The Gift of Discernment

iStock-1351014262The Gift of Discernment


We'd like to believe churches are sacred spaces protected from harm, but sadly, sin finds its way into churches every day. One example could be a church that has been the victim of fraud, such as someone embezzling church funds or those in leadership committing adultery.

This certainly isn't the most pleasant way to begin a blog, but there is a good reason. These types of incidents remind us of the importance of the gift of discernment.

The Holy Spirit has given some believers the gift of discernment in order to protect the church and its members from those who may have bad intentions.

Here's the thing – most people would like to believe they have the gift of discernment. Take a few minutes to look at all those shouting their "wise" opinions on social media and it'll be clear that we do not all have this gift.

So how do you know if you have the gift of discernment? Read on to understand this spiritual gift better.

Understanding the Gift of Discernment

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. – 1 Corinthians 12:7-11

When Paul lists spiritual gifts, he includes the gift of distinguishing between spirits along with other gifts, including healing and speaking in tongues. The gift of "distinguishing between spirits" is the gift of discernment or the gift of discernment of spirits.

According to the Spiritual Gifts Test, "The Greek word for the gift of discernment is diakrisis. The word describes being able to distinguish, discern, judge or appraise a person, statement, situation, or environment. […] The Holy Spirit gives the gift of discernment to enable certain Christians to clearly recognize and distinguish between the influence of God, Satan, the world, and the flesh in a given situation."

Essentially, those with the gift of discernment are able to discern truth from an individual, as well as discern when something is not from God.

Gene Wilkes explains, "Discernment aids the body by recognizing the true intentions of those within or related to the body. Discernment tests the message and actions of others for the protection and well-being of the body."

What the Gift of Discernment Looks Like

We see examples of individuals with the gift of discernment throughout the Bible.

In the New Testament, we get to read Paul's letters to various churches, and we see how he uses his gift of discernment to identify when churches have lost sight of the truth and point them back to the Word of God.

Moreover, the New Testament includes several stories of the early churches needing those with the gift of discernment. For example, Acts 15:24-28 says, "Since we have heard that certain persons who have gone out from us, though with no instructions from us, have said things to disturb you and have unsettled your minds, we have decided unanimously to choose representatives and send them to you, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials."

Barnabas, Paul, Judas, and Silas were specifically sent to address issues in the early church using discernment.

Today, the gift of discernment looks like calling attention to false teaching or bad intentions. An individual with this gift may see past a phony spiritual façade or alert the church leadership when he or she has discerned someone is doing something that hurts the church.

It may also look like leading a group of new believers and pointing out when their ideas are more based on the culture rather than God's Word.

How the Gift of Discernment Serves the Church

Those with the gift of discernment are necessary for protecting the church and its members. Therefore, it is common to find these individuals in roles where people seek them out for their wisdom.

You may also find them working with various ministry groups making sure that those in leadership or those dealing with funding are acting in good faith.

Furthermore, these individuals do well in roles where they get to mentor others, such as recovery ministries.

Finally, one very specific help that those with the gift of discernment can support the church is in the testing of prophecy (rf. 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21).

We May All Grow in Discernment…

It's important to understand that all believers grow in discernment.

The Bible makes it clear that believers should seek wisdom. If you are a new believer or feel like you lack discernment, you can grow in wisdom by reading your Bible and spending time in prayer. The more mature you grow in your faith, the wiser you become.

Got Questions explains, "In Hebrews 5:13-14, we read that a believer who has matured beyond using the milk of the Word as a babe in Christ is able to discern both good and evil. The maturing believer is empowered by the Spirit of God through the Scriptures to tell the difference between good and evil, and, beyond that, he can also distinguish between what is good and what is better. In other words, any born-again believer who chooses to focus on the Word of God is spiritually discerning."

But We Do Not All Have the Gift of Discernment

However, even though we can all grow in discernment, it does not mean that we all have the gift of discernment. Again, consider social media. What many people believe is the gift of discernment is really their belief that they are right.

According to Lifeway Research, "Too often, people think they have the gift of discernment when in fact they have a critical, fault-finding, cynical, and negative spirit. They think they have the gift of discernment when they're actually sinning!"

So what is the difference?

Got Questions explains, "We are all exhorted to be spiritually discerning (Acts 17:11; 1 John 4:1), but some in the body of Christ have been given the unique ability to spot the doctrinal 'forgeries' that have plagued the church since the first century. […] The spiritually discerning are so familiar with the Word of God that they instantly recognize what is contrary to it. […] They use the Word of God to 'test the spirits' to see which line up with God and which are in opposition to Him."

Ways to Tell If You Have the Gift of Discernment

If you agree strongly with the following statements from the Spiritual Gifts Discovery Instruction Guide, you may have the gift of discernment.

  • People often say I have good spiritual judgment.
  • I am a good judge of character and can spot a spiritual phony.
  • I am able to distinguish between right and wrong in complex spiritual matters that other people can't seem to figure out.
  • People come to me for help in distinguishing between spiritual truth and error.

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. – 1 John 4:1