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Discerning Of Spirits


As ‘Charismatic’ believers baptized in the Holy Spirit, we should be aware that the Grace-Gifts of the Spirit are available for us until Jesus returns.

Faith is therefore vital – faith that God has gifts specifically for us to discover and use.

Our duty is not to be ignorant or uninformed about the gifts(1 Corinthians 12:1)

To use the gifts (1 Peter 4:10)

To desire the gifts (1Corinthians 14:1)

To rekindle the gifts (2 Timothy 1:6)

The gifts we have are, determined by the Holy Spirit, according to the needs around us. As we are obedient and faithful in the use of our primary Grace gift given by the Holy Spirit and as we develop and use our gift, over time, the fruit in the use of that gift will be recognized by the leadership of a Church and may subsequently be turned into a ministry.


“Discern” means:

  1. To separate or divide up, hence, to examine carefully, investigate, then to determine, judge or estimate.  Used in 1Corinthians 2:14-15.
  2. To distinguish, make a distinction. Used in Matthew 16:3 and 1 Corinthians 11:29.
  3. Discriminating. Used in Hebrews 5:14.
  4. To assay, examine, prove or scrutinize.  Used in Luke 12:56 (Bullinger’s).
  5. To recognize or perceive clearly (Collins Dict.)
  6. To recognize or perceive differences. (Collins Dict.)

The word translated “discerning” in Greek “Diakriseis” meaning “Dia” = through and krisis means judgment.

The gift of discernment is the special ability to Judge, Evaluate and Perceive something in the Spiritual Realm.

This gift is used to target “Spirits”.  Paul used the word “Pneuma” for Spirits.

There are three main ways, this word “PNEUMA” is used in the New Testament.

1.      The Spirit (Pneuma) within a human (Acts 18:25). “Burning in Spirit” great spiritual fervour.

2.      The Spirit, (Pneuma) of God – God reveals to us by His Spirit (Pneuma) (1Corinthians 2:10) and (1Corinthians 2:4 and12).  The Spirit of God gives different grace gifts but the same Spirit (Pneuma).

The two uses of the word (Pneuma) refer to the psycho – spiritual dimension of our lives (spirit) and to the spirit of God.

3.      This usage refers to supernatural beings (spirits).  These can be good or evil. The word “pneuma” is used for angelic beings and for demons.

For Angels – ministering spirits – pneumata

Hebrews 1:14 – “Are they not ministering spirits (pneumata) sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?”

For Demons – unknown spirit – pneuma

Mark 1:23 & 26 “Now there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit (Pneuma) and he cried out (v.24) saying “let us alone, what have we to do with you, Jesus of Nazareth?  Did you come to destroy us?  I know who you are – the Holy One of God.” (v.26) “And when the unclean spirit (pneuma) had convulsed him ….cried out with a loud voice he came out of him.”

Therefore “Pneuma” refers to

  1. The human spirit
  2. The Holy Spirit
  3. Unholy spirits
  4. Angelic spirits

The gift of “Discerning of Spirits” refers to the spiritual gift with a particular focus on the ability to discern whether any of the above is at work behind a particular phenomenon.

“Discerning of Spirits” is the gift to:

  1. Detect the realm of the spirits and their activities – it is a supernatural power to discern.
  2. Implies the power of spiritual insight supernatural revelation of plans and purposes of the enemy and his forces.
  3. The word “Diakrisis” discernment is the ability to see through something or the spirit, “pneuma” motivating the phenomenon.

Scriptural Examples:

There are a number of examples of this gift of discernment.

Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards Him and said of him “Behold an Israelite indeed in whom is no deceit” (John 1:47).

Jesus was able to evaluate, discern and perceive the psycho (mental processes), spiritual nature of the person He encountered.

Jesus perceived Nathanael character and discerned his transparency of spirit.

What kind of “spirit”, “pneuma” a person possessed, the ability to discern the psycho – spiritual nature of a person is very important.

A Jealous spirit                    A Humble Spirit

A Bitter spirit                      A Compassionate Spirit

A Fearful spirit                    A Courageous Spirit

A Controlling spirit              A Faithful Spirit

A Religious spirit                 A Spirit of Liberty

A Spirit of Heaviness           A Spirit of Truth

 etc.                                  etc.

It is important that we are aware of such spirits and what spiritual attitudes are likely to affect what happens in our meetings and relationships with others that force change.  The gifts of discerning of spirits – the spirits of people are disclosed so that ministry can be suggested.

Hebrews 5:14 – “But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

There are two requirements, First we need to feed on solid food-that is the full revelation God has given us through the complete Bible, a thorough knowledge of Scripture is essential. Second we must practice discerning. This is not something that will come to us only by Bible knowledge or theory. Nor does it apply only to recognizing the activity of demons. It requires the consistent exercise of our spiritual senses in every situation we encounter.

I Corinthians 14:26 -In a meeting or gathering, whenever you come together each of you has a psalm has a teaching has a tongue has a revelation (discernment, knowledge and wisdom) has an interpretation let all things be done for edification.

Discernment can be used to perceive the “spirit”, “Pneuma” of a group of people or a person.  Is the Holy Spirit or another spirit in operation?

In 1 Corinthians 14:29 Paul says, “Let two or three prophets speak and let the others judge or evaluate.” Paul states clearly how important it is to distinguish between spirits in the use and exercise of a prophetic utterance.

The Greek word or verb “evaluate” equals Diakrinein.

The noun “Diakrisis” is used for discernment.  The gift of discernment is to be exercised in the context of prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:29).

1 Thessalonians 5:20 and 21 – Paul says in

Verse 20:“Do not despise prophecies”

Verse 21: “Test, discern all things and hold fast what is good.”

The responsibility is for the ongoing use of the gift of discernment in the Church to evaluate whether or not a person is speaking by the power of the Holy Spirit, or by the human flesh or intellect.

Ask the Lord for wisdom and courage to expose a word, which is from “the flesh” rather than the spirit.

A Word of Wisdom can work together with the gift of Discernment:

  1. The Word of Wisdom is the supernatural perspective to ascertain the divine means of accomplishing God’s will in given situations.
  2. Divinely given power to appropriate spiritual intuition in problem solving.
  3. A sense of Divine direction.
  4. Being led by the Holy Spirit to act appropriately in a given set of circumstances.
  5. Knowledge rightly applied; wisdom works interactively with knowledge and discernment.


In Hebrews 4:12 we see the need to allow THE WORD OF GOD to judge the intents and thoughts of your heart.

Hebrew 4:12 – “For the word of God is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword piercing even to the division of soul and spirit and of joints and marrow and is a DISCERNER of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

The sword of the Spirit is a discerner that pierces through the body and exposes the innermost recesses of the soul (feeling, passions, desires and appetites) and mind (thoughts and intents of the innermost being).


In 2 Kings 6: 15-17 – And when the servant of the man of God arose early and went out, there was an army surrounding the city with horses and chariots.  And his servant said to him, “Alas my Master! What shall we do?” So Elisha answered, “Do not fear for those who are with us are more than those who are with them” And Elisha prayed and said, “Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.”  Then, the Lord opened the eyes of the young man and he saw.  And beheld the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

Elisha prayed for his servant would be given discernment (prophetic insight) to see the presence of the angelic hosts.

Paul exercises the gift of Discernment:

In Acts 5: 1-11 Peter perceives that Ananias (and later his wife Sapphira) have been motivated by a lying, deceiving spirit. Ananias and Sapphira were judged for their hypocrisy and lying to God, not for the decision to retain some of their personal property for themselves but their deception.

A sobering lesson is that Satan has the power to distort the thinking of Christians, thus affirming our need to allow him NO PLACE“Give no place to the devil” (Ephesians 4:24).

Angels during public worship:

Revelations 5:11 –“Then I looked and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures and the elders and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands.”

The Gift of Discernment discerns the work of Angels; they are spiritual beings created by God who help carry out His work on earth.

Luke 1: 26-28 – They bring messages and protect God’s people                      

Daniel 8:22 –     Offer encouragement

Genesis 16:7 –   Give guidance

Exodus 14:19 –   Bring punishment

2 Samuel 24:16 – Patrol the Earth

Ezekiel 1:4-28 –    Reveals the sovereign Lord God.

2 Kings 6:16-18 – Seeing into the invisible and discerning spiritual forces.

Revelation 20:1-   And angel coming down from heaven.

Revelations 12:7 – There are both good and evil angels. But because evil angels are allied with Satan, they have considerably less power and authority than good angels. Eventually the main role of the good angels will be to offer continuous praise to God (Revelation 19:1-3).

Paul in Acts 16: 16-18 – Now it happened as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune telling. This girl followed Paul and us and cried out saying “these men are the servants of the most High God who proclaim to us the way of salvation”. And this she did for many days.  But Paul, greatly annoyed turned and said to the spirit “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.”  And he (a spirit of divination) came out that very hour.

Paul discerned what the slave girl said was true, although the source of her knowledge was a demon.  Why did a demon announce the truth about Paul and why did this annoy Paul? If Paul accepted the demons words he would appear to be linking the Gospel (Good News) with demon-related activities.  This would damage his message about Christ; truth and evil do not mix.

Jesus and the woman at the well:

Jesus showed by example that He did not thirst after material things or worldly possessions, and taught, through faith, that all things are available to him who believes, according to God’s will.

John 4:13-15 – Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to drink.”

The thirst – the woman at the well had a thirst for material things and for sexual gratification. No matter how much she received she still wanted more, a thirst for fleshly satisfaction. Jesus had discerned the lustful spirit in the woman. He was now able to give her living water that she might not thirst any longer.

In John 4: 16-17, Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come here.” The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, I have no husband.”

As Jesus met this woman His Spirit bore witness. He perceived that there was a lustful spirit in her.  That is why Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband.”  Jesus had prepared Himself because a lustful spirit is out to seduce. Here is a man and an opportunity to seduce and deceive Him. Jesus had identified the spirit by discernment and was prepared when He said to the woman, “Go call your husband.”

The women said, “I have no husband.”  Did she lie? NO!

Was this deception? Yes.

She intended to deceive Jesus and let Him know that she was available.

John 4:18 – “For you have five husbands and the one whom you now have is not your husband: in that you spoke truly.”

Jesus had told the woman that she had spoken the truth in that she had no husband. The bias on any spirit of lust is a lying spirit or a spirit of deception.

Jesus became a perfect husband to that woman in the spirit; no lies, and no deception because He loved her and did not lust after her flesh. Jesus showed her perfect love, with genuine motives.

The woman said, “Come meet this Man, the first perfect man I have met.”


How do we evaluate the criteria and see through “Pneumatika” or spiritual things?

This grace-gift (charisma) is a God given awareness that something is either “of the Lord” or “is not of the Lord”.

In Acts 16:16-18 Luke writes that Paul eventually became greatly annoyed or troubled.  His inner perception or inner sense or intuition, which is an insight given by the Holy Spirit (not a sixth sense).

In our own culture today there is an increase in Satanism, occultism, New Age, Secular Humanism.  The importance of the Gift of Discernment cannot be overemphasized.  We need this gift operating in the Church today!

In John 11:33 and 13:21 “Jesus was deeply troubled” when He confronted evil.

The test of Holy Spirit conviction, spiritual insight, that witnesses in the heart of those who have the gift of discernment.  The awareness of truth and a sense of peace “shalom” and their conscience bears witness to the truthsupernatural revelation of the plans and purposes of the enemy and his forces.

If a word is primarily the product of the human spirit the gift of discernment will recognize that this word is “of the flesh”. And when a word is motivated by a demonic source there is a sense a witness of unease or a troubled feeling. Discernment kicks in and we should perceive the Spirit at work.



John 4:1-2 – “Beloved do not believe every spirit but test the spirits (“pneuma”) whether they are of God because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

By this you know the Spirit of God; every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God.”

The gift of discernment should be used in both private as well as public meetings.  To evaluate and to test words given in public.  This is a time for the congregation to respond with a “yes”, “no”, “not sure” (Let’s wait on that one) give us time to evaluate.

The word “pneuma” spirit is used and is worth mentioning again and is used for:

  1. God as Spirit (John 4:24; 2 Corinthians 3:17)
  2. Christ (1Corinthians 6:17 and 15:45)
  3. The Holy Spirit   (Matthew 1:18-20 and 3:11)
  4. Christ’s personal Spirit (Mark 2:8; Mark 8:12; Luke 2:40)
  5. Angels (Hebrews 1:17 & 14; Psalm 164:4)
  6. Spirits of Men (Matthew 5:3; 1Corinthians 2:11; 1 Corinthians 5:20; Hebrews 4:12)
  7. Evil spirits (Matthew 8:16; Matthew 10:1; Matthew 12:43; Acts 8:7; Acts 16:16; Revelation 16:13; Revelation 18:2)                 

  8. The Spiritual Body (1 Corinthians 15:44)

John is saying to believers do not be gullible in accepting the pronouncements of all prophets who claim to be God that is, to speak with divine authority.

A spirit, “Pneuma” is indeed behind every prophet, but it may be a false spirit described as “the spirit of the Anti-Christ (1 John 4:3) or the Spirit of error” (1 John4:6) rather than “the Spirit of God (1 John 4:2) who is the Spirit of Truth. In verse 6 since there are many cultic and heretical teachers claiming to be spokes persons for God we must discern (“test”) the spirits to perceive their origin.


The crux of the test is a spirit’s (“pneuma”) acknowledgement or rejection of Jesus Christ as the Incarnate Son of God. It is a profession of Faith in Him and submission to His sovereignty.  The Holy Spirit testifies to and glorifies Jesus (John 15:26; John 16:14; 1Corinthians 12:3).

Therefore a confession proclaiming the truth that Jesus is the incarnate Christ is of God, testifies to both His full humanity as our saviour, redeemer and His full deity as Lord and Sovereign King.


  1. Their confession of Jesus (1 John 4:2-3)
  2. Their relationship with the world (1John 4:5; 1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4)
  3. How they receive Christianity (1John 4:6)
  4. Their attitude towards the commandants of God (1John 4:6; 1 John 3:20-24; John 14:15)
  5. Love of the brethren (1 John 4:7-21; 1 John 3:11-16; John 13:34-35; John 15:12-15)
  6. The indwelling Holy Spirit (1 John 4:6)
  7. The Word of God (1 John 4:6; 1 John 5:10; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Corinthians 4:4)

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:3 (NLT) –So I want you to know how to discern what is truly from God.  No one speaking by the Spirit of God can curse Jesus and no one is able to say, “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.

Anyone can claim to speak for God, and the world is full of false teachers.  Paul gives us a test to help us discern whether or not a messenger is really from God.  Does he or she confess Christ as Lord? Don’t be naïve and accept the words of all who claim to speak for God, test their credentials by finding out what they teach about Christ.


Discern if any phenomenon is consistent with:

  1. The Word of God (Scripture)?
  2. The way God has worked in the past?
  3. The Spirit of Jesus Christ?
  4. The Spirit of Truth (John 16:13)?

Be alert to any spirit that is inconsistent with the character of Jesus, as revealed in Scripture. We need to use the Word of God, as a plumb line to measure any manifestation however powerful or legitimate it may seem to be. Throughout the ages there are many examples and precedents we can draw from in previous revivals and historical records.  Many spiritual phenomena, which help us, line up to discern and judge with Godly wisdom.


Love is the qualifying factor in spiritual gifts.  Since the basis of all gifts is Love.  That spirit of Love is the qualifying factor, for biblical exercise of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Those in authority must test the spirits (“pneuma”) to assure that those who exercise spiritual gifts actually follow after “agapelove. Paul addresses the problem in the Corinthian Church, which is not dissimilar to the modern church, the remedies are the same; that the church may receive a fresh challenge from the vitality and spiritual gifts evident in the Corinthian church – which was characterized by a certain amount of spiritual division and ignorance. The church was not operating in Love.

The challenge still is: “DID THE GIFT PROMOTE LOVE?  In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 Paul explains the absolute necessity of love, and the essence of love, and of its characteristics (see 1Corinthians 13). This contrasts the eternal perfections of love with the temporal imperfections of gifts (1Corinthians 13:8-13).


Jesus said of prophets in Matthew 7:20 – By their fruit you will know them.”

This applies for all spiritual phenomena, not only prophecy – The fruit of genuine prophecy results in edification (“to build up, exhortation – stir up and comfort – cheer up”).

This applies to all spiritual gifts, truly motivated in love by the Holy Spirit; the outworking will be good fruit in the church and will be seen in the congregations.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:1 – “Pursue love and desire spiritual gifts,” and in 1 Corinthians 12:7 – “The manifestation of the spirit is given to each one for the profit of all,” or for the helping the entire church and for strengthening the Body of Christ.

In most instances it takes time, so be patient, to see what fruit comes from certain manifestations and delay making a decision and recognize that delay in judgment is not a bad thing.

Proverbs 30:20 – “There is more hope for a fool than for someone who speaks without thinking” (NLT).

Weigh up all spiritual manifestations and use the gift of discernment to evaluate and ask questions related to spiritual phenomenon and experiences in Charismatic and Pentecostalism, as we understand it today.

Those with the gift of discernment are endowed by the Holy Spirit with a special ability to evaluate discern and perceive the Sprit (“pneuma”) behind different signs and phenomena in the church as the Body of Christ experiences an upsurge in spiritual activity.

My prayer is: “Dear Lord Jesus, give us wisdom as we use this wonderful gift of discernment in a loving and edifying way, to keep the church safe; not to judge people, but to discern spiritual phenomena and a variety of events, with a sensitive, intuitive perception of the prophetic journey You have ahead for us in the future. Dear Lord Jesus, keep us alert and sensitive to Your Holy Spirit. Let us not be deceived in believing wrong teaching and doctrines by prophetic words that will lead us into destruction. Give us insight and credibility to weigh and balance. Amen.”