“to another the ability to distinguish between spirits”1 Corinthians 12:10
The discernment gift is much like the discernment we need in normal life. We all need wisdom, insight and understanding to pick up on the cues and the little bits of evidence that indicate to us the truth of something or someone, the true motives or agendas that lie beneath the surface. This is true especially of spiritual issues for which we need spiritual discernment. Most of all we need to be able to discern between the operation of God’s Spirit, the evil spirit, or the unaided human spirit. There are three sources to spiritual input, teaching or activity: God, the devil or the flesh of man.
The discerning of spirits includes having insight to know the truth about the hearts of men, their thoughts, purposes, and designs, their secret hypocrisies. Examples from Scripture include Peter discerning the lying of Ananias and Sapphira (Act_5:1-10). Act_13:9-11 tells us how Paul could look Elymas in the eye and know what was in his heart via the gift of discernment. Peter knew by the gift of discernment that Simon Magus (Act_15:17) had a root of bitterness and pretended to have faith and holiness. 1 John 4:1 outlines for us the means of determining the secrets of the heart; of knowing a man’s purposes. views, and feelings. It relates either to the power of determining by what spirit a man or woman speaks who pretended to be inspired, whether he was truly inspired or whether he was an impostor; or it refers to the power of seeing whether a man was sincere or not in his Christian profession.
I think this is a foundational gift that every church or body of believers who meet together need as a pre-requisite. While it doesn’t appear to have the same appeal as healing, miracles or even tongues it is essential to the spiritual success of the body of Christ. I don’t need to tell you that there is all sorts out there, masquerading as truth and “Christian”. But it is mixed with the wacky, the error filled and definitely not mainline Christian. We need to be protected from that. New believers need to grow in an environment that is safe and normal with teaching that is truly Christian. Also as you open yourself to the gifts of the spirit, words of wisdom, knowledge, prophecy and tongues with interpretations it has the potential for error to creep in. I know pastors who moved down this road of openness to the manifestation gifts of the Spirit only to retreat again when they were faced with some strange “words” that came to the assembled body of Christ in the name of the Lord but were not in anyway in accord with His written word. It can be a minefield. Remember the three sources I listed above: God, the devil and the flesh of man. Our own motives and intentions of heart can lead us astray and the congregation with us. I have seen it happen and heard of it happening to others. WE NEED THE GIFT OF DISCERNMENT now more than any other time in history.
Like other gifts, the discernment gift comes in all manner of manifestations. It maybe just the inkling that something is wrong. All mature believers ought to be able to spot the fake when it doesn’t stack up against the Truth of the Word Of God – The Bible. In Bible Gem 433 on Healing I mentioned counterfeit money and stated that you wouldn’t want to throw away the real money just because there was counterfeit. Are you aware of how they train experts in spotting counterfeit money? No, they don’t take them on a training course and familiarise them with all the past examples of counterfeit money. They train them with the real stuff until they know it is so well they can spot the counterfeit without an effort at all. That is essential for us as believers. We must know the Word of God to the point where we can spot any deviation from it.
But in addition to that it seems that God gives the safe guard of the gift of discernment as well. I know people who have this gift. For some it operates as a vision or the appearance of evil forces about the person who is in question. It is like these so gifted ones can see into the spiritual world and determine when there are demonic forces at work. Like Elisha being able to see the forces of heaven arrayed about them while Gehazi his servant didn’t have that ability (2 King 6:15-17). Some see the evil forces, others sense them with a word of wisdom, knowledge or prophetic word. I have been in situations where someone in the body has declared “there is a spirit of error operating here” or “I see the words Jezebel spirit” or “occult”. Other may just have a sense that something is not right about this and we need to pray and seek the Lord’s will here before we proceed. However it may come ask the Lord for His gift of discernment.
Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self.St Francis of Assisi
This truth is a remedy against spiritual pride, namely, that none should account himself better before God than others, though perhaps adorned with greater gifts, and endowments.Johann Arndt
Hell begins on the day when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved, of all the gifts which we have wasted, of all that we might have done which we did not do.Gian Carlo Menotti