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The Dilemma

It is ironic that the fall of man occurred in his independent quest for the knowledge of good and evil; yet, a significant evidence for the maturity of a Believer is that he has "trained his senses to discern good and evil." 1

According to the serpent, "For God knows that in the day you eat from [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." 2 Eve saw that the "tree was desirable to make one wise" 3 so she and Adam munched the fruit and their innocent eyes were opened. As is said in the education business, "They were exposed to age inappropriate information." They weren’t ready for it. They didn’t know how to handle it. Worse, they passed it along to the rest of us (Genesis 5:3).

Consider the following dilemma: I came into this world with the "built-in" knowledge of good and evil, yet I did not have the spiritual resources to properly process that knowledge. I then spent a bunch of years trying to apply that knowledge with crummy resources resulting in nothing more than fleshly patterns of thinking and acting. Finally, I turned to Christ Jesus and was born from above with a complete spiritual resource kit (the Holy Spirit). Then, I was told that a measure of my maturity will be my ability to discern good and evil while the enemy is busy stimulating my old fleshly ways of discernment. What a pickle! Is it any wonder that Believers are often mystified by the "voices" in their head?

While it is true that every Believer begins as a newborn in the faith, it is incumbent upon those who are maturing to share insight with those who are young in the journey. This is called discipleship. Discipleship often involves unlearning lies and misconceptions and replacing them with truth. Jesus promises that "the truth will set you free," and Paul tells us that we are "transformed by the renewing of our mind [with truth]." So what is the truth that will free and transform the Believer to discern good and evil while distinguishing his Savior’s voice from that of the deceiving serpent?

Accept up front that there are no formulas. There are, however, guiding principles. And, there is faith—acting like God tells the truth. Jesus categorically stated, "the sheep follow him [the Good Shepherd] because they know his voice. And a stranger…they will flee from him because they do not know the voice of a stranger."4 From this perspective, we must conclude that whether we realize that we know His voice or not, we do. Paul tells us, "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. "5 He also tells us in Romans 8:29, "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son." Where does this leave us? First, that God has already installed fully functional voice-recognition software. Second, God has promised to get us to our destination. The ultimate burden is on Him. That is comforting!

Well, that takes care of that right? Not quite. There is still that pesky little verse in Hebrews 5:14 about maturing and training our senses. Apparently God wants us to participate in the process of conforming and completing with Him. This is where faith and principles must work together.

An important principle in evaluating "the voices" deals with motive. For example, Jesus tells us, "The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly." 6 If we step back to that encounter between the serpent and Adam and Eve, we can see that the serpent’s deception was intended to steal God’s creation, kill His people, and destroy any hopes God had of having a meaningful relationship with people. The deception was played against God’s creation, but the intent was to hurt God. The serpent’s objective is to steal God’s throne and His people. Step back a little further to God’s original command to Adam. In Genesis 2:16-17, God commanded, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die." Note, God did not say, "I will kill you." God knew that eating the fruit would result in immediate spiritual death, so His commandment was a warning, which if heeded, would result in continued life. An evaluation of the motivations of "the voices" is a significant indicator of source.

Here is one more principle. It deals with focus—on who or what do "the voices" want me to focus? We know that the love God has placed in our heart is far more about sacrificial giving than self-centered receiving. Since the old self-centered self was crucified with Christ, we know it is not natural for us to spend time on meaningless sensuality. On the other hand, meaningless sensuality is exactly where we can expect the enemy to attempt to focus our mind and emotions. Let’s make one final trip to the Garden. God provided Adam with a meaningful vocation ("cultivating the garden"), a delightful environment ("pleasing to the sight"), delectable food ("good food"), authority (he named all the critters), and a delightful companion (Eve). Everything was designed to meet Adam’s needs in such a way that he would not have reason to focus on himself. He was set free to focus on the love and provision of his creator and executing his responsibilities in a selfless way. The serpent had another focal plan for Adam and Eve. He wanted them to grab for the one thing they did not have—the wisdom of their creator ("you will be like God"). It is important, therefore, to consider the intended focus of "the voices."

There are many other principles that can be brought to bear, but I trust you have a good sense of what is going on. Here are some bottom line thoughts. The truth is there is a war going on in our mind. There are moments and even days when we will find ourselves caught in the crossfire described by Paul, "For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please." 7 This is where the only wisdom that counts is the wisdom to focus our faith on the God that we know and understand and trust Him to hold us steady.

Thus says the Lord, "Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, . . . ;but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things," declares the Lord. — Jeremiah 9:23,24

1. Hebrews 5:13
2. Genesis 3:5
3. Genesis 3:6
4. John 10:4, 5
5. Philippians 1:6
6. John 10:10
7. Galatians 5:16-17. During this intense battle, the Believer may be temporarily impaired from acting on the righteous desires of his pure heart, i.e., "you may not do the things that you please."