Discerning Discernment

Discerning Discernment

The Meaning and Significance of Hebrews 5:12-14 in the Christian’s Call of Discernment

By Ryan Habbena

“What is your spirtual gift ?” I have heard this question asked and answered many times. In my experience, the most common response to this inquiry is: “I have the gift of discernment. When asked what this means, the person often answers, “I can automatically tell when something is evil.”

The Scriptures speak to the subject of discernment in various ways. While the Bible indeed affirms “discernment” as a spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12:10),1 the truth is that all Christians are called to be “discerners” (see 1 John 4:1, 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). The question then naturally follows: “How do we acquire the ability to discern?” There are those who would answer in unison with the above example, simply stating: “I just know it my heart! I just know.” Note, for instance, Neal Anderson’s take on this subject: “Spiritual discernment is our first line of defense against deception. The Holy Spirit has taken up residence in every believer, and He is not silent when we encounter the counterfeit. Discernment is that little ‘buzzer’ that goes off inside when something is wrong.”2 While the Holy Spirit has indeed taken up residence in every believer, rather than relying upon an automatic, subjective “buzzer” that is supposed to “go off inside,” we are informed in Hebrews that believers are equipped with discernment via different means. Hebrews 5:12-14 speaks directly to this subject. In what follows I will engage in some “basic exposition” on this central text regarding discernment. Following this I will apply its teaching to how we all are called to be trained discerners in order to avoid the deception that surrounds us.

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