Discernment is a word you often hear in Christian circles. But, what does it really mean, and how are we supposed to use it? Find out more here.
As Christians, we often hear the word discernment referred to as something we should expect to experience and use on a regular basis. It is a tool we’ve been given to help us operate with our spiritual eyes and ears, and to make right choices. Philippians 1:9 says, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment” (NASB).
So, what exactly is discernment?
- In other translations of Philippians 1:9, as sited above, the word discernment is used interchangeably with the words judgment, profound insight, perception and understanding. It also means “to see into,” “have knowledge,” or “detect.”
- Discernment is a “knowing” that can sometimes feel similar to a gut instinct—but it does not originate with us. It can often be a warning from God. If we sense pride, perversion, occultism or any other form of evil, our spirits will grow uncomfortable. We may not know exactly what is wrong with the person or his message, but we will sense danger and warn others to stay away from it.
- The ability to judge between right and wrong, truth and error—not just in the big and obvious issues that are against the Word of God, but in small, seemingly insignificant areas. It is a process of making careful distinctions between righteousness and unrighteousness.
- To think biblically without being tainted by worldly influences.
- The ability to judge between the Spirit of God and false spirits. First Thessalonians 5:21-22 (NASB) says, "But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.”
What does not fall under the heading of discernment?
- When you are discerning and “judging” between right and wrong, this is for your protection and wise decision-making, but it is also a call to intercession. It is not a call to faultfinding.
- Discernment should not result in being suspicious of others. Yes, you can receive warnings in the spirit and judge who you should spend time with, but it should not result in your feeling suspicious of everyone you meet or finding something bad in every person.
- It is not judging others, while refusing to judge yourself. We are called to examine ourselves (1 Corinthians 11:28), to keep from judging others (Matthew 7:1), and to walk in humility (Ephesians 4:2). Like any other ability given to us by God, it can be abused.
How is discernment different from the discerning of spirits?
Every believer is to operate and function with discernment in their everyday lives, but some have the gift of the discerning of spirits (1 Corinthians 12:8-10). Discerning of spirits is the God-given ability to detect (and distinguish between) the presence and identity of both good and evil spirits.
When you have the gift of discerning of spirits, God may reveal to you the presence of principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness of this world, and wicked spirits in heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12). But it’s not always evil. You may also discern angels, those ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation (Hebrews 1:14).
How do you use discernment in your life?
- In a world that calls evil good and good evil, we need to be able to discern (judge, have a knowledge of, detect) what is right and wrong—what is of God and what is of the devil. And the devil’s sneaky. He wants to blur the lines for believers as much as possible, so they’ll have trouble knowing which way to go. He knows he can’t always be too obvious, so he slips in subtle deceptions to see if he can get us to take hold of the lies. That’s why the Bible tells us in end times, he will be able to deceive “even the elect” (Matthew 24:24, NIV).
So, if you let human reasoning and your flesh dominate you, you’ll reach a crossroad and won’t know which way to go. But God is not the author of confusion.
- To keep keen spiritual discernment, you’ve got to keep your mind stayed on the Word of God. You have to give it first place in your life—it has to be the FINAL word in your life, not just one of the options you can choose from. You can’t be afraid to choose life, choose righteousness, choose the unpopular route. You’ve got to stand for what is right and against what is wrong. That’s the life of a mature believer and a spirit that discerns.
Armed with the knowledge of what discernment is (and isn’t) and a true sense of how to use it in your life, you can go forth boldly and make decisions confidently. You can use your discernment to make choices for your family, your church, in the voting booth and in any other situation you face. You have everything you need in Christ Jesus!