One of the hardest challenges is to discern the spirit in which we are operating. The Apostle Paul explains it best in Romans 12:3, “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” In arrogance, we can become quickly deceived about ourselves.
The Apostle Paul also gave this warning, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). In Galatians 6:3 he states, “For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.” The truth is there is a great level of seduction that operates within the fallen nature of man, as well as in the realm of Satan, who is the father of lies (John 8:44). In fact, wherever sin operates unchecked, unchallenged, and not properly repented of, there is a deceivableness that operates with it (Hebrews 3:13).
The earthy man clearly thinks on a fleshly level. Romans 8:5-8 plainly describes the carnal mind of such a man, “For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh…For to be carnally minded is death…Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” The intelligence of man can only improperly judge the matters of God and not properly discern them. He will deem such spiritual issues as being foolish (1 Corinthians 1:23). In fact, to the unregenerate man God’s wisdom is sometimes too simple, obsolete, and obnoxious to contend with; therefore, Romans 12:2 tells us that the mind must be transformed. Philippians 2:5 tells us how such a feat will be accomplished. We must let the mind of Christ be in us, and 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 talks about vain, idolatrous imaginations of man while it goes on to exhort us to bring all thoughts into captivity to Christ.
This brings us down to what constitutes spirit. I have taught on this many times, but it is vital that believers are reminded of how the spirit behind them is established by their motivation, intention, and goals. Proverbs 16:2 tells us that all the ways of man are clean in his own eyes; but the Lord weighs the spirits behind a matter. In the NIV the word “spirits” has been replaced with the word “motives.” Motives of the carnal man are selfish, prideful, and treacherous. The fact that God is weighing the purpose and reasoning behind our emphasis and pursuits reveals that if our motives are not pure towards Him that all actions attached to them will be considered unacceptable and perverted. Such actions will also reveal that we are missing the mark of what can be counted as righteous.
The next question is how can we discern our real motives since we can easily be deceived about them? It comes down to our emphasis and pursuits. What we emphasize points to our agendas and will reveal what is important to us, and we will naturally be motivated to pursue such matters. Our emphasis will show us what is in our heart (Matthew 6:20-21). As Jesus said what is in our heart will naturally come out in our words (Matthew 15:17-20). It is easy to know people’s emphasis because it is what they talk about the most. Once you identify what a person talks about the most, it will be easy enough to see him or her pursue it. Pursuits are often identified by the type of fruits that they produce. The Apostle Paul stated what the heart of his motive was in Philippians 3:7-8, “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.” He then goes on to expound on his pursuit, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death (Philippians 3:10).
Jesus declared that the only right motive is a love for God and the love of God towards others (Matthew 22:37-40). This love can only come from God, and according to the Apostle Paul must be shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit and is the only way to fulfill the law of God (Romans 5:5; 13:8-10). When a person loves God with all of his or her heart, his or her pursuit will be to be know Him more, please Him most, and serve Him best (John 14:15).
When it comes to religious matters you will find out that people’s emphasis either becomes their calling or their cause. Many are called but few are chosen (Matthew 20:16). Those who are called must be prepared to walk it out, but sadly many people in the ministry are not patient enough to allow themselves to go through the preparation to ensure they are able to properly fulfill their calling. Moses spent 40 years in the wilderness and Jesus, the Son of God, spent 99 percent of his first 30 years in obscurity before His ministry started. His mission on earth lasted a little over three years. Man wants to trust three minutes of experience with God to keep his immature zeal going for a lifetime of service. The Apostle Paul warned about propping up the pride of novices in 1 Timothy 3:6, and making them targets of Satan. It does not matter how zealous or how needed a novice might be in the work of the kingdom, he or she must first be properly trained before being placed in any position.
I have been in full-time ministry for almost three decades and I have spent most of that time in preparation, seeking God’s perspective, studying His Word, and asking the Holy Spirit to teach me the lessons of my failures. I have also had to learn to discern between my calling and my personal causes. Christians can have great zeal for personal causes such as certain doctrines, teachings, or schools of thought, but such emphasis has to do with converting people to the person’s personal take on God’s Word and religion and not to the person of Jesus.
We are to grow in the knowledge of Jesus, not according to man’s personal take on religious issues. Keep in mind, the Holy Spirit’s main responsibility is to lead people into all truth about Jesus and not about the personal beliefs of those who may have a cause (John 15:26; 16:13; 1 John 2:27). I have watched causes strip people of their authority when it comes to the Word because it is not about what is true and right; rather, it is about the person proving he or she is right about the issue. I had to learn the only way that I could discern my causes from the cause of the Gospel (salvation of souls and discipleship) was to discern if the big “I” of my personal agendas were out of the way and that my main desire was to see Jesus lifted up so others could be saved and fall in love with Him (John 12:32).
As believers we are here to point people to Christ so they can be converted to Him, not point them to our pet doctrines or causes. The passion we often feel for our causes should be transferred to the Lord and our emphasis on our particular take on a matter must be tested in light of the whole counsel of the Word of God to ensure that it lines up to the heart of God. As we are reminded, we are to live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God, and not by some man-made effort of picking and choosing from the Word of God according to what fits a personal narrative (Matthew 4:4). It is important to note that the Holy Spirit will only anoint that which lifts up Jesus and His work of redemption in unadulterated truth.
The second aspect of spirit is the intent behind something. Intent points to priorities and comes down to our determinations. What are we determined to accomplish or bring about in the end? Jeremiah 29:11 reveals God’s intentions towards us, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” We know God’s intention towards us is pure, but in the carnal man, determinations are hard to discern because they can be wrapped up in a type of piousness that covers up any self-serving intentions. The underlying intention of the carnal man is to bring some type of honor and recognition to himself. The truth is fallen man wants to feel good in his sin, justify his transgression with the blame game, and cover up his iniquity with pious appearances and self-serving deeds. Such a man is looking to get something out of what he says and does, and if he does not receive his intended end, he will become treacherous in his dealings.
It is for this reason that we are told in Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner to the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Notice, the Word of God will penetrate the excuses, cut away deceptive cloaks, and reveal the deceptive thoughts of our hearts. It will expose our real intention in a situation. The Apostle Paul revealed his heart-felt intention in Galatians 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
The final aspect of spirit has to do with our goals which determine our focus and direction in a matter. Our goals may be honorable but if our motives and intentions are not, it will bring confusion and defeat in our lives. It is important that we discern if our motives and intentions are lining up to honorable goals. People who are divided in their soul about such matters will become double-minded in all their ways (James 1:8).
The main goal of the Spirit is to lead us into a place of true communion and worship, but the main goal of the wrong spirit is to cause man to worship Satan (Matthew 4:8-10). The real key to discerning any spirit is who is being lifted up and exalted. If a person comes out being impressed with anyone or anything other than the Lord, a wrong spirit has been in operation.
To maintain a unified spirit and soul in relationship to our spiritual lives, we need to discern what our motives and intentions are towards God. It is easy to start out right and ever so slightly move away from the Lord. We need to take stock of the spirit we are operating in and our reactions to matters in order to maintain the clarity of our discernment.
In Luke 9:52-56, James and John wanted to call fire down from heaven upon the Samaritans because they would not receive Jesus. However, Jesus’ motive was that He did not come to judge but to save and He rebuked the two brothers in Luke 9:55 by saying, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.”
It is hard for man to realize that logic will not do well for him when it comes to the spiritual realm. He must learn to discern even the spirit he is operating within. There are three spirits in operation in the world as I have already mentioned: The Holy Spirit, the natural spirit, and the spirit of the world, Satan (1 Corinthians 2:11-14). When we consider James and John in Luke 9, they took offense for Jesus and ended up operating according to their natural spirits. They were assuming much about their righteous indignation and I am sure were surprised when Jesus rebuked them instead of admiring their zealous commitment to take offense for Him.
I can’t tell you how many immature Christians, and even some of the more mature Christians, fall into this trap of taking offense for the Lord and then decide to take matters in their own hands to somehow right it. God does not need people to take offense for Him or to take matters into their own hands to make sure it comes out right, while thinking they are doing God a favor. God’s thoughts and ways are higher and far more excellent and eternal than our low-based thoughts of this present age and our self-serving ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). The only thing we are to stand for is His truth in meekness (2 Timothy 2:25).
It is because we sometimes, as believers, operate in a fickle state (between the spirit and the flesh) that we must not assume we are always conducting ourselves in a right way when it comes to taking some type of noble stand for religious causes; but, we must consider what spirit we are operating in because it will determine how we perceive things, handle truths, and the fruits that will be produced. It is natural for people to assume that if something makes sense it must be okay, but discernment is not about what sounds logical, appears reasonable, and fits into our personal narrative. Discernment is about effectively testing the unseen realm of the spiritual world.
Last month I talked about the Holy Spirit. Unless we understand His character and work, we cannot properly discern Him. Without His presence and work in individual believers and in the church (assembly), nothing will be accomplished in light of eternity. The Spirit always leaves the mark of eternity on His work and dealings.
It is also important to note that only the Spirit of God can enable believers to discern what is of God and what is of the wrong spirit. It is for this reason that unregenerate man will rely on his intellect, his feelings, and his personal take on matters to draw conclusions. However, the Bible is clear that man cannot trust conclusions that are based on his own understanding. Proverbs 3:5-7, “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil.”
We must seek the Lord’s perspective, knowing that only the unseen can only be revealed by the Spirit to the eyes of faith and the pure heart. We must be able to recognize the intent of God concerning a spiritual matter because in His intent His will, will be revealed. God’s motive is love and His intention is reconciliation, but His goal is to save us. The intent of His Spirit is to bring glory to God and His goal is to lift up Jesus to draw each of us to the Lover of our soul.
The first thing we must acknowledge about the Holy Spirit is that He is not some type of “force”; rather, He is a person. Daniel 11:38 states, “But in his estate shall he honour the God of forces: and a god whom his fathers knew not shall he honour with gold, and silver, and with precious stones and pleasant things.” Sadly, the god of forces is being promoted today. In reality he is the god of this world posing as the New Age god that promotes collective salvation (a type of universalism), a social gospel, and a Gnostic approach which tolerates amoral conduct while promoting enlightenment as the way of salvation. The Holy Spirit is missing from this anti-Christ agenda and will have no part in any of it.
As a person the Holy Spirit has a personality that allows us to know and interact with Him. As far as the throne of God, the Holy Spirit reveals only what He hears from the throne, but when it comes to the gifts, He will give such gifts as He so wills (John 16:13; 1 Corinthians 12:7-11).
He did not come to promote Himself or His work; rather, He came to exalt Jesus and point man to His redemption, righteousness, and the judgment to come. He is the gift sent by the Son and the promise given by the Father. His presence can be sensed by open, receptive hearts, but not calculated by the intelligence of man; His work must be submitted to, not reasoned out; His touch must be discerned and not blindly experienced because there is some type of supernatural aspect attached to it. He is holy; therefore, the profane will cause Him to withdraw. He inspires greatness but is easily vexed by rebellion. He is gentle; therefore, He can be easily resisted with unbecoming attitudes and conduct that will grieve Him. He brings comfort, but His type of peace can be misread or abused, ultimately quenching Him and producing negative fruits. He can’t be lied to without judgment, or mocked without dancing close to blasphemy, and ignored and rejected without experiencing a lifeless vacuum in the soul (Isaiah 63:10; Matthew 12:25-31; Luke 24:49; John 14:26; 16:7-11; Acts 1:4; 5:4, 9; 2:38; Ephesians 4:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20).
The Holy Spirit is the sole inspiration and source behind all that is pure, good, and righteous. Romans 14:17 states, “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” It is easy to debate the spirit behind our activities, but if it does not produce righteousness, peace, and joy then it is safe to conclude the Holy Spirit is not in a matter. Notice how righteousness comes first, then peace with God producing joy in the Holy Spirit.
Next month I will deal with the other two spirits, but meanwhile, consider asking the Lord for discernment so you can try the spirits of others and effectively examine the spirit you are operating in.