Why Is Discernment Important in the Christian Life?

We must make a habit of calling out for insight, raising our voice for understanding, and seeking discernment and wisdom as a hidden treasure. We must take part in cultivating a spirit of discernment by prayerfully asking for wisdom.

Stephanie Englehart
Road signs in a fork in the road

Discernment is a gift of God that helps us identify right from wrong. It is the process of examining what is good and bad, what is truth and a lie, and what is better and best.

We face decisions daily: What to eat, what to wear, how to educate our children, what to purchase, where to work, where to live, and what TV show to watch on Netflix next.

There is so much in our world grappling for our attention. Because of this, discernment is more necessary now than ever before to protect against false teaching and to walk a path of holiness.

What Is Discernment and Why Do We Need It?

As Christians, we are all called to seek and utilize discernment. We are called to look at the good world God created and pursue His goodness and godliness. Proverbs 17:24 tells us that, “The discerning sets his face toward wisdom, but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth” (ESV).

We are to set our gaze on wisdom. With thousands of details vying for our attention, we must know where this wisdom comes from and how we are to attain it. In Disney’s motion picture film, Moana, there is an iconic song where Moana sings of becoming the next chief of her people. As she looks out over the vast ocean, the song describes her:

You are your father's daughter, stubbornness, and pride. Mind what he says but remember you may hear a voice inside, and if the voice starts to whisper to follow the farthest star Moana, that voice inside is who you are.

As catchy as the song may be, the scriptures do not line up with Disney’s truth-comes-from-within mantra. Moana is not only literally setting her eyes on the ends of the earth, but the song points to the ultimate source of wisdom and truth as being inside herself.

In contrast, we as Christians believe that our ultimate source of wisdom and truth comes from God. We know our hearts are deceitful, and that we cannot stake our life decisions upon our feelings (Jeremiah 17:9). Gaining discernment does not come from gazing out over the ocean and looking deep inside ourselves, but rather it comes from setting our eyes on wisdom.

So, how do we find wisdom?

How Do We Find Wisdom and Discernment?

Proverbs 9:10 tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

Wisdom starts with the fear of the Lord. Scripture paints a picture of the fear of the Lord as great awe (Psalm 33:8), bestowing honor, deep respect and gratitude (1 Timothy 1:17), and trembling before God (Philippians 2:12). With this picture in mind, we find wisdom by fearing the Lord. This means that we understand our own insignificance and magnify the greatness of who God is. The scripture also states that to have understanding, we need to have a knowledge of the Holy One. Therefore, finding wisdom and discernment is twofold; we fear the Lord and seek to know God intimately.

In order to grow in the fear of the Lord, the knowledge of the Holy One, and in wisdom and discernment, let’s look at the ways we can cultivate a spirit of biblical discernment.

5 Ways to Cultivate a Spirit of Biblical Discernment

1. Cultivate a discerning spirit by asking for wisdom. Unless God has so graciously and supernaturally gifted us, wisdom will not come without desire, effort, and request from us. Solomon was known as a great ruler because he did not ask for riches or jewels, but rather he asked for wisdom and discernment (1 Kings 3:1-15).

If we want to cultivate a heart of biblical discernment, we need to do as the book of James teaches, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5).

Let us prayerfully take our pains, joys, decisions, requests, and needs to the Lord as we ask for His wisdom in each area of our lives. Proverbs 2:3-5 says:

If you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.

We must make a habit of calling out for insight, raising our voice for understanding, and seeking discernment and wisdom as a hidden treasure. We must take part in cultivating a spirit of discernment by prayerfully asking for wisdom, and by searching the scriptures to understand what is truth and what is a lie.

2. Cultivate a discerning spirit by reading the word. In a world where the word “truth” is subjective, Christians ought to be even more clear on what the Truth is. First and foremost, we know that “Jesus is the way the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

If we believe this statement, then it becomes imperative that we seek to know, understand, and apply the truth that Christ speaks of — and we find this truth in His word. The Bible provides us with spiritual nourishment, truth, and intimacy with God (Matthew 4:4), as it humbles our prideful, selfish natures. Hebrews 4:12 says:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

God’s word discerns our thoughts and intentions. If we want to be wise, loving, patient, gentle, kind, and God-glorifying followers of Christ, then we must submit ourselves to the Word of God, and allow it to cut to the soul.

3. Cultivate a discerning spirit by turning away from evil. Job 28:28 says, “And he said to man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.’”

We cannot cultivate a spirit of discernment if we continue to engage in activities that are clearly against the truth and commands of God’s Word. Fearing the Lord implies we honor the Lord and obey His voice. A discerning heart is one that seeks repentance and intentionally decides to walk away from sin. Wisdom is not only what we know, but it is what we do with what we know.

As Paul writes in Philippians 1:9-10, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ to the glory and praise of God.”

The chief end of man is to glorify God and make Him known. Therefore, as we walk out our purpose, we will abound more and more in love, with knowledge, and discernment so that we may be pure and blameless and approve what is excellent. A discerning spirit turns away from what is evil and seeks to exemplify what is good according to Scripture.

4. Cultivate a discerning spirit by taking every thought captive. Our thoughts and emotions can be a swirling whirlpool of death. Maybe not literal death, but if we allow our emotions to rule our thoughts and actions, then they will quickly run us amuck, leaving us lost without wisdom. Thankfully, when we submit our thoughts and emotions to the Lord, He provides the wisdom and discernment to process them properly.

Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

We are called to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We do this by reading the Word, praying, and submitting our emotions and thoughts under the authority of God’s Word. Our emotions were created by God as a gift. They allow us to feel, process, take in, and release information.

However, what we do with our thoughts and emotions can either be pleasing to the Lord or sinful. Emotions in and of themselves are neutral, but we should heed the book of Psalms as we learn to process with the Lord. When we do this, we will be able to discern what is the will of God. What is good and acceptable and perfect.

5. Cultivate a discerning spirit by living in the true freedom of Christ. As we grow in our understanding of the gospel, we will grow in discernment. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we are provided freedom unlike any other. The undiscerning will not experience this freedom.

The more they look into themselves for answers, or look to the ends of the earth, the more miserable they will become as they enslave themselves to others, to their own pride, and to such an unbiblical pattern of life.

But when we put our faith and hope in Christ, we are saved out of our sin, and into relationship with the Lord. The more we come to understand this reality and its implications, the greater our spirit of discernment will be.

What Does This Mean?

Faith in Christ provides true freedom — freedom from emotional stress as we submit our thoughts and emotions to the Lord (2 Corinthians 10:5). Freedom from guilt as we are no longer condemned but forgiven (Romans 8:1). Freedom as we seek goodness by repenting of our sin often (Hebrews 10:26-27).

Freedom from shame, as our identity becomes more centered on who Christ has created us to be (2 Corinthians 5:17). Freedom to make decisions with hope, knowing that our sources of truth and happiness do not come from within, but are found ultimately in the Lord (Psalm 16:11).

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Bulat Silvia

Stephanie Englehart is a Seattle native, church planter’s wife, mama, and lover of all things coffee, the great outdoors, and fine (easy to make) food. Stephanie is passionate about allowing God to use her honest thoughts and confessions to bring gospel application to life. You can read more of what she writes on the Ever Sing blog at stephaniemenglehart.com or follow her on Instagram: @stephaniemenglehart.


Originally published July 14, 2020.