Discernment & Judgment - What's the Difference?

Each of us has an enemy that is always with us. Just when we think we're the victor we experience new defeats. We're able to defeat some enemies but never this one. What enemy is this? It’s our tongue!

There is a reason why the Bible warns us that we will never fully conquer our tongue. At the same time God requires that we assume full responsibility for every word it says. If each of us is to learn how to become mighty in spirit, we must first learn the basics of taming the tongue. One vital lesson is to learn the difference between discernment and judgment.

Perhaps most of us know that a Christian should never judge another. Jesus said that he didn’t come in the world to condemn it, but to save it (John 3:17). The Bible warns that anyone who does will be judged with the same judgment (Matthew 7:1-2). But the Christian who learns to be mighty in spirit has the ability to make wise discernments.

On the way home from church, one member of a family commented, “Based on the man they appointed to each our class it would appear that our church has some serious spiritual needs. He has major problems in his marriage. His children have rebelled and his dress and hair style offend many in the church.”

Was this family member judging or discerning?

To help us determine the difference, we will review the root meaning of these words in original Greek.

 The following Greek verbs describe the scope and action of discernment:


DOKIMAZO: To test, to examine; to interpret, to discover; to approve; to prove, to demonstrate.

ANAKRINO: To ask questions, to examine; to evaluate, to scrutinize, to investigate; to search out.

DIAKRINO: To make a distinction (between people); to weigh thoroughly each part.


 This Greek verb is used in the Bible to subscribe the scope and action of judgment:

 KRINO: To pass judgment on, to sentence; to mentally or judicially condemn; to conclude, to decide, to determine.

Based on the above definitions, if the family member in our illustration was investigating the spiritual needs of the church, he would be discerning. But, if he was concluding that there were spiritual needs without taking proper steps to resolve them, he would be judging. The factors on the following will indicate which he was actually doing.


                  1. One who discerns thoroughly examines himself before evaluating the actions of others.

“But let every man prove (dokimazo) his own work…” (Galatians 6:4)

“But let man examine (dokimazo) himself…” (1 Cor. 11:28)

“For if we would judge (dokimazo) ourselves we would not be judged.” (1 Cor. 11:31)

      “Examine (dokimazo) yourselves… prove your own selves.” (2 Cor. 13:5)

2. One who judges condemns others for their visible problems but fails to realize that their attitudes stem from root problems which he himself has not yet overcome.

 “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest (krino): for where inn thou judgest another, thou condemnist thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.” (Romans 2:1)

But why doest thou judge (krino) they brother? Or why doest thou set at naught thy brother? (Romans 14: 10)

          3. One who discerns checks the accuracy of all the facts and related factors before reaching a conclusion.

“But he that is spiritual judgeth (anakrino) all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.” (1 Cor. 2:15)

“Prove (anakrino) all things; hold fast that which is good.” (1 Thess. 5:21)

 “Beloved, believe not every spirit but try (anakrino) the spirits, whether are they are of God.” (1 John 4:1)

3. One who judges forms opinions on first impressions or hearsay, then looks for evidence to confirm his opinions even though the evidence may be out of context.

 “Judge (krino) not according to the appearance, but judge righteously.” (John 7:24)

“Doth our law judge (krino) any man before it hear him…” (John 7:51)

        “Speaketh not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother and judgeth (krino) his brother, speaketh evil of the law and judgeth (krino) the law…” (James 4:1)

                  4. One who discerns deals as privately as possible with the problems he sees.

                       “Is it so that here is not a wise man among you? (1 Cor. 6: 5-6)

                  5. One who judges publicly exposes those he condemns. This may cause others to condemn him for having the same root problem such as pride, lack of love, or a critical spirit, etc.

                        "Judge (krino) not, and ye shall not be judged: condemned not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37)

 Conclusion: The member of that family in our illustration judged according to appearance and gave a bad report to those who were not directly involved with the problem or the solution. If he were discerning he would have privately investigated all of the facts and factors before discussing it with others.

 Here are some case studies. Can you determine whether they are discerning or judging?

Case A:

A teacher in a Christian school was discussing their new text on theology with his class. When he came to one chapter he said, “I’ve done quite a bit of study on this subject, and I disagree with the author on the points he has made.” (Discerning or Judging?)

Solution: It’s never right for a teacher in a Christian school to violate the spirit of scripture in order to teach the truth of scripture. Philippians 2:2 says for Christians to “… be like minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” Truth out of balance is heresy and a spirit of disagreement polarizes views which may result in doctrinal imbalance.

The teacher could have built a basis for doctrinal balance by saying to the students, “After studying these points I felt that our text may have missed the mark, so I contacted the author and discussed it with him. Here are the results of our discussion.” By failing to do this, he projected a spirit of judgment to his students

Case B:

A pastor asked a college student for a report on the spiritual life of another church member who was attending the same college. The student replied, I haven’t seen much of him but he doesn’t seem very interested in spiritual things. He’s dropped out of our fellowship and spends a lot of time with friends who I don’t think are helping him spiritually.” (Discerning or Judging?)

Solution: Since the student did not have a recent contact with his friend, he was not qualified to give an accurate report. The general impression he left with the pastor was that the other student had backslidden.

Judgment involves opinions that are checked out for accuracy. Discernment involves a desire to restore. Accordingly, the student could have used the pastor’s inquiry as the basis for going to his friend and discussing his spiritual welfare with him.

Meanwhile, he could have said to the pastor, “I’ve lost touch with him since he dropped out of our fellowship group. But I believe a contact from you would be much appreciated.”

 Case C:

An employer realized that one of his employees was costing the company quite a bit of money through errors. He called him into to his office and said, “I’ve observed that you’re making quite a number of errors in your work. Would you be able to give me a reason why this is happening? 

(Discerning or Judging?)

Solution: The employer could have publicly condemned the employee. He also could have told others how displeased he was with him. But by calling him in privately and giving him an opportunity to explain the causes, the employer was following the steps of discernment rather than judgment. The next step in discernment would be for the employer to work with the employee in removing the causes for the errors.

Adopted from the IBPL Booklet, “Instructions for Our Most Important Battle”

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