The word discern and its derivatives are translations of the Greek word anakrino in the New Testament. It means “to distinguish, to separate out by diligent search, to examine.” Discernment is the ability to properly discriminate or make determinations. It is related to wisdom. The Word of God itself is said to discern the thoughts and intentions of one’s heart (Hebrews 4:12).
A discerning mind demonstrates wisdom and insight that go beyond what is seen and heard. For example, God’s Word is “spiritually discerned.” To the human mind without the Spirit, the things of God are “foolishness” (1 Corinthians 2:14). The Spirit, then, gives us spiritual discernment.
King Solomon was known for his power of discernment, making many wise decisions and moral judgments (1 Kings 3:9, 11). Christians today are to be discerning as well. Paul prayed for believers “to discern what is best . . . until the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:10).
A discerning person will acknowledge the worth of God’s Word: “All the words of my mouth are just; none of them is crooked or perverse. To the discerning all of them are right; they are faultless to those who have knowledge” (Proverbs 8:8-9). Seeking discernment is a goal for all who desire to walk righteously: “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).
We are commanded to “hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9). But, unless we have true discernment, how can we determine what is “evil” and what is “good”? In order to maintain the purity of the gospel, the church must distinguish truth from heresy. Wisdom also demands that we properly discriminate between what is “best” and what is merely “good.”
Discernment has many collateral benefits. “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 Solomon sought discernment and wisdom (Proverbs 1:2; 1 Kings 3:9-12) to explore the handiwork of God (Ecclesiastes 1:13) and seek the meaning of life (Ecclesiastes 12:13), so should believers seek “the wisdom that comes from heaven” (James 3:17). We must study the Scriptures which are “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).
May our prayer be “I am your servant; give me discernment that I may understand your statutes” (Psalm 119:125).