In a world saturated with deceiving spirits, false prophets, and false teachers, the need to exercise discernment cannot be overstated. As believers, we think with our minds, but we discern with our spirits. Mentally we can know whether something is right or wrong in the natural realm by observation and inquiry. Theologically we can agree or disagree with a verbal or written statements based on our education, experience, and understanding of God’s word. However, the spiritual world is not always discernible by our natural senses. To chart our way in the spiritual world requires the presence of God. When the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our lives, he bears witness with our spirit and enables us to know right from wrong in the spiritual realm. This God-given ability to discern is like a sixth sense that enables us to know that something is right or wrong even though we may not know intellectually what is right or what is wrong.
The interaction between God and Solomon is helpful in understanding spiritual discernment (1 Kings 3:5-15). David had died, and Solomon had taken his place as king of Israel. Solomon loved the Lord, but by his own admission, he was too young and inexperienced to be the king (vs. 7). The Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream at night, and God said, "Ask for whatever you want Me to give you” (vs. 5). Solomon asked and the Lord gave him a discerning heart to govern His “people and to distinguish between right and wrong” (vs. 9).
This passage reveals two key concepts about discernment. First, God gave Solomon the ability to discern because his motives were pure. Solomon wasn’t asking for a wise and discerning heart for his own personal profit, not even to gain an advantage over his enemies. He wanted discernment in order to administer justice and know good from evil. Motive is crucial since the power to discern can be misused in the Church. It is a powerful advantage to know something no one else knows.
Second, spiritual discernment is always on the plane of good and evil. The Holy Spirit gives us a check in our spirit when something is wrong. It is our first line of defense when our natural senses aren’t able to register any danger or direction. However, the ability to discern spiritually does not negate the necessity of knowing God’s word.
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