Have We Lost Our Sense of Spiritual Smell?

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If you were to open the Merriam-Webster dictionary app and look up the word “discern,” you would probably get a few ads and two somewhat contradicting definitions.

The first definition for discern is “to detect with the eyes.” Then directly below, an alternate definition says, “to detect with senses other than vision.”

So to detect with your eyes and not with your eyes. At the same time.
This is discernment. Got it.

If that isn’t a perfect example of the confusion concerning discernment in Christianity today, then I don’t know what is.

The example Merriam-Webster provides for the latter definition, the one we’ll be focusing on, is “// discerned a strange odor.” So essentially if your sense of smell is intact, you should be in a pretty good position to discern where a smell is coming from, what that smell signifies, and how to respond appropriately.

In the same way our sense of smell alerts us to delicious, consumable foods, *like a fresh baked apple pie,* our ability to smell can also alert us quickly to food that has gone bad. Once milk has started to sour, all you need to do in order to discern this is open the lid and take a whiff. With little effort , it would be clear the milk was not fit for consumption. Without the ability to smell, you would have to approach food a little more carefully, with a little more thoughtfulness, than before.

Loss of Smell

One of the most common side effects of the first COVID-19 variant was the loss of smell. This served as an initial indicator that a person might be sick. For some people, this was the only symptom they experienced from the virus. For others, like one of my family members, the virus turned devastatingly fatal.

As I continued to simultaneously hear people talk about how long it was taking to regain their ability to smell and watch Christian’s consume half-truths and false narratives with little to no hesitation, a question began to form. Could this symptom of COVID-19, an inability to smell, be symbolic of a larger spiritual issue – our inability to have proper spiritual discernment?

Now, to be clear, losing your ability to smell due to COVID-19 doesn’t mean you lack spiritual discernment (and vice versa). But just as we should be wary of our lack of physical smell, so to should we be wary of our lack of spiritual smell.

Discernment is not code for “the gift of being mean and critical,” but the ability to sift through what is from God and what is not.

Spiritual Discernment

Like I alluded to earlier, smell is often the first thing that prevents us from drinking spoiled milk. When we lose the ability to smell, we are more likely to drink spoiled milk or eat food that has gone bad. This is especially true if It doesn’t appear bad at first glance. It may appear okay to the eye, but when ingested it can cause issues. And if it’s ingested consistently over an extended period of time, it will cause lots of issues.

The same is true with a lack of sense of spiritual discernment. When we lack discernment we are able to more readily ingest information that isn’t true. We know we need information about God, about freedom, and about living in victory, but when we don’t use discernment we often ingest the information that is handed to us most aggressively and most insistently. So we trust their zeal, energy, and charisma without “smelling” or discerning the actual information they are giving to us. We neglect to take things to the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit and discern if it is actually true.

Is this actually what Jesus meant?
Does this actually reflect the character of Christ?
Does this accomplish the mission of the Gospel?

Regaining Discernment

1. Be Transformed

Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” This verse gives us some insight into how we should go about gaining, or regaining, discernment.

Reading a commentary and reading the Bible in order to win a Twitter fight is not renewing our mind. It’s reading a commentary and reading the Bible to win a Twitter fight. Renewing our mind involves sitting with and submitting to the Holy Spirit as He uses Scripture to read us.

2. Be Humble

Discernment is not code for “the gift of being mean and critical,” but the ability to sift through what is from God and what is not. And discernment should start within. We should be most concerned about discerning what is inside of us and whether it is of God or not before we launch a full scale ‘discernment ministry’ attack on everyone else.

Psalm 139:23-24 says, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way.” This is where we should start.

3. Be Prayerful

In some of Jesus’ final words to His disciples, He promises the Holy Spirit. John 16:13a says, “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth…” We are not still waiting for this to be true; we have the Holy Spirit living in us. So, let’s not attempt to discern with weak, finite human knowledge, but instead be prayerful about everything. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit over and over and over to reveal truth to us in every situation, with every piece of information. He will delight in answering us.

I know it feels like it would be much easier for God to give us a list of rules and turn us loose. But then we wouldn’t be reliant on Him. Then we wouldn’t need much of John 14-18 to be true. We wouldn’t need to remain in Him. We wouldn’t need to be desperately reliant on the Holy Spirit to reveal truth to us.

We would be able to figure it out all by ourselves by going to seminary, listening to preachers on Youtube, and talking to others about theology. Period.

We wouldn’t need to sit, pray, and listen.

We could have it all figured out by ourselves.

And we would have completely lost our sense of smell without even realizing it.

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Jackie Moore

Jackie Moore is a graduate student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Ministry working to obtain a Master's Degree in Ministry to Women and Biblical Counseling. She and her husband, Brandon — a Baptist Collegiate Minister — live in central Arkansas. She is a teacher at Little Rock Christian Academy and recently started More Than Words Co. to help believers live what they know to be true.

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