Being Discerning

Recently I heard a bird singing clearly and beautifully and I thought to myself, “That’s real pretty, but it’s just a bird on a game that my son’s playing on the computer” – I discerned the sound, made a judgment about it based on my knowledge of what was happening around me (and previous experience, having already heard birds on the game previously) and so thought I had correctly discerned what was the source of the sound. Then I immediately heard the Holy Spirit tell me to stop what I was doing and look outside; I looked out and SAW and heard the bird singing in the trees! I immediately realized what I had done and told Him I was sorry for my wrong judgment and for attributing something He had created, to a machine! It was effectively robbing Him of the glory due to Him.

He had been teaching me about judging and discerning and in this instance the lesson was that even though I may know what a real, genuine bird sounds like and can discern between a toy bird and a real one, I can still very easily be deceived and wrong in my judgment because of the circumstances around me, my previous experience, how close to the real thing the counterfeit is, and my lack of seeking to know the source. The bird song on the computer game sounds exactly like the real thing, but it is not. Its source is a machine and not something which is full of Life! It is the source that needs to be discerned.

The counterfeit of discernment is not a lack of discernment but false, fleshly, natural discernment. We tend to think that spiritual discernment is about what we see that is wrong or right in someone or something. But of course just about anyone can do that – many people who do not know Christ are discerning and perceptive because it is a natural fruit of our own knowledge of good and evil rather than God’s Knowledge of good and evil. But it takes the heavenly, supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit to discern CHRIST and His Life and to have His Knowledge!

“For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For ‘who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Cor 2:11-16).

Many of us have been brought up to believe that to judge is wrong but to discern is alright; judgment is negative, discernment is positive. Somehow discerning and perceiving sounds much better (and more ‘spiritual’) to us than ‘judging’. However, our English dictionaries define discernment as judgment and judgment as “discernment – making critical distinctions to achieve a balanced viewpoint”.

So I went to see what the original Greek words used in the Bible meant.

Judging or Discerning?

The words which are translated as BOTH judging and discerning are from the one root Greek word “krino” which means “to judge, be of opinion, examine, choose, separate, discriminate”. The word interpreted as discerning, is either “anakrino” or “diakrino” and means “by or through judging”. For example, it occurs three times in the verses above: “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (anakrino – judged). But he who is spiritual judges (same word, anakrino) all things, yet he himself is rightly judged (anakrino) by no one.”

Whether we like it or not, discerning and judging seem to be synonymous in the Bible, and it has a lot to say about judging, both in a positive and negative context. We usually make our judgments based upon what WE think we see and perceive, but what we often don’t realise is that what we are hearing and seeing may be simply based upon what WE know (OUR knowledge!) which is just the fruit of our natural minds and reasoning (right and wrong, black and white). It may simply be the fruit of our own self-righteousness – believing that Self is right!

From this root word “krino”, which means to judge and examine, comes another two related Greek words, “krites” and “krisis”. “Krites” means a Judge and is where we get our English word “critical” from, and “krisis” means judgment and separation and is where our word “crisis” is derived from. So our ‘discernment’ may not only be our fleshly judgments in a religious disguise, but may simply be criticisms which may result in crises when given.

One of our enemy’s prime purposes is to bring division and separation (crisis) not only between God and man, but also between God’s children who are one IN Christ and what better way than to cause suspicion and doubt, like in the garden of Eden? He can get us caught into a cycle of analyzing one another and reasoning our position and what WE think to be true from our viewpoint and so distract us from where our one aim and focus should be. Our position and viewpoint moves from being justified and one in Christ in the heavenlies, to being individuals trying to justify ourselves and our position here ON EARTH!

Sometimes division occurs between God’s children who may both be right in much of what they are saying; but how can this be if they are both speaking truth? Even if our judgments or discernments have truth in them, that truth can still be used for evil when it is not based on or sourced from God’s Life.

Truth used in the wrong way is far more deceptive and potentially damaging to both us and others because we can get caught up in our zeal for that truth and not be able to see past it; so we lose sight of He Who is our Truth AND Life. Truth that is not given in conjunction with the Way and Life of Christ, brings death and separation – crises.

When we judge one another based upon our knowledge rather than from God’s Knowledge, we are likely to be unintentionally and incorrectly judging God and His work, just as I did with the bird’s song. For example, we may see someone who is strong and unshakeable. We might decide (based on our “knowledge”!) that they are proud, stubborn, arrogant and unteachable. But we might be completely wrong, what we may not see is that this strength is the result of the work of Christ which has been worked into a person’s life through much weakness, humbling and brokenness – it is HIS Strength which we have mistaken as being natural strength. In judging our brother or sister we may not have discerned the Source of their strength and so incorrectly “discerned” and made a judgment based upon our very limited knowledge and understanding. We may in fact be judging the fruit and work of the Tree of Life in other people’s lives.

Who are we to criticize and judge God and His work in someone? Only God knows a person’s heart… The other side of that is that we might know someone who is quiet-spoken and gentle. We may think that they are truly meek, humble, and a real man or woman of God. But again we may be completely wrong because we may not see that these are natural characteristics and that in secret the person is very proud of their so-called humility! In this case we attribute something that is earthly to God. We just cannot trust ourselves; if the source of our judgment is from OUR knowledge of good and evil, then it is highly suspect; if the source of judgment is from Christ and His Knowledge of good and evil, then it is totally trustworthy!

Knowing and discerning good and evil is obviously important and necessary but the Source of that knowledge must not be natural but supernatural; not from us, but from Christ and His Life within us. This is part of maturing and knowing His Voice and His Mind and discriminating or judging between what is carnal and what is of God in me. Knowing and judging between what is earthly (from me) and what is heavenly (from God) is the discernment that is essential.

Having knowledge makes us like God in thinking that WE know what is right and wrong and so we do not need God and His right judgment and discernment; we can rely upon our own knowledge and be quite proud of being “right”. Anything which has no need of God and His Life, is death. Depending upon Christ as the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge gives us the correct and God-given knowledge of good and evil. Knowing that we would in all probability come to the wrong conclusions without Him and His knowledge, will keep us humble and dependent upon Him.

Our Criteria

God’s righteous judgment through us is not based upon what we naturally perceive, see and hear at all but upon HIM as the Source of all true hearing and seeing. We see, hear and know NOTHING until and unless He shows us. Apart from Him, we are blind, deaf and dumb – dumb in the sense of being stupid – unfortunately we are not usually dumb in the sense of being silent but instead regularly and readily give our wrong judgments and criticisms for others to hear and suffer from… This does not bring Life and health to the Body; it may well be the reason why many are weak, sick, and asleep or dead spiritually (1 Cor. 11:31).

The whole deception of Satan was to get Adam and Eve to rely upon THEIR own perception and discernment of good and bad rather than simply relying on God’s Life and Knowledge. We must know and discern LIFE! His Life must be discerned, His Life is what is vital! We typically misjudge by instead judging from our knowledge of good and evil – thus we make our judgments and decisions based upon criteria which WE believe to be either good or evil and we may be completely right or completely wrong! No person really knows themselves let alone knowing somebody else; the heart is deceitful and guess who we deceive most often? Ourselves! It is only as God continues to shine His Light on us exposing our pride, flesh and evil in us that we begin to truly see ourselves and truly repent. Then we will be less likely to self-righteously point the finger at another human being. Judgment must always begin within our house of God, in this temple of God – me.

Our discernment and judging of people is usually based on what we think we see or do not see about them. If we are looking at others in order to judge good and evil, we may miss seeing the One Thing that is vital – Christ and His Life. Paul said to let every person examine and test themselves because anyone eating and drinking Christ’s Blood and Body unworthily, eats and drinks judgment upon himself, having not JUDGED or DISCERNED THE BODY, which is why many are weak, sick and asleep, for if we judged ourselves, we should not be judged (1 Cor 11:28-32). How do we ‘judge the Body’? Surely the most basic, important thing to know about a body is whether it is alive or dead, healthy or sick; whether there is death or Life in operation. It is about judging and discerning to see whether Christ’s abundant, energizing Life is there and if He is there, then we will rejoice and be united in Him as the One Thing which is vital and necessary! Nothing else really matters, HE is All!

Jesus Himself did not make judgments on His own according to what He could see naturally, He was under the control and direction of His Father. “You judge according to the flesh, by what you see. I judge no MAN. Yet even if I DO judge, My judgment is true, for I am not alone in making it, but I AND the Father Who sent Me.” (John 8:15,16). He was not contradicting Himself. His judgment judges the unseen spirit rather than the visible man and His judgment through His Body today will still do the same. Whose spirit do we sense, man’s or God’s? This makes all other judgments seem rather unnecessary because judging the spirit and source is the bottom line. It ought to give us the fear of God in the judgments and “discernments” which we so readily make.

If we discern Christ and His Life flowing through a person, then surely that is what is most important; not the many things we perceive to be wrong with them. His ways of dealing with us and exposing our flesh are perfect and right for us, and how He deals with us will often not be how He will deal with someone else. All each of us needs is to hear and see Him for ourselves, to have Him and His Life working and living within us and He will perfect and complete all the work which He has begun in us. When we are living in Him and He in us then He WILL do the work of adjustment, teaching and correcting which is so necessary in our lives; either directly or through using other people and circumstances.


How do we discern a body in the physical? We see, hear, touch and sometimes smell and it is exactly the same in the spiritual. If we see no life, hear nothing, smell death and touch something cold and lifeless, we know that we have discerned death in a body. Conversely if we see Life, hear Life, smell Life (Anointing), and touch Life, then we know that we have discerned Life in the body!

However, we cannot correctly “discern the Body” if we do not know Christ; He is our one Standard. It is HIM and HIS BODY and His LIFE which we are looking for in one another and we will not recognize His Life if we do not know Him intimately! It is like standing at an airport waiting to meet a family arriving… if you know the family you are meeting, then you are looking with anticipation for them and you do not need anyone to point them out to you, you will instantly know them! You wouldn’t analyze each one when you saw them and suspiciously hold them at arm’s length trying to work out whether or not they really ARE the people you are looking for before embracing them; you simply know spontaneously and naturally who they are because you immediately recognize them, you have spent quality time with them; you know them! You know their character, their strengths and weaknesses, and their unique giftings and abilities. You ‘discern the body’. But if you do not know the family, then you may have to stand there with a sign with their name written on it, or perhaps have a list of physical characteristics to look out for because you will not recognize or discern them correctly otherwise. Even if you have spoken to them on the phone and recognize their voices, you still will not be able to recognize them in a crowd if you have never seen them before, because you have not yet actually SEEN and BEEN with them. (Acts 4:13b).

In the natural, physical world we use our senses of touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing to discern and make judgments about things all the time. The same is true in the spiritual. It is when our spiritual senses are exercised and used that we learn to judge and discern Christ and His Life correctly.

Going back to the original picture of the bird singing, often we hear birds singing outside but we don’t always hear or take any notice because we are occupied with something else, or we may be used to hearing it, or we are too busy with our own thoughts and so do not hear or appreciate the song. God is always wanting to communicate with us, but we may miss hearing Him for the same reasons. And simply hearing was not enough for me to correctly discern the source of the song, I had to SEE the source as well! Those spiritual senses in us need to be quickened and activated by the Life and Breath of God within us. “We have much to say which is hard to explain, since you have become dull in your spiritual hearing and sluggish, even slothful in achieving spiritual insight. Solid food is for full-grown men, for those whose senses (aistheterionfaculty of the mind for perceiving, understanding, judging) are trained by practice (gumnazo – to exercise vigorously) to discriminate and distinguish (diakrisis – through judging) between what is good and what is evil” (Heb 5:11,14).

In the example I was given, the song I heard was indeed a bird’s song but it was only when I looked outside and saw the bird that I was able to correctly discern and see that the body was in keeping with the sound and so I was able to rightly judge and know the real, true source. If the song had come from the computer game, the body or form would not be congruent with the song. The computer looks nothing like a bird and is not alive and it would be right and correct judgment to conclude that it was not a living bird, no matter how good and real it may have sounded!

Senses often need to be used in conjunction with each other in order to reach a correct conclusion. For instance, if I heard a bird singing and saw a dead bird on the ground; it would be safe to say that the song was not coming from that bird! It was through not only hearing, but also seeing and being sensitive to where the Spirit was directing me to look, that I was able to correctly judge and discern the source of the sound. Of course that is very simple in the physical because we can see and hear easily; but it is also simple in the spiritual.

Discerning the Body is not something mystical or complicated, but something simple: if you know someone, you will recognize them! It is imperative that we KNOW God’s Son intimately, that we KNOW His Life when we see it and KNOW His Voice when we hear it so that we will recognize Him in one another, appreciating and valuing Life and not falling into the trap of making judgments on our own and ending up seeing, hearing and believing what is not true and thus bringing death instead of Life.

May we have all of our spiritual senses awakened, exercised and tuned in to One Thing: continually discerning Him – looking, listening, touching, tasting, smelling Him – living with, in, through, by Him Who IS our Life!

“For since it was through a man that death came into the world, it is also through a Man that the resurrection of the dead has come. For just as, because of their nature in Adam all people die, so also by virtue of their union shall all in Christ be made alive.” 1 Cor 15:21,22.

Lynette Woods