Many choices we encounter in life aren't directly addressed by the Bible—especially those related to technology or modern culture. Sometimes there's no obvious right or wrong choice because people and situations change constantly. When we come to these decisions in life, we can exercise our spiritual discernment to find God's truth in the matter.
Spiritual discernment is using biblical understanding and God's wisdom to differentiate between what is godly, what is ungodly, and what may be neutral, while also determining how any existing circumstances may affect that determination. In a sense, discernment is a sort of "spiritual reasoning" that is guided by the Holy Spirit.
Spiritual truth is not always immediately evident to everyone in the room. While speaking to His disciples about the Pharisees, Jesus said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matthew 13:11). As believers, we have access to God's wisdom, and we would be wise to use it!
The Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:12) is our key to knowing and understanding God's wisdom. Those who believe in Jesus Christ have the Holy Spirit living within them (John 14:26; Acts 2:38). Without the Holy Spirit, the things of God will never make sense (1 Corinthians 2:14). And it's the Holy Spirit who helps us make the best possible choices that would be both pleasing to God and most beneficial to our lives.
For example, there's nothing inherently sinful about doing hobbies, watching movies, or even playing video games. But there are many factors that may affect whether or not certain activities or entertainments are beneficial or harmful to our faith or those around us. Part of growing in our faith is being discerning about how we spend our free time. Some things are good for us while others are not. Also, just because something isn't outwardly "spiritual," that doesn't make it automatically wrong either. That's why we practice spiritual discernment.
Spiritual discernment is something we develop over time with the help of the Holy Spirit and by becoming familiar with God's Word. You must have those two things together—the Holy Spirit PLUS God's Word. John 14:26 says, "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." John 16:13 tells us, "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come."
The more we listen to the Holy Spirit and obey Him, the easier it will be to hear Him when He reminds us of what we have learned in God's Word and when He convicts us for or against something we have chosen or are considering.
You decide to watch the movie you've heard great things about. As a believer, you should actively gauge whether this movie would be beneficial, neutral, or harmful to your faith. Let's say, about 40 minutes in, the action becomes ultra-violent. Limbs are being hacked off. The movie is quickly turning into a blood bath riddled with profanity.
Maybe now the Holy Spirit reminds you of Galatians 5:13 and whispers, "This is going to give you nightmares" or "You're becoming desensitized to the profanity" and "This isn't a movie for you right now." If you listen to the Holy Spirit, then you decide not to finish the movie. You did nothing sinful in watching it up to that point. And when you were convicted to turn it off, you did. This is what it looks like to use discernment.
"For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another." —Galatians 5:13
But perhaps you got none of those warnings because you've dealt with those issues already with a past movie. The Holy Spirit reminds you of 1 Corinthians 6:12, and you determine that you are definitely strong in your personal convictions about profanity and violence in real life. You can enjoy this movie for the story and for the look into the human mind.
You know you can watch something with violence or profanity without it negatively affecting your faith, thoughts, or behavior. The violence isn't going to make you violent, and you aren't going to start dropping f-bombs because that isn't a part of your personal speech patterns. You have practiced discernment by looking at the situation and determining that it doesn't affect you negatively.
"'All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. 'All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.'" —1 Corinthians 6:12
Now you're watching the same movie with your little sister. You aren't bothered by it, but you can clearly see your sister is squirming and scared. The Holy Spirit reminds you of Romans 14:13 and says, "This may be OK for you, but it isn't for her."
So you turn it off. You don't make your sister feel bad but calm her down and ask what she'd like to watch instead. You've practiced discernment because you listened to the Holy Spirit and obeyed. You've now learned that violent movies aren't something to share with your sister at this point in her life.
"Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother." —Romans 14:13
Throughout life, we'll learn a lot of things through education, applying our knowledge, and using logic to solve problems. Those are all awesome things, but God's wisdom comes from knowing Him and His Word and obeying the Holy Spirit over and over.
Practicing spiritual discernment helps you learn to hate what is evil and love what is good (Romans 12:9). Having developed spiritual discernment will help protect you from temptations to sin and from stumbling unknowingly into sinful situations. Talk to God as you go through this process, asking Him to help you develop your discernment as well (James 1:5; Philippians 1:9).
"...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
The Holy Spirit is like a spiritual trainer for believers, but we have to be a part of the process! By studying the Bible, we can learn what real righteousness looks like, thus learning to recognize both truth and falsehood. By constantly practicing spiritual discernment, we can improve our discernment skills, thus moving toward a more righteous life and faith.
The Holy Spirit is like a spiritual trainer for believers, but we have to be a part of the process! Practicing spiritual discernment helps you learn to hate what is evil, love what is good, and protect yourself from sinful temptations or stumbling unknowingly into sinful situations. By studying the Bible, we can learn what real righteousness looks like, thus learning to recognize God's truth vs. falsehood. By constantly practicing spiritual discernment, we can improve our discernment skills, thus moving toward a more righteous life and faith.
Cat is the web producer and editor of 412teens.org. She loves audiobooks, feeding the people she cares about, and using Christmas lights to illuminate a room. When Catiana is not writing, cooking, or drawing, she enjoys spending time with her two teenage kids, five socially-awkward cats, and her amazing friend-amily.