Contending for the faith | Making Disciples | Equipping the Saints for Ministry

   by Jeannette Haley

One of the greatest needs of the body of Christ today is discernment. Just what is discernment anyway?

According to Webster’s Dictionary, discernment means the following: 1: an act of discerning 2: skill in discerning or discriminating: keenness of insight. Also, discrimination, perception, penetration, insight, acumen. A power to see what is not evident to the average mind.

Discernment is not to be confused with judging!

How many times have you had a deep, inner conviction, (insight), that something was not quite right with another person’s motivation only to be condemned by others as being judgmental? This brings to mind Matthew 7:1-2 where Jesus warned, “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”

The Greek word for “judge” in these verses is krino which means, to distinguish, i.e. decide (mentally or judicially); to try, condemn, punish:–avenge, conclude, condemn, damn, decree, determine, esteem, call in question.

One may conclude, then, that the spirit and motivation behind discernment is totally the opposite of judging.

Christians are given this commandment in 1 John 4:1: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” In the Greek the word try is dokimazo which means to test, approve:–allow, discern, examine, prove, try.

Trying then (or testing) the spirit behind those who claim to speak for God is discernment, not judging. Furthermore, it is done in obedience to the clear teaching of scripture. Failure to adhere to the Word of God on this point is not only disobedience, but dangerous. Willful ignorance in this area is akin to walking blindfolded into the enemy’s camp.

Today the church is exposed to all manner of heretical teachings.

One such teaching is that Christians are not to “touch God’s anointed” with the meaning behind it that one must never speak a word against any “leader” anywhere at anytime. Strong curses and fear tactics usually accompany such admonitions. Anyone who dares to humbly question the spirit and motivation behind such teaching is quickly labeled as one who brings “division among the brethren.” If the person is a woman, then she automatically has a “Jezebel spirit.” In fact, any discerning Christian who publicly stands for truth is quickly judged by those who cannot risk being discerned.

In scripture, “touch not my anointed,” means the people were not to literally take the life (kill) either the priest or the king

This is just another example of how scripture is being twisted today to suit the needs of those who seek to exalt themselves over the flock of God. And, should it come as any surprise to us that the whole world is wrapped in deception and darkness since we are obviously living in the last days? Did not Jesus warn us that there would be false Christs and false prophets prior to His return like never before?

True discernment derives from the spiritual realm. Consider 1 Corinthians 2:14, “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.” A person who would be discerning must learn how to distinguish between that which is carnal (of the natural mind or thought processes and tendencies) and that which is of a deeper nature; that is, the spirit.

The word discerned in the above portion of scripture is anakrino in Greek and it means scrutinize, investigate, interrogate, determine:–ask, question, discern, examine, judge, search. The first step to acquiring spiritual discernment is, of course, being born again and filled with the Holy Spirit. The second step is to ask God for wisdom. (See James 1:5) Thirdly, in 2 Timothy 2:15 we read, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” In summary, to have discernment one must be born of the Spirit, study the Word of God and pray for wisdom.

One of the greatest tests of a person’s integrity is the gift of discernment.

To exercise discernment, the Christian must first test his own spirit and examine his own motivations. Self and self-interest must be out of the way. Repentance must be made for all known sin. The motivation of the heart must be genuine love for God. One’s attitude must line up with the admonition to not think more highly of oneself than one ought to think and to put others above self. There should be purity in thought, word and deed for the glory of God.

Those who are mature in the Lord are “those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” In other words, one must use what discernment they have in order to receive more from God. (Hebrews 6:14) Of course, true discernment will always line up with the Word of God. Discerning good and evil has its basis in God’s Word. There is no room for man’s vain philosophy, evil imagination or worldly psychology!

Through the years we have met many believers with keen discernment. Some have been humble, silent, holy workers for God. Others, however, have abused this valuable gift. As with any of God’s gifts, an unholy vessel can pervert discernment for one’s own ungodly gain such as self-exaltation, position and power and/or superiority as well as an unbridled tongue.

Discernment automatically puts us in the position of intercessor.

Once the gift of discernment begins to operate in our lives, the first obligation we have is to pray for that person and for God’s direction. Sometimes the Lord wants us to confront; other times He wants us to remain silent. There may be occasions when He allows us to discern certain spirits so we will flee. Other times He may want to expose them and warn others. It all depends upon the situation.

Many people have asked us how to discern spirits. As already mentioned, the Christian worker must have the Holy Spirit and know the truth. (Word of God rightly divided). When encountering a spirit that is not of God you may experience one or more of the following: Unusual, uncontrollable nervousness; irrational fear, nausea; inability to concentrate (i.e., if reading something the Holy Spirit forbids); feeling unclean; inability to look that person in the eyes (the eyes are the mirror of the soul—sensing that ‘something’ is looking back at you other than that person); a desire to “escape”; a feeling that something is covering your head and/or mind.

It must also be stated here that when those who have a wrong spirit encounter a person with the Holy Spirit they may likewise manifest in certain visible ways such as uncontrollable trembling, fidgeting, nausea, emitting sulfuric odors, snarling, abnormal tonal changes, cursing, uncontrollable rambling of religious nonsense, false accusations, threats and other bizarre and abnormal manifestations. Watch their eyes!

Familiar spirits are common among believers today but most Christians are ignorant of them.

We are amazed at the number of God’s people who lack understanding of familiar spirits and how they operate. Briefly, a familiar spirit is a demon that familiarizes itself with an individual and uses that knowledge to pervert truth, lie, deceive, mislead and express itself through religious means thus deceiving both the one through whom it speaks and those who listen to it. For example, years ago I had a very close friend who attended the same church I attended. We enjoyed many times of fellowship. However, as time passed, strange things began to happen. She began to forecast bizarre happenings and then when those things would apparently occur, pass it off as being from the Holy Spirit. The problem was, I felt uneasy about the information she would share with me.  It wasn’t the kind of information the Holy Spirit divulges and it was seemingly senseless.

The other thing I noticed was that she never talked about Jesus! Everything was attributed to the Holy Spirit. One day as I worked in my kitchen, I suddenly became aware of an invisible presence observing me. In my spirit I knew it was connected to this woman and rebuked it in the name of Jesus. Around the same time I had one of the strangest experiences of my life. I had spent the morning before God praying about certain things concerning my life. That afternoon this same friend telephoned me and repeated to me my unusual and confidential prayer! Simply put, she was operating with a familiar spirit, which she attributed to the Holy Spirit. She liked the feeling of power it gave her.

Many people operate with a familiar spirit because they desire spiritual power.

These people are those who lack fear of God, love for the truth and integrity. Many of today’s leaders in the Christian realm turn to the occult for the ability to perform “signs and wonders.” Familiar spirits and religious spirits are contacted and appropriated. God’s people must seek discernment if they are to remain separate, pure and holy in these trying times.

Some of you may wonder what happened to my friend and her spirit. Unhappily, I was unanimously elected from our circle of friends to confront the issue, which I did on neutral ground in a restaurant. Believe me, it was a learning experience. Her familiar spirit warned her not to meet with me, but somehow she came anyway. She was so fearful and agitated she was literally bouncing up and down in the booth. I would like to tell you that I was calm, cool and collected, but to the contrary, I was trembling all over. It was a difficult meeting for we had been friends for quite a few years. But, I did confront her, in love, that according to the Word of God and knowledge of the Holy Spirit, she needed to simply ask the Lord if she had the right spirit.

I’m sad to say this lady refused to test the spirit or even consider giving it up. It was such a part of her life that she feared losing the so-called prestige and power it gave her in religious circles.

Since that day many years ago Rayola and I have confronted many familiar spirits as well as other ungodly enemies of both man and God.

I hope this simple article stirs you up to seek God for greater discernment. My prayer for you is that when the Spirit reveals to your heart that which is not of God, that you will unhesitatingly submit to His will. While it may cost you to obey, do not pass off that which the Lord shows you for the end results can be devastating.

May the Spirit keep you and guide you into all truth and may God continue to reveal His great love to you through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Other articles on spiritual warfare and discernment:
Satan’s Counterfeits