In its simplest definition, discernment is nothing more than the ability to decide between truth and error, right and wrong. Discernment is the process of making careful distinctions in our thinking about truth. In other words, the ability to think with discernment is synonymous with an ability to think biblically.
In general, discernment is accurately evaluating ourselves, people, and situations. We discern things correctly by having a sound perception of what is true, right, and essential.
Dictionary.com defines discernment as "the faculty of discerning, discrimination, acuteness of judgment and understanding."
Discernment in the Bible
1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 teaches that it is the responsibility of every Christian to be discerning: "But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil."
The apostle John issues a similar warning when he says, "Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). According to the New Testament, discernment is not optional for the believer, it is required.
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 ~ Philippians 1:9-10
But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. ~ Hebrews 5:14
To discern is to understand what is good and what is evil. Apostle Paul instructs that those of spiritual maturity should be able to “have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Heb 5:13). What are the good things in your life you can cultivate? What evil things in your life do you need to prune back? Lent is the perfect season to tend to your spiritual garden.
Christian Quotes About Discernment
“Discernment in beginners is true knowledge of themselves; in intermediate souls it is a spiritual sense that faultlessly distinguishes what is truly good from what is of nature and opposed to it; and in the perfect it is the knowledge which they possess by divine illumination, and which can enlighten with its lamp what is dark in others. Or perhaps, generally speaking, discernment is, and is recognized as, the assured understanding of the divine will on all occasions, in every place and in all matters, and it is only found in those who are pure in heart and in body and in mouth.” - St. John Climacus (Ladder of Divine Ascent)
"Wisdom is your perspective on life, your sense of balance, your understanding of how the various parts and principles apply and relate to each other. It embraces judgment, discernment, comprehension. It is a gestalt or oneness, and integrated wholeness." - Stephen R. Covey
"Through discernment, we recognize the good and find peace in the decisions we make, progressing ourselves to the future that awaits us." - Christina Schneider
The Importance of Discernment
The key to living an uncompromising life lies in one's ability to exercise discernment in every area of his or her life. For example, failure to distinguish between truth and error leaves the Christian subject to all manner of false teaching. False teaching then leads to an unbiblical mindset, which results in unfruitful and disobedient living, a certain recipe for compromise.
Unfortunately, discernment is an area where most Christians stumble. They exhibit little ability to measure the things they are taught against the infallible standard of God's Word, and they unwittingly engage in all kinds of unbiblical decision-making and behavior. In short, they are not armed to take a decidedly biblical stand against the onslaught of unbiblical thinking and attitudes that face them throughout their day.
Discernment intersects the Christian life at every point. And God's Word provides us with the needed discernment about every life issue. According to Peter, God "has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence" (2 Peter 1:3). You see, it is through the "true knowledge of Him," that we have been given everything we need to live a Christian life in this fallen world. And how else do we have true knowledge of God but through the pages of His Word, the Bible? Peter goes on to say that such knowledge comes through God's granting "to us His precious and magnificent promises" (2 Peter 1:4).
Discernment — the ability to think biblically about all areas of life — is indispensable to an uncompromising life. It is incumbent upon the Christian to seize upon the discernment that God has provided for in His precious truth! Without it, Christians risk being "tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine" (Ephesians 4:14).
By John MacArthur © 2007, Used by permission. This article originally appeared at Grace to You.
How to Develop Spiritual Discernment
Watch Tim Challies, pastor and theologian, discuss why "every Christian needs to be discerning."
"When you look at discernment in the Bible, it's always connected to spiritual maturity," he said. "So if you want to be a discerning Christian, you need to be a mature Christian - one who is growing in his faith, one who is understanding the Bible, one who is growing in his knowledge of the Lord."
Full transcript of Tim Challies:
Spiritual discernment is really the way God allows us to see the world, see ourselves through his eyes. And so God gives us that privilege. He gives us the Bible as a lens to see the world the way he sees it. It's an amazing thing. And through the power of the Holy Spirit, we're now able to understand the Bible, to understand the scripture and through it, to understand the world the way the world really works. And that's really what discernment is. It's using the tools God has given us to see things in his way so we can live lives that honor God. And so every Christian needs to be discerning. And it's interesting when you look into spiritual discernment in the Bible, it's always connected to spiritual maturity. So if you want to be a discerning Christian, you need to be a mature Christian. One who's growing in his faith, one who's understanding the Bible, one who's growing in his knowledge of the Lord.
And so do you want to be discerning? Be mature, just grow up as a Christian. Find Christians that you love, and Christians who are mature, and ask them, how can I be a growing, mature, faithful Christian? And as you grow in maturity, you'll also grow in discernment, in your ability to distinguish between what's right and wrong, what's good and what's evil. And living in the world we do today where there's so many messages pouring into our ears, into our minds, from so many different places, across the Internet, through TV, radio, whatever it is. I think we need to be very discerning. We need to understand that Satan is very actively opposed to us, very active in his opposition to the Christian message, to the gospel. So grow up as a Christian. You'll also find as you grow up, that you become more discerning and you'll be able to understand how God wants us to live in this world in a way that honors him.
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