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)

In a world and even within Christian communities where confusion, counterfeiting, and deception are on the rise, the need for discernment has never been greater. But what does “discerning of spirits” mean? To grasp this gift, we will break down the terms “discerning” and “spirits.”

Discernment means differentiating between two things and correctly identifying each. When the items at hand are starkly different, like an ant and an elephant, discernment is hardly needed. However, when similarities could lead to confusion, discernment becomes crucial. Spirits, for instance, can often resemble one another in their manifestations, requiring us to identify them correctly.

So, what kinds of spirits need distinguishing? Most Bible commentaries mention only two: the Holy Spirit and demonic spirits. Yet, there is a third—the human spirit. The biblical context for discernment frequently involves distinguishing true prophecy from false prophecy. Contrary to popular belief, false prophecy doesn’t always stem from demonic sources. The human spirit often produces false prophecies when individuals speak from their own thoughts rather than the Holy Spirit. As Prophet Ezekiel says, “Thus saith the Lord GOD; Woe unto the foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!” (Ezekiel 13:3, KJV).

Why can it be challenging to distinguish between the Holy Spirit, evil spirits, and the human spirit? Isn’t God so unique that the difference should be obvious? The gift of discernment exists precisely because these distinctions are not always clear-cut. All these spirits manifest through similar means, such as prophecies that form in the prophet’s mind and are expressed through spoken words. For instance, how many of you have ever wondered if a thought in your mind or a desire was from God or your own mind?

 Discernment comes into play when we evaluate the spirit behind thoughts, spoken words, or actions. For instance, Peter once told Jesus not to go to the cross, but Jesus recognized that the spirit behind those words was not Peter’s or the Holy Spirit’s, but Satan’s (Matthew 16:23).

The importance of this gift today cannot be overstated. Satan and demons are in Church communities. Furthermore, more often than not, the flesh—a manifestation of the human spirit—controls believers’ lives, Churches, and ministries rather than the Spirit. We must distinguish the spirits behind doctrines, revelations, prophecies, and actions to determine their true origin—God, an evil spirit, or mere human impulse.


What does discerning spirits mean to you?

Apply the Word

To grow in discernment, get to know God on a personal level. Also, since discernment is a gift, I yearn for it!


Ask for the gift of discernment to mature in your spiritual life.

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