What do you do when someone you love seems like they're going down the wrong path but they're claiming it's God's will? Is there ever an appropriate time to question someone's faith for their own good?
God gives us a natural desire to protect and care for the well-being of our kids, family members, and friends. But sometimes following Jesus can lead us into decisions that are not-so-safe by the world's standards. Or in more mild situations, following Jesus may lead us to beliefs and actions that are simply not easily understood by others. How do we know when something is of God or something we should question?
That's exactly the situation that Jesus seems to be in early on in ministry. In Mark 3:20-35, we see Jesus simultaneously called insane by his family and challenged as demonic by "teachers of the law" from Jerusalem. Both groups seem to have seen and heard about Jesus' ministry of preaching, healing, and casting out demons and taken exception to his message and methods. Jesus' family seems worried about his mental health. The religious teachers are more worried about Jesus being a false teacher.
Jesus has strong words for both. He warns the religious teachers that they're mistaking the name and power of the Holy Spirit for the work of Satan - which is tantamount to blasphemy. And without addressing his family directly, he communicates that nothing will distract him from God's will - not even his closest relatives.
This is all well and good, because he's Jesus. He IS in God's will, and his family and the teachers of the law are mistaken. But they didn't understand at the time. They were just trying to do the right thing. What should they have done differently?
How do you discern if a concerning belief or behavior is God's will or something you should challenge?
The error that the teachers and Jesus' family fell into was not that they questioned Jesus at work. Their error was in the conclusion they came to. In their best effort, they were unable to identify the good work of the Holy Spirit, instead calling it demonic and insane.
We are likely to run into similar questions in our lives as new situations challenge our previously held assumptions about who God is and how God works. Maybe a loved one is attending a church with some beliefs or practices that seem foreign to you (different worship style, accepting or denying specific types of people, etc). Maybe you meet and become friends with someone with radically different beliefs, and it brings up new questions for you. Often, we respond by either doubling down on our position without questioning if we might be wrong, or else abandoning or convictions completely without real thought.
There is a third way, however, that can help us navigate these tricky waters. It's called discernment - or the process of seeking truth and judging well. Instead of simply relying on previous knowledge or giving it up, we can actively seek truth with God's guidance. Here's a few practices we can use:
None of these steps are fool-proof on their own. There is always room for human error. However, the cumulative weight of evidence from these different steps can give us a much clearer picture of God's will. Hopefully then we can gain a deeper understanding of God's character and the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
At the very least, maybe we can avoid calling our very devout loved ones insane or "ministers of Satan." Nobody wants that.
Updates and devotional thoughts for and from our faith family.