vs. Judgment
The God-given ability to understand why things happen

Key Verse

“But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”
I Samuel 16:7

The operational definition of discernment is “the God-given ability to understand why things happen.” You may be dealing with circumstances in your life or in the world around you that you are trying to understand. What is the cause of such a devastating hurricane? Why would a loved one get cancer? Science may explain the happenings of the physical world based on universal laws of nature, but the purposes of God behind those events can only be understood, or discerned, by His Spirit. God, in His omniscience, has deeper reasons for each circumstance and is working to fulfill His plans. As the Holy Spirit guides you as you read and study His Word, you will begin to grasp the deeper things of God. (See I Corinthians 2:10–16.) Having the mind of Christ (or thinking in accordance with Scripture) is the first necessary requirement for learning discernment.

You may think that you see a situation clearly, but only with discernment from the Lord will you be able to have the perspective necessary to draw accurate conclusions.
A judgmental person blames others without taking the time to discern what underlying factors should be considered.

Lacking discernment leads to wrong judgments. Without knowing the facts, an undiscerning person often arrives at incorrect conclusions. Someone who makes rash judgments about others often forms opinions about them based only on what he sees on the surface. He is critical of others when he sees their faults, and he fails to realize that the failures he reacts to in others are often identical to his own! Jesus alluded to this attitude when He spoke about being quick to see a speck in another’s eye while overlooking the plank that was in one’s own eye. (See Matthew 7:3–5.) A person who lacks discernment is focused more on faultfinding and finger-pointing. He fails to try to see “below the surface” to understand another’s situation or seek ways to help him. Instead of judging others, seek to understand them, pray for them, and help them as God leads and enables you.

Evaluation Questions

  • In order to discern between right and wrong, do I first ask God for an understanding heart?
  • Do I ask God to reveal anything in my life that would hinder me from sensing the Holy Spirit’s leading?
  • When receiving a report, do I listen to both sides of the story before coming to a conclusion?
  • Do I seek to know a person’s circumstances and background before making a judgment?
  • Am I able to see past a surface conflict, identify the root problem, and then find its solution in Scripture?
  • Do I try to learn from my mistakes so that I am less likely to repeat them?
  • When I observe immaturity in someone else, do I examine myself for similar faults?
  • Do I know how to distinguish between God’s wisdom and my natural tendencies?

More About Discernment

“Discernment is the power to interpret what we see and hear.”
Oswald Chambers
Transformation results as we behold the Lord and yield to the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (II Corinthians 3:18). As we see God’s character through testimonies in Scripture, we grow in our understanding and obedience to His Word. Here are ten aspects of Discernment with supporting verses found in God’s Word.

God enables me to:


Look beneath the surface.

“Judge not according to the appearance, but judge right­eous judgment.” John 7:24

Establish the facts.

“Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?” John 7:51

Identify consequences.

“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Galatians 6:7

Distinguish between right and wrong.

“Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? prudent, and he shall know them? for the ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them: but the transgressors shall fall therein.” Hosea 14:9

Pursue holiness.

“For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.” I Thessalonians 4:7

Ask questions.

“The heart of the prudent getteth knowledge; and the ear of the wise seeketh knowledge.” Proverbs 18:15

Keep from judging hastily.

“Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.” I Corinthians 4:5

Learn from experience.

“And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” II Timothy 3:15

Not repeat mistakes.

“For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.” II Peter 2:21–22

Trace problems to their root causes.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23–24

Discernment in Scripture

The Jerusalem Church Consults the Scriptures

“But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.”
ACTS 15:5–6
The Apostle Peter would never have thought of preaching to Gentiles! However, God had other plans. God used a vision and a visit to a Roman centurion named Cornelius to show Peter that Jesus died for all people. Now Peter knew that anyone—even non-Jews—who believed on Christ could have forgiveness of sins. At first, the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were wary of welcoming these “unclean” Gentiles into the Church. However, after hearing Peter’s testimony, the Jewish believers grasped God’s plan and praised Him for the new converts. In Antioch, about 300 miles from Jerusalem, a church was established. This specific church included both Jewish and Gentile believers. Paul and Barnabas were sent by this church on a missionary journey. After many months and many miles, the two men returned to the church. They reported that numerous Gentile souls had been saved because God “had opened the door faith unto the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27). However, certain Pharisees who had also trusted in Christ were greatly concerned. They believed that in order to be saved, adherence to the Law of Moses was required. These Pharisees approached the church in Antioch with an ultimatum for the new Gentile believers. What were these Pharisees demanding the new believers to do? How would the church leadership discern if their demand was right or wrong?

Revealed in Nature


The bobcat patiently stalks and watches its intended prey, discerning its movements, its path, and the best direction from which to approach. The bobcat knows it has only one chance, so it waits until what it discerns to be the best opportunity to leap from its cover and strike.

For Kids

Biblical Character Illustrated Curriculum

The Biblical Character Illustrated Curriculum uses examples from the lives of men and women in the Bible whose walk with God resulted in good character or whose lack of faith produced poor character. The study of discernment teaches children how to differentiate truth from error, so they are able to respond with the right steps of action.

View the Discernment booklet sample:

Get the complete Discernment booklet with all four lessons & activities:

Free Resources for Discernment

Enjoy these selections from the Biblical Character Illustrated Curriculum that are fun and memorable!

Bible Story Coloring Page
Verse & Definition Word Search
Related Hymn Sheet Music
“Discernment is God’s call to intercession, never to fault- finding.”
Oswald Chambers