Discerning Right from Almost Right


“All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition… making the Word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down.” Mark 7:9/13

Traditions – beliefs, activities, etc. that are passed down and repeated. I’m a huge fan of traditions. Everyone has them, some make no sense at all other than that’s the way it’s always been done. Our biggest ones revolve around food. Whatever that says about us, I don’t know. But come Christmastime, you’d better believe the same recipes are going to be made in the same way on the same day as every other year. It’s tradition.

Jesus is challenging the Pharisees. He’s pointing out to them that they value their oral traditions and laws more than God’s commandments. They are putting something secondary in first place and negating what is most important, essentially voiding the power of God in their lives.

This has started me thinking about things we do that may be hindering our right relationship with Jesus. I’m never ever interested in tearing someone down or criticizing just for the sake of it. There’s way too much of that going around. But I AM all about recognizing truth and addressing those little ‘red flags’ that pop up from time to time in our lives.

Here’s the vague story – I’m keeping it vague because I believe it’s more important to focus on God’s intentions and desires for us than get bogged down in man’s opinions. Anyways… a marvelously popular Christian with a huge following recommends a book. Ten zillion people respond gleefully and announce, “I’m on my way to the bookstore now!” and “Downloading it now!” within minutes on social media. They know nothing of this book, it looks interesting and it must be great if so and so is recommending it, yes?

Here’s where things get weird. I’ve read this book. And it has some pretty big issues. Someone writes what I’m thinking in my head all along. “Umm… I’ve read this book and would like to say that it isn’t really Biblical. There’s a lot in here that doesn’t match up with God’s Word, so please be careful.”


This poor thing was raked over the coals. The usual catchphrases came out about “who are you to judge” and “no wonder people leave the church” (I’m not joking, someone said that). Quite a few more dissenters came out and tactfully pointed out some huge problems with this book and received the same treatment. It was a fascinating, not in a good way. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Usually, I don’t engage in stuff like this, it’s like going down a rathole. But this time – it was too absurd to ignore.

Here are some things I’m taking away from this little debacle.

  • It’s good to stand up for the truth, as long as we do so in love. If something strikes you as off, or doesn’t match up with God’s Word, speak up! Nobody is correct 100% of the time. Not my favorite author and not yours. We are human. God’s Word has to be our measuring stick, not the opinions of others. People really freak out at this and pull out the “judging” card. Discernment and judgment are not the same. I Thessalonians tells us to “test all things, examine all things” (5:21). Without discernment, we are “tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14).
  • People are thirsty and desperate to hear from God. I’m not being hard on people who seek out answers in the latest Christian book or fad. They are hungry for God and seeking after Him. But in that desire to grow and change, we fall for things we shouldn’t. We may be in a desperate time in our lives where we’ll try anything to get our answer. There is always room for improvement in our prayer lives for example, but are we going to God or do we seek out a method? Our thirst needs to take us to His Word first. Books are great for filling in little areas and mixing things up, but we need to be motivated by what HE says above others.
  • When someone claims to have a “new and improved” way of praying or just doing life with Jesus or claims to have cornered some area of the Christian life… hoist up that red flag and hold it high. I’m not saying we don’t all receive revelation, we do. It comes from the Spirit and God’s word and through people and circumstances. All good things. But the Bible tells us that we already have an anointing from God and we know all things (I John 2:20), meaning what was true hundreds of years ago is still true. The pioneers didn’t have Lifeway Christian Store and they did just fine with their Bibles. God didn’t give us 21st century people new ways of hearing Him that didn’t exist for someone else. Believers have the very MIND of Christ (I Corinthians 2:16). We need not be confused or on the lookout for some magic formula to get closer to God. We already have what we need.
  • I realize that most of these writers have good hearts and want to encourage people and help them. But there is such a danger in putting our traditions and methods above what God has already provided for us. Just as the Pharisees did as they clung to their stories and fables. The particular book that started all this was drawn entirely from a story from the Jewish Talmud. The main character is never mentioned in the Bible at all. The author implicitly says that you can’t just read the Bible. It gets very murky from there, but his whole premise is about drawing circles (actual, physical circles) around yourself and praying inside them until God answers. I circle and underline promises in my Bible, but this is different. There’s more to it, and I believe his heart is good, so I’m not meaning to attack here, I’m just saying this is dangerous as it leads us away from the person we are praying TO and makes us rely on a method that is found nowhere in the Bible. A woman who had never even heard of the book replied that she was going to go sit in a hula hoop on her floor and pray for her answer. Ugh. God doesn’t care if you’re in your hula hoop or your car… He hears us when we pray. And we must pray with a pure heart, not out of a ritual.

Let’s not allow traditions and methods to get in the way of Jesus and the living Word. May we not be sidetracked by superficial things that are just empty promises based on performance. Lots of people have lots of things to say – good and bad. We are made to build one another up and encourage each other in the Word. Let’s go to that first and be discerning about what we let into our hearts and minds.

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