You’ve probably heard the term spiritual discernment used in Christian circles, but do you know what it is, where it comes from, or how we receive it? To many people, it sounds a little perplexing or maybe even strange, but it’s essential if we want to make wise choices in a world that bombards us with all sorts of philosophies and deceptions.
“God does not exist to answer our prayers, but by our prayers we come to discern the mind of God.”—Oswald Chambers
Let’s begin by reading 1 Corinthians 2:10-14.
For to us God revealed [His mysteries] through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
What is spiritual discernment?
• The Greek word for wisdom is sophia, which is defined as “broad, full intelligence and knowledge of diverse matters.” However, God’s wisdom stands in sharp contrast to the wisdom of this age because He alone has full knowledge of all things—past, present, and future (1 Corinthians 2:6).
There are between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published in the United States each year, and no matter how much knowledge they contain, the sum of it pales when compared to the wisdom of God.
• Paul speaks “God’s wisdom in a mystery” (1 Corinthians 2:7). This is the Greek word mustérion, which describes something hidden or secret. God’s wisdom is beyond man’s comprehension by natural means. Even Christ’s crucifixion and the plan of salvation cannot be understood by natural reason but must be revealed by the Lord (1 Corinthians 2:8-9).
• However, God reveals His wisdom to us through both His Word and His Spirit, who alone knows the thoughts of God (1 Corinthians 2:10-11). As we read our Bible, the Holy Spirit illumines, uncovers, and interprets its truths for us so we can begin to see everything from His perspective—and that’s godly wisdom.
Who may receive spiritual discernment?
Only those with the indwelling Holy Spirit can perceive divine wisdom; the natural or unredeemed person can neither understand nor accept the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:12, 1 Corinthians 2:14). However, not every believer has spiritual discernment; it is developed only in those who are “mature” (v. 6). Any Christian who indulges his fleshly desires, refuses to submit to the Spirit’s leadership, or neglects God’s Word will have limited spiritual understanding (1 Corinthians 3:1-3). But those who walk in the Spirit and allow Scripture to fill their mind and transform their behavior and attitudes will increasingly think God’s thoughts. They are the ones who’ll be able to see people and situations from His perspective.
The Hagia Sophia, once a Greek Orthodox basilica, now serves as a museum in Istanbul, Turkey. Its name means “holy wisdom.”
How is spiritual discernment displayed?
Discernment is the ability to appraise or judge (1 Corinthians 2:15-16). The Greek word is anakrinó, which means “to investigate, examine, or evaluate to determine the excellence or defects of any person or thing.” When we sift everything through God’s Word, our understanding goes beyond human intelligence and knowledge because it flows from the mind of the Lord.
• We all want to be spiritually discerning yet may not be actively pursuing that goal. What things in your life are hindering you from letting God’s Word shape your thinking and behavior?
• Is there any attitude or sin in your life that is quenching the Holy Spirit from developing spiritual discernment within you? What must you do to turn away from that obstacle?