Who is a suitable person to serve with the gift of discerning of spirits? How can this gift be applied in practice?
The overall testimony of the Bible points to the reality of the spiritual world and also of the evil activities of Satan. He and his demons work out of the darkness into the lives of human beings and intend to bring destruction. However, those who live with Jesus can take on the perspective of victory, because Jesus has come to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). Through his work at the cross he has deprived the devil of his power and wants to free all those who are kept in slavery (Hebrews 2:14-15). The gift of discerning of spirits supports the victory of light over darkness.
It is not always possible to recognize right away if we are dealing with the kingdom of light or the kingdom of darkness because the devil likes to disguise himself as an angel of light (Matthew 24:24, 2 Corinthians 11:14). He is the master of pretense. Therefore we need people in our churches, who serve with the gift of discerning of spirits. To test the spirits a lot of experience and maturity in the faith is needed (Hebrews 5:14). Of course, exceptions confirm the rule, but spiritual matters must be judged spiritually. It is not about rendering a quick verdict emotionally, but a decision should be reached only after a process of testing and pondering
4 stages of testing
Let us assume you are challenged to serve with this gift in a given situation. In that case the process of testing can e.g. have four stages for you:
First of all you sense that something is not right. There is an uneasiness rising up in you. Maybe there is an image or a vision before your eyes. Maybe you hear an inner voice. At any rate, something appears on your spiritual radar screen (e.g. Acts 5:3). You become aware of the mandate to test the spirits (1 John 4:1). You react to this inner unrest and become attentive in your inner man.
You ask yourself: “Is this about my own feelings or is this really the Holy Spirit drawing my attention towards a certain issue?” You ponder things in your heart. Be careful: The mere fact that you are not used to something does not mean an evil spirit is at work. Even the will of God can be unusual for as sometimes. He is above our customs, above our preferences, and above what we consider appropriate. Once Jesus walked on water and went to his disciples who were in a boat. This seemed unusual to them and they assumed him to be a ghost (Matthew 14:26).
After listening closely and testing the situation on the basis of the word of God, you arrived at an inner assurance. You possibly communicate and finetune with spiritual leaders or other Christians present. This will save you from the insecurities of acting single-handedly. Your assurance will ultimately give you the necessary firmness to act.
You confront the spirit and bring it to light. One thing is important here: It is always a matter of how this is done. The truth must be told in love (Ephesians 4:15). In this situation neither the manifestation nor the evil spirit should be focused on, but rather God’s purpose to encourage and to exhort through this gift. Individuals involved should not be attacked, but their confidence should be won and the individuals brought back on course.
The gift of discerning of spirits is not a random judging of situations and people. The focus is to bring the works of the evil one to light so that God gets all the glory and the church is edified. Especially in our time with its increased interest in spiritism and the occult, we urgently need the gift of discerning of spirits. I would like to encourage the body of Christ to reach out boldly for this gift and to utilize it to minister with wisdom and confidence in the Lord.