Gifts of the Spirit

Gifts of the Spirit

discerning of spirits

Discerning of Spirits

audio version

This necessary part of the gifts of the spirit go along with the first part of this very chapter in 1 Corinthians 12.

I will repeat them here:

  • 1Corinthians 12:3 Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.

Also 1 John 4: 1-3

  • 1John 4:1 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
  • 2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
  • 3 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.

The true spirit of God will confess, glorify and draw souls to Jesus Christ. We have the written word or prove all things by and I believe the written word was given to us for that reason. Imagine where we would all be without that precious gift from God.

A good pastor of any church needs the gift of discernment but we as individual spirit filled believers also need this. We need discernment in every church meeting we attempt to have.

First of all, what this gift is not:

  1. Being suspicious of people and their motives. People who are not even saved and have never been filled with the spirit can have a natural instinct to discern whether or not someone is telling the truth or for real. Young people have a sensitive nature in this respect. They usually can tell who is for real. Yet this must not be confused with the gift of discernment.
  2. It is not natural discernment. We all need natural God given discernment. For instance when we make decisions on whether to believe a salesman when he tries to get us to buy a car, when we have to make decisions on right or wrong choices, who to give our money to and such. There are people naturally gifted in this kind of discernment that may not even be Christian. So this is not what we are referring to a the gift of discernment.
  3. It is not the ability to criticize and find fault with people and judge people individually and try to discern their spirit to determine if they are for real or from God. The accuser of the brethren is Satan himself and he is clever and good at this. He may make us think we have the gift of discernment and are fruit inspectors.
  4. Is our criticism helping the person or just turning someone else against the person? If we speak behind someone’s back and criticize them, the person with the fault is not hearing or receiving any correction, so it couldn’t be the right thing to do. One exception to that would be if the person is teaching false doctrine or leading people astray. If someone is teaching against the truth in God’s word, then we have to warn people even if the warning is behind the back of the one deceiving. If our criticism is just pointing out a fault in someone and that someone can’t hear us to be corrected or helped, then we are backbiting not using discernment.
  5. It is not judging. Jesus said to make righteous judgments. That means judgments based on right motives and for the good of all concerned. Making assumptions, being biased, having partiality and such is not the gift of discernment.
  6. It is not the spooky divination that accompanies fortune tellers and people that seek familiar spirits. That kind of stuff brings no glory to God; it doesn’t correct sin and serves no holy or godly purpose. God’s gifts bring us into holiness and fruitfulness that causes good and not evil...

Discerning of spirits is God speaking to our spirit by the Holy Spirit when evil spirits are present. We do not judge the individual but the spirit that is behind what is being manifested or presented as being from God.

This is one place that we have to be very careful. The misuse of this particular knowledge can destroy someone if it is done improperly. A person who is bent toward showing off how God spoke to him about so and so is not the one we need when it comes to discernment. When we see evil spirits manifested in a person, it should grieve us, not cause us to gloat because God chose us to reveal this knowledge through. If we sense something is wrong, we need to be concerned, not have the, “See, I told you so” attitude. I don’t believe God gives us discernment of spirits to just gloat, I believe it is given for a purpose.

  1. To keep the church safe from deception
  2. To help the person that has the false manifestation
  3. To keep ourselves from being deceived.
  4. To judge whether or not a message in tongues or prophecy is a true word from the Lord.

Discernment will help us to know whether someone is just in the flesh, giving forth his own opinion or obeying the Holy Spirit and giving a prophecy. Sometimes an evil spirit will mimic and copy the real and discernment will know the difference. Sometimes people just get in the flesh and they are not necessarily evil or have an evil spirit, they just may make mistakes so we have to be very careful with this subject.

Discernment is badly needed in today’s church but our fear of the counterfeit should not keep us from seeking the real gifts of the spirit because without all nine gifts we have no power to convince those around us that they need to be saved from sin.

How can we actually convince a heathen that a man died for their sins 2000 years ago and then rose from the dead? Why should he believe us? This is the purpose for the gifts of the spirit, especially the sign gifts. To show that there is a God, a supernatural and that Jesus died for sins and rose again from the dead. When they see a wicked sinner who was formerly drunk all the time, sober, clothed and in his right mind, that is a manifestation of the power of the gospel. If they see a person with terminal cancer, rise again and live when the doctors only gave them days to live, that is the power of the gospel.

For some reason people shy away from the tongues but when a person you have known from childhood, never learned any language but their own native tongue like English in the land of England for instance; then all the sudden they start praying and speaking in another language giving praises to God in a language they formerly did not know, that is a sign of the supernatural and that the word of God that tells of these things is true. We need every single gift of the spirit.

But in saying all that, we need discernment; because Satan likes to send in people to mimic the real, bring in false teaching or send in those that want to use the gifts to control and lord over people’s lives.

The bible tells us plainly not to despise prophecies but we do have a God given right to know whether the prophecy or interpretation of tongues is a message from God. Discerning of spirits is mainly given to judge the prophecies. We also can judge them by comparing them to the word. Discernment is needed in all these cases because even unbelievers can quote scripture.

However, we must not be afraid of interpretations and prophecies just because those new in this area might make a mistake and speak out of order or interupt what they should not interupt. That doesn't mean they are evil peopel; they just haven't learned to yield to the gift at the right time. I've heard that there are false manifestations also but this is where we have to be careful not to false accuse someone that might act a little strange. Perfect love is needed here too. This is one area that discernment is even needed in those that discern. We have to be careful not to false accuse.

We must examine our motives. Are we jealous of the person speaking? Are we envious because God does not use us in the same way? Do we assume Bro Smith or Jones is a false brother because he seems to be able to just lay hands on the sick and they recover and we can’t do the same thing? Just because God doesn’t use us the same as Sister so and so doesn’t mean something is wrong with her. We must not judge people by our own experiences or by the experiences of others.

Jealousy, envy, personal dislike of a particular person, and wrong motives can cause us to think we have discernment and it not be real discernment but we are listening to the accuser of the brethren. Somehow though I think that deep down in our spirit we will know the truth if we refuse to give into the flesh.

This is one of the gifts of the spirit, we have to trust God to bring forth this gift as needed and at the right time. As with all gifts of the spirit, we can’t just decide that we are going to go to church today and discern everyone’s spirit, line everyone up and say you have a spirit of lust, you have a problem with jealousy and you have a religious spirit. Usually that type of judging though is not done that way but behind people’s backs and in that case it serves no purpose.

When the work of God is being manifest, when we come together to worship, when a message is given by preaching, teaching, interpretation of tongues or prophecy, we need the gift of discernment present also. If anyone is afraid of this gift being present, then he or she should not be teaching, preaching or giving a message. If we are afraid of our message being judged by the word or by discernment, then we should not be giving any. True prophets of God will desire the truth more than they desire to appear spiritual in the sight of the congregation.

None of us purposely desire to lie and deceive. All of us would like to be used of God and we all desire that what we do brings forth good fruit and serves God’s purposes. Yet the temptation to appear super spiritual over everyone else is with us and we must resist this and desire rather that the truth go forth.

There are different kinds of discernment. Most of all we need to discern when and if an evil spirit is present to disrupt the service or cause harm spiritually by false teaching or preaching.

We also have to discern interpretations of tongues and prophecies to whether it is for us today or the person is just speaking their own agenda. They may not be possessed by any evil spirit or anything. In this case we judge the message, not the messenger.

We have to discern our own thoughts and motives to make sure whether our ideas are from God, from someone we heard preach or from the Holy Spirit. The devil can still speak to a child of God even if he or she is spirit filled. That doesn’t mean that we have an evil spirit but we still have flesh to deal with and we can give into anger, jealousy and other motives when we speak or do anything.

Here is one example of discernment of the spirit found in the book of Acts: The woman here was saying truth but was not by the Holy Spirit but a spirit of divination. We are not to follow anyone around and proclaim this type of thing even if it is true.

  • Act 16:16  And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: 
  • 17  The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. 
  • 18  And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour. 

To sum it up discernment is to:

  1. Discern when evil spirits are present in a person who needs to be set free
  2. Discern when evil spirits are present to disrupt the service and cause someone not to hear the gospel that will save the lost.
  3. To discern messages of interpretation of tongues, prophecies, teaching or preaching is truth and is from God. (Again I repeat in this case the person speaking may just be “in the flesh” not have an evil spirit.) We discern only the message in this case.
  4. To discern our own words, beliefs and such. Sometimes we can just be repeating what someone said instead of the bible. If Rick Warren says something for instance and we assume it is gospel truth. We are ready to be deceived if we start going around quoting other people all the time. Don’t we realize that even Billy Graham can make a mistake? It’s okay to quote people, don’t get me wrong but we must make sure that we present it as the words of men and not the scripture and words of men are not infallible.
  5. To discern our own thoughts, ideas and motives to see if they are from God or just our imagination. This is the kind of discernment everyone probably has. It might not even come under the title of discernment of spirits but we still need this type of discernment as individuals.

Here are some examples of common words of men. Some may be good things to say but are not necessarily scripture:

  1. God helps those that help themselves. After we hear that from the pulpit enough, we will think it is scripture.
  2. All’s well that ends well.
  3. Seeing is believing.
  4. Another one is “The Holy Ghost don’t dwell in an unclean temple.” Now that may be truth but I’ve not yet found it in the scripture word for word like that so we need to be careful about quotes.
  5. Another one is “cleanliness is next to godliness.”
  6. Another one I hear is God loves you just the way you are. If that is the case why send Jesus to change us.

Some of us are very imaginative. We may get a thought that something bad is going to happen to our child for instance and it could be the devil tormenting us instead of the spirit of God warning us but I believe still that deep down, we will know whether or not it is our imagination or the voice of God.

I know a lot of these things are getting us away from the real gift of discernment needed in the church but I wanted to bring it out to show us there is need of discernment in all areas of our lives and not just where it concerns evil spirits.

Bible Examples of discernment:

  1. The case of Ananias and Sapphira chapter 5 of Acts.
  2. The woman that followed Paul around proclaiming him to be servants of the most high God. This was in Acts 16.
  3. A man named Barjesus tried to keep Sergius Paulus from the truth Paul was preaching in Acts 13.
  4. In Acts 8 when Simon wanted to buy the power to give people the Holy Ghost.
  5. The Pharisees who followed Jesus around just to find fault, not because they desired to hear Him.

We have to be very careful of accusing anyone of having a wrong spirit or an evil spirit. We can destroy someone. Someone for instance who praises God in tongues a lot and may have not been taught when to keep silent and when to go ahead and praise God in tongues, may go ahead and speak. That doesn’t mean he or she has a wrong spirit. They just do not know when to stop and are a little excited. I’ve heard people make judgments and say, that’s not of God, that’s an evil spirit or that there is something wrong with the person. We could destroy people with such talk. Our own feelings and opinions are not the gift of discernment.

Yet if we read in 1st Corinthians 14 where Paul is dealing with issues like that, not once does Paul accuse anyone of be “not of God”, “of the devil” “out of order” or have a wrong spirit. Go and read it again. Not once does Paul accuse the Corinthians of having any evil spirits yet we take it upon ourselves to say those things about people. I’ve been in Pentecostal churches all my life and I have heard that kind of stuff. It is always behind someone’s back and it is never from the pastor himself. It comes from people sitting around and talking. That is not discernment. It serves no purpose. People can make mistakes and speak at the wrong time without necessarily being “not of God.” The gifts are perfect but we who receive the gifts still can get excited and not always be sensitive to the spirit. There is so much damage done when we listen to the accuser of the brethren instead of the real spirit of God.

I believe with all my heart that if we trust in the Lord and stay in tune with His spirit we will know if an evil spirit manifests itself in our midst. We can’t go around thinking in the flesh bad thoughts about everyone and being afraid to allow the Holy Spirit to work in our midst. This is probably why these things died out after the apostles died. The church leaders of that day probably felt it was easier to take control of things and leave the spirit out then to put up with false manifestations. Yet as we see reading church history, without the Holy Spirit, no one is being born again, no lives are changed and they soon began to beat up their fellow servants with a thing we call the traditions of men. The Pharisees had it, the backslidden church had it and legalistic religions have it.

A good way to have the real spirit of God in our midst is to study the 13th chapter of Corinthians along with the gifts. Also the fruits of the spirit in Galatians should be studied along with these. That 13th chapter of Corinthians didn’t get between the two gifts of the spirit chapters for nothing. I know I keep saying that in all these lessons but I can't really say it enough. All these things are to be done in love and with the right motive but they must be done.

Discernment if a vital necessity but with much caution. There is no criticism of tongues or warning against false tongues in the bible. The only hint of any criticism is in the 14th chapter of Corinthians and even that chapter ends with, “Covet to prophesy and forbid not to speak with tongues.” Paul summarizes his talk on the gifts with a reminder not to take his words too far and forbid the gifts of the spirit like so many have. Notice though that not one time did Paul say any of them had anything false or of the devil. People say that, not the bible. I’m not saying there is no false tongues. There may be some that mock, or speak by another spirit or even in a learned tongue they know but those present do not know, but I don’t see any criticism in the word itself or any accusation that the worship or praise in tongues is what we need to discern. We can only discern what we understand. If a message is not understood then no one can be deceived by the words if they were false. 

We just have to be very careful not to judge by our own experiences instead of the word of God or the discerning presence of the Holy Spirit. We will just have to trust Him to show us the difference. Doing all things in love is the better way Paul speaks of. If we are made perfect in love, we would not ever desire to misuse the gifts, puff ourselves up over others, draw attention to ourselves as some super spiritual person, or say anything that would harm the soul of any person. If we are made perfect in love we would want souls to be saved, the church to be edified, the word to go forth, and the Lord’s will to be done. If we are made perfect in love, we would rejoice to see someone else prophecy besides ourselves, someone else interpret a message in tongues besides ourselves, someone else win a soul to Christ, preach an inspiring message, or receive a blessing from God.

In seeking all these things for the good of the church, we must remember a verse that says,

  • Luke 11:11 If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent?
  • 12 Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?
  • 13 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

If we are diligently seeking God, He is not going to give us something bad. Remember when we do not understand the gifts, that they are from God. There is no need to fear them or to beat up on those that claim to have them. Tongues is the most controversial one to those that have never spoken in tongues but it is still a gift from God. God never gives anything bad. I don’t believe tongues is the least of the gifts as some suppose but even if it was, the least gift of God has got to be better than any gift man gives. DC


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