The discernment of saints (Part 1)

We hear much talk from professing Christians about one not being able to discern the salvation of another; but these same people tell us we should have fellowship with the saints, and ought not fellowship with those who are not saints. We also live in a time when there are as many lost people inside the church as outside it, so if we are ever going to have fellowship with the saints but we are told not to discern who are saints and who are not saints, what is a Christian to do?


First off, this lack of discernment is a quality of the lost, they simply ‘cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand’ and though they profess Christ they want to bring you into the same predicament they are in. With lack of leading of the Spirit, they willingly and openly ‘justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him!’ This wrong judgment is not made in every case for then they would have perfect judgment, even though it would be perfectly wrong! But for the most part due to their lack of leading of the Spirit of God these professing Christians are not able to tell the difference between those who are in Christ and those who are not.


As a whole, the saints are meant to know who are their brethren and who are not. Not having perfect attention to the Spirit, we also may not have perfect judgment in this regard, and in such cases it may be better to refrain from judgment. To believe someone is saved when they are not, and to believe someone is not saved when they actually are, makes one ‘abomination to the Lord’  (Prov 17:15).  In these cases we know that we are to’ judge righteous judgment’, and it requires more than a carnal man can do. Many people think a saint is discerned by practical holiness, yet because this holiness is imitated so well by lost (Matt 19:18-20) is that where we are to look? No. The Bible gives evidence that a saved person can and has committed nearly any sin that a lost person can. Are we to look at the profession? No, mere professions are vain. With so many bruised reeds and smoking flaxes among the saints, where and in what manner are we to look for them?




Mal 3:18 Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.


15 Responses to “The discernment of saints (Part 1)”

  1. Jean says:

    If we look for holiness, then mormons and even Muslims would take the cup, as they are good at imitating holiness. If we look for profession then many evangelicals and those in the reformed theology would take the cup. Professions and holy living are not what determines a true saint.

    Looking forward to Part 2!

  2. Mike says:

    But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner- not even eat with such a person. 1 Cor. 5:11

    After this verse Paul goes on talking about we are not to judge the world but those inside the church. So should we use this text as a barometer to discerning who the the saints or not?

  3. Jean says:

    Hi Mike,

    I could be wrong but I will just share my thoughts anyway. I think in 1st Corinthians 5, Paul is talking about Church Discipline among the brethren. The judging that is being referred to is the judging of a brother’s evil works. In the beginning chapter 5, we learn that in the Corinthian Church there is sexual immorality that is not even common among the heathens! These people Paul is speaking about are after all believers. We are all capable of committing all the gross sins mentioned in verse 11 even as saints, if it wasn’t for God’s restraining grace on us today. There were all sorts of sins in the Church, that’s is why Paul encouraged them to put away the evil brethren from among them, this evil brother is child of God. As verse 6 says a little leaven leavens the whole lump, that’s is why church discipline is very important. Remember the one we are not to eat with is indeed a brother! But he is a brother who has fallen into these gross sins. In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, in Chapter 2, he now urges the saints to forgive the offender. He tells them that the punishment inflicted on the evil brother is sufficient for such a man, lest he be swallowed up with too much sorrow, they should now rather comfort him. This brother has obviously repented, and it teaches us that the Lord Himself is merciful to even forgive the vilest offender!

    So I think your reference is touching on a totally different subject to Lee’s post. Lee is talking about how we identify a brother. I believe the reference you gave is not what we use to identify a brother or sister in Christ. Yes we judge a brother who sins, yes we are to put him away from the congregation, that’s Church Discipline. But as to identifying those who are our brothers in Christ, we can not look for holiness or works or a mere profession of faith. Sadly, that is what the false Christians do, they look for professions of faith and good works which is serious error. However its not surprising that many use this as a way to determine those whom they believe are true Christians, for they are blind.

  4. mike says:

    Share your thoughts please, that’s why I posted my comment because it was a thought i pondered on.

    you are right it is about church discipline and how to handle a person who is named among you as a brother or sister. However I do think it may give some credence to determining whether they are a believer or not.

    but I should refrain because I do not want to hi-jack this article. So, I will refrain from continuing with this discussion some other time. Maybe we can look at this text another time. because I do think this is also lacking in the church…its a free for all and they ignore those who are in rebellion and blatant sin. But as long as the checks keep coming, it all good. It is a verse that I have been dealing with for sometime because of a brother I am close to, put himself into a adulterous affair, stepped down from the pulpit, and is still with the other woman. So, it is somewhat personal to me and struggling with how to deal and handle this situation. This article prompted me to think about this situation and raise the question i did.

    Forgive me Lee for taking this topic further than you intended.


  5. Jean says:

    Lee, forgive me too if I am taking this further than your post intended.

    Brother Mike, I can very much so relate to you. I am in the same dilemma in my Church. Some people who profess faith are not good witnesses for Christ. When I tried to point out their sin, they rebuked me and I was told I am harsh. Not only was I rebuked, but they even went on to defend their worldly lifestyle, which I found disturbing. The thing which confuses me at times is that I find myself battling and struggling with the same sins as the people in my church, so much that I am grieved beyond measure by it. I hate it. But by the grace of God I am learning to overcome the sins. Part of the reason that I was falling into the same sin was because most people in my church including my pastor encourages this lifestyle, so I thought maybe it was OK for me to do the same. It sounds ridiculous, but that’s what the bible means when it says a little laven leavens the whole lump. But by God’s grace I am overcoming living a life that does not glorify God.

    Anyway maybe I have gone off topic here, but I would like to encourage you Mike, if your friend is not repentant of his evil behaviour and you are still friends with him, just be careful (bad company corrupts good habits) and do not be afraid to confront him over his wickedness. I do not think its much of his behaviour that’s the root of the problem, hes probably just doing whats natural to him in the state he is in, especially if he is loving and defending his sin. But all in all, it comes down to one thing. If you have a good conversation with him about the whole situation and hear what he has to say about himself and his sin, from there it may be pretty easy to determine whether he is saved or not.

  6. Lee says:

    No problems guys, feel free to continue the conversation. I am just out of town for a bit.

    Here is a good hint though, notice the ‘called’ and ‘be’

    “But now I have writtten unto you not to keep company, if any man that is CALLED a brother BE a……”

    That verse is about those pretending to be Christians. They are ‘called’ such a thing, but ‘are’ something else. If we consider the ‘were’ in 1 Cor 6:11, we should see there is a difference between ‘doing’ some of those things and ‘being’ some of those things.

    More on this later….

  7. mike says:

    Appreciate extending this discussion…I think it is a vital topic that needs further thought…maybe you can tuck this one away for the next article you may write.

    Your right it never says that this person was a brother, but those who NAMEd, or CALLED themselves a brother. Interesting note in the second book of Corinthians in chapter six. Paul tells them to be separate and called out, what does light have to do with darkness?

    Have some more thoughts on discernment within the body…hurry back! :)

  8. Jean says:

    Thank you for shedding a little light, as I said earlier I could be wrong. So this is not an actual brother but one NAMED a brother?

    But then we also know from scripture that Christians can fall and live a life of blantant sin, it is possible, though a true saint is not meant to stay in that condition. That is why I believe this brother who is sinning is a true saint, though it says he is NAMED or CALLED a brother, that is not to say he is not a true brother. Taking the whole chapter in context as well as what follows in 2nd Corinthians, I believe its talking about a true saint who has fallen.

    Again as I said I could be wrong here, I need to do more studying I suppose…But I do agree with you Lee that we can not look for proffesion of faith and holy living to discern our brothers and sisters in Christ. I am looking forward to your Part 2 Lee!

  9. Jean says:

    This is interesting because I am currently studying Corinthians! Lee you said that those who are NAMED or CALLED brothers are not true brothers but they are pretending to be Christians. I think I will have to disagree with you Lee. I am no expect in theology and my English is not very good but hopefully what I will say will make sense from how I understand. In 1 Cor 3:3 it says “for where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” From what I understand here Paul is referring to Christians, who were behaving as bad as those who did not know Christ. Moving on to Chapter 4: 14, ” I do not write these things to your shame, but as my beloved children I warn you” verse 18, ” some are puffed up as though I am not coming to you”. Chapter 6:6, “but a brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers!” Again I believe this is talking about brothers.

    In verse 11, I think think the text is just saying in general of the sins that they used to be involved in the sins mentioned before they came to salvation. Which is most likely true for you and me and everyone who is saved. I think verse 11 is actually what clarifies that Paul is rebuking true brothers who have gone back to the life they used to live before salvation. But he is reminding them that they are now washed and sanctified, so they can not go back to live the life they used to before salvation. In 2nd Cor 7:2-12 indicates that the Corinthians did repent after Paul’s rebuke, which to me is evident that these people where true brothers, of course they may have been some among them who were false. So with 1 Cor 6:11, I do disagree with you Lee.

    Anyway I hope I explained that clearly. Half the time what I want to say comes out wrong, but inside I know what I mean. Frustrating. This discussion has been most helpful and gives me a lot to think about. Hope you will clarify more in Part two Lee…

  10. Mike says:

    Looking closer at verse 11, it says ….”that is called a brother,” meaning that it can be anyone who calls themselves a brother. I think Paul is using the name brother as ANYONE who calls themselves by this distinction. So it sounds like it is by the association of the name, “brother” that Paul is using, so could this mean that Paul is indicating it to both parties, false and true converts?

    Moving forward to 6:9-11
    9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,
    10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
    11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

    Why would Paul use this reminder if they all were believers…note…’as such were some of you’ . Compare this to 1 Peter 4:1-3. I know that we all would agree that we should be holy as He is holy, and live no longer like the gentiles live, so outward holiness doesn’t mean a true convert, however the proof is in the pudding, once the one has been put out I believe that would be the indication of whether they are truly converted or not by delivering the one to satan for the destruction of his flesh (vs5).

    I too am not a theologian and a articulate student of the word…but thankfully God uses the foolish to confound the wise. This is good for me to discuss difficult passages for me with others. I always feel sharpened in these sort of discussion even if someone disagrees with me. I always take what the other person is saying back to my desk and study it….because I could be wrong.

    Hope this makes sense what I am trying to say…hard to concentrate when my little one likes to come in and check on me periodically; I lose my place. :) But its so sweet though…


  11. Jean says:

    In Chap 6:6 Paul speaks of a brother suing brother before unbelievers. Here he does not use the term one NAMED or CALLED a brother, he calls them brothers. But I think its also possible that some who were suing each other were not true brothers. In 5:11 I believe this brother whom the saints are not even to eat with, could be a true brother, it does not say he is not a true saint. I call myself a believer, that is not to say I am not, that is also not to prove that I really am a sister. That is why this brother has to be handed over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, this punishment would probably determine if this brother is indeed true. I think to rule out all those NAMED brothers as false is taking the scriptures out of context here, if we read the whole epistle in context, Paul’s letter is to believers who are carnal and living like the world. They are babes in Christ, Carnal Christians. Some of those practising these evil deeds were true saints, which is why Paul was rebuking them, as most were puffed up. However some in this church obviously were not true believers.
    In Chap 6:11 I think the WERE refers to those in the Church who are now saved, which could also include those in Chapter 5:11. Nothing indicates that those NAMED or CALLED a brother are not truly saved.
    Yes we are to live holy lives, yes we are to separate from the world, yes we are called to live perfect lives, as He is Holy. That’s is why God chastens those He loves, as He did with the Carnal Christians in the Corinthians Church.
    This is just a thought, I sometimes think that the Carnal Christians in the Corinthians Church were ignorant of the Word of God, which probably explains why they behaved the way they did. They did not have the canon of scripture as we have today. In fact because of their disobedience, we have 1st and Second Corinthians. We have no excuse to be carnal or worldly, for we have everything in the scriptures to point us towards true Christian living. The Corinthians didn’t…

    Mike, same here… Its hard even to type. My baby keeps turning the computer off!

  12. Lee says:

    OK, I’m back.

    Vs 13 defines who the group of people referred to in vs 11. ‘…Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.’ The whole context is dealing with those who are ‘called’ one thing but actually ‘are’ another thing. The children of the world are excluded from this judgment in the first part of verse 13.

    There are many terms used to describe children of God, but I know of no verse in scripture where a child of God is ever referred to as ‘wicked’.
    Many of the same titles used in 1Cor 5:11 are used in 2Cor 6:9-10 where it clearly states that those who ‘are’ these things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Therefore the putting away here is the putting away of someone merely mascarading as a child of God.

    If we go back to verse 5:5 it refers to the salvation of these people as yet future. ‘That the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus’ What this whole chapter is designed to do is cause the salve of religion to be removed from these people so they can see who they truly are, and perhaps truly be saved.

    Does telling a lie make one a liar? No! Does having fears make one fearful? No. What about coveting? Otherwise by Rev 21:8 there will not be one person saved, for who among us has not ever shaded the truth or been apprehensive since we were saved? Not one.

    Again it comes down to not what you do, but who you are, and this is exactly why this type of discernment is so necessary. I think you might find part II interesting.

  13. mike says:

    What I don’t understand is why does Paul write in the second letter for them to be separate from unbelievers? vs6

    Another thought is this whole think of a carnal christian…is there such a thing? Then what should prevent me from being carnal if it doesn’t matter?

  14. Jean says:

    Thank you Lee, now I have a lot of studying to do really…

    Lee I think the term wicked is being used to describe a brother who is participating in blatant sin.

    In 1st Cor 3:1-4 I understand Paul is referring to some who are saved as being carnal. Among those who were saved all these disgraceful things were happening right? Thats were it gets harder for me to understand I guess. That is why I believe the wicked brother could be saved. What is the difference between the wicked brother’s wicked sins and the rest of the saints’s sins that Paul rebuked them for? Hope that question makes sense.

    Wasnt the whole church carnal, including those who are saved? This brings me to Solomon, how and why could he continue in his sin if he was a child of God, which he was? I hope its not a silly question, but I would be grateful for your thoughts Lee.

    You say, “Does telling a lie make one a liar? No! Does having fears make one fearful? No. What about coveting? Otherwise by Rev 21:8 there will not be one person saved, for who among us has not ever shaded the truth or been apprehensive since we were saved? Not one. ” Please explain this further. I have to be honest I find this hard to understand because I know that I am guity of some of these sins after I was saved, but then why does the bible emphasize that those who practice these sins will not inherit the Kingdom of God??? Yet to some degree even those who are saved still commit the sins….

    Just want to add, thank you so much for this blog Lee. The Lord has given you a gift in teaching the Word. I am learning so much, your blogs always give me much to ponder on…your ministry is a blessing.

  15. Lee says:

    Thanks Jean

    As you go through scripture you should find that the term ‘wicked’ is never used to reference a blood bought child of God. We are called many things but ‘wicked’ is not one of them.

    What is at stake here is the definition of a carnal Christian, which is very different from that promoted today.

    I will get into this in more detail in future posts.