by Jeannette Haley
We often wonder how many professing Christians have truly noticed that we are living in tumultuous, confusing and more often than not, frightening times. On the surface, it would appear that most are content to remain in their insulated religious bubble and leave all the “heavy stuff” to their pastor, or politicians. Besides, politicians keep making promises, and preachers (except for a remnant) do the same. Both professional politicians and professional pastors want to preserve their power. Both, “through covetousness” and “with feigned words make merchandise” of people (see 2 Peter 2:3) and both “serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” (Romans 16:18.) Both fulfill Paul’s exhortation in 2 Timothy 3:13, ‘But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.”
For well over a century, the Church has inched her way closer to the world. The two-edged sword of the Word of God exchanged long ago by her watchmen for man’s philosophies and vain deceits. In her compromise, she has allowed the holy fire of the Gospel that once burned bright and strong to dim, while she unashamedly poured her wealth into bigger buildings, grander entertainment and the promulgation of man’s kingdoms. Lust for money and power has been cloaked by a façade of respectability granted through titles and “divinity” degrees while men’s souls languish in the ash heaps of sin, despair and destruction.
Where is discernment in all this? Who can properly discern the absence of the Holy Spirit and His anointing in the worldly church, or the absence of common sense, integrity and character in the political scene? Who can discern a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or the times in which we live and the lateness of the hour? A person without discernment is blind, and as such, can easily be led by the blind. “Having eyes, see ye not? And having ears, hear ye not?” Mark 8:18a.
God’s people are indeed destroyed for lack of knowledge—that knowledge being of God and His Word. Likewise, America is being destroyed from a lack of knowledge of both God’s Word and history. Many Americans are beginning to wake up to the fact that we have lost the cultural war because we have drifted from our foundation, and that foundation is God and His Word. Therefore, who is to blame for this headlong plunge into apostasy and ruin? Author Brannon Howse, in the introduction to his book, “Grave Influence” answers this question: “The culture war itself has been merely the symptom of a much more profound conflict—a spiritual battle that most Christians don’t understand and are ill-equipped to fight. In fact, our losing the culture war is directly tied to the fact that American Christians, churches, Christian colleges, and seminaries have not done an adequate job in understanding what they believe, why they believe it, and proclaiming it from an uncompromising biblical standpoint…. What we must now come to grips with is how to handle the new reality in which we live. The solidly post-Christian culture that Francis Schaeffer warned of more than two decades ago is now here. Conservative commentator Patrick Buchanan describes what has happened: The European-Christian core of the country that once defined us is shrinking, as Christianity fades, the birth rate falls, and Third World immigration surges. Globalism dissolves the economic bonds, while the cacophony of multiculturalism displaces the old American culture.”
While church leadership is definitely on the hot seat in this matter, we must also take to task each individual within congregations of churches. After all, on Judgment Day, it will be individuals, not groups of Christians, who stand before the Lord and give an account of their lives. No one can point a finger of blame at his or her pastor or leader for his or her own failure to obey the Lord’s instructions to give the Gospel to the lost, be a light in this dark world, to make disciples of Jesus (not a church), and to love God and others in word, deed and action. We need to repent—as a nation, as the Church and as individuals. We need to seek God, fall at His feet, and ask for wisdom and discernment to replace our folly and fun-loving foolishness.
Discernment is not only necessary to help chart our course through the barren wilderness of this present world, but it serves as our compass in the religious terrain of the times in which we live. The tangled jungle of error and heresy that a Christian must wade through requires experienced “navigational” skills (discernment) if God’s people are to overcome and maintain their testimony and purity before the Lord. We need to beware of groups emerging from the tyranny, fear and chaos of our times who offer a way out by separating ourselves, and joining them in establishing “the kingdom of God” on earth. It may appear to be “right” on the surface, but underneath it is “another gospel.” The sad truth is many undiscerning Christians who are unskillful in the Word, are left to define Christianity for themselves and are joining the ranks of this fast-growing movement.
How does a person acquire discernment? Can a person purchase it in a “discernment store,” steal it from another, or gain it from reading about it? Of course not! As with any spiritual gift, one must begin with God. Unless a person knows God personally through the Lord Jesus Christ, and knows the Word of God, and the Spirit behind the Word, he or she cannot possess true spiritual discernment. When I speak of knowing the Word of God, I mean studying it for yourself, sitting at the feet of Jesus so that He (by the Spirit) can open up the incredible truths, depths, beauty, life, and message of God’s Word to you in true revelation. This, followed by your working it out through obedience in your own life, will make it a reality. It is shocking how many professing Christians truly do not know the Word of God. Most have never read the Bible through, even once, and if they do read it, either they read it through their own preconceptions, or through a modernized, watered-down “version” lacking in accuracy, truth, life, revelation, and anointing that generally leaves a person spiritually dry, dull and bored half to death.
Spiritual discernment is a two-edged sword of Spirit and truth. Truth keeps us grounded in reality, and God’s perspective. Jesus explained, “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth; for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak; and he will shew you things to come” John 16:13. If we are to remain standing when all else has fallen around us, we must know the truth, be solidly grounded in the truth, and able to maintain the truth to the end. In 1 Corinthians 2:11-13 we read, “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” The Holy Spirit will “teach” our spirit in the matters of discernment if we seek, ask and knock.
We must beware of the many spirits that counterfeit the work of the Holy Spirit; therefore, many well-meaning, but deceived people operate in something other than the Holy Spirit. This is why a person must be truly born again of the Spirit of God in order to have true discernment. “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” 1 Corinthians 2:14. The natural man, however, has a natural drawing towards “spiritual” things whose source is not of God. The overwhelming success of the Harry Potter series is a good example of this. People are fascinated with witchcraft and anything supernatural. In our many years of ministry, we have lost count of all the spirits we have encountered in people who have been deceived into thinking that the spirit they have received (see 2 Corinthians 11:4) is the Holy Spirit. Some of the most common spirits are the antichrist spirit, religious spirits, familiar spirits, lying spirits, spirits of fear and lust, mocking spirits, and a spirit of pride.
How does a person open the door to “another spirit?” There is any number of ways, especially if a person has not been broken at the foot of the cross in true humility and repentance. If a person is merely tacking Jesus on to their life (so he or she can maintain control), he or she will be operating in a false spirit due to pride, rebellion, idolatry, and disobedience, regardless of how “religious” he or she might be on the surface. One’s motivation for seeking for the gift of discernment must be pure. There must be genuine love for both Spirit and truth in order to bring glory to God, not to self.
Some have maintained that you can discern a false spirit by the fruit that it produces. That may be true some of the time, but is not necessarily true all of the time. Sometimes false fruit can be very convincing and deceptive. True discernment involves both Spirit and truth; therefore, if the fruit lines up with truth, or appears to be Scriptural, but the spirit behind it is wrong, then you know it is not of God. It takes true spiritual discernment to recognize it for what it is. In 1 John 4:1 we read, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”
Another word that describes discernment is perception. We see this word used to describe people with discernment in both the Old and New Testaments. For example, the woman at the well in John 4:19 said to Jesus, “Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.” She was confident in her conclusion of who Jesus was through discernment. King David “perceived that the Lord had established him king over Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom for his people Israel’s sake” 2 Samuel 5:12. Consider the Shunamite woman whose discernment led her to say to her husband, “Behold now, I perceive that this is a holy man of God, which passeth by us continually” 2 Kings 4:9. In the face of an enemy, Nehemiah’s discernment was keen. He said, “And, lo, I perceived that God had not sent him….Nehemiah 6:12a. King Solomon prayed for discernment in 1 Kings 3:9 so that he could discern between good and bad for the sake of God’s people. We also see an example in Ecclesiastes 2:14 of the Holy Spirit instructing King Solomon. The Spirit’s instruction to Peter in Acts 10:34 says, “Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.” In Acts 8:23 we see discernment in action as Peter stated, “For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.”
Discernment can alert us with a sudden strong feeling that transcends our physical senses, or it can be a persistent sense or knowing about something, depending on the situation. Reactions to different spirits can also vary, depending on what they are. Speaking for myself, here are some of the initial reactions I experience when encountering different spirits: Spirit of error (especially with subtle Scripture twisting designed to undermine truth): Heightened sense of increased heart rate, tightening of stomach muscles and agitation. Antichrist Spirit: Unclean or spiritually weary as if the life has been sucked out of you. Religious Spirit: Utter disgust. Spirit of fear: Desire to get away from it. Spirit of lust, or unclean spirit: Nausea, revulsion. Lying spirit: Irritation. Mocking spirit: Anger. Spirit of insanity: Want to flee. Spirit of pride: Repulsed. Spirit of self-pity: Antipathy.
Remember, any reaction to a spirit is not to the person through whom the spirit operates, but to the spirit behind him or her. To respond properly to such encounters will depend on the situation, and what the Lord tells each of us to do, or not to do. We must always take it to the Lord in prayer, be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading, and then obey.
A word of caution: If a person is operating out of pride, true discernment will elude him or her. God resists the proud, but He will grant discernment to those who seek Him in true humility. The danger is when a person operates out of his or her own understanding instead of by the Holy Spirit, he or she will become judgmental instead of discerning. The motivation is wrong, thus the spirit behind it is wrong. The ever-present temptation in religious circles is to exalt self, gain acceptance and even a following, and to appear as a “spiritual expert.” In God’s kingdom, there are no “spiritual experts,” only humble servants whose sole desire is to bring glory to God, not self. After all, discernment is for the purpose of avoiding pitfalls, and to set the captives free, and bring them to Jesus so they may be reconciled to God in purity and wholeness.
One of the damaging fruits of pride in action is a critical spirit that judges others from the point of respect of persons (which God never does). What I mean by this is pride has its own prejudices and preferences. Therefore, instead of discerning where a struggling person really is, pride will automatically judge him or her based on the person’s religious affiliation, creed, theology, associations, background, personality and so forth. This judging is by “sight” and is fleshly judging at its worst. After all, people are rarely in total agreement with one another on every issue or conclusion, but pride thinks it has all the answers about everything.
Jesus dealt with this issue when He taught, “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye” Matthew 7:3-5.
True spiritual discernment is precious. It is not given to us so that we can use it for our own benefit, and abuse it at the expense of others. All that God gives us is for the express purpose of bringing honor and glory to God in humble service to people in any way we are able. True ministry is being a servant wherever we are, every day of our lives as we submit to our Lord. Sadly, Christians today have a skewed idea of what ministry really is in God’s eyes.
Are you relying on the Holy Spirit to help you discern the times in which we live, and to discern the spirits behind the many false prophets among us today? Or, do you rely on your own intellect and conclusions to help you steer around the destructive pitfalls and snares of Satan? If so, you are heading for a fall, and you need to repent and seek God’s forgiveness. May God grant us wisdom and discernment! †