“Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)
Godly discernment is the divine ability to rightly judge what is going on. In its broadest sense, discernment is closely related to wisdom as an expression of the spirit of God. By this Spirit, we can function in the manner that Jesus did: “He [did] not judge by the sight of His eyes, nor decide by the hearing of His ears” (Isa. 11:2-3).
As believers, we should always seek after wisdom. What’s more, as James 1:5 and 6 remind us, we can be sure we’ll receive it when we ask in faith!
Discernment grows as we read and study God’s Word, practice holy living as God desires, pray and ask, and gain experience.1
A more specific form of discernment, discerning of spirits, is a spiritual gift imparted by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:10). It is also closely related to wisdom, but it is somewhat different in that it involves specific knowledge given supernaturally. Because of this, the gift of discernment is sometimes considered a special expression of the word of knowledge.
Distinguishing the Source
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God…” (1 John 4:1)
Discerning of spirits involves distinguishing between the three possible sources of spiritual motivation and activity. The three areas of spirit activity are:
- The Spirit of God: Most important is being able to discern the activity of the Holy Spirit; He will also give the ability to recognize the activity and presence of angels.2
-The spirit of man: Discerning the spirit of man involves perceiving the true motivation or intent behind a person’s words or actions. Peter, for example, determined that Simon’s heart was not right in asking for authority to lay hands on individuals to impart the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17-24).
- The spirit of Satan: Discerning the spirit of Satan or demons includes identifying when someone has a demonic problem, or determining when something is from Satan rather than God. Jesus demonstrated this type of discernment when He rebuked Peter by saying, “Get behind Me, Satan.” He rightly determined that Peter’s declaration came from Satan and was contrary to God’s purpose (Matt. 16:22-23).
Identifying The Purposes
Of course, God would not give us the spiritual gift of discernment for no reason. The major reasons are:
- To test the genuineness of the spirits behind spirit manifestation. This is the most primary application—to know those who acknowledge and confess Christ and to have knowledge of the Holy Spirit’s movement so as to cooperate with Him.3
- To enable deliverance from demonic spirits. Jesus did this often, as in Mark 9:25, when He rebuked the deaf and dumb spirit.
I was once part of a small group of women who met for fellowship and prayer. At the end of one meeting, a woman laid hands on another woman who had been ill for some time with a lingering cough. The sick woman began feeling better right away, but oddly enough, the woman who had prayed for her began feeling poorly shortly after.
I had not been present at this meeting, but after being contacted by the second woman and learning she was about to be hospitalized with bronchitis, I discerned that a spirit manifesting as sickness had passed from the first woman to her. I met with her, read several scriptures, cast out the spirit, and she was healed immediately! (Don’t let this make you afraid to pray for the sick—this was extremely unusual!)
More recently, the Lord’s been giving me dreams revealing regional spirits as we prepare for a state prayer journey (we’re from Montana). One, for instance, involved the era of cattle rustling, which released a spirit of robbery!
- To discern the presence of angels or demons at a service or occasion of ministry. In the New Testament, Paul very effectively determined the source of the slave girl’s words—on the surface, it seemed of God, but it was actually demonic and causing great disruption in their midst (Acts 16:16-18).
- To expose deceivers/deception and error. This will become increasingly essential as we move toward the end of the age.4
Cultivating The Gift
“But solid food belongs to those who are of full age… who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Heb. 5:14)
The Lord is bringing new levels of discernment to His people—discernment is like a weapon you can shoot and use often. If you desire to grow in the gift of discernment:
- Ask! We have a good heavenly Father who gives good gifts.
- Determine to fellowship with believers who can help guide you as you gain experience.
- Seek after wisdom.
- Keep in mind that, like all gifts related to the prophetic, the purpose of discernment is to bring life and to build up the body of Christ—not to tear down. We must be cognizant, not critical—Spirit-led, not suspicious.
A season of accelerated harvest is about to begin, just as the people of God are about to reach the age of maturity. Using godly discernment, we will be able to unmask deception as well as recognize the presence of angels in order to cooperate with them to bring in the harvest!
For further study:
See also 2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Pet 1:13-19; Matt. 7:7-11.
John 1:32-34; Matt. 4:11
1 Cor. 12:3; John 3:8
Matt. 24:24; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; 1 Tim. 4:1-2
Want to learn more about spiritual warfare?
Enroll in Cindy Jacobs' foundational teaching on spiritual warfare. Nations all over the world have seen change by understanding and applying these principles. This online-video course will equip you to walk victoriously, activate your faith, and activate you as an agent of transformation.