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The Powerful Gift of Discerning Spirits

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A study into the gift of discernment in the Bible. We will look at what gift of discerning spirits means and how the believer can use this gift of the Holy Spirit. 

gift of discernment

The spiritual gift of discernment is just one of the many gifts of the Holy Spirit. It’s unique in that it give the individual a supernatural ability to distinguish or perceive things in the spirit realm. It also plays a vital roll in bringing deliverance, and clarity to situations and people. 

In this post we will be looking at an overview of this gift. I hope it helps answers your questions about discerning of spirits in the Bible.

Curious about the other gifts? Don’t forget to check out the other gifts below:

To make things easier you can use the table of contents below to jump to certain topics or you can scroll through like usual. If you are new the gifts I encourage you to read through it. 

The Gift of Discernment of Spirits 

Biblical definition of discernment

7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: 8 for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. – 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 NKJV (emphasis added in bold)

When writing on the gifts I thought it might be easier to break up information by answering the 5 W’s. If you are not familiar with the 5 W’s it basically means, who, what, when, where, and why. (Not in any specific order)

Just a note for now I have skipped out on “when.” If in the future I come up for a when question or a helpful reading has some suggestions…I’ll add it to the post. But I sure hope this structure helps to make things clear and easy to digest.

What Is the Gift of Discernment?

The Greek word for discernment is daikrisis it means to distinguish between and judicial estimation

The gift of discerning of spirits is the supernatural ability to discern and distinguish between different classes of spirits. 

  • The Holy Spirit 
  • Good Angels 
  • Evil Spirits and Demons 
  • The Human Spirit

Many people with the gift of discernment will supernaturally see in the spirit realm or have a strong sense that a spirit is around or operating through someone. 

What the Gift of Discernment Is Not?

There is a handful of things that try to mask as the gift of discernment when in reality it’s not and can cause a lot of harm and issues within the church. 

Suspicion 

Suspicion is a feeling or thought about someone or something that you think is most likely true. It can be easy to become suspicious of individuals because of our own view, prejudices, rejection, or understanding of a situation or people/person. 

This is when our natural judgment can come into play. Sometimes our suspicions can be correct, but that does not mean it was the gift of discernment manifesting. 

Criticism 

Discerning faults and mistakes is not a gift from God. I’m pretty sure most everyone sees those and it’s NOT helpful or good. The devil is known as the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10) and if we criticize others we are actually further his kingdom and not God’s. 

Conjuring Up Spirits or Necromancy

Being able to discern spirits does not mean you partake in conjuring up spirits or necromancy. The word of God is extremely clear we are not have anything to do with the occult. 

9 “When you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. 10 There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, 11 or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. 12 For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you. -Deuteronomy 18:9-12

What Is the Purpose of the Gift of Discernment of Spirits?

All the gifts of the Holy Spirit play an important role in building up the church and furthering the gospel of Jesus Christ. As for the discernment of spirits this gift plays a very important role. Here are some of the purposes of the gift:

  • Aids in deliverance from demons – Acts 8:1-8
  • Reveals the servants of Satan and their plans – Acts 13:9-10
  • Exposes error – 1 Timothy 4:1
  • Discern the moving of the Holy Spirit – John 3:8

With all the gifts…we need to bring what is revealed to us in prayer before God and good healthy accountability. Having discernment is an honor and we should value the gift by treating it with wisdom and submission before God. 

What Are Some Examples of Discerning of Spirits in the Bible?

I thought it would be good to share with you all some Biblical examples of the power of discernment. 

Discerning The Holy Spirit 

  • John 1:32-33 – John the Baptist discerned the Holy Spirit upon Jesus. Like a “dove”
  • Acts 2:3 – The 120 believers in the upper room discerned the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire.

Discerning Angels

  • Luke 22:43 – An angels appeared to Jesus in the Garden and gave Him strength
  • Acts 27:23-24 – An angel appears to Paul on the ship
  • 2 Kings 6:16-18 – Elisha’s servant’s eyes were opened to see the army of angels. 

Discerning of Human Spirits

  • John 1:47 –  When Jesus discerned Nathanael as a man without guile
  • Acts 8:20-25 – Peter discerns Simon’s wrong motives 
  • Acts 14:8-10 – Paul discerns a spirit of faith on the lame man

Discerning Evil Spirits

  • Acts 16:16-18 – Paul discerns the girl is operating under a spirit of divination (python) 
  • Luke 13:11-17 – A spirit of infirmity

Who Is the Gift of Discerning Spirits For?

Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. – 1 corinthians 14:1 

I mention this in all my posts on the gifts of the Spirit, but it’s important! Paul clearly says that we should pursue love (super important) and desire spiritual gifts. That word desire actually means to be zealous or passionate. 

It can sometimes feel like the gift of discernment is for people in church leadership or ministry or those who work only in deliverance ministries. But that’s not always the case. 

Holy Spirit can decided to bestow this gift to any believer. Newly saved or mature in the faith. But remember just because you have the gift doesn’t mean you know what you are doing or have it all figured out. It takes time to mature in the things God has called you in.

With discerning of spirits, we must really get into the Word and be grounded in it. A lot of times with this gift it comes with the ability to see in the spirit realm. And you will need to know the Bible well to make sure you can rightly discern. 

Why Is This Gift of Necessary for Today?

I mention this in all the gifts. But if it was necessary for the church back in the day then it’s very much necessary for us today!

The lack of discernment in the church has caused so many issues, from pursuing bad theology and even embracing heresy to being completely oblivious to the spirit realm. 

Spiritual discernment is needed for us to correctly judge and see what is going on in the spirit realm. And not be so focused on what is being seen in natural.

Listen, signs, and wonders can happen and NOT be from God. A good example is pharaoh’s sorcerers and magicians replicating the miracles of Moses. (Exodus (7:11228:7) Satan’s tactics will always be to counterfeit and deceiver. His nature hasn’t changed because we are now in modern times. 

His tricks are still the same. And this is exactly why we still need the gift of discerning of spirits in the body of Christ.

Where Can I Find It in the Bible?

You can find a lot of information throughout scripture about discernment. It’s actually quite popular in proverbs. And for good reason…discernment and wisdom go hand in hand. 

But discernment of spirits is a little different. We see it in action throughout the old and new testments, but the actual term discernment of spirits or discerning of spirits is sparse. Below are a few references we can look at. 

Bible Verses on Gift of Discernment of Spirits

1Co 12:10 NKJV – 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another [different] kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

Mal 3:18 NKJV – 18 Then you shall again discern Between the righteous and the wicked, Between one who serves God And one who does not serve Him. 

Phl 1:9-11 NKJV – 9 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, 10 that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, 11 being filled with the fruits of righteousness which [are] by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

My Conclusion and Summarization About the Gift of Discerning Spirits

I have a lot to say about discerning spirits. And hopefully in the future I will write more about it. But the thing I want to leave here is that it is vital if you have this gift to use wisdom and to abide in Christ and bare the fruit of the Spirit.

It’s easy to become suspicious and critical when our heart is in the wrong place or we have been wounded or live in fear. And it’s easy to think those feelings are the gift of discernment. When in reality it’s our flesh or the enemy trying to cause discord.

We must have accountability, and we must walk in the Spirit (PURSUE LOVE). Also, just because you discern something doesn’t mean you blurt it out to everyone or anyone. Pray and ask God if you are supposed to share with someone (not to gossip!) or maybe it’s for you to know and pray for the person or situation.

Compassion and wisdom go a long way with this gift. If you have or want this gift pursue those as well.

Well, I hope this article has blessed you and caused you to want to grow more in gifts of the Holy Spirit and draw closer to Him. Feel free to drop me a comment below! I would love to know what God is doing in your life.

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Sarah Byrd

Sunday 14th of February 2021

Thank you for the way you explain this, I understand much better now.