What is the Discerning of Spirits?

Have you ever heard someone say they have the gift of discernment?  If you’ve been a Christian for a while you probably have.  Did you know that statement is an error?  The Bible doesn’t teach there is a gift of discernment.  Before you call me a heretic, let me show you what the Bible says:

1 Corinthians 12:10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits

1 Corinthians 12, which is commonly referred to as the gifts of the spirit chapter of the Bible says the Holy Spirit imparts the discerning of spirits and not the gift of discernment.  This is an important distinction to make because many people who judge the motives of others hide their critical attitude under the guise of having the gift of discernment.

While God did not give us a spiritual gift to know the motives of others, He did give us the gift of discerning of spirits.  The gift of discerning of spirits is the ability to be able to discern the presence of a spirit.  This spirit could be the Holy Spirit, an angelic spirit, or a demonic spirit.  

The reason this gift is important is because there is a spiritual world that influences the natural world in which we live.  This means many of our problems aren’t entirely natural and if we are limited to fighting spiritual problems with natural solutions we will never be able to overcome.  

An example of a spiritual force creating a natural problem is in Luke 13:10-13 where Jesus healed a woman with back issues who had a spirit of infirmity.  There was a spirit that caused the natural problem.  

Here are a few examples from the Bible of this gift in operation:

  • Acts 16:16-18 Paul discerned a spirit plaguing a slave girl that was mocking him and cast it out of her. 
  • 2 Kings 6:17 Elisha prayed for Gehazi’s eyes to be opened so he could see the angels that were there to protect them.  This ministered faith to Gehazi.
  • Acts 12:7-11 As the church prayed, an angel rescued Peter from jail.  God opened Peter’s eyes to see the angel and he followed the angel to Mary’s house.

These are just a few examples of this gift in operation. The scripture contains many more.  

The key to operating in this gift is prayer.  In all three examples listed above prayer was involved in opening up the person’s eyes to the spirit realm.  Sometimes it was the person praying for them self like in Paul’s case or sometimes it was the prayers of others like with Peter and Gehazi.

1 Corinthians 14:1 tells us to desire spiritual gifts.  The gifts of the spirit don’t happen by coincidence, they happen when Christians intensely desire and yearn for them and pray until they experience the break-through.  In Jeremiah 33:3 God promises us to show us great and mighty things, but He does require that we call out to him with a sincere heart and ask!

It may sound far fetched to be able to see into the spiritual realm and discern angels and demons, but is it really any more far fetched than the savior of a world being born through a virgin?  The discerning of spirits is a gift God has promised to us just like salvation.  God wants us to be able to see the spiritual forces at work in the world so we can either cooperate or resist them so we can fulfill His plan for our lives.  

Believe God big today!  Ask Him to show you great and mighty things so you can discern the spiritual forces at work around you and have victory in your life!  

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Grace Life Church of the Triad