Chapter 13 – Recognizing Virtue – Discernment, Remembrance, and Watchfulness

Discernment: (or “discrimination”) the spiritual gift that gives the ability to determine what is from God from what is not

Remembrance:  to remember God and the wondrous things He has done, especially the life, death, and resurrection of Christ; keeping the mind focused on the eternal and heavenly places, not just the temporal


Watchfulness:  spiritual alertness and sobriety, vigilance and attentiveness towards one’s thoughts and imaginings, consciously embracing all virtues and ever being mindful of Truth; an attitude of continually learning godliness to foster spiritual maturity and steadfastness


Some may find it odd that the chapter on discernment is placed after wisdom and before humility, for there is no wisdom without discernment, and discernment is born of humility.  Again, the reader is asked to see the pursuit of virtue as circular in nature, having no definitive starting point and having no end.  However, unlike just going in circles as a dog futilely chases his tail, each revolution in our pursuit adds to the depth and breadth of our understanding as we grow and mature spiritually.  Though it is hard not to see these chapters as sequential building blocks, these three virtues that enable us to perceive the goodness of God are placed as near to the front as possible so that we might better comprehend the lessons to come, then as we proceed, hopefully we will have enough exposure to the overall concept of virtue to be able to appreciate the topics at hand in greater depth.  Together, the three virtues of this chapter cover the expanse of time and intersect the eternal.  Remembrance recalls past teachings, events and experiences to remind us of what we need to know in the moment.  Watchfulness looks forward to ensure that our present steps inspire a godly future.  Discernment launches our thoughts into the heavenly realms and brings to bear the eternal Truth of God into the moment.




Simply to say discernment is the ability to determine what is from God and what is not belies the magnificence of this virtue.  Discernment has boundless applications for it’s at the core of every virtue, of every right thought and every right action.  It is powerful in that it gives a soul the ability to spot the enemy, to shine the light of God into the otherwise hidden recesses where the demons lurk, rooting them out and dispelling their influence.  It enables us to transcend the natural world and see objects, events and ideas from an eternal perspective.  With discernment, we develop keen ears that are attuned to the voice of God in any given circumstance, in any discussion or debate.  Its application is wisdom, transcending time through the ability to connect consequences with actions be they virtuous, valorous, vain, vulgar or vice.


In 1 Corinthians 12, St. Paul speaks of discernment as a gift of the Holy Spirit, as a manifestation of His presence in the ministry of the church body, and of different members being blest with particular gifts for the common good.  Though he says each member has a different function, the chapter concludes with him saying that we are to “desire the greater gifts”, dispelling any notion that might arise that suggests discernment is not for everyone.  As a gift, its abilities are extraordinary, making wise the simple.   As a virtue, we cultivate His presence and abide in the Holy Spirit.  Our pursuit of knowledge of God leads us to Him.  Saturating our souls with the revelation of His Word gives clarity to our perceptions of God.  Our continual obedience fosters His ongoing presence in our lives, developing within us a wholesome familiarity with God and purity.  By abiding in the Holy Spirit, we enhance our ability to recognize where He is and where He wants us to be.  Discernment requires the fear of God and the willingness to subject all our thoughts and all our ways to the scrutiny of the Holy Spirit.  We must be willing to expel all thoughts contrary to Him in deference to, and in reverence of, the Almighty.  Only by humbly bowing before the King, surrendering all that comprises our lives to Him, do we begin to be blessed with the perceptive powers of discernment, leaving the linear plane of the senses and commingling aloft with the heavenly host.




Both remembrance and watchfulness accompany godly discernment.  Remembrance is the background setting from which the dramas of our lives unfold, while watchfulness is attentively waiting for the cues that determine our next action.  As we read these words, the setting of our life is very likely a comfortable chair in the home.  As we go about the business of our day, situations and people come and go, and our physical setting changes regularly as we move about the world.  However, St. Paul informs us in Ephesians 2:4-7 that God has “…made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…” Therefore, for the children of God, He is in us and we are in Him and He is in Heaven, so in Truth the setting for our lives is always Heaven.  The backdrop of our lives is ever the glory of God and the company of all the heavenly hosts.  Remembrance brings to mind all we know about the Eternal and the moments in time when the Eternal interceded in history, especially of Jesus and the sacrifices of His life and death.  Remembrance is a virtue that softens our hearts and enables us to make similar sacrifices for others by recalling the mercy and love God has shown us in Christ Jesus.  When we remember the example of Jesus and are truly thankful for the gifts of revelation, forgiveness, redemption, sanctification, righteousness, and salvation that are ours through Him, we are more inclined to be willing to be patient, kind and compassionate towards those whose life direction intersects with ours.  With remembrance, we are motivated to show others the life of Christ with our words and deeds, to love them sacrificially so that they might be likewise blessed with the goodness of God through us.  With remembrance comes the courage to act righteously, knowing that we are securely in Him and mindful of His providential care for His children.  With remembrance, we are humbled before God and correctly ascribe to Him all that is His, keeping us from displays of selfish pride, foul lust, or irreverent idolatry.




Watchfulness, in a complementary way with remembrance, is the virtue we use to keep ourselves under the direction of our Lord.  Acting as our own sentry and listening for further instruction from the Holy Spirit, we guard our hearts from all that is contrary to Truth, disallowing any manifestation of evil to enter into our lives.  We are to be ever on alert, watching out for the wiles of the devil that “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1Pe.5:8).  If we are not on guard, the demons will pollute our thoughts and turn our devotions into mindless ritualistic practices of self-indulgence that serve no purpose other than to make us feel good about ourselves.  Legalism creeps in whenever we act on our own instead of in humble submission before God.  Watchfulness helps us prevent beliefs contrary to Christ from entering into our lives by keeping His Word in our conscious thought processes.  When we are soberly alert to the Holy Spirit, temptations that serve to distract us from the way of God can be quickly identified and dismissed rather than being allowed to fester, grow and become sin.



Scriptural References:



Deut.1:9-18, discernment is a necessary virtue of leadership and wise counsel

Deut.32:20-39, discernment enables a soul to see the consequences of their actions

1Sam.3:7-9, discernment is being able to recognize the voice of our Lord

1Sam.25:2-38, discernment knows what is ours to do from what is the province of God

2Sam.14:17, discernment is the ability to determine what is good from what is evil

1Ki.3:6-15, discernment is a necessary virtue for being a judge, for administering justice

1Ki.4:29-30, discernment as an integral component of wisdom

Ps.119:65-67, discernment comes from obedience to God

Pr.1:2-7, discernment provides understanding and further development of virtues

Pr.2:1-8, discernment leads to a virtuous life that God protects

Pr.10:9-14, discernment as perceptiveness that prevents folly and its consequences

Ezk.44:23, instruction to teach discernment so as to tell the holy from the profane

Dan.5: the power of discernment enables Daniel to read the writing on the wall

Mt.16:2-4, Jesus instructs us to use discernment to recognize signs from God

1Cor.12, discernment (distinguishing spirits) as a gift of the Holy Spirit

Phil.1:9-10, discernment necessary for being clean and pure

Heb.5:13-14, spiritual maturity accompanies discernment

1Jn.4:1-6, St. John teaches us how to test the spirits to discern if they are from God



Deut.7:12-19, remembrance of God, and what He has done, allays our paralyzing fears

Deut.8:1-14, remembrance as thanksgiving for His blessings and as a deterrent to pride

Deut.9:7-8, remembrance of God discourages sinful ways

Deut.24:17-19, remembrance of God and His blessings as the basis for being virtuous

Judg.8:33-35, failure to remember God leads to idolatry and lack of virtue

Neh.9:16-17, lack of remembrance leads to stubbornness and arrogance amid ungodliness

Ps.77, remembrance is a source of conviction leading to repentance and His security

Ps.103, a song of remembrance, thanking God for blessings and a vigorous, full life

Eccl.12:1, remembrance of God in our youth prevents regrets in our later years

Is.17:10-11, lack of remembrance reaps grief

Is.46:8-13, remembrance of God is to rest assuredly (have peace) in His omnipotence

Jer.23:35-36, lack of remembrance leads to trusting in the words of men instead of God

Ezek.16:42-43, lack of remembrance displeases and angers God; precedes His discipline

Lk.22:19, Jesus instructs us to remember Him and His works with the breaking of bread

Jn.14:25-26, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit of God will bring us to remembrance



Ex.34:12-16, be on guard against concessions to the idolatrous, secular mind

Deut.4:23-28, lack of attentiveness leads to idolatry, destroying souls and nations

Deut.6:10-19, be mindful of Him and His blessings; possess goodness by destroying evil

Deut.15:7-10, instruction to look for opportunities to share His blessing with others

Ps.59:9, to be strong, keep watching for the Lord

Pr.4:10-15, watchfulness keeps us in the ways of God, avoiding the calamities of iniquity

Pr.4:18-23, watchfulness brings fullness of life and steadfastness in His ways

Pr.7, being inattentive to the Word of God leads to falling victim to the snares of sin

Pr.8:30-36, watchfulness moves us closer to God and brings fullness from His blessings

Jer.17:21-22, command from God to be mindful of caring for that which is sacred

Hab.2:1, watchfulness is minding the promptings and conviction of the Holy Spirit

Mt.16:6, Jesus instructs us to keep a watch out for legalism and false worship

Mt.26:40-41, Jesus instructs us to remain on watch in prayer to avoid temptations

Lk.11:34-36, to avoid darkness, watchfulness is needed to see things in His light

Ac.20:28-31, St. Paul says to be on guard against those who pervert the Word of God

2Pe.3:1-9, remember the Word of God and uphold Truth until His coming

2Jn.1:8, watchfulness is needed to avoid digressing in the ways of our Lord






“Discrimination:  a spiritual gift permitting one to discriminate between the types of thought that enter into one’s mind, to assess them accurately and to treat them accordingly.  Through this fight one gains ‘discernment of spirits’ – that is, the ability to distinguish between the thoughts or visions inspired by God and the suggestions or fantasies coming from the devil.  It is a kind of eye or lantern of the soul (Mt.6:22-23) by which man finds his way along the spiritual path without falling into extremes; thus it includes the idea of discretion”

The Philokalia Glossary


“…the gift of discrimination [discernment] is nothing worldly or insignificant. It is the greatest gift of God’s grace.  A [Christian] must seek this gift with all his strength and diligence, and acquire the ability to discriminate between the spirits that enter him and to assess them accurately.  Otherwise he will not only fall into the foulest pits of wickedness as he wanders about in the dark, but even stumble when his path is smooth and straight.”

St. John Cassian (360-435); The Philokalia, Vol. I, pg.98


“Everything, however, demands discrimination [discernment] if it is to be used for the good; without discrimination we are ignorant of the true nature of things.”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 119



“Discrimination [discernment] is characterized by an unerring recognition of what is good and what is not, and the knowledge of the will of God in all that one does.  Spiritual insight is characterized, first, by awareness of one’s own failings before they issue in outward actions, as well as of the stealthy tricks of the demons; and, second, by knowledge of the mysteries hidden in the divine Scriptures and in sensible creation.”

ibid. pg. 158-159


“For without discrimination [discernment] nothing good is ever done, even though to the ignorant it appears to be altogether good; for what is done without discrimination will be either untimely, or profitless, or disproportionate, or beyond the strength and knowledge of the person doing it, or faulty in some other way.”

ibid. pg. 234


“To study and recognize the power, action and special flavor of each virtue and vice is not within the competence of everyone who wishes to do so; it is the prerogative of those who practice and experience the virtues actively and consciously and who receive from the Holy Spirit the gifts of cognitive insight and discrimination [discernment].”

St. Gregory of Sinai (14th C.); The Philokalia Vol. IV, pg. 231 #91




“…when remembrance of God is absent, there is a tumult of the passions within us.”

St. Theodoros the Great Ascetic (9th C. ?); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 34 #92


“The blessed remembrance of God – which is the very presence of Jesus – with a heart full of wrath and a saving animosity against the demons, dissolves all trickeries of thought, plots, argumentation, fantasies, obscure conjectures and, in short, everything with which the destroyer arms himself and which he insolently deploys in his attempt to swallow our souls.  When Jesus is invoked, He promptly burns up everything.  For our salvation lies in Christ Jesus alone.  The Saviour Himself made this clear when He said: ‘Without Me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5).”

St. Philotheos of Sinai (10th C.?); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 25 #22



“Watchfulness is a continual fixing and halting of thought at the entrance to the heart.  In this way predatory and murderous thoughts are marked down as they approach and what they say and do is noted; and we can see in what specious and delusive form the demons are trying to deceive the intellect.  If we are conscientious in this, we can gain much experience and knowledge of spiritual warfare.”

St. Hesychios the Priest (5th C.); The Philokalia Vol. I, pg. 163 #6


“Watchfulness cleanses the conscience and makes it lucid.  Thus cleansed, it immediately shines out like a light that has been uncovered, banishing much darkness.  Once this darkness has been banished through constant and genuine watchfulness, the conscience then reveals things hidden from us.  Through the intellect it teaches us how to fight the unseen war and the mental battle by means of watchfulness, how we must throw spears when engaged in single combat and strike with well-aimed lances of thought, and how the intellect must escape being hit and avoid the noxious darkness by hiding itself in Christ, the light for which it longs.”

St. Philotheos of Sinai (10th C.?); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 25 #24




Discerning Truth


The “D” Test for Discerning Goodness from Evil


This list is provided as a learning tool to help us grasp the basics of discernment.  Always think spiritually first, soulful (mind, emotions, will) second, and physically last.  This list is not meant to be all-inclusive, for God is infinite and His creation vast.



“D” words for testing positive, as being from God


Dear:  precious, heart felt, affirming dignity (Ps.116:15, 139:17, Mt.13:45-46)

Decisive: serves to settle dispute (1Chr.17:14, Eze.13:1-11)

Deep: profound understanding of Truth (Ps.92:5,107:24, Is.55:8-9)

Definitive: conclusive, final, serving to define (Gen.1, Rev.4:11)

Delight:  joyful pleasure (Ps.37:4-11, 94:19)

Devoted: consecrated unto the Lord, loyal, committed (Lk.6:13, Ac.6:4, Rm.12:10)

Dignified:  affirms the worth God gives every soul (Jn.3:16)

Direct: straight, clear and without dilution (Is.40:3-5, Mt.5:37, Lk.3:4-5)

Discipleship:  instruction in the ways of our Lord (Pr.8:33, 1Tim.4:6-11, 6:18)

Divine: godly in nature (2Pe.1:1-11)


“D” words for testing negative, or not of God


Deceptive:  misleading, lack of honesty

Defaming:  slander or libel, absence of integrity

Defeatist:  resigned to lose, absence of courage

Defiant:  challenging the ordained authority of God, failure to fear the Lord

Defiling:  to corrupt or make foul, absence of purity

Defraud:  to cheat or swindle, lack of integrity and justice

Delinquent: neglecting responsibilities, lacking watchfulness

Delusion:  having beliefs contrary to Truth, the absence of wisdom

Demeaning:  insulting, failure to uphold dignity

Demented:   false perceptions, lack of knowledge

Demonic:  of demons, fiendish, having an evil nature, contrary to goodness

Denial:  refusal to acknowledge Truth or facts, lacking discernment

Depravity:  moral corruption, absence of goodness

Depreciating:  to devalue someone, lacking dignity and justice

Depressing:  causing gloom, an absence of joy and hope

Derisive:  ridicule, mocking, lacking mercy, kindness and compassion

Derogatory:   to belittle or slight, insulting, failure to uphold dignity

Desecrating:   disrespect or abuse toward sacred things, failure to fear the Lord

Desperate:  hopelessness, recklessness, motivated by despair, lack of hope

Despising:  to regard with contempt, absence of forgiveness and peace

Destructive:   motivated to destroy or ruin people or things, lacking compassion

Desultory: aimless, without purpose, lack of remembrance

Detrimental:  harmful, causing injury, hurtful, lacking selflessness

Devious: underhanded, indirect, lacking honesty and integrity

Diabolic:  satanic, wicked, evil, cruel, absence of goodness and kindness

Dirty:  unholy, unclean, the absence of purity

Disdainful:  to reject with scorn, lacking compassion

Distorted:  warped, misshapen or perverted, lacking knowledge and wisdom

Distracting:  to lose original focus or to divert, lacking watchfulness

Distraught:  harried, worried, anxious, crazed, absence of hope, joy and peace

Divisive:  creating discord or dissension, absence of faith

Dreadful:  distasteful, shocking, lacking gentleness

Dreamy:   prone to fantasy, absence of self-control

Driveling:  senseless chatter, absence of watchfulness and wisdom

Dubious:  to cause doubt, lacking in faith

Duplicitous:  deliberate absence of clarity and honesty, lacking simplicity




1 thought on “Chapter 13 – Recognizing Virtue – Discernment, Remembrance, and Watchfulness

  1. Pingback: A Primer on Virtue & Spiritual Growth Manual For Christians | A Primer on Virtue

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