Discernment is what enables us to have proper understanding and make wise judgements. Think of it as a heightened level of critical thinking. The dictionary definition of discernment is: "discrimination; acuteness of judgment and understanding." Discernment is similar to wisdom, but offers a more specific focus. The primary difference between the two lies in the distinction of discernment being able to help us to decipher right from wrong, truth from falsehood. The Bible makes it clear that discernment is something that we should all desire and that it is necessary to help us to grow in our faith and keep us from being deceived (Hebrews 5:14).
What does the Bible teach about discernment?
Solomon, given the opportunity by God to ask for anything, requested "an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil" (1 Kings 3:9). God was pleased by Solomon's request and promised him, "… Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you" (1 Kings 3:12). It's interesting to note that God Himself specifically mentioned both wisdom and discernment individually. Discernment is not just for kings, though. It is for all believers.
Paul prayed for discernment for the believers: "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, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God" (Philippians 1:9–11). Discernment is something we need to ask for and seek if we truly desire to live righteously. Hosea 14:9 says, "Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the LORD are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them." We cannot follow the ways of the Lord without discernment.
We need discernment in order to understand the Bible itself. Our human minds cannot understand the Scriptures without the discernment that comes from the Holy Spirit. "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:14). The Scriptures make us wise, but this can't happen unless we have the discernment to understand them (2 Timothy 3:12–17). There is wisdom we need for our lives contained within God's word. "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" (Hebrews 4:12).
Discernment is of crucial importance to our lives as believers in Christ, and with it comes great benefits. Proverbs 3:21–24 says:
My child, don't lose sight of common sense and discernment.
Hang on to them,
for they will refresh your soul.
They are like jewels on a necklace.
They keep you safe on your way,
and your feet will not stumble.
You can go to bed without fear;
you will lie down and sleep soundly" (NLT).
King David asked for discernment, and so should we (Psalm 119:125). We can be confident that God will provide us with the wisdom and discernment we need when we ask Him for it, because He desires us to live an empowered Christian life, filled with the understanding we need to follow Christ (James 1:5).
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