The Purpose of the Gift of Discerning of Spirits (with Examples from the Bible)

In my previous blog post, “What is the gift of discerning of spirits?”, I covered quite a bit of ground as to what this gift is and what it is not. In this blog post, I want to share some other areas regarding spiritual discernment itself. Plus, we will also go over other key elements in how to operate in this gift correctly.

I want to reiterate that this gift, like all the other eight gifts, operate from the love of God, not from the skepticism, judgment, or criticism of man. That’s where this gift has been misused in too many places.

4 Areas of Spiritual Discernment with Examples from the Bible

Now, let’s go back to examine the four areas where we are to use spiritual discernment. Let’s start with the first one, discerning the presence of the Holy Spirit Himself.

1) The Holy Spirit

The gift of the discerning of spirits is primarily used to discern the presence and work of the Holy Spirit. The reason He gives us this gift is so that we are able to co-labor with Him. However, it takes time and space to hear Him and know what He is saying to us. He wants us to learn how to move from a position of co-laboring with Him.

There are two prominent Scriptures that show we can know and see the Holy Spirit’s presence manifesting. The first Scripture is John 1:32-34. John testified of a dove descending out of heaven and remained upon Jesus. The only way John could have known this was by the Holy Spirit and by the spirit of discernment.

The second Scripture I want to reference is in Acts 2:1-4. This is where the disciples were in the upper room and a violent rushing wind appeared with tongues of fire above their heads.

2) Angels

We see that angels appear all the way through scriptures in the Old and New Testament. Jesus even saw an angel whilst in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:41-43). No one can see angels unless God enables them through the seer dimension of the gift of discerning them. He does not release this kind of sight without having a divine purpose and a reason for doing so. There will always be a greater reason for us to see angels if we see them in the physical realm.

Also, angels were seen by Mary at the tomb after Jesus’ resurrection (John 20:18), and Paul saw an angel on the ship during a great storm in Acts 27:22-24. They are still present today and have been seen by numerous people in many different situations.

3) The Human Spirit

There are times when we are given the gift to discern the human spirit – the true character or motive behind a person’s words or actions. This gift can flow even if an individual is trying to hide their motives from casual view. Or as I like to put it, this gift allows someone to see when people are putting on masks to try and disguise the true situation or an issue going on with them.

Jesus demonstrated this ability to an exceptional degree. He exercised this gift, for example, in John 1:45-49, when Jesus told Nathanael that He had seen him earlier under the fig tree (before Philip ever called Nathanael or introduced him to Jesus). So, this gave Nathanael confidence that when Jesus said he was without guile, Jesus was speaking from a spirit of discernment.

Peter also demonstrated this ability to discern the condition of people’s hearts in Acts 8:17-24, regarding Simon the sorcerer. Simon was so aware that he was pegged that he begged that none of the judgement that Peter discerned would fall on him.

And again, we can see this gift at work when Peter and John saw the faith of the man at Gate Beautiful (Acts 3:1-10). Because he fixed his eyes upon Peter and John, he received strength and began to walk, after having been lame from birth. This gift convinces unbelievers that the Lord sees and knows them.

4) Demonic Spirits

This is an area where we must exercise care, caution, and spiritual maturity. We can discern these spirits through our own five natural or spiritual senses: touch, smell, taste, sight, and hearing.  For example, Jesus perceived a spirit of infirmity with a woman suffering from spinal curvature. We see this in Luke 13:11-13. Plus, Paul exercised this gift when he cast out the spirit of divination in Acts 16:16-18.

Symptoms of Demonic Spirits

Common symptoms of the possible presence of evil spirits are an oppressive and heavy atmosphere. There can be a complete sense of confusion or a pervading sense of sadness or loneliness. A demonic spirit can also be discerned when there is a feeling of oppression, suicide, pressure, fear, lust, and even sexual desires that come up for no apparent reasons. All these can point to the presence of evil spirits.

Do I give them a room in my house? Absolutely not! Are we able to deal with them in a way that prevents them from disrupting or bringing confusion to what is going on? Absolutely yes! Greater is He who is in you, than he that is in this world (1 John 4:4).

Believe you me, in many years of ministry I have had to deal with many different spirits in many different situations. But, one thing is for sure—God is always bigger and stronger. We have been given the authority to deal with most of these situations accordingly.

Conclusion: The Purpose of the Gift of Discerning of Spirits

As you can see, the gift of the discerning of spirits is of utmost importance to the life of the church. This gift primarily reveals the presence of God and secondly the lack thereof. Discerning the move of the Holy Spirit and understanding what is going on in these spiritual realms allows us to work within these areas:

  • The acknowledging and confessing of Jesus (1 Cor 12:3 & 1 Cor 14:24-25)
  • Correcting error in teaching, as well as the deceit of demons (1 Tim 4:1)
  • Defeat the work and utterance of demons (Acts 16:16-18). Plus, the breaking of word and other curses by the power of God’s blessings. We call it the changing or shifting of atmospheres. Switching the spiritual atmosphere 180 degrees from what’s going on in the negative, evil realms. Then, allowing the peace, power, and presence of God to reign in that particular place, space and time to bring freedom once and for all.
  • The revealing of and deliverance from demons (Mark 5:1-9 & Acts 13:8-12)

In the next and final blog post on this particular gift, I’m going to concentrate on the six filters of discernment, how to operate in a greater level of this gift, and also what are some practical experiences I have had in dealing with these areas.