The Discerning of Spirits

The Objective, Biblical Means to Discern Spirits

by Bob DeWaay


“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1John 4:1)

Twenty years ago I received a phone call from a woman who claimed to have a word from God for me. She began prophesying, “You are a great man of God, full of power, and God is going to use you in a powerful way. You are going to be a mighty warrior for God . . .” I was very suspicious of this “word from God,” knowing that God was unlikely to call me on the phone to flatter me. Knowing what it says in 1John 4:1-3 I decided to try the test literally. I asked the voice on the phone, “Has Jesus Christ come in the flesh”? The answer on the other end of the line was, “She believes that.” I said, “Wrong answer” and hung up. The spirit that was inspiring the prophecy answered in the 2nd person.

Now that I have a better understanding of 1John 4:1-3, I would not need to ask that question directly, because I would know from the content of the prophesy that the spirit motivating the prophecy was not from God. The Bible gives us objective guidelines for discerning spirits. We need to know these guidelines if we are going to avoid deception.

We live in an age where mysticism and spiritual experiences are prevalent. The days of materialistic, secular humanism have given way to the New Age of spirituality. Our era is often called “post-modern;” it is an age of subjectivism. This means that we no longer believe that science, reason, and rationality can solve humanity’s problems. Our culture has turned inward to subjective, spiritual, self-validating experiences. Now people rarely ask, “Is it true?” but ask instead, “Does it work for me?”

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