The Gift of Discerning of Spirits

The seer gift is often linked to the gift of discerning spirits. Actually, when you think about it, the seer gift  really should not be directly linked to the gift of discerning spirits. A seer can see spiritual things, but that doesn’t mean the seer always correctly distinguishes what is being seen.

The gift of discerning of spirits  doesn’t really mean “the ability to discern if a spirit is there.” The phrase “discerning of spirits” comes from an old English translation of the Bible. The King James Version (and its derivatives) translates a phrase in 1 Corinthians 12:10, in which Paul is listing a bunch of gifts from the Holy Spirit, as “discerning of spirits….” Certainly in 1611, when the King James Version was translated, this was a good translation. In that time, the word “discerning” meant “judging”, as in judging what is good and evil.  But English has changed over time, and today, many use the word “discerning” to mean something closer to “perceiving” or “recognizing.”

The Greek word being translated means something closer to “judging” rather than “perceiving.” Modern translations account for this drift in the meaning of English words. The ESV translates the phrase “the ability to distinguish between spirits”; the Lexham English Bible opts for “distinguishing of spirits”; my newly favorite Common English Bible offers, “the ability to tell spirits apart from another”, and the New Living Translation goes for the original thought, “the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit.”

All three capture the idea better than using the KJV in our era.

Distinguishing Spirits

The gift mentioned is the ability to tell if a spirit at work is the Holy Spirit, or a spirit aligned with God, or a spirit that is aligned with the Domain of Darkness such as a demon, or a human spirit.

This is altogether different from seeing spirits. A seer simply sees, but the Holy Spirit grants the ability to tell the nature of the spirit the seer is seeing. Without this gift, the seer might misinterpret what the seer is seeing, and I know many seers who have wildly misinterpreted what they have seen.

Certain powerful forces of darkness can disguise themselves to take on even the form of the Lord Jesus or angels from God, and if a seer just trusts his or her eyes, he or she can draw errant conclusions.

Even with the actual gift, it can takes some time before the gift kicks in. Luke records such an example in the book of Acts.

As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling.

She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And this she kept doing for many days.

Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. 1

This girl, under the inspiration of a spirit of divination (“inspiration”… get it? “in-spiri(t)-ation) prophesied truth! In fact, in the New Testament, all the demons who spoke through people spoke the truth. So why didn’t Paul perceive the spirit inspiring her was aligned with the Spirit of Truth?

He apparently waited to see what the fruit of her prophecy was. After a few days, the fruit of the prophecy revealed that this was not a spirit aligned with God nor a mere human spirit, but a spirit of divination: it was aligned with the Domain of Darkness.  So he cast it out.

This is the gift of distinguishing spirits in action.

Often in Jesus’ ministry, he distinguished when a demonic spirit or the human’s spirit was motivating self-destructive behavior. He could also distinguish the best course of action to bring deliverance.

For instance, in Mark 9:14-28,

And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.”

And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” And they brought the boy to him.

And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth.

And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?”

And he said, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.”

But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.’ 2

Here, a demonic spirit was at work, but it was the father’s unbelief that empowered the demon. First Jesus ministered to the father’s unbelief, and then he cast out the demon.

Other times, Jesus judged that it was the human’s spirit functioning, rather than a demonic spirit:

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”…

And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” … But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.”

And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” 3

Here Jesus distinguished that the self-destructive behavior was not motivated by a demon, but by the woman’s sin. He first defended her, then showed her mercy and forgiveness, and then command her to sin no more. By walking in a life free from sin, she would remain free from self-destructive behavior.

Too often, many Christians will observe someone’s self-destructive behavior and automatically think the spirit operating is a demonic spirit, and try to cast it out, when often, it’s just the human’s spirit operating in a really negatively ways. You can’t cast a human’s own spirit out. The person needs deliverance in the form grace, mercy, forgiveness, inner healing, and walking in righteousness.

Ghost Hunting Shows and the Gift of Distinguishing Spirits

I recently recently received an email asking if the people in ghost hunting shows have the gift of discernment.

My gut response to the question was no, those on ghost hunting shows most certainly do not have the gift of distinguishing spirits, because the purpose of the shows is to stir the spirit world up (a deeply dangerous enterprise) to put on a good show that gets ratings and sells advertisements.

Those on the show stir up the spirit world by attempting to get demons or ghosts to talk to them or manifest in other ways. This motivates fascination and fear in the television audience.  Since all of this is strongly forbidden in the Bible, they haven’t received the gift of distinguishing spirits.

That was my gut response.

But our gut responses can be wrong.

Our feelings can lie to us. Our intuition can be wrong. Let’s not get our theology from our feelings or a “check in the spirit.”

Let’s look again at what the Bible teaches about gifts from the Holy Spirit

As explained here, here and here, the Holy Spirit gives gifts to whomever he wants and since the word translated as “gifts” truly means an ability someone possesses that is granted by God, this by definition means irrespective of their loyalty or intentions or practice.

‘Therefore, I suppose it’s possible folk on ghost hunter shows can have the God-given gift of discerning spirits. God expects them to use their abilities according to God’s purposes… but they aren’t.

They are just misusing God’s gifts.

Misusing God’s Gifts

And we see the misuse of God’s gifts a lot, don’t we?

The most obviously misused gift given by God is (at least in the United States), of course, is the gift of Shepherds or more commonly known as Pastors. 4 Pastors are a gift from God, but in the US, at least, they are too often glorified by their people, put on pedestals in some cases, and in others expected to fulfill all of God’s callings by themselves. The gift of Shepherds is grossly misused. But it’s still a gift from the Holy Spirit.

Thus, some people on those ghost hunters shows might actually have the ability to distinguish what kind of spirit is at work, and they are simply misusing it.

Just like when some people who have the ability to see spirits use their ability not to build up the Kingdom of God, but for their own personal gain. Here’s a hint: use your gifts for the former, not the latter.

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Notes:

  1. Acts 16:16-18
  2. ESV
  3. John 8:3-10 ESV
  4. Ephesians 4:11

Comments

  1. To add to your application on the misusage if gifts, the prophet Balaam (in Numbers 22-25), who is summoned by Balak, king of Moab at the time, truly has the gift and, in speculation, probably the Office of Prophet as well. What made him a false prophet in this isolated incident with Balak is that the motivation of his heart is wrong. He tells Balak that he can only speak what God has put in his mouth toward the Israelites, which he does, and what comes out is a blessing.

    But then, as an aside, he tells Balak how to undermine the Israelites by bringing their ruination from the inside out with Moabite women (mixed with Nephilim blood). So indeed, I believe it is the courage and motivation of our hearts by which we will be judged. And we can change that. But there is great opposition, however, our God is definitely for us.

    The gifts are real. We are not to bury our “talents”. It is up to us to choose or change which umbilical cord we are hooked up with.

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