Discerning of Spirits

Discerning of Spirits by Len Buttner

“Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation [discernment, knowledge, and wisdom], has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.” (1 Corinthians 14:26).


Discernment can be used to perceive the “spirit”, “pneuma” of a group of people or a person. Ask yourself, is the Holy Spirit or another spirit in operation?

In 1 Corinthians 14:29 Paul says, “Let two or three prophets speak and let the others judge [or evaluate].”

Paul states clearly how important it is to distinguish between spirits in the use and exercise of a prophetic utterance.

The Greek word or verb “evaluate” equals “diakrinein”. The noun “diakrisis” is used for discernment.


The gift of discernment is to be exercised in the context of prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:29). In 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21, Paul says, “Do not despise prophecies. Test, discern all things and hold fast to what is good.”

The responsibility is for the ongoing use of the gift of discernment to evaluate whether a person is speaking by the power of the Holy Spirit, or by the human flesh or intellect.

Ask the Lord for wisdom and courage to expose a word, which is from “the flesh” rather than the spirit.


A Word of Wisdom can work together with the Gift of Discernment:

  1. The word of wisdom is the supernatural perspective to ascertain the divine means of accomplishing God’s will in given situations.
  2. Divinely given power to appropriate spiritual intuition in problem solving.
  3. A sense of divine direction.
  4. Being led by the Holy Spirit to act appropriately in each set of circumstances.
  5. Knowledge rightly applied; wisdom works interactively with knowledge and discernment.


Allow the Word of God to judge (perceive):

In Hebrews 4:12 we see the need to allow the word of God to judge the intents and thoughts of your heart.

“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrew 4:12)

The sword of the Spirit is a discerner that pierces through the body and exposes the innermost recesses of the soul (feeling, passions, desires, and appetites) and mind (thoughts and intents of the innermost being).


Discerning Angelic And Demonic Beings:

In 2 Kings 6:15-17 we read, “And when the servant of the man of God arose early and went out, there was an army, surrounding the city with horses and chariots. And his servant said to him, “Alas my Master! What shall we do?” So, Elisha answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed and said, “Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then, the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

Elisha prayed his servant would be given discernment (prophetic insight) to see the presence of the angelic hosts.


Peter exercises the Gift of Discernment:

In Acts 5:1-11, Peter perceives that Ananias (and later his wife Sapphira) have been motivated by a lying, deceiving spirit.

Ananias and Sapphira were judged for their hypocrisy and lying to God, not for the decision to retain some of their personal property for themselves but their deception.

A sobering lesson is that Satan has the power to distort the thinking of Christians, thus affirming our need to allow him no place. “Give no place to the devil” (Ephesians 4:27).


Angels during Public Worship:

“Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures and the elders and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands.” (Revelation 5:11).

The Gift of Discernment discerns the work of angels. They are spiritual beings created by God who help carry out His work on earth:

Luke 1:26-28 - They bring messages and protect God’s people.

Daniel 8:22 - Offer encouragement.

Genesis 16:7 - Give guidance.

Exodus 14:19 - Bring punishment.

2 Samuel 24:16 - Patrol the Earth.

Ezekiel 1:4-28 - Reveals the Sovereign Lord God.

2 Kings 6:16-18 - Seeing into the invisible and discerning spiritual forces.

Revelation 20:1 - An angel coming down from heaven.

Revelation 12:7 - There are both good and evil angels. But because evil angels are allied with Satan, they have considerably less power and authority than good angels. Eventually the main role of the good angels will be to offer continuous praise to God (Revelation 19:1-3).


Paul exercises the Gift of Discernment:

Acts 16:16-18, “Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned, and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he [a spirit of divination] came out that very hour.”

Paul discerned what the slave girl said was true, although the source of her knowledge was a demon. Why did a demon announce the truth about Paul and why did this annoy Paul? If Paul accepted the demons’ words, he would appear to be linking the Gospel (Good News) with demon-related activities. This would damage his message about Christ; truth and evil do not mix.


Jesus Demonstrates Discernment with the Woman at the Well:

Jesus showed by example that He did not thirst after material things or worldly possessions, and taught, through faith, that all things are available to him who believes, according to God’s will.

In John 4:13-15, we read, “Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to drink.”

The thirst: The woman at the well had a thirst for material things and for sexual gratification. No matter how much she received she still wanted more, a thirst for fleshly satisfaction. Jesus had discerned the lustful spirit in the woman. He was now able to give her living water that she might not thirst any longer.

In John 4:16-17, Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come here.” The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband’.”

As Jesus met this woman His Spirit bore witness. He perceived that there was a lustful spirit in her.

That is why Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband.”

Jesus had prepared Himself because a lustful spirit is out to seduce. Here is a man and an opportunity to seduce and deceive Him. Jesus had identified the spirit by discernment and was prepared when He said to the woman, “Go call your husband.”

The women said, “I have no husband.” Did she lie? No! Was this deception? Yes. She intended to deceive Jesus and let Him know that she was available.

In John 4:18 Jesus said, “For you have five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.”

Jesus had told the woman that she had spoken the truth in that she had no husband. The bias on any spirit of lust is a lying spirit or a spirit of deception. Jesus became a perfect husband to that woman in the spirit; no lies, and no deception because He loved her and did not lust after her flesh.

Jesus showed her perfect love, with genuine motives. We read in verse 29, the woman said to others, “Come meet this Man, the first perfect man I have met.”


How is the gift of discernment (pheumatika) exercised?

How do we evaluate the criteria and see through “pneumatika” or spiritual things?

This grace-gift (charisma) is a God given awareness that something is either “of the Lord” or “is not of the Lord”.

In Acts 16:16-18, Luke writes that Paul eventually became greatly annoyed or troubled. His inner perception or inner sense or intuition, which is an insight given by the Holy Spirit (not a sixth sense).

In our own culture today, there is an increase in Satanism, occultism, New Age, Secular Humanism. The importance of the Gift of Discernment cannot be overemphasised. We need this gift operating today!

In John 11:33 and 13:21, “Jesus was deeply troubled” when He confronted evil.

The test of Holy Spirit conviction, spiritual insight, that witnesses in the heart of those who have the gift of discernment. The awareness of truth and a sense of peace “shalom” and their conscience, bears witness to the truth – supernatural revelation of the plans and purposes of the enemy and his forces. If a word is primarily the product of the human spirit, the gift of discernment will recognise that this word is “of the flesh”. And when a word is motivated by a demonic source there is a sense, a witness of unease or a troubled feeling.

Discernment kicks in and we should perceive the Spirit at work.



Test the Spirits:

“Beloved do not believe every spirit but test the spirits (“pneuma”) whether they are of God because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God; every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God.” (John 4:1-2)

The gift of discernment should be used in both private as well as public meetings. To evaluate and to test words given in public. This is a time to respond with a “yes”, “no”, “not sure” (let’s wait on that one) give us time to evaluate. The word “pneuma” for spirit is used for:

  1. God as Spirit - (John 4:24; 2 Corinthians 3:17).
  2. Christ - (1 Corinthians 6:17 and 15:45).
  3. The Holy Spirit - (Matthew 1:18-20 and 3:11).
  4. Christ’s personal Spirit - (Mark 2:8; Mark 8:12; Luke 2:40).
  5. Angels - (Hebrews 1:7 and 14; Psalm 104:4).
  6. Spirits of men - (Matthew 5:3; 1 Corinthians 2:11; 1 Corinthians 5:5; Hebrews 4:12).
  7. Evil spirits - (Matthew 8:16; Matthew 10:1; Matthew 12:43; Acts 8:7; Acts 16:16; Revelation 16:13; Revelation 18:2).
  8. The spiritual body - (1 Corinthians 15:44).

John is saying to believers do not be gullible in accepting the pronouncements of all prophets who claim to speak with God’s divine authority.

A spirit, “pneuma” is indeed behind every prophet, but it may be a false spirit described as “the spirit of the Anti-Christ” (1 John 4:3), or “the spirit of error” (1 John 4:6), rather than “the Spirit of God” (1 John 4:2) who is the “Spirit of Truth”.

Since there are many cultic and heretical teachers claiming to be spokespersons for God. We must discern (“test”) the spirits to perceive their origin.


The Spirit of Christ:

The crux of the test is a spirit’s (“pneuma”) acknowledgement or rejection of Jesus Christ as the Incarnate Son of God. It is a profession of faith in Him and submission to His sovereignty. The Holy Spirit testifies to and glorifies Jesus (John 15:26; John 16:14; 1 Corinthians 12:3).

Therefore, a confession proclaiming the truth that Jesus is the incarnate Christ is of God, testifies to both His full humanity as our Saviour, redeemer and His full deity as Lord and Sovereign King.


Seven ways to test false prophets:

  1. By their confession of Jesus (1 John 4:2-3).
  2. Their relationship with the world (1 John 4:5; 1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4).
  3. How they receive Christianity (1 John 4:6).
  4. Their attitude towards the commandants of God (1 John 3:20-24; John 14:15).
  5. Their love of the brethren (1 John 4:7-21; 1 John 3:16; John 13:34-35; John 15:12-15).
  6. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit (1 John 4:6).
  7. The Word of God (1 John 5:10; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Corinthians 4:4).

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:3, “So I want you to know how to discern what is truly from God. No one speaking by the Spirit of God can curse Jesus and no one is able to say, “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.”

Anyone can claim to speak for God, and the world is full of false teachers. Paul gives us a test to help us discern whether a messenger is really from God. Does he or she confess Christ as Lord? Don’t be naive and accept the words of all who claim to speak for God. Test their credentials by finding out what they teach about Christ.


What Spirit Is Manifesting? Discern if any phenomenon is consistent with:

The Word of God (scripture)?

The way God has worked in the past?

The Spirit of Jesus Christ?

The Spirit of Truth? (John 16:13)

Be alert to any spirit that is inconsistent with the character of Jesus, as revealed in Scripture. We need to use the Word of God, as a plumbline to measure any manifestation however powerful or legitimate it may seem to be.

Throughout the ages there are many examples and precedents we can draw from in previous revivals and historical records. These many spiritual phenomena, help us discern and judge with Godly wisdom.


The Greatest Test of Gifting:

Love is the qualifying factor in spiritual gifts. Since the basis of all gifts is love. That spirit of love is the qualifying factor, for biblical exercise of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Those in authority must test the spirits (“pneuma”) to assure that those who exercise spiritual gifts follow after “agape” love.

Paul addresses the problem in the Corinthian Church, which is not dissimilar to the modern church; the remedies are the same; that the church may receive a fresh challenge from the vitality and spiritual gifts evident in the Corinthian church – which was characterised by a certain amount of spiritual division and ignorance. The church was not operating in love. The challenge still is: “Did the gift promote love”?

In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, Paul explains the absolute necessity of love, and the essence of love, and of its characteristics (see 1 Corinthians 13).

This contrasts the eternal perfections of love with the temporal imperfections of gifts (1 Corinthians 13:8-13).


By Their Fruit, You Will Know Them:

Jesus said of prophets in Matthew 7:20, “By their fruit you will know them.”

This applies for all spiritual phenomena, not only prophecy. The fruit of genuine prophecy results in edification (to build up), but exhortation also (to stir up) and comfort (to cheer up).

This applies to all spiritual gifts, truly motivated in love by the Holy Spirit; the outworking will be good fruit.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:1, “Pursue love and desire spiritual gifts,” and in 1 Corinthians 12:7, “The manifestation of the spirit is given to each one for the profit of all,” or for the helping the entire church and for strengthening the Body of Christ.

In most instances it takes time, so be patient, to see what fruit comes from certain manifestations. Delay deciding and recognise that delay in judgment is not a bad thing.

“There is more hope for a fool than for someone who speaks without thinking”. (Proverbs 29:20)

Weigh up all spiritual manifestations and use the gift of discernment to evaluate and ask questions related to spiritual phenomenon and experiences in Charismatic and Pentecostalism, as we understand it today.

Those with the gift of discernment are endowed by the Holy Spirit with a special ability to evaluate, discern and perceive the Sprit (“pneuma”) behind different signs and phenomena. This is especially critical as the Body of Christ experiences an upsurge in spiritual activity.

Prayer: “Dear Lord Jesus, give us wisdom as we use this wonderful gift of discernment in a loving and edifying way, to keep ourselves, our family, our fellowship safe; not to judge people, but to discern spiritual phenomena and a variety of events, with a sensitive, intuitive perception of the prophetic journey You have ahead for us in the future.

Dear Lord Jesus, keep us alert and sensitive to Your Holy Spirit. Let us not be deceived in believing wrong teaching and doctrines by prophetic words that will lead us into destruction. Give us insight and credibility to weigh and balance. Amen.”


By Len Buttner of Eagle Ascend Ministries To find out more visit www.eagleascend.com