Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 4:1 ESV).
"… to another [is given the gift or ability of] distinguishing between spirits… All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as He wills (1 Corinthians 12:10-11 ESV).
Before we delve into week's topic, we would like share a short vision and a Word of the Lord's coming on the Visions page.
The Gift of Discernment
The gift of discerning of spirits is one of the most under-emphasized and overlooked by Christians. This precious gift compliments and completes the work of the Holy Spirit in the Body (1 Corinthians 12:11), helping us distinguish truth from error – because the Spirit of truth guides us into all the truth (John 16:13). Lack of discernment is one of the root causes of divisions in the body of Christ. When we hear of discerning of spirits, we naturally expect to look into the spiritual realm and see visions. However, this gift has also been given to help us judge motives, which are influenced by spirits. We judge Bible messages, prophecies and revelations through the gift of discerning of spirits (1 Corinthians 14:29). This is why the apostle Paul said we must test [discern] the spirits, for when we know the truth it will expose the error (1 Thessalonians 5:21; John 8:32).
This article is meant to inform and to encourage Christians to pray for a spirit of discernment, because Satan has spread error, confusion, doubt and divisions, and the Lord said “When you gather up the weeds, you might also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At harvest time I’ll tell the reapers: Gather the weeds first and tie them in bundles to burn them, but store the wheat in my barn…” (Matthew 13:29-30 HCSB). With many false prophets and teachers in the world today (1 John 4:1; 2 Timothy 4:3-4; 2 Peter 2:1-3), we need discernment in order not to be deceived, but to be prepared and ready for Christ’s second coming and for eternity, as the Apostle Paul wrote: “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:9-10 ESV). Denominational boundaries, confusions and divisions in the body, as well as sectarianism have resulted largely due to our lack of discernment. Respectfully, most of those in denominations are there due to their loyalty to the denomination or leaders (some of these have been passed down from previous generations), and also their teachings or doctrines (some of which are based mainly on specific portions of Scripture, for example the Sabbath, water baptism, or one of the spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues). If we go church because of these reasons, and not because of our conviction for Truth, we have not discerned correctly.
In like manner, if you avoid being born again because you are confused by the various doctrines, some false and some true, and you don’t make an effort to read the Scriptures for yourselves and pray seeking discernment for truth, then your fate is sealed and you will perish (John 3:16-18), unless you repent today (Luke 13:3; Hebrews 3:7-8). Not too long ago, we inquired of the Lord for a dear sister in Christ who was confused about a certain message she had read from a false teacher who was seeking a financial contribution. The Lord gave a message to this dear sister warning her against believing false testimonies and admonishing her that she must pray for discernment.
In many Pentecostal and Charismatic circles, the gift of discernment is seen as a revelatory gift of seeing into the spirit world. This perception is partially true, and we will soon prove from the Scriptures how both the Lord and His disciples operated through the gift of discernment. As this article unfolds, we will see that this gift is needed in our everyday walk with the Lord. Other sects have risen recently, reporting that they have their “spiritual eyes” open all the time, seeing and “fighting” demonic spirits in their realm using “spiritual weapons” such as “holy fire,” “holy sword,” “holy electricity”, and other strange and weird manifestations involving uncontrollable body movements, twitching, head shaking, incessant laugher, etc. If this is true, then we are not walking by faith but by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Faith would not be faith if it operates through sight, and if it did so there would be no need for the spirit of discernment, which operates through faith. What I mean brethren is this: all the gifts of the Holy Spirit are received and applied by faith (Romans 12:6).
Discerning Truth from Error
Admittedly, there is a sickening spirit of division within the body of Christ, and we know this has caused widespread confusion among both Christians and unbelievers. In addition, the common human disposition for disobedience and sin, our cultural influences and differences add to the confusion (Psalm 51:5; Romans 3:23). Furthermore, we have the sinful nature which causes dilemma and contributes to this confusion (Galatians 5:17). We would like to emphasise that the revelation of truth only comes through the Holy Spirit, and not by human instinct (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13). Our Lord Jesus Christ was confirmed and revealed to John the Baptist as the Son of God through the descending Holy Spirit on Him (Mark 1:9-11). Therefore the advent of Christianity was set apart from the world of sin and error through the descending Holy Spirit, first onto Christ (Mark 1:10), and then onto His followers (Acts 2:2-4; 10:44-45). Therefore, the Church, which is the Bride of Christ (Revelation 21:2, 9) is identified and preserved by and through the work of the Holy Spirit in the body (1 Corinthians 12:11; Revelation 22:17). As it is, since the Holy Spirit guides and leads us to truth through conviction (John 16:13; Galatians 5:17), we will attract opposition, and persecution, as well as hate, just as happened to our Lord Christ (Matthew 5:10; Luke 6:22; John 15:18-20; Hebrews 12:3).
The Holy Spirit is what sets Christianity apart from other religions, and also sets apart sects within Christianity. Like John the Baptist, the identification or distinguishing mark of a true Christian is through the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:15; Ephesians 5:18), for the Scripture says: “You, however, are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God lives in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (Romans 8:9).
No truth concerning Christ is by instinct, but through the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). Let us examine from the Scriptures how truth is discerned from deception and sinful behaviour that leads to confusion:
- By faith, Peter discerned through the Holy Spirit that Jesus was the Christ (Matthew 16:17).
- Nathanael discerned the truth through the Holy Spirit and acknowledged Jesus to be the Son of God (John 1:49).
- Through discernment and faith, Paul observed that a man had faith to be healed (Acts 14:7-10). If Paul had disobeyed the Holy Spirit, as we often do, that man would not have been healed.
- Again, Paul through faith and the spirit of discernment by the Holy Spirit knew that Elymas the sorcerer was a servant of Satan spreading sinful living; he therefore rebuked him (with the result of Elymas becoming blind) (Acts 13:8-11).
- Paul, being troubled by the fortune-telling spirit in a slave girl, obeyed the Holy Spirit and rebuked the spirit in the girl, with the result that she was delivered from the demonic spirit of fortune-telling (Acts 16:17-19).
- The Apostle Peter discerned by the Holy Spirit that Ananias and Sapphira were lying, with the result of their lies being death (Acts 5:1-10).
- Simon the sorcerer wanted to pay a sum of money for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter discerned that the man was full of bitterness and sin, and he admonished him to repent (Acts 8:18-23).
- In his bold speech to the Sanhedrin, Stephen discerned the stubbornness and unbelief of the high priests and the teachers of the law for resisting the Holy Spirit, and he boldly shared the truthful testimony of Christ’ Lordship (Acts 7:51-56).
What Hinders Discernment?
- Lacking knowledge of the Word of God (Hosea 4:6). Laziness to read the Bible for ourselves results in us just believing any wind of doctrine. Discernment comes through our knowledge of the Word (1 Peter 2:2).
- Willful sinning and disobedience: this comes as a result of selfish desires and desire to please others, instead of seeking to please God (Romans 13:14).
- Not praying faithfully: If Christians are not praying, their spiritual condition is easily discerned through their ungodly struggles, complaints, and bearing bad fruits (Matthew 26:41; 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18).
- Bad company: this influences our behavior, character and morals, also compromises our discernment (1 Corinthians 15:33).
- Reliance on self and others: This weakens our faith in God (Jeremiah 17:5; Proverbs 3:5-6).
- Wrong motives: Being selfish and looking out for only one’s interest instead of others’ interests compromises the good message of the gospel and Christ’s love (Philippians 2:4; 21).
Practical Experiences on How to Discern Spirits
Recently, during a home fellowship, a brother asserted that as Christians we do not need to read the whole Bible, but can only lean on a few passages. This teaching is in line with what some popular televangelists say, asserting that they have not read the whole Bible or don’t need to, and boasting how they have written so many books, many of them bestsellers. This teaching is clearly false. The Bible says "This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success" (Joshua 1:8). Many people agree that the New Testament is important for Christians, but the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the fulfillment of the Law, also made reference to teachings in the Old Testament (Matthew 4:1-11). The disciples also mentioned teachings from the Old Testament in the Gospels, Book of Acts, Paul’s epistles, as well as the writings of Peter, James, John and Jude. The Book of Hebrews, for example, mentions several “Heroes of Faith” from the Old Testament (Hebrews 11:1-13). Without a discerning Spirit, and being ignorant of Scriptures in the whole Bible, it is easy for a believer to be deceived and be ignorant of the Truth.
In a further experience, two women shared with me that they were suffering from severe backache problems, and a result they were dependent on pain killer medications to relieve their suffering. I therefore offered to pray for them individually. As I prayed, I felt a heaviness in me; it felt like a dark shadow falling on me, and instantly I knew these women did not have faith. As a result, some years have come and gone, and they are still not healed.
Also, a few months ago, my wife accidentally dropped her cellphone in a taxi. She was reminded constantly by the Holy Spirit to pick it, but she repeatedly ignored Him. She eventually forgot to pick it up, and she lost it. Later, in a message to her, the Lord told my wife that she did not obey the Holy Spirit when He reminded her to pick up the cell phone.
Similarly, the Lord said that if a Christian does not acknowledge Him in all they do, they will miss the opportunity to discern His warnings. I had a Christian friend who desperately needed something, and he was even willing to pay to get it. He decided not to involve the Lord in his plans and went of in pursuit of this thing. After having paid, he failed to obtain it, and not heeding the Holy spirit's warning he regretted for leaving the Lord aside. He later came back to me confessing his mistakes. This is the unfortunate mistake many Christians get involved make; they exclude the Lord from their plans, and when the plans fail they blame the Lord. If they would have prayed asking the Lord to help them, they would not have invited disaster.
The Lord have always been gracious in granting me discernment whenever I prayed asking for His will in any matter. However, if I acted on other people's advice without following His counsel, I ended up sitting with the cost, regret and emotional scars. Therefore, discernment is like a light to our conscience. Discernment manifests to warn Christians against the dangers of sin and error. You will know if you ignored discernment when you feel confused, unsettled, and fearful, having no peace. I encourage you brethren, don't pursue a matter with such feelings of unease; a discerning Christian will retreat and pray until they find peace.
In conclusion, Brother and Sisters in Christ, please get serious and earnestly pray for and desire discernment! Many Christians are caught up in spiritual deceptions because they have decided to ignore or quench the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19), lack faith and are doubtful of Truth (Matthew 21:21) and don’t study the Bible for themselves (Acts 17:11; 2 Timothy 2:15). If you have been carried away by false doctrine, or are in a state of confusion as to what to believe, and desire to know, believe and follow God’s Truth, you may start by praying this Prayer of Sincere Repentance. For any questions or comments on this article or our ministry, please contact us.
May the Truth of Christ set you free, and may His grace and peace be yours in abundance.
Brother Glenn and Preparing for the Kingdom Ministry Team.