Discernment is an important topic in the Christian faith. As believers, we are called to exercise discernment in various areas of our lives in order to make wise and godly choices that align with God’s will. But what exactly does the Bible teach about discernment? In this comprehensive blog post, we will explore the biblical foundations of discernment and how we can grow in exercising it well.
Discernment can be defined as the ability to judge well or make appropriate distinctions. In the Bible, discernment is often connected to wisdom and understanding. As Christians, we are exhorted to develop discernment so that we can distinguish truth from error and right from wrong. Discernment enables us to evaluate teachings, prophecies, and decisions in light of God’s Word and will.
The need for discernment becomes apparent when we consider that we live in a fallen world filled with deception and false teaching. The Bible repeatedly warns us about false prophets and teachers who will promote false doctrines to lead people astray (Matthew 7:15; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1). Without discernment, we can easily be misled and adopt beliefs or practices that are unbiblical and even dangerous. Discernment protects us from theological and spiritual confusion. It helps keep us on the right path doctrinally as we follow Christ.
Therefore, growing in spiritual discernment should be a high priority for every Christian. But how do we cultivate discernment? What are the key principles that the Bible teaches about discernment? Let’s explore the answers to these questions.
- Discernment enables us to distinguish truth from error and right from wrong according to God’s Word
- We need discernment because we live in a fallen world filled with deception and false teachings
- Discernment is connected to wisdom and understanding in the Bible
- We must develop discernment through prayer, knowing God’s Word, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit
- Discernment involves the careful evaluation of teachings, prophecies, and decisions
- We must exercise discernment with humility, grace, and wisdom from above
The Source of Discernment
In the Bible, discernment ultimately comes from God. True spiritual discernment is not merely a human skill or ability. Rather, it is a gift of the Holy Spirit who enables us to discern correctly.
James 1:5 tells us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” This verse connects asking God for wisdom with the ability to discern. Wisdom from above enables us to judge situations accurately and biblically. Through prayer, we can petition God to grant us discernment as we evaluate issues, teachings, and decisions that require biblical evaluation.
Proverbs 2:6 declares, “For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Discernment flows out of the wisdom, knowledge, and understanding that God himself imparts to us. As we cultivate our relationship with God through studying His Word, He reveals His mind to us. This equips us with discernment rooted in His truth.
In John 16:13, Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit’s role in guiding believers into truth: “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth.” The Holy Spirit provides ongoing discernment about what is true and biblical. As we submit to the Spirit’s work in our lives, He enlightens us so that we can exercise discernment.
Therefore, true discernment relies on God’s provision of wisdom, knowledge, and the Spirit’s guidance. Seeking these things earnestly through prayer is crucial for growing in biblical discernment.
Discernment and God’s Word
Since discernment involves distinguishing truth from error, God’s Word is the primary tool that aids us in exercising discernment. Studying, knowing, and applying the Bible is essential for judging teachings, prophecies, and decisions biblically. Scripture teaches two key truths about discernment and God’s Word:
- We must know God’s Word. In Hebrews 5:14, the writer notes that solid food is for the mature “who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” Maturity and discernment come through exercising ourselves in God’s Word until our senses are trained to discern. The more we know and apply God’s truth, the greater our capacity for biblical discernment will become.
- We must evaluate everything by God’s Word. Isaiah 8:20 contains this vital principle: “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” We are to evaluate all teachings and prophecies by the standard of God’s authoritative Word. Anything contrary to the Bible lacks true spiritual light and must be rejected. All experiences, revelations, and teachings must be filtered through the lens of Scripture.
Therefore, developing discernment requires that we prioritize knowing and obeying the Bible. God’s Word equips us with the theological and moral categories to exercise discernment according to God’s truth rather than being swayed by falsehood. Steeping ourselves in the Scriptures is a non-negotiable for growing in discernment.
Discerning False Teachers
Since the Bible warns about false prophets and teachers, a key aspect of discernment is being able to identify and avoid them. But how can we discern if someone is promoting false doctrine? Scripture suggests we ask these diagnostic questions:
- Does their teaching contradict the Bible? As Isaiah 8:20 states, anything that contradicts the clear teachings of Scripture lacks true spiritual light. If a teacher promotes doctrines that plainly conflict with God’s Word, they are spreading deception.
- Do they deny key doctrines about Christ? 1 John 4:1-3 explains that the hallmark of false prophets is that they deny that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. A true Spirit-led teacher will never deny core biblical truths about who Jesus is and what He accomplished.
- Does their prophecy fail to come true? Deuteronomy 18:22 declares that when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord but their prediction does not come to pass, they are a false prophet. True prophecies from God always happen accurately.
- What is their spiritual fruit? Jesus said false prophets could be identified by their fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). Things like greed, sexual immorality, deception, and division reveal that a teacher is promoting error, not God’s truth.
- Who do they glorify? False teachers draw people after themselves instead of pointing people to Jesus. They often crave money, fame, power, and prestige. True messengers of God keep the focus on bringing glory and obedience to Christ.
By applying these diagnostic questions, we can develop discernment about those claiming to teach and prophesy for God. The Bible gives us the theological criteria to evaluate their message and ministry.
Exercising Discernment with Grace and Humility
As we grow in discernment, it’s important that we avoid becoming Judgmental, arrogant, or hypercritical. Discernment should be exercised with grace, humility, and wisdom from above. We must be vigilant to take the log out of our own eye before attempting to remove the speck from someone else’s eye (Matthew 7:1-5).
Scripture reminds us to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), to restore those caught in error gently (Galatians 6:1), and to be cautious in accusing others of wrongdoing without clear evidence (1 Timothy 5:19). Good discernment requires both boldness in truth as well as patience, compassion, and humility.
Furthermore, we must recognize that discernment has limits. Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 13:9 that “we know in part and we prophesy in part.” Our discernment, while growing through God’s Word, will always remain limited and imperfect in this life. This should cultivate humility and grace in how we approach discernment.
Therefore, we must avoid hubris and arrogance, recognizing that God alone has perfect understanding and discernment. Our role is to pursue discernment humbly and charitably in submission to Him. With the right spirit, we can exercise discernment in a way that pleases God and benefits His people.
Discerning God’s Will
In addition to discernment about teachings and prophecies, the Bible also encourages discernment about God’s directing will for our lives. How do we know if a decision lines up with God’s purposes or not? Here are several principles for discernment:
- Evaluate if it violates Scripture. God will never lead us to do something morally wrong or disobey His Word. His will never contradicts the Bible.
- Consider the counsel of wise believers. Proverbs 11:14 says that victory comes through many counselors. Seek input about major decisions from spiritually mature believers.
- Listen to the Spirit’s promptings. The Holy Spirit guides us into God’s will (John 16:13, Romans 8:14). Be sensitive to His subtle nudges and promptings within your conscience.
- Evaluate the circumstances. Sometimes God opens and closes doors through circumstances to show His will. Look at the circumstances and how God may be directing through them.
- Submit your desires to God. Discerning God’s will begins with presenting our desires to Him and asking Him to refine them to align with His perfect will, not our own (Psalm 37:4).
By utilizing these principles prayerfully, we can gain discernment about how to walk in God’s will rather than foolishly pursuing our own way.
Growing in Discernment
Since discernment is crucial for following Christ faithfully, every believer should seek to grow in discernment. Here are some habits that will help cultivate discernment in your spiritual life:
- Read the Bible daily – God’s Word is the source of discernment. Consistent Bible reading trains us to think biblically.
- Pray for wisdom – If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God (James 1:5). Seek the Spirit’s guidance into truth through prayer.
- Learn theological truth – Become grounded in sound doctrine through discipleship and studying Scripture. Solid theology strengthens discernment.
- Beware deception – Know the enemy’s strategies of deception so you can recognize and resist falsehood (John 8:44; 2 Corinthians 11:14-15).
- Fellowship with mature believers – Godly mentors help train our powers of spiritual discernment through modeling and input.
- Practice evaluating teachings – Exercise your discernment muscles by consistently evaluating preachers, books, and theological ideas against Scripture.
By making these things a regular part of your Christian walk, you will watch your discernment skills grow under the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
Discernment is a vital component of following Christ faithfully and walking in God’s truth. The Bible provides us with clear principles regarding where discernment comes from, how to exercise it using God’s Word, and how to apply it with wisdom, grace, and humility. Growing in discernment requires intentionally pursuing spiritual maturity through habits like Bible reading, prayer, and fellowship. With the Spirit’s help, every believer can progress in their ability to evaluate issues biblically, identify deception, and make decisions according to God’s will. Discernment is a safeguard against deception and a guide into God’s truth. Therefore, let us heed the Bible’s call to earnestly pursue and exercise Christlike discernment for God’s glory.