The Clever Guide to Spiritual Discernment

Discernment is the ability to decide between truth and error, right and wrong. Spiritual discernment is the ability to discern God’s voice and will in the midst of a noisy world. It’s vital for navigating life successfully according to God’s plan.

Definition of Spiritual Discernment

Spiritual discernment is the ability to distinguish God’s voice from all the others. It enables you to perceive the real spirit motivating people, events, and decisions. With discernment, you’ll gain clarity amid confusion and make wise choices aligned with God’s will.

Discernment involves a combination of:

  • Knowledge of scripture
  • Prayer and waiting on God
  • Understanding God’s character
  • Awareness of spiritual warfare
  • Testing thoughts against scripture
  • Exposing false teaching

The Greek word for discernment, diakrisis, means “the act of judging.” Discernment enables you to judge whether something aligns with God’s standards and purposes.

7 Types of Discernment

There are several specific types and applications of spiritual discernment:

  • Doctrinal discernment – Ability to assess teaching and separate truth from error.
  • Gift discernment – Ability to identify and properly use spiritual gifts.
  • Motive discernment – Ability to judge between selfish and pure motives.
  • Wisdom discernment – Ability to judge what solution fits a difficult situation best.
  • Spiritual discernment – Ability to distinguish God’s voice from other voices.
  • Prophetic discernment – Ability to judge prophecies and identify false prophets.
  • Marriage discernment – Ability to select a wise marriage partner.

What Discernment is Not

Though invaluable, discernment has limits. Discernment is not:

  • A license to control others
  • An excuse to mistrust everyone
  • Permission to be suspicious
  • An invitation to judge people’s hearts
  • A shortcut around instruction

With humility and grace, we can gain much wisdom from discernment without using it to harm others.

The Importance of Spiritual Discernment

In a world full of lies and deception, discernment protects us. Discernment is vital because:

  • It guards against false teaching and doctrinal errors.
  • It enables us to distinguish God’s voice from the world’s voices.
  • It helps us avoid poor decisions and wasted time.
  • It reveals people’s hidden motives and agendas.
  • It protects us from Satan’s schemes and traps.
  • It prevents us from stumbling into sin.
  • It filters out toxic relationships and influences.

Without discernment, we have no immune system against spiritual disease or warfare. We must nurture discernment to navigate life wisely.

Consequences of Ignoring Discernment

Failing to develop discernment can open the door to:

  • Deception and false teaching
  • Manipulation by others
  • Self-deception
  • Demonic influence
  • Difficult situations and poor decisions
  • Toxic relationships
  • Waste, fruitlessness, emptiness

Sharpening our gift of discernment protects us from much unnecessary pain and confusion.

How to Develop Discernment

Since discernment is so vital, how can we cultivate it? Here are some proven ways to grow in spiritual discernment:

Get to Know God’s Voice

Spend time daily in God’s presence through prayer, worship, and studying the Bible. Learn the tone and pattern of God’s voice so you can distinguish it from other voices. Expect Him to guide you and saturate your mind with scripture.

Examine Yourself

Ask God to search your heart and reveal any areas of self-deception, sin, or blind spots that could distort your discernment. Yieldedness and humility before God pave the way for clarity.

Pray for Discernment

Ask God directly for the spirit of wisdom and discernment. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you (James 1:5).

Understand Satan’s Schemes

Become aware of Satan’s tactics like deception, and learn how to resist him. Avoid willfully exposing yourself to worldly influences that could desensitize your discernment.

Seek Wise Counsel

Engage trusted believers who can help you evaluate situations objectively. “In abundance of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14).

Practice Testing Spirits

Train your discernment by testing every situation against God’s word and character. Note when something aligns with or contradicts scripture, producing either liberty or unease in your spirit.

Fast and Pray

Fasting helps sharpen spiritual senses dulled by busyness and distraction. When facing major decisions, seek God in an extended time of prayer and fasting.

Study Examples in Scripture

Read biblical accounts of how discernment was exercised by Jesus, Paul, and prophets. Analyze both positive and negative examples to learn principles.

Journal Your Insights

Recording your spiritual observations in a journal can help you track patterns and grow in discernment over time.

Applying Discernment In Life

Once we’ve developed discernment, how do we apply it daily? Here are some key areas to use discernment:


Use discernment to select friends and romantic partners who share your values and positively influence your spiritual journey. Avoid unequal yoking.


Ask God for discernment when presented with opportunities to separate those in alignment with His will versus distractions. Look beyond surface benefits.


Carefully weigh sermons, articles, and books against scripture to identify sound versus unsound doctrine. Avoid teachers who mainly tickle ears.


Guard your eyes and ears from worldly entertainment and influences that could undermine your sensitivity to God’s voice. Fill your mind with truth.


Question why you do things. Examine whether your underlying motives stem from selfishness versus responding to God’s promptings.


Before making choices, seek God’s wisdom. Let discernment guide your decisions, not pressure from others or perceived opportunity.

Media Consumption

Use discernment in what you read, watch, and listen to. Much modern content can desensitize you spiritually. Be selective.

Sinful Temptations

Seeking discernment enables you to detect sinful temptations early and reject them before falling. Don’t rationalize disobedience.

Financial Choices

Ask God for discernment concerning financial decisions and guard against greed and materialism. Seek contentment and simplicity.

Stay alert in areas where you’re prone to poor discernment. Don’t let emotions or wishful thinking distort truth.

In all things, submit your discernment to the Holy Spirit’s leading with humility and grace. Seek to build others up, not tear them down.