The Gift of Discerning of Spirits (Part 1)

von Johannes Justus

From my point of view we urgently need the gift of discerning of spirits, although it is strongly in danger of being abused.

Risk management is an important task of leaders in commercial enterprises. How can risks be detected early on and thus potential damage be averted? This question is an important issue. We know early warning systems e.g. in road traffic or in meteorology. To me the gift of discerning of spirits is something like an early warning system in the spiritual realm.

The Greek word for “discernment” is diakrisis (1 Corinthians 12:10). It can also be translated as “separation” or “evaluation”. To discern includes to consider in a nuanced way, to examine closely and to finally pass judgment). This means to have great responsibility. Even though also the ministry in the gifts of the spirit is to be examined and judged (1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 Thessalonians 5:21), this scripture refers to the examination and judgment of spirits.

God triumphs over Evil Spirits

The following insight is fundamental: Not everything that is supernatural comes from God. Evil spirits are a reality. The bible mentions them. Evil spiritual forces have power, work in secret, and can even perform miracles. Jesus and his disciples often had to deal with evil spirits that worked in and through other human beings. An experience of Paul is remarkable as well: When he and his coworkers were walking about in Philippi a fortuneteller followed them for several days and shouted: “These men are servants of the Most High who proclaim salvation”. Her declaration was absolutely correct, but Paul recognized the spirit of divination in this woman and drove it out (Acts 16:16-18).

It seems the Holy Spirit activated an early warning system in the apostle. Even though the woman basically did not say anything incorrect, Paul had good reasons to silence her: 1. By doing so he safeguarded the church of Jesus. If he had acknowledged the word of this woman, additional doors might have been opened for her into Christian circles. 2. He could correct the woman and thus help her. 3. He exposed the evil spirit and in this way disclosed Satan’s craftiness to disguise himself. 4. He made clear that only God is to receive honor – not Satan and his demons.

I try to emphasize that the ministry in the gifts of the spirit is to be done from the perspective of Jesus’ victory on the cross. He shall receive the honor. Recently I spoke to a woman who strongly emphasizes the power of evil. I told her: “You give too much attention to the enemy. He receives too much honor from you. Concentrate on God’s capabilities and not on the fight”. We live and serve in the context of God’s victory. This should be our focus.

Criteria for Evaluation

Those who serve in the power of the Holy Spirit with the gift of discerning of spirits should evaluate and identify if God is really behind the words, behavior and motives of a person or not. This evaluation or discerning can be done on the basis of the following criteria:

  1. Is God glorified?
  2. Is Jesus and his redemptive work magnified?
  3. Is the word of God confirmed?
  4. Is the church edified?
  5. Is the individual led closer to God?

Prerequisites for Serving

Those who serve with this gift need a high degree of spiritual maturity and a deep understanding of the word of God, for the benchmark of testing is not one’s feeling, one’s opinion or one’s taste. The benchmark is what God says in his word or reveals through his spirit. One also needs to be willing to be in contact with others who are gifted and to get feedback from them. To go single-handedly in this matter is inadequate, because then one would be in danger of claiming to have the right perspective exclusively. Moreover, an awareness is needed that the difference between judging and condemning can be very small. God has not given his gifts that we elevate ourselves above others. God has good purposes with his gifts. Therefore he wants to bless us and edify his church with the gift of discerning of spirits.

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