What Is The Spiritual Gift Of Discernment?

‘Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.’ (1 Cor 12:1)

Understanding the Gift of Discernment

There seems to be a great deal of curiosity and confusion about the spiritual gift of discernment.

And this is not surprising. For those of us who have the gift, it can be a complex and lonely journey as we work out what we are sensing, why God has given us this ability, and what to do with it. [1]

For leaders in church life, it can be difficult to know how to respond to or lead those with the gift of discernment—not to mention the question of what we should do (if anything) with the insights that discerners share with us. [2]

Discernment is a gift that, due to lack of information and guidance, has been vulnerable to error. It is vital that we establish a Biblical basis for the spiritual gift of discernment and how to exercise it.

Today I am going to look at the gift of discernment in the context of the Apostle Paul’s instruction about spiritual gifts to the Corinthian church.

5 Things Paul Teaches About the Gift of Discernment

But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit… to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits’ (1 Cor 12:7-10)

1. It is the Ability to Distinguish Between Spirits

‘…to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits…’(1 Cor 12:7-10)

The spiritual gift of discernment (or discerning of spirits) is the ability—given and empowered by the Holy Spirit—to distinguish the spiritual source of something. This can include, but is not limited to:

  • an atmosphere
  • a person’s action
  • something seen or perceived
  • a circumstance
  • something spoken

The Greek word translated discerning is ‘diakrisis’ [Strongs G1253], from ‘diakrino’ [Strongs G1252], which means to separate thoroughly.

A Christian believer using the spiritual gift of discernment can perceive whether the source of something is God, or whether it is of human or demonic origin.

There is a misconception that discernment has to do primarily with perceiving what the enemy is doing.

The highest and best use of the gift of discernment is to perceive the anointing of the Holy Spirit—to see what God is doing.

2. The Gift of Discernment is from the Holy Spirit

The source of the spiritual gift of discernment is the Holy Spirit—God Himself.

The Holy Spirit is both the giver and enabler of this spiritual gift.

It is not based in

  • our minds or personal intuition
  • a suspicion or opinion
  • a personal ability or history of being able to sense what is happening in the spiritual realm

3. Discernment is a Revelatory Gift

But the manifestation of the Spirit is given’ (1 Cor 12:7)

The spiritual gift of discernment is a revelatory gift. In other words, the Holy Spirit is making known something that cannot be perceived by natural means.

The Greek word translated ‘manifestation’, phanerosis [Strongs G5321], means to make visible, and it comes from a root word meaning to uncover, lay bare and reveal. [3]

‘For we know in part and we prophesy in part.’ (1 Cor 13:9) In the wider context of Paul’s teaching about spiritual gifts, discernment, like prophecy, is subject to being weighed up. (1 Cor 14)

4. The Gift of Discernment is for the Benefit of the Church

But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all’ (1 Cor 12:7)

The purpose of the spiritual gift of discernment, as empowered by the Holy Spirit, is to benefit the church.

The Greek words translated ‘for the profit of all’—pros  sumpheron—[Strongs G4851] mean ‘towards the profiting’, or as modern translations put it, ‘for the common good.’

When we understand this, ‘benefiting the church’ becomes our standard for the operation of the gift.

If something purporting to be discernment does not profit the church, i.e., if it results in confusion, or fear, or division—either of two things may be out of order:

1. The discernment may not be from the Holy Spirit. Or—

2. It may be true discernment that is not being used in a Biblical manner; a way of grace that honours God, the church and its leadership.

In order to be of benefit, the spiritual gift of discernment requires the operation of other gifts alongside it, such as leadership and wisdom. It should be developed and used in the context of the church community. (see 1 Cor 14) [2]

5. Discernment is a Good Gift from God

Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.’ (1 Cor 12:4)

The word used for gift is charisma [Strongs G5486], meaning a gift of grace.

The spiritual gift of discernment is a good, helpful and strategic gift, and it is given for a purpose—to benefit the church.

We sometimes need to be reminded of this, because of the challenges that discernment can bring.

God’s gifts are good in nature, just as He is. (James 1:17) The spiritual gift of discernment has the ability to bless the church, set individuals free, protect the integrity of what God is doing, and assist in times of spiritual warfare.

May we embrace the spiritual gift of discernment with gratitude and use it in the way God intended.


[1] For further insights about the gift of discernment, see the following:

8 Signs You May Have The Spiritual Gift of Discernment

8 Ways to Grow Your Gift Of Discernment

Does Seeing Demons Mean That I Have A Spiritual Gift of Discernment?

[2] I have written an article about exercising discernment in the life of the church here:

6 Tips for Exercising The Gift of Discernment In Church Life

[3] References: VINE, M.A. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. 1985. Virginia: MacDonald. STRONG, J. Strongs Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. 1996.


Are you sensitive to what is taking place in the spiritual realm? Have you ever been adversely affected by a negative atmosphere?

You may have the spiritual gift of discernment.

The gift of discernment of spirits is a powerful weapon in times of spiritual warfare, and can be of great assistance when ministering freedom to individuals.

And yet many who have the gift of discernment have difficulty knowing what to do with what they are feeling or sensing.

‘Unlocking The Gift Of Discernment’ incorporates and enlarges upon material in Enliven Blog. The e-book includes additional valuable material on how to be protected as a discerner in times of spiritual warfare.

To view ‘Unlocking The Gift Of Discernment’ in our e-Store, click here

© Helen Calder Enliven Blog – Prophetic Teaching

32 thoughts on “What Is The Spiritual Gift Of Discernment?

  1. Irene Kyriacou

    Hi Helen, Love your sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, this is such a Powerful and Anointed Teaching. Thank you for Writing with such Clarity and sharing Wisdom with us in “Unlocking the Gift of Discernment” E-Book. I have recently finished reading through this very insightful and Powerful Book for the second time now. Speaks to me personally about the gift of Discernment and Intercession Prayer going together, and the importance of using wisdom with discernment. Discernment, Prayer and Wisdom are very powerful tools when used together, discernment reminds me of a type of laser beam, it can either bring Healing and Restoration and draw people closer to GOD, or it can burn, hurt and cause much confusion. Therefore I believe WISDOM, must ALWAYS be exercised with the Gift of Discernment, and that every spiritual gift from GOD is always to be used with the motivation of LOVE, to draw people closer to JESUS. Thank you so much Helen, You really help to bring clarity, open up and demystify this subject of discernment, Your Ministry is such a Wonderful Blessing to all the Body of CHRIST.

    I think this Book cover is filled with inspiration, door, key, light, bright, inspires me to write another poem….Keys of the Kingdom

    The LORD has the Key
    For you and for me
    That will Open the Door to Eternity
    JESUS, HE is the Door, HE is the KEY
    To Eternity, our Destiny

    Where the LORD is the Light
    Where ALL is Bright
    And Transparent in HIS Sight

    Holy Spirit Breathe on Me
    Open up my Eyes to See
    Open up my Ears to Hear
    Illuminate, Instruct and Inspire
    Raise me up on Eagles Wings and take me Higher

    Keys of the Kingdom
    Kingdom Authority
    WORD of GOD speak to me
    Use the Sacred Seal
    Open Your WORD and Reveal
    The Keys of the Kingdom
    The Keys of the KING

    Revealing the FATHER
    Exalting the SON
    Bringing us UNITY
    Making us ONE

    Poem by Irene Kyriacou

    1. Helen Calder Post author

      Dear Irene, you are such a blessing, thank you for the words about discernment and the powerful poem. I’m so glad you have found the book helpful and can see the relationship between discernment and intercessory prayer. May you continue to be enriched on the journey.

  2. ANITA

    Hi Helen

    I have been very lazy in my walk with God & like right now as I type this message I feel like God is very displeased with me for slackening and being behind my calling…I even had a Pastor tell me twice that I am behind time in God’s schedule for my work…I do have most signs you pointed out that I have the Spirit of Discernment but I feel like i am not good enough such that Im panicking and in fear that maybe God will punish me, maybe even by shortening my life because I am being disobedient. Please help, I dont know what to do. Nowadays, i often get the urge to read the Word or even pray just for a few minutes but i always procrastinate…Im beginning to think I am not cut out for this gift, I feel like i don’t deserve it because I am sitting around twiddling my thumbs.

    Strangely enough, last I asked the Apostle of our church to pray for me for God to bestow His gift of Discernment on me even though im going through all this emotional turmoil. Why cant I get myself to do the right thing and just give fellowship time with God, it seems I lack discipline, maybe a person who lacks discipline is not suitable for this kind of gifting, I don’t know…please help, im very frightened by the consequences of not obeying God further…would God really end my life for not following through what I feel He is telling me to do.

    1. Helen Calder Post author

      Hi Anita, sorry it’s taken me a few days to reply, I do hope you get this message. Don’t ever feel that God is displeased with you. He is a loving Father to His children, not a harsh disciplinarian. You are His beloved daughter and His desire is to support and carry you. Success in your Christian life and being pleasing to God is not about you being perfect, it is about God accepting the sacrifice of Jesus’ perfection, HIS righteousness and you can count on that.

      ‘There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.'(1 John 4:18)

      Here are some thoughts that may help in regard to your devotional life: http://enlivenpublishing.com/blog/2011/04/27/how-to-fall-in-love-with-your-devotional-life-again/

  3. walter walker New York

    I truly enjoyed your site and wanted to express my appreciation in writing. May God continue to cover you and your family in Jesus Name Amen. I have been walking in the gift of discernment (led by the Holy Spirit) for several years and the world is clueless as to what God is getting ready to do in this season. Darkness understand the unveiling of the sons of God in this season. However, there is nothing that can be done to stop sin and death from being swallowed up and cast into the lake of fire….. The time has come to set the captives Free. THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS AT HAND.


  4. Dwayne

    Sometimes it felll so real I can almost see it with my eyes but it’s is still in my image of my mind but it fill so real that it there I just can’t see it with my eyes but at the same time I see it with my hart my spiritual eyes
    I hope I have the gift of discernment .

    I see the image with my spiritual eyes but it fill so fill real that I cam almost see it with my real eyes but it still in the my mind.

    Does any one have any things to say

    1. Chelsi-Anna

      Yes, I experience that too. I know when there are things watching or are on people even if I can’t see it physically or even if I can’t feel it, I still feel there’s something about a spot in the room or person or object. I think in my theory that the gift of creativity might possibly also pick up on spiritual senses. I think that’s why we see things in our heads. Maybe it’s our imagination being triggered.

  5. Tracey

    Hi Helen,

    My question is not about the gift of discernment but the gift of tongues. I am definitely baptized in the Holy Spirit and with Fire yet I have yet to experience the Holy Spirit speaking through me in tongues. My pastor explains that there’s two types of tongues i.e. for public assembly w/ the Church and only if there’s an interpreter and the second kind, they say, is given to every believer for private prayer w/ God. I went to churches where they encouraged me to start “babbling” and yes I felt the Holy Spirit moving inside me but I never experienced Him using my vocal cords. What do you know/find in Scripture about this “private prayer language” that every believer is evidently “supposed” to have?

  6. Helen Calder Post author

    Hi Tracey, thank you for leaving the question.
    There are many points of view about the gift of tongues. I agree with your pastor and personally believe that every Christian who is filled with the Spirit has the gift of a prayer language resident within them, whether or not it has been fully released yet.
    If you read 1 Corinthians 14, the Apostle Paul discusses tongues as a form of private prayer.
    See http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+cor+14&version=NIV
    I also believe that Jude is making reference to the prayer language of tongues when he says, ‘But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit.’ (Jude 1:20).
    The prayer language brings great benefits in our personal relationship with God.
    So I encourage you to continue to be open to this gift, and the ministry of Holy Spirit within and through you, but not to feel stressed or condemned if it hasn’t yet been released. Enjoy His Presence with you and His grace. Allow the life and Presence of the Spirit to rise up within you, and let a heart of thanksgiving overflow. He is a wonderful God.

    1. Tracey

      Thanks for clarifying, Helen,
      I just wish that Scripture would read “praying in tongues” then it wouldn’t confuse me. I have been and continue to be open to this gift of private prayer in the Spirit but it still hasn’t manifested. Now, it’s something that the Spirit alone does through me, right? Or am I supposed to “kick start” it somehow? Thanks.

  7. Helen Calder Post author

    Hi Tracey, yes I understand, and I know many others feel the same way.

    I believe there are two ways the gift of prophecy, for example, manifests in the NT. You have the spontaneous utterances (of both tongues and prophecy) recorded when believers were baptised in the Holy Spirit in Acts. But the Apostle Paul also encourages Christians to ‘earnestly desire’ the gift of prophecy, (1 Cor 14:1) so he is encouraging something further which requires faith and stepping out. I believe it is the same with your prayer language – that it is OK to ‘earnestly desire’ and step out, like a little child expecting to receive. So I think the ‘kick-starting’ (you mention being encouraged to step out, in the context of receiving prayer at churches) is ok provided it is done with child-like trust in Father God who gives ‘good gifts’ to His children – and the fruit of this faith-response to God is that the gift really does begin to flow.
    However I also know that this can be done in a negative and hurtful way, and lead to a type of performance, and that is wrong.

    The main thing is to have a sense of God’s love and grace in this area and not to allow any condemnation, but to enjoy His Presence within you. Hope this helps

    1. Tracey

      Thanks! That makes sense. I just get frustrated when I’m around people that tell me I have this gift but they don’t offer an explanation as to why it’s not manifested. Thanks for offering an explanation – that helps. I never feel condemned, just frustrated. Thanks.

      1. Helen Calder Post author

        Hi Tracey, I’m glad you found the article helpful. May you continue to grow and find clarity in your gift and ministry.

  8. Brittany Reed

    Hi Mrs. Helen, thank you very much for the articles on discernment. I believe I do have the gift but I need help on how to use it. A lady who is called into ministry as a Prophetesses told me I’m a seer and sensor last summer. This past summer two women told me I have a strong gift of discernment. I’m going to try and get your book as soon as possible. Can you tell me what a seer is? Thank you. Have a blessed weekend. Please keep me in prayer. God bless. Brittany Reed from Columbus, Ohio.

    1. Helen Calder Post author

      Hi Brittany,
      Thanks for leaving the comment, greetings from Australia! Yes, a seer is someone with a prophetic gift who operates primarily through spiritual sight, either through visions, pictures or visual impressions of what is taking place in the spiritual realm.

  9. Leo

    Hi Helen

    Thank you for your articles may the good Lord bless you.Im a child spiritually, before i was Born Again i had weird dreams where i had a dark spirit would try to enter in my belly ,i could swear i was awakei would feel it and see it with my eyes id even convince my self not to look at it due to fear…also i experienced a man dressed in white enter in my body as i was asleep he never depatured.then prior to my year of salvation a man of God told me in a dream that God says He will send someone to teach me about Christ..now i know what the dream meant cause its happened though .i avoided it then as i was told in my church to not pay attention to dreams…now m born again i dream of things and they actually happen.at night sometimes i become so afraid as though theres a bad spirit i loose my breath.im afraid to be alone in a room ,one night i was asleep spirits were attacking me i was fighting wearing an Armor not the spiritual one ,as i was fighting i kept saying Lord cover me with your spiritual armor only to find out i was actually saying this outloud as i woke up i cdnt stop my self from praying iv never felt like that bfr…i also dream about heaven and the voice of God coming out from a huge light…im so sensitive lately and i dnt like it these dreams are confusing i see things i shouldnt be seeing…my mom took me to the doctor the nurse said i suffer from enxiety….i cant tell all these dreams with any1 else i dont like ppl to tell me im reading too much of all this…smtimes i feel things r to happen and God says do this to prevent it and then when i dont do it thinking no its my thoughts the thing happens then i feel guilty… could i have a gift of some sort?…i love the Lord too much more than life its self i im just so sensitive to certain envoronments like my room where these things occur its taken over my life…Sorry for the essay and thanks hope to hear from you

    1. Helen Calder Post author

      Hi Leo, thanks for the note, yes I do understand that it is difficult when you are experiencing things spiritually and many people do not relate to what is going on. I’ve thought about the questions you ask and the following articles may be able to help you start to explore the answers:

  10. john kennedy

    Helen i would be very grateful if you could email me concerning this gift as i have been misunderstood almost everywhere i go and i believe i have this gift in its early stages.

  11. Phenyo Mompati Theleni

    I thank God for being part of this family and I see my self growing in understanding…

  12. liz

    I’d like to know if I have some gift when i was a child I’ve seen things like a spirit , woke up saw small blue and red airplanes flying at night when i looked up to the ceiling that I’ve seen a lot and last year i saw my cousin’s father whom we just buried the day before um since a child i get vibrations in my sleep and like loud voices in my ear and now lately It’s like i sense spirit’s feeling heaviness on my bed, tapping , invisible touch’s even when I’m awake of even when it’s day when I lay it’s like something is coming onto the bed . I’m shaky and get vibrations and I feel like invisible touch on my hair or touching my feet leg’s or arm’s my body and oh yeah Ive heard like tv sound’s in my ear and sometimes when i wanna play lotto it’s like i get the next winning lotto number’s in my head or when i seek like information on as task it’s like i get the info in my head and sometimes when i close my eye’s i see like white shapes but lately i see like a blue sky and darkness around it i don’t know what to do or to think I’m also moody but i decided to calm down and be quiet cause stress is not good lol forgive me my English

  13. Rose

    When I was small I was neglected and a ubused’ I developed through the Lord a gift’ I became highly SPIRITUAL’ seeing spirits and demons’ through prayer I was advised to not speak of my gift or it would be taken’ so I told some one and the gift is gone- but my life is a non stop painful disaster’ and I still see demons and spirits’ although I’m highly SPIRITUAL’ and pray a lot- is there something evil about me’ how do I get my gift back? Or am I special in some way and the devil is trying to break me

      1. Rose

        Perhaps as a child not understanding things- perhaps I surpressed my gift – I’ll pray about this- pehaps I thought if I spoke of this people would think I was crazy- I’ll need to pray about this because obviously I have a gift of some type- after I wrote to you my guardian angel has appeared to me- and now I know his name- interesting

  14. Nyameka

    Good day Helen, my name is Nyameka, I do have a desire for discernment of the spirit but the church that I go to does not believe in spiritual gift even workers (leaders)please help how am I going to be used in this gift to grow the church if leaders they don’t believe, can I work with the only without involving the leaders please help thank you.

  15. Cheryl

    Blessings to you, I understand you have to be deep in GOD’S WORD, HELP ME , GIVE ME SOME POINTS, ON DOING IT, SO I WILL BE ABLE TO KNOW,

    1. Helen Calder Post author

      Hi Cheryl, thanks for leaving the note. Take a look through the article archives, I’m sure you will find some more teaching that will help you.

  16. Chelsi-Anna

    How to use the gifts of discernment, wisdom, and anything else for sticky situations you can’t fix like fixing relationships with people who don’t know you well. I’m not crazy but someone thinks I am and my parents both told him that I am.

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