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The Three Ds of Discernment

“Solid food is for the mature who, because of practice, have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” – Hebrews 5:14

Many Christians assume that “discernment” is some mystical gift, only given to hermits living on mountaintops. Discernment, they think, is something that can’t be defined. It’s a feeling. An intuition. An inner sense. It has something to do with having a special “in” with God. To know things. Or know about things. Or whatever. Certainly, it’s not for the regular churchgoer. Elders and pastors and such should “have discernment,” but it’s not for the person in the pew.

That is a lie of the devil. Discernment is not some vague “inner sense,” nor is it a mystical gift. As it says in Hebrews 5:14, discernment is the ability to recognize good and evil. It is part of God’s call to every man, woman, and child who has accepted Jesus as Lord. And, since discernment is part of God’s call to a holy life, it’s not some ungraspable, undefinable reality. It’s a practical, everyday practice. It is reasonable and rational. It involves hard work, effort, and discipline.

Here are three steps to discern good from evil:

DETECT. The first aspect of discernment is detection. Put simply: open your eyes! Be observant. Pay attention. Scripture commands us to “be sober” (I Thess. 5:8), and to be “on the alert” (I Peter 5:8).

DEFINE. The second aspect of discernment is to define what you see. First, you have to see what’s around you. Then, you have to think about what defines it. What are the characteristics of this thing, this thought, or this situation? Why do I want this thing or have this goal? How is this the same or different from other good or evil things I am familiar with?

DISCRIMINATE. First, you detect something. Then, you define it. Finally, you have to decide about it. “I’ve thought about this thing, this thought, this situation, this decision, or this relationship in my mind. These are its characteristics. Now, what does the Bible say about this? What does my reason tell me about this? What do trustworthy Christians think about this? What is God’s Spirit telling me about this?” This is the point where you are deciding if something is good or evil. After that, it is up to you to obey God, or to disobey him.

** The above is an excerpt from the Bible study “Good vs. Evil: The Discipline of Discernment” available as a free download at the bottom of this page:

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