What is spiritual discernment?

The word "discern" (and all its forms in the New Testament) is translated from the Greek word anakrino and means "to distinguish, to separate out by diligent search, to examine." 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.

It may sound a bit complicated, so we want to encourage you that attaining spiritual discernment is a process. We don't attain perfect spiritual discernment overnight, just as we couldn't develop all the fruits of the Spirit overnight. Developing spiritual discernment takes time, commitment, and LOTS of practice!

Spiritual Discernment is Given by God's Spirit

"Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God." —1 Corinthians 2:12

The Holy Spirit is the source of all God's wisdom. For those who believe in Jesus Christ, they 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).

A well-known king named Solomon was known for his great wisdom and powerful ability to discern what was righteous and moral from what was toxic or evil. (1 Kings 3:9, 11). Believers today should strive for increased discernment as well, just as the Apostle Paul prayed for the church in Philippi: "...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).

Spiritual Discernment is Honed by 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

Practicing discernment means going beyond the face of what you observe and hear around you. Those are important starting points, yes, but the discerning mind takes that information and formulates a determination about it using prior knowledge and experience. Spiritual discernment is using wisdom from the Bible and the knowledge of prior experiences with God to make wise, informed decisions about what actions we might need to take in any given situation.

Proverbs 8 personifies Wisdom in a beautiful poem that describes her as being with God from the beginning of Creation, steadfast and righteous, a delight of the Lord, and one who delights in the Earth's inhabitants. The poem ends with a command from Wisdom:

"Hear instruction and be wise,
and do not neglect it.
Blessed is the one who listens to me,
watching daily at my gates,
waiting beside my doors.
For whoever finds me finds life
and obtains favor from the Lord..."
—Proverbs 8:33-35

Knowing and understanding God's Word equips us make better choices when we're faced with tough decisions, questions, or situations. For example, Romans 12:9 tells us to "hate what is evil; cling to what is good." But how can we do that if we don't realize what counts as "evil" or what's considered "good"? And how can we know what's "good" as opposed to what's "best"? Having the wisdom of the Bible ingrained in our minds can help solve those problems.

"Who is wise? He will realize these things. Who is discerning? He will understand them. The ways of the LORD are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them." —Hosea 14:9

"My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight; they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck. Then you will go on your way in safety, and your foot will not stumble; when you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet." —Proverbs 3:21-24

Just as King Solomon was known for seeking discernment and wisdom (Proverbs 1:2; 1 Kings 3:9-12), exploring God's Creation (Ecclesiastes 1:13), and discovering the meaning of life (Ecclesiastes 12:13), so should believers today be known for making wise decisions through God's Spirit. God's wisdom is pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere (James 3:17). And best of all, that wisdom is available to anyone who asks (James 1:5).

"I am your servant; give me discernment that I may understand your statutes." —Psalm 119:125

ALSO SEE: How can I get better at spiritual discernment?


Spiritual discernment is impossible without the Holy Spirit. Discernment is using biblical understanding and God's wisdom to differentiate between what is godly, ungodly, or neutral, while also determining how any existing circumstances may affect that determination. Knowing and understanding God's Word equips us make wise, informed choices when we're faced with tough decisions, questions, or situations. Developing spiritual discernment is a process that takes time, commitment, and LOTS of practice!

Writer/Editor: Catiana (Cat)

Cat is the web producer and editor of 412teens.org. She is known as "412teens" on the 412teens Discord. She loves audiobooks, feeding the people she cares about, and using Christmas lights to illuminate a room. When Catiana is not cooking, gardening, or practicing creativity, she enjoys spending time with her two kids, five socially-awkward cats, and her amazing friend-amily.

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