Discernment (Part 4) -Testing The Spirit

      I have been dealing with the issue of discernment. If there is any confusion between prideful, personal judgment and true spiritual discernment, I do hope these articles will clear it up. Jesus talked about righteous judgment in John 7:24, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” You cannot rightly judge unless you know how to rightly discern. Simply put, if you are not properly discerning, you will be void of the means to make a righteous judgment about a matter. All matters of God must first be discerned before they can be correctly understood (1 Corinthians 2:14).

       Clearly, wrong judgment is based on appearances and appearance usually stirs up prejudices and biases. Prejudice is often based on presumptions and bias either has affections or some type of bribery attached to it where judgment will be adjusted to fit the narrative while overlooking what is true and real. We know that King Saul was the people’s preference because he looked the part of a king, while David was God’s choice because of his heart. We are told that God had to give Saul a new heart because he really did not have the heart to be king (1 Samuel 9:2; 10:1-9; 13:14).

       The prophet Samuel even fell into the trap of outward appearance. When he considered Jesse’s sons, he felt that the oldest son fit the description of a king, but the Lord instructed him in 1 Samuel 16:7, “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.”

       I have read this Scripture many times and I know through the years preachers have made reference to it, but how many of us still look on the outside of a person and judge him or her based on personal opinions and feelings? How many of us see color, race, physical challenges, and etc. upfront and immediately draw a conclusion instead of properly discerning a matter as a means to come to righteous judgment?

       Our prejudices highlight what we take offense against, while our biases overlook the offense of those we prefer or protect. We can see the sliver in everyone else’s eye but we are blinded by our own board of judgment in our eye that perverts what we do see. This board taints everything including our attitudes, while justifying wicked actions and evil fruit. This not only affects how we see a matter but how we hear something. Jesus made reference to this very fact in Luke 8:18, “Take heed therefore how ye hear; for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosever hath not from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have.”   

       It is clear that we must learn to discern the unseen elements. Some question the importance of discerning, especially since we are educated, possess religious degrees, and have our doctrines down pat, but man’s intelligence is incapable of discerning the unseen realm. Man’s logic deals with the physical material world, while showing skepticism towards the unseen realm (1 Corinthians 1:20-25). In fact, matters concerning the unseen realm are often mocked by these people and totally ignored altogether.

       As stated before, we can only properly discern the unseen spiritual world by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:10-14). It is for this reason that 1 John 4:1 instructs us to try the spirits. The word “try” has to do with testing (challenging) the spirit or examining it with the intent of either approving of it or disproving of it. It is important to point out the need to test all spirits behind all matters.

       The question is why do we need to test the spirit behind a matter? Testing the spirit is necessary to determine if we can come into agreement with someone, a teaching, or a movement. Agreement has to do with what we expose ourselves to when it comes to what are we going to allow to influence our thinking. The Apostle Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 6:15-16, “And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” If a person exposes him or herself to a wrong spirit, the person will lose his or her spiritual edge to discern what is really going on.

       We knew a minister’s wife who had tremendous discernment. However, she exposed herself to the doctrine of a famous movement and the last time we saw her she had lost much of her discerning edge. It is vital that even though we as believers may know that someone seems scripturally on, we still must try the spirit behind the person to see if we can expose ourselves spiritually in each matter. You need to keep in mind that the underlying goal of preaching, teaching, music, radio, TV, and the movie industry is to try to influence each of us in our attitude and way of thinking when it comes to the matters of the world. The more we as Christians expose ourselves to the wicked agenda of the world, the more we will be dulled down and rendered ineffective in our Christian walk by the spirit of the world.

       For example, consider the emphasis of most of Hollywood and the media which is political correctness and promoting the agenda of the LBGT community. Whether it is subtle or blatant, most of the media is trying to influence society by conditioning it to embrace what was once considered morally wrong. All you have to do is closely listen to various people on both sides of the aisle (Liberal and Conservative) to see how successful this conditioning has been in influencing people’s worldview. The liberals have become “progressive,” communistic in their thinking, while the moderates have become liberal and the conservatives are now moderates, and those who maintain real conservative views are becoming the enemy.

       Let me ask you a question, how much has your attitude changed about certain conduct over the last 10 to 20 years? When I was a new Christian, an unmarried couple living together was wrong, but now it is acceptable and those who are living in such a manner (including people in churches) do so without their consciences being pricked even in the slightest way; but, has God changed His mind about such matters? In Malachi 3:6, we read this statement, “For I am the LORD, I change not.” In Deuteronomy 27:11-28:58 the Lord was clear that those who live morally contrary to His Law will bring themselves under a curse and eventually judgment.

       The moral climate of the day is not new, and all you have to do is study history to know the consequences for societies and nations who give way to such immoral practices. Should we also be surprised that it is happening today because the Apostle Paul made this statement in 1 Timothy 4:1-2, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron.” Society is calling good evil and evil good. That, my friend, should be a frightening reality to each of us because Isaiah 5:20 clearly states, “Woe” to such individuals!

       Consider homosexuality. A couple of decades ago it was a disgrace and was rejected by a general consensus. When Ellen DeGeneres came out of the closet on her sitcom TV show to reveal her preference, her show was cancelled, but now look at her popular talk show. Thanks to sitcoms like Will and Grace, and other media promotion, this subject has taken center stage and is being pushed down our throats as being normal and acceptable. What once was considered normal and acceptable such as marriage between one man and woman is often treated as being obsolete, and those who actually have the audacity to believe that it is the only acceptable union in the eyes of God when it comes to the sacred institution He ordained, are considered to be abnormal, unloving, or homophobic and treated as the enemy that must be subdued or done away with altogether.

       But, there is even a greater tragedy, and that has to do with some of the visible church accepting homosexuality as being normal. Bibles are being adjusted to condone this abomination, preachers are embracing it in the name of love, certain church denominations are opening their pulpits up to those who are practicing this lifestyle, and some well-known Christians are jumping ship to pursue this lustful preference.

       I hope you are getting my point. The church Jesus died for should be setting the moral trend as the light in any nation; instead, the world has come into the church and is now setting an amoral trend as the church loses its light to stand distinct and its salt of truth to make a distinction (Matthew 5:13-16). And, it all comes down to how much Christians have exposed themselves to the spirit of the world. If you expose yourself enough to something, then you will take on the understanding and the attitude of what you are allowing to influence your thinking.

       It amazes me that many Christians think they can expose themselves to wrong spirits and not be affected or influenced in some way. Yet, the Lord tells us if we recognize there is a wrong spirit, we should not be casual and tell ourselves, “It can’t hurt me, I can handle it;” rather, we need to separate ourselves from it for there can be no real agreement. Amos 3:3 simply states, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?“

       As believers we must not assume that if the person’s doctrine is right that the individual is always operating in a right spirit, or because you agree with the person for the most part about spiritual truths and practices, it does not mean you put down your guard and simply go along with everything that person is saying and promoting. As believers, we have a responsibility to try the spirit behind any and all matters to see if there is genuine agreement in Spirit and truth present. If not, we should not toy or play around with thinking “it’s no big deal;” rather, we must separate ourselves from it to protect the true integrity of our Christian testimony and walk.

       This brings us down to what constitutes spirit. The Bible is clear that deep calls to deep (Psalm 42:7). This concept means we have a natural tendency to come into agreement with people with like spirit in their belief, thinking, and agendas. We either sink to greater lows with those we agree with or we strive to greater heights with those who are truly honorable. People who cannot find common ground will never be able to have agreement. Jesus put this matter into simple terms in Matthew 12:25-31, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.” If you follow Jesus’ teaching it was in relationship to a wrong spirit. He was being accused of having the spirit of the devil and not the Spirit of God. 

      It’s clear that the visible church has been in the simmering water of compromise for some time, but now it clearly sits in the boiling water of complacency without any real concern for its indifferent state and the inability of its members to discern and separate that which is unacceptable to God. This indifference displayed by the visible church towards the distinct aspects of God’s character such as holiness that demands excellence from believers, creates an unholy mixture that not only robs people of their ability to discern, but has allowed the life to be sucked out of the environment, killed many testimonies, and destroyed any real authority and power.

      The Apostle Paul refers to three major spirits in 1 Corinthians 2:11-14: the Holy Spirit, the natural spirit of man, and the spirit of the world, Satan. The question is how do we discern these three spirits? After all, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day accused Him of having a demon and not the Holy Spirit. We are warned that Satan can come as an angel of light, deceitful workers can come across as apostles, and wrong spirits can present themselves as ministers of righteousness (Matthew 12:25-31; 2 Corinthians 11:10-14).

      To properly discern a spirit, we must understand the one true Spirit that all wrong spirits counterfeit in some way. I learned a long time ago that bank tellers learn how to discern counterfeit money, not by studying the counterfeits but by familiarizing themselves with real money. There is a certain color and feel to real money, and even though the counterfeit is very close to the real thing, its color is a bit off and the texture is not correct.

      To properly discern wrong spirits we must understand the Person and work of the only right spirit: the Holy Spirit.  Sadly, many in the religious realm have no clue about the Spirit of God. Granted, they have their pet doctrines about Him, but the reality is they have no ability to really discern Him. When it comes to the visible church’s presentation of the Holy Spirit, extremes reign through ignorance and superstition. Either everything supernatural is accredited to the Holy Spirit or the Holy Spirit is some vague doctrine that does not really have a major role in the church. Some reject His presence, while a few become silly when they encounter Him because they don’t know what to do with Him, and others justify absolute insanity and chaos in His name. In many cases, His work has been replaced with worldly methods, fleshly worship, and religious programs.

      To put it bluntly, without the Spirit present, a church might as well close its doors. There will be no real anointing in teaching to challenge souls in the transforming ways of righteousness, no power on the preaching to wake up souls with conviction of sin, no authority in ministering to struggling souls, and no salvation of lost souls. The life changing work that needs to be done in churches is done by the Holy Spirit. He is the promise and gift to the Church as well as its seal until the day of redemption, and for leaders or denominations to act as if there is no need for the presence or work of the Spirit in the Body of Christ is not just ignorant and misleading, but heretical and could be operating close to disdain or blasphemy because His work is either being shut down or it is being accredited to Satan (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-8; 2:38; Ephesians 1:11-14).

      Jesus was quite clear that He needed to leave so the Holy Spirit could be sent as our true Comforter (John 16:7). The Spirit would do greater work than Jesus did (John 14:12). Christ was one man, but the Body of Jesus would be made up of many members; and through the members, the work of the Holy Spirit would be multiplied many times over. Keep in mind, believers would do the same work as Jesus. After all, a person is born again with the Spirit of God, prepared, empowered, and sanctified by the Spirit.

      Next month I will discuss the character and work of the Holy Spirit. Meanwhile consider what your understanding about the Holy Spirit is, and the attitude you have developed towards Him. If you do not regard Him, know you will be void of discernment and power to live the Christian life.