The Gift of Spiritual Discernment

What is the Gift of Spiritual Discernment?

The Bible makes it clear that, even in the church’s infancy, there were many false prophets and teachers who claimed to speak God’s words with God’s authority. These men were strangers to God and yet claimed to speak for Him. Many Christians were drawn in by their words and were led astray by them. Because of this Scripture contains many exhortations for Christians to test all teaching. John writes, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). Just one verse earlier, in John 3:24, John has spoken of the fact that the Holy Spirit is given to us as evidence of God’s presence in our lives. And having spoken of the Spirit, John now ensures that his readers know that not every spirit is holy. We are tempted to believe and obey spirits, for they represent a spiritual realm that is outside of our experience, but many spirits are commanded by Satan, the father of lies. Because of this we need to test or prove the spirits to see if they come from God.

Some commentators draw a direct line from the spiritual gift of prophecy to the gift of discerning spirits, but I am not sure this argument can be sustained. When we combine the presence of this gift with Paul’s exhortation to “test everything,” it seems that the gift of discernment would be likely to extend far beyond prophecy.

All Christians are responsible to test words of teaching and prophecy. The Bereans were considered noble for hearing the teaching of Paul and Silas, receiving them with eagerness and “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). These believers tested the words of the apostles, examining the Scriptures to see if what they were being taught was consistent with what they knew of God’s revelation of Himself. In doing this they modeled the task of all believers. Christians are ultimately responsible for what they choose to believe, no matter whether or not they have been gifted with the spiritual gift of discernment.


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