What Is Discernment?

Sinclair Ferguson of Ligonier Ministries reminds us, “the only worthwhile discernment we possess is that which we receive in union with Christ, by the Spirit, through God’s Word.”

How does discernment affect the way we live? Ferguson suggests four ways.  Discover what those four ways are so that if you are in bondage to an unbiblical way of life, you will be set free.  He writes:

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Someone I know recently expressed an opinion that surprised and in some ways disappointed me. I said to myself, “I thought he would have more discernment than that.”

The experience caused me to reflect on the importance of discernment and the lack of it in our world. We know that people often do not see issues clearly and are easily misled because they do not think biblically. But, sadly, one cannot help reflecting on how true this is of the church community, too.

Most of us doubtless want to distance ourselves from what might be regarded as “the lunatic fringe” of contemporary Christianity. We are on our guard against being led astray by false teachers. But there is more to discernment than this. True discernment means not only distinguishing the right from the wrong; it means distinguishing the primary from the secondary, the essential from the indifferent, and the permanent from the transient. And, yes, it means distinguishing between the good and the better, and even between the better and the best.

Thus, discernment is like the physical senses; to some it is given in unusual measure as a special grace gift (1 Cor. 12:10), but some measure of it is essential for us all and must be constantly nourished. The Christian must take care to develop his “sixth sense” of spiritual discernment. This is why the psalmist prays, “Teach me good judgment and knowledge” (Ps. 119:66).

The Nature of Discernment

But what is this discernment? The word used in Psalm 119:66 means “taste.” It is the ability to make discriminating judgments, to distinguish between, and recognize the moral implications of, different situations and courses of action. It includes the ability to “weigh up” and assess the moral and spiritual status of individuals, groups, and even movements. Thus, while warning us against judgmentalism, Jesus urges us to be discerning and discriminating, lest we cast our pearls before pigs (Matt. 7:16).

A remarkable example of such discernment is described in John 2:24–25: “Jesus would not entrust himself to them … for he knew what was in a man” (NIV).

This is discernment without judgmentalism. It involved our Lord’s knowledge of God’s Word and His observation of God’s ways with men (He, supremely, had prayed, “Teach me good judgment … for I believe Your commandments,” Ps. 119:66). Doubtless His discernment grew as He experienced conflict with, and victory over, temptation, and as He assessed every situation in the light of God’s Word.

Jesus’s discernment penetrated to the deepest reaches of the heart. But the Christian is called to develop similar discernment. For the only worthwhile discernment we possess is that which we receive in union with Christ, by the Spirit, through God’s Word.

So discernment is learning to think God’s thoughts after Him, practically and spiritually; it means having a sense of how things look in God’s eyes and seeing them in some measure “uncovered and laid bare” (Heb. 4:13).   Continue reading


Have Christians Lost the Art of Biblical Discernment By Marsha West

See our White Paper on Discernment

H/T Michelle Lesley

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6 Responses to What Is Discernment?

  1. nannette March 10, 2017 at 1:05 pm #

    Calvinist Sinclair Ferguson “sixth sense of spiritual discernment?” What is that? Reminds me of Walker Texas Ranger and his sixth sense. It kinda ruined the piece. The sixth sense is not in the Bible, but warily reminds one of something sinister. Just sayin. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sixth_Sense

    • Ronald March 10, 2017 at 10:46 pm #

      first an foremost spiritual discernment is given to one by the holy spirit by the power of God an no man can truly understand the ways an power of God.Spiritual discernment is rightly dividing the word of God an sharing those spiritual truths with others that they may come know Jesus as their savior. Spiritual discernment is alo knowing the spiritual truthsof what is prophecy in His word that is given by God threw the Holy Spirit Spiritual discernment is also teaching others the greatest gift of all an that is to love one another.Spiritual by the grace of God gives you the knowledge of interpretation of the tongues when God is speaking of another.How do i onow these things cause my God is awesome an i have this abilities by His grace. Do not let men mislead you in theory askGod pray about it He will give the answer if he wants you to know.noone can truly understand every gift of God.His ways are higher than ares and way beyond comprehension. May the Holy Spirit bless you with the truth seek an you shall find true spiritual knowledge that is given by the grace of God only.

  2. Manny1962 March 10, 2017 at 1:26 pm #

    How did Paul say the Bereans discerned? They used scripture as a litmus test. Discernment isn’t some magical sixth sense, it’s a mind controlled by scripture, walking in the Spirit…….The Spirit of God, is our teacher, our light and our guide until The Lord returns, through Him we see. That’s why daily bible study is crucial, now more than ever as we all see the subtle tidal wave of deception coming upon us.

    • nannette March 10, 2017 at 6:54 pm #

      Amen Manny. It’s scary, if one does a search you would find that the ‘sixth sense’ is called the third eye. Now we get into the occult, and we are to have nothing to do with the occult.

  3. Ronald March 10, 2017 at 11:08 pm #

    Their is no deception in one who truly follows God.And this world has nothing in Him.Theories are not necessarily the true spiritual meaning of Gods true spiritual menings are given to ones hert by the holy spirit.Man today is taking God out of everything about God an setting it aside as if it was old broken toy.Truthfully putting Gods word in your heart is the only way to save your soul.Spiritual knowledge is given by God an not by theories or relegious beliefs of men.

    • Marinus L March 11, 2017 at 9:21 am #

      Ronald, He is speaking to us today, through His Word.

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