Gullible? Cynical? or Discerning?

Have you considered how the adjectives discerning, gullible, and cynical are related?

Perhaps these three words point to one of the many areas where growing Christians need to learn to find God’s balance!

I think most of us would agree that the first word, discerning, is something good. And we would  probably agree that gullible and cynical are not so good.

But maybe we need to think about what goes on in the minds of the large numbers of people whom we have watched fall into the traps of gullibility and/or cynicism.

First, let’s realize that from a Biblical perspective, discernment is certainly a good thing.

“Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment.” (1Co 14:29 NAS95)

Paul was writing about discernment when he instructed the Corinthian church to “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment.” (1Co 14:29)

John was writing about discernment when he wrote of Jesus’ commendation of  the Ephesian church. “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false;” (Re 2:2)

The same Apostle also wrote, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1Jo 4:1)

To the Thessalonians, Paul wrote, “But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good;” (1Th 5:21)

Jesus warned us to “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Mt 7:15)

Romans 12:2 is a powerful statement regarding discernment that you may have memorized. “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Ro 12:2)

And then there is the wonderful prayer Paul prayed for the Philippians. “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ;” (Php 1:9-10)

Obviously discernment is something a growing Christian needs to develop!

So why do we look around and see so many gullible people? Gullible people are not discerning. What’s happening in their minds?

For some people, gullibility is kind of an easy way out. Usually it takes time, effort, brain power, and energy to search out the truth about a matter. It’s really easier just to believe everything you hear! Not smart! But easier!

And people who are gullible are, of course, very trusting. Trusting to a fault! But many of us are taught that to be trusting is certainly a good thing. It’s bad to be suspicious, isn’t it? So, in order to be nice, we just decide to trust everybody. And we fall into the gullibility trap.

Growing out of gullibility into discernment takes time. It’s part of the maturing process. Little kids are almost always very gullible. If you tell a three-year-old that you had to jump over a house and outrun a race car and fight a gorilla to get home, he will be in awe!

By the time kids get to high school, most are beginning to get more discerning. Although there are always a few who hang on to the gullibility. Other kids will often enjoy teasing the gullible ones with tall tales.

But even adults are susceptible. And, let’s face it, some things are just not easy to discern! And if we tend toward gullibility, we will often be guilty of not doing the work that leads to godly discernment.

In the internet age, discernment requires a new level of attentiveness. There are tons of reasonable sounding emails that go out as true stories every day that someone made up just for fun, or to stir up people’s emotions, or to make people look foolish or perhaps to try to hurt someone or some competing company. It’s easy to just gullibly accept them as true, without checking them out.

I’ve known preachers who preyed on people’s tendency to gullibility. I’ve heard stories from the pulpit, stated as true stories, which were really just lies pawned off as truth to embellish a point. Bad stuff. But it works for some preachers because so few people have learned to be discerning.

Of course, on the other side of the street, there are those who have been deceived one time too many. And they react by crossing over to the other extreme. They become cynics.

The cynics are always convinced that everyone out there is out to take advantage of them. They are convinced that no one is telling the truth. They trust no one.

Unfortunately, the cynics discard much that is true. They lose out on a lot of joy in life. And they may go so far that they lose out on what life really is all about.

They may conclude, “They lied to me about the Easter Bunny. They lied to me about the tooth fairy. They lied to me about Santa. I suspect that they’re lying to me about Jesus too.”

Of course, they are not being discerning either. It’s easier to be cynical. They could take some time and energy and check out the evidence for creation and for the reliability of Scripture and for the resurrection of Christ. But it’s more convenient for them to be cynical. Besides it allows them to convince themselves that there is no judgment! It gets them off the hook for accountability to God for their sin! And it’s so easy!

And it is exactly at this point where gullibility and cynicism find commonality! They are both much easier to do than discernment! They both represent a lazy way out.

So, how discerning are you? Do you tend toward gullibility? or do you tend toward cynicism? Most all of us probably have to resist the urge to go to one of those two extremes.

Just be aware that neither of those extremes is pleasing to God. Neither of them do us any good. Discernment is what God is looking for. And discernment will do us good.

So I commend to you… study, research, thinking, reasoning, listening, weighing evidence, praying for wisdom, learning Biblical principles, understanding human behavior, and work. I commend to you… discernment!

God is pleased with discernment! It blesses Him! And it’s a part of the process that matures us into the image of Christ!

“Make your ear attentive to wisdom, Incline your heart to understanding; For if you cry for discernment, Lift your voice for understanding; If you seek her as silver And search for her as for hidden treasures; Then you will discern the fear of the LORD And discover the knowledge of God.” (Pr 2:2-5)

Stay in the battle!

Steve Hall

Share