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What is Discernment? Bible Meaning and Its Importance Today

Discernment is the ability to choose between what is true and right and what is false and wrong. To discern something is to recognize its true worth or validity. In other words, the ability to discern is synonymous with the ability to think biblically.

Updated May 22, 2024
What is Discernment? Bible Meaning and Its Importance Today

“We need discernment in what we see and what we hear and what we believe.” ~ Charles R. Swindoll

Table of Contents

Discernment Definition

In general, discernment is accurately evaluating ourselves, people, and situations. We discern things correctly by clearly perceiving what is true, right, and essential.

Dictionary.com defines discernment as "the faculty of discerning, discrimination, acuteness of judgment and understanding."

Example sentences: "Her discernment in choosing quality over quantity helped the company secure the best vendors for their projects." ~ Smith, J. (2023). Business Strategy and Vendor Selection

"The critic's discernment was evident in his reviews, as he consistently highlighted the most nuanced performances and overlooked the superficial ones." ~ Johnson, L. (2021). The Art of Film Critique

The Cambridge.org definition of discernment is "the ability to judge people and things well."

According to the King James Bible Dictionary, "Discern" is "To examine, prove or test; scrutinize."

Then He also said to the multitudes, "Whenever you see a cloud rising out of the west, immediately you say, 'A shower is coming'; and so it is. And when you see the south wind blow, you say, 'There will be hot weather'; and there is. Hypocrites! You can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it you do not discern this time? (Luke 12:54-56)

Discernment in the Bible

Discernment is proper decision-making guided by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. When we understand and apply God’s Word, we can separate truth from error and right from wrong. Therefore, Bible study is crucial to developing discernment in our lives! We become a discerning person by allowing the Light of Christ to illumine our minds and hearts.

1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 teaches that every Christian's responsibility is to be wise: "But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil."

Psalm 119:125 requests God grant us discernment: "I am your servant; give me understanding, that I may know your testimonies!"

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.

"Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” ~ 1 Kings 3:9

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. ~ Romans 12:2

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 the 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, and 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

Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between right and wrong; rather, it is telling the difference between right and almost right. - Charles Spurgeon

To discern spirits, we must dwell with Him Who is Holy, and He will give the revelation and unveil the mask of satanic power on all lines - Smith Wigglesworth

Importance for Christians Today

Part of faithful Christian living is making wise decisions that benefit our salvation. For example, failure to distinguish between truth and error leaves the Christian subject to false teaching. Wrong teaching leads to wrong thinking, which leads to unproductive and unruly behavior, a recipe for compromise.

Unfortunately, true discernment is an area where most Christians stumble. They can't correspond to what they learn of God's Word and unknowingly make decisions and behave in ways that go against it. Simply put, they are not prepared to strongly oppose the non-biblical thoughts and attitudes they encounter daily in pop culture with good judgment.

Discernment intersects the Christian life at every point. And God's Word provides us with the needed understanding 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).

We must hear God's Voice and live God's Truth if our love of God is sincere! Let us seek to practice discernment in all realms of our lives in service to God.

The "true knowledge of Him" gives us everything we need to live a Christian life in this fallen world. How else do we have true knowledge of God but through the pages of His Word, the Bible? Peter says such knowledge comes through God's granting "to us His precious and magnificent promises" (2 Peter 1:4).

The ability to think biblically about all areas of life is essential to an unwavering life. It is incumbent upon the Christian to seize upon the wisdom 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."

Transcript of Tim Challies, Edited for Readability:

Spiritual understanding is really the way God allows us to see the world and see ourselves through his eyes. And so God gives us that privilege.

He gives us the Bible as a lens to see the world as he sees it. It's an amazing thing. And through the power of the Spirit of God, we're now able to understand the Bible, the scripture, and through it, the world the way the world 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. Every Christian needs to be discerning.

It's interesting to look into spiritual wisdom in the Bible. It's always connected to spiritual maturity. So, if you want to be a discerning Christian, you must be mature—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 and "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? As you get older, you will become wiser and better at telling the difference between right and wrong, good and evil.

In today's world, we receive numerous messages from different sources, such as the Internet, TV, and radio. These messages constantly bombard our ears and minds. 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. As you get older, you'll become wiser and understand how God wants us to live in a way that pleases him.

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