithful to share what God has done in your life.    Make a Long-Term Investment Part of what enables us to be good listeners and patient in sharing truth is a long-term perspective. We usually have the greatest impact on people when we invest in them over time. Interacting with someone once a week for years means that you have time to listen, to learn, to affirm, and to share truth when the time is right. A word of truth might be rejected in one season, but even requested in another.  Yes, there are certainly those urgent moments where the Lord prompts you to share right now, but most often, relational investment builds a platform for change. As Solomon wrote, “How good is a timely word!” and “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”  As you invest in people, pray that God will give you wisdom to discern when that timely word should be spoken and when it is time to listen and learn.    To learn more, check out these Java with Juli episodes:  Java with Juli #216: Do You Have an Agenda? and Java with Juli #192: Engaging in Restorative Relationships and Java with Juli #182: Your Generation & Your View of Sexuality   (Presione aquí para leer en español)