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What is the Discerning of Spirits?

To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits… (1 Corinthians 12:10, KJV)

As confusion, counterfeiting and deception escalate in Christian circles and the world, the need to be more discerning is also at its all-time high. But what is the discernment of spirits?

Discernment is the ability to differentiate two or more things. It is that simple. The need for discerning arises only when there are options before us which appear to be the same. None of us will need discernment to tell when we see an ant or an elephant. Why? The difference is so apparent. However, when two different species of ants are put before us, we might run into problems telling which is which. So discernment is needed when different things share similar features; it takes a discerning eye to see through the similarities to detect the difference.

Discerning spirits is the ability to distinguish different spirits. But what are the different spirits we should distinguish, and what are the similarities they share that blur their differences? We need to discern three primary spirits: the Spirit of God, demonic spirits, and the human Spirit. We might be tempted at this juncture to think discernment of spirits is about seeing demons running here and there or seeing disembodies spirits working around. Please remove this idea from your mind if it is there! 

The three primary spirits have one thing in common—they function on the earth primarily in and through human beings. You will never see the Spirit of God walking around somewhere. You will “see” Him through the people around you. Similarly, except for the rare and strange manifestations, you will not see demons walking around. You will see the people they are influencing. Last but not least, you will never see the human spirit as a disembodied spirit ( except in the rare events of ghosts). The human spirit manifests as people’s thoughts, emotions, desires, actions, and words. 

Let us use prophecy as an example to illustrate this point. Divine prophecy comes from the Spirit of God. How does it come to us? Do we hear the Spirit’s voice? No! Rather, we hear the man or woman( a prophet) speaking to us. It will take discernment to know that the Spirit of God is behind that human voice we hear( 1 Cor. 14:29).

Similarly, demons can also inspire “prophecy“! ( Acts 16:16). Again how do we hear these demons? We hear the voices of the people they are influencing—they come through human beings. Lastly, false prophecies can also come from a person’s own thoughts or imagination. Someone can speak something in the name of God ( e.g., word of knowledge, prophecy), but it is just their own thoughts,  which they mistakenly or intentionally present as words from the Spirit of God. 

Whenever you hear a prophecy or see some spiritual manifestation, discernment of spirits will tell you if that is God, demons, or just the flesh( pure human activity). I used prophecy as an example here, but note that discernment of spirits is not limited to prophecy. Sometimes, you will have to discern false teachers, teachings, false pastors, false Christians, false dreams and visions, or false “God told me”! 

The record of the Azusa street revival has a remarkable story of discernment by brother William Seymour. It is reported that during those meetings, when a brother or sister starts shouting or doing things that we will typically assume are from the Holy Spirit but is all from the flesh, brother Seymour will go to them, tap them gently and say, “these meetings are Holy Ghost meetings and not for the flesh!” He could discern when the Spirit is the One moving or people are just acting out of the flesh( emotions or personality).

May the Lord increase this gift amongst us!


What is the discernment of spirits?

Apply the Word

Grow in your discernment of spirits. The best way to do so is just knowing God. Also, it can be imparted because it is a gift, so desire it!


Ask the Spirit for the gift of discernment of spirits to grow in your life!

Read & Watch

The Gift of Discerning of Spirits
Three Steps to Increase Your Ability to Hear God’s Voice
Deception: the mystery of believing a lie
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