Discernment is the ability to distinguish between good and evil, in order to make wise decisions.
The concept of discernment is defined by several Hebrew words. Shama means “to hear, understand, perceive”; yada, “to know, to recognize, to consider”; and biyn, “to separate mentally, to distinguish.” A fourth word, mishpat, means “judgment in law; decision” and refers to “a verdict pronounced judicially, especially a sentence or formal decree.” The Greek word translated discern is diakrino and means “to separate thoroughly, to withdraw from, to make a distinction, to decide.”
What Are We to Discern?
When God told Solomon to ask for anything he wanted, Solomon asked for discernment. “Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart … that I may discern between good and bad” (I Kings 3:9). God commanded the priests of Israel to “teach my people the difference between the holy and profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean” (Ezekiel 44:23). God expects believers to become mature and skilled at using the Word of God through consistent application and by having “their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14).
The Importance of Discerning Between Good and Evil
In Scripture, the opposite of holiness is uncleanness, as indicated by the following passages:
- “God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness” (I Thessalonians 4:7).
- “As ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness” (Romans 6:19).
The Apostle Peter links New Testament holiness with the Old Testament instruction on holiness: “As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (I Peter 1:14–16).
In this passage, Peter quotes directly from the book of Leviticus, which says “For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44–45). “… Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2).
How Do We Gain Discernment?
The answer is contained in Solomon’s request of the Lord. “Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart … that I may discern between good and bad” (I Kings 3:9). An understanding heart is a “hearing heart.” It listens to the voice of conscience, the words of Scripture, and the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
In James 1:5, we are urged to ask for wisdom and are assured that God will give it to all who ask for it in faith. Since God is not a respecter of persons, we can expect that as Solomon was granted his request, so we will be granted a similar one.
One way to grow in discernment is to continually fill our minds with truth. The better we know the truth, the better we can discern deviations from that truth. “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove [discern] what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2).
- Do you ask God for an understanding heart to discern between good and bad?
- Have you dedicated your body to God as a temple of the Holy Spirit?
- Do you ask God to remove anything in your life that would hinder you from hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit?
- Do you listen to both sides of a story before making conclusions?
- Do you consider a person’s life and background before making a final opinion about him?
- When you see someone making a wrong decision, do you desire to help him make a wise choice instead?