1 Corinthians 12:10
There’s a difference between having discernment and having the gift of discernment of spirits. The understanding of their difference is getting narrower in the Church today. Yet, the importance of keeping them wide apart and praying God to bless the church with both is needed now more than ever before.
A simple definition of discernment is, to have the ability to distinguish between things—knowing the difference between a male and a female (so we don’t marry a man thinking he is a woman and vice versa), a plane and a helicopter, an ocean and a creek, facial expressions, economies etc. To this extent, every human has discernment though, at varying levels especially when the distinction required gets more technical e.g., the ecology of an ocean compared to a creek or reading humans beyond facial expressions.
So, the more complex and technical a thing is required to be discerned, the more the depth of knowledge required to accomplish the task of discerning. Besides the intuitive knowledge all humans are born with which is limited, education plays an important role to condense and deepen our knowledge in specific fields e.g., while we may have a basic understanding from biology about the human body, medical doctors know far better.
Discernment for God’s people
Consistent heart involvement in reading the bible educates us to know or discern between good and evil ordinarily. This leads us to loving, praying and reverencing God and helps us to obey God in the things He instructs. It teaches us to love others and do right by them and to receive love from them as they do right by us. To this extent, all Christians know right from wrong.
Over time, consistent fellowship with the Holy Spirit, study of the scriptures and both pleasant and unpleasant practical experiences within and outside of the community of the faith, we acquire discernment at the level of our individual walk with God.
In Acts 17, the Berean Christians exercised discernment by checking the scriptures after Paul and Silas (Apostles) taught them the word of God. They understood that the word of God is light and it exposes lies and darkness. Every child of God is commanded to study consistently and meditate always on God’s word because it reveals God’s will for man. It renews the mind and a renewed mind is en-graced to do God’s good and perfect will which is the essence of all discernment.
This kind of discernment that comes from a relationship with Christ, study of His word and fellowship with the saints is used for one’s benefit and for others. A person with spiritual discernment gains protection and blessings for him or herself and others.
How does it benefit others?
By sharing the same insight with others—this is possible because Christ speaks to His sheep and speaks through them by the power of the Holy Spirit Heb 3:13.
Negative sources of discernment
Many people undertake studies and practical training to acquire dark knowledge within and outside religious circles to enable them gain discernment. The fields mostly used to gain this dark knowledge are rooted in ESP (extrasensory perception).
Those who subject themselves to these studies and its practical exercises acquire skills which can enable them discern or read people beyond the surface and so know how to predict them and possibly gain mastery over them for whatever purpose! More often than not, it’s used primarily for gaining power and control and only secondarily for material gain. The point I’m making is this; most of the people who get involved in this craft, are not so much money hungry as much as they’re hungry to have control of souls to rule. Discernment is a big thing with rulership or leadership. Those seeking discernment from sources other than God understand the preciousness of the soul and know that to have one soul under them is to advance over that soul as its god, master or guru. The god or master status can be nicknamed any circular or religious title depending on the purpose of the persons involved. Those in the business world take on the title suited for them and those in religious empires take on religious titles and mix their theology with HPM (human potential movement) teachings or its latest versions.
To achieve their objective, they can sacrifice and endure anything knowing that whatever they lose in the short term can be gained even much more if they chose to be materialist after souls are under their control. It’s for this reason, that some become super rich through fooling and exploiting others or their congregations without any application of force. Still, others will even chose to be modest but have multitudes all over the world follow and worship them as their guru. For those sitting over religious people, their words carry more weight than even God’s word in the bible to their subjects. They become the source for authenticating the truth of God’s word and not the word itself. Regrettable disaster!
Though there are limitations to this type of discernment, I just want to state its two major limitations which are:
- It deals primarily at the mind level (the soul realm). It works by influencing people’s minds. This is why both the people who practice it and those it is practiced on get demonized.
- It can’t discern the mind of God.
The Gift of Discernment of spirits
The difference between the gift of discerning spirits and having discernment is like the distant between continents. Majorly, it does not just deal with the mind realm and its motive but detects the kind of spirit in operation. It bypasses whether the motive is good or bad. This is an important point to note. A deceived person may have good intentions but is controlled by satanic spirits. It’s for this reason God has gifted some in His body with the gift of discernment of spirits which travels deep into a thing or being to discover if the propelling spirit is of God or the devil. People who have this gift can be uneducated because it has nothing to do with intellect.
The scripture warns believers to discern the body of Christ. In other words, we’re to recognize Christ’s Spirit in the midst of the gathering of saints and reverence His presence by sincerely loving and honouring one another. This includes esteeming God’s word above ourselves and subjecting everyone’s teaching and service to a healthy scrutiny through God’s word.
Having this gift does not make the bearer a Prophet. However, a Prophet not just a prophetic person carries this gift. All those with ministry gifts have it— especially Apostles and Prophets for the sake of their foundational work in God’s great house (Church) in the earth. While Simon had a bitter spirit and bond in iniquity which separated his heart from Jesus and denied him any portion with Christ though a believer, he was active in evangelism with Philip the Evangelist till, an apostolic team arrived to strengthen the gathering of the saints who were seeing new believers added to them. Please see Acts 8:9-25. Jesus knew when Satan entered Judas though he was participating in breaking of bread John 13:27. Also, Jesus knew when Satan spoke through Peter though Peter had good intentions Matt 16:23. By discernment, Peter knew that Ananias heart was overtaken by Satan—not that he made a slip of tongue Acts 5:3.
Possessing this gift doesn’t mean one can’t be tricked by people with wrong motives. Paul had this gift yet he suffered in the hands of false brothers 2 Cor 11:26.
Its focus is discerning which spirit is at work and not reading people’s minds or motives. Having a wrong motive is not always a sign of the presence of an evil spirit. For example, many zealous Christians want to eradicate poverty from the world. So, they work harder and smarter to make lots of money for charitable purposes than they devote themselves for intimacy with God. If the example startles you, it means you need to study and meditate on the scripture more and devote yourself to a lifestyle of prayer.
Today, we’re fighting the deceiving spirits the early Church fought with an added tilt. While, one of the major focuses of the early church was to withstand those who wanted to take the church back to Judaism, ours is the infiltration of occult teachings by many false teachers with loads of doctrines to mislead the undiscerning. With so many occult words becoming increasingly acceptable for Christian leaders to use, the lines are vanishing fast.
The depth of the mixture of truth and error is showing that the end is nearer than any other prophetic sign I know in the bible. They have succeeded in misleading many vibrant and good intentioned Christians who have the trust of God’s people. Therefore, the danger has become even more wide spread and harder to detect. In time past, a Christian has to deliberately go out of his or her way to be able to join occult organizations but now, one can easily imbibe occult teachings and even practice it while in a supposedly decent Christian community. Think of yoga, the different forms of transcendental meditation, crowd or mind control techniques blatantly used in the Church today.
In the early Church, those who exercised their spiritual gifts and those with the five-fold ministries, especially the Apostles and Prophets fought against these dangers with all they had—but in our time, there has been a lot of failing to do this. As a result, diviners and sorcerers are now ministering in the camp and are even highly respected as they do so!! Acts 16:16, 8:9-21 and 5:3, 1 Tim 1:19-20. Voo doo doctors are springing up in the gatherings of saints all over the world. They have abandoned their dressing styles by which they are usually known and are now dressed in clean suits or stylish modern jeans and T-shirts with leather bibles in their hands. It would have been marvelous if they had also dropped the spirit of their trade but no, they haven’t—they don’t have the Spirit of Christ.
There are many young and vibrant men and women (26-50 years old) in the church now who have imbibed occult teachings and are perfecting blending it with Christian doctrines. These are leadership minded folks who’ll do anything to sustain their ambition. Now and in no distant time, they are causing and will yet cause the church such problems as never before. There is much need now to stop the mouth of some people in the church. The leaders who have nurtured these people should have been stopped decades but it didn’t happen. No one wants to be seen as a trouble maker. No one wants to lose their reputation. Most people want acceptance, great following and to accomplish some great things for God—all at the expense of God’s pleasure. A pleasure God sacrificed His only Son to purchase.
We’re in need of not only discernment but also the gift of discernment of spirits.
If you have the gift of discernment of spirits (not the gift of suspicion), may the Lord our God strengthen you to speak out in the community of saints where God has set you Isaiah 62.
Exposing the false spirits that have come into the church gatherings and warning and sharply rebuking those who may have unknowingly been ensnared is within the context of the word edify. And those who’ve understood their error but are bent on travelling that route must be handed over to Satan by the church that they may be ashamed and repent—turning again sincerely to the Spirit of the Lord of glory, Christ Jesus.
2 Tim 3:16, tells us that the word of God is the substance of discernment and edifying as His Spirit through His sheep use the instrumentality of teaching, reproofing, correcting, and training in righteousness (participation in divine nature or character). The prompt application of these instruments of God is crucial for the assemblies of God’s people to abide in the mind of Christ (have one mind) Rom 15:5, enjoy unity of the spirit Eph 4:3 and its attendant benefits Ps 133:1-3.
Another meaning of discernment of spirits which you should also be aware of refers to the practice by which we determine whether we’re listening to God or the other guy. How do we know we’re allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us, and not just pursuing our own headstrong desires, or worse, being tempted and led astray by the enemy?
In other words, discernment of spirits does not just refer to discerning the spiritual state of other people – it also refers to discerning the spiritual state of ourselves!