Now Concerning Spiritual: (9) The discerning of Spirits

So, we’ve covered the first two revelation gifts — the gift of the word of wisdom and the gift of the word of knowledge. Today we will cover the third of the gifts that reveal something. These gifts reveal something that we couldn’t know in the natural. They’re given as the Spirit wills, and we can’t manufacture them.

A Word of Caution

I say that we can’t manufacture them, but here is a word of caution. As with all the gifts of the Spirit, if the minister goes about to make the gifts manifest, witchcraft and demonic forces will come in “with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception” (2 Thessalonians 2:9, 10). We need to be open to the the moving of the Spirit, but we need to never try to make it happen!

Not The Gift of Discernment

It’s the discerning of spirits. It’s not the gift of discernment. An important difference. It’s not unusual that one can size up someone or something by intuition or a “gut” feeling. The human spirit may know things that the head doesn’t. We are spirit, we have a soul, and we live in physical bodies (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Even intuition can be skewed, though, because our thinking can be incomplete or our hearts dark. Welcome to the world of being a complicated human.

It’s not the gift of discerning other people’s faults. This seems to be popular. “I discern this is your fault”, says the fault finder. We don’t need the Spirit of God to find fault with someone. It comes naturally. The Bible teaches us that God isn’t happy with fault finders.

The Gift of Discerning of Spirits

To discern means: (Merriam-Webster Dictionary) (a) to detect with the eyes (b) to detect with senses other than vision (c) to recognize or identify as separate and distinct (d) to come to know or recognize mentally (e) to see or understand the difference.

The Greek reads: (Strongs:g1253). διάκρισις diakrisis; from 1252; judicial estimation: — discern(-ing), disputation.

Essentially, we’re making a distinction between opposing objects. In this case between the spirit realm and the natural realm.

The gift of the discerning of spirits is a supernatural revelation to see into the spirit realm. When this gift is in operation, a person may see Jesus, angels, demons, human spirits, or anything else in the spirit realm.

The Madman (Mark 5:1–20)

There are many interesting lessons to learn from this event, and it’s important to read the whole narrative. I won’t write out the whole story for time’s sake, but I will hit on the highlights.

Jesus is attacked by a demon-possessed man, but before the man gets close, Jesus commands the spirit to leave the man: “For He said to him, ‘Come out of the man, unclean spirit!’” (vs. 8). Notice that Jesus spoke to the spirit. He didn’t speak to the man. Jesus discerned the demon.

It was the spirit that “cried out with a loud voice and said, ‘What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me’” (vs. 7). Jesus heard and saw the spirit. The spirit was speaking through the man, the crowd may have heard what the spirit said through the man, but Jesus saw and heard the spirit itself.

Here’s something to keep in mind when dealing with demon possession. Jesus asked for the possessing spirit’s name. I don’t know why, but sometimes we need to know the spirit’s name or number. There are spiritual laws that need to be adhered too. We don’t know all the laws, but we can follow Jesus’ example.

Here’s what the demon said when Jesus asked for it’s name: “And he [the demon] answered, saying, ‘My name is Legion; for we are many.’ Also he begged Him earnestly that He would not send them out of the country” (vss. 9–10). Notice that it was one demon speaking, and Jesus was seeing and hearing the demon.

Then all the demons began to speak to Jesus: “Now a large herd of swine was feeding there near the mountains. So all the demons begged Him, saying, ‘Send us to the swine, that we may enter them.’ And at once Jesus gave them permission” (vss. 11–13). Jesus heard and saw all the demons begging him in this instance.

It is interesting that only one spirit does the possessing: “Immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit” (vs.2). “A man with an [one] unclean spirit”; he was possessed by one spirit and had a legion. “[They] saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion” (vs. 15).

You see, only one demon actually possesses a person, but he can invite other demons to join him: “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first” (Matthew 12:43–45).

As a side note, there is a difference between possession and oppression. Possession is when a spirit enters the spirit of a person. The spirit owns and controls the person. Oppression is when a demon puts pressure on the soul of a person. The persons mind and emotions are under stress to manipulate them to act a certain way.

We see in Mark chapter five Jesus operating in the gift of discerning of spirits. Jesus discerned the possessing spirit and the legion of demons. He discerned what was happening in the realm of the spirit.

The Slave Girl (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 came out that very hour (Acts 16:16–18).

Why didn’t Paul cast out the spirit the first day the woman started following them? The discerning of spirits wasn’t in operation. Notice that Paul spoke to the spirit, “Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit” (Acts 16:18). He didn’t speak to the woman. Those around Paul listening may have thought he was speaking to the woman, but he spoke to the spirit.

I think there is a lesson to be learned from this: we needn’t be commanding demonic spirits to leave unless we know one is involved. We can know through the discerning of spirits, the word of knowledge, or the inward witness, but we should be confident that there is indeed a spirit that needs dealt with. I say this because I’ve seen many people yelling at demons because they’ve been taught to do that. But the only thing I know that’s happening is they’re embarrassing themselves. Nonetheless, if you’re sure that is the thing to do, then do it! But base it off something you can sink your faith into and not just being loud or religious.

Fiery Chariots (2 Kings 6:8–17)

The prophet Elisha had a servant that was in great fear. The Syrian army had surrounded the city of Dothan. There were a lot of soldiers and little hope for Israeli victory.

Elisha told his servant, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (vs. 16). How did Elisha know this? What did Elisha do to help his servant?

“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” (vs. 17).

Elisha prayed that his servant be able to see into the spirit realm, and he did see. He discerned spiritual things. He saw the army of God surrounding the them. This is the gift of discerning of spirits.

The Angel of the Lord (Joshua 5:13–15)

Joshua saw a man appear in the midst of the congregation. He approaches the man. The man identifies himself as the “Commander of the army of the LORD.” Many Bible scholars, and I agree, believe that this is the pre-incarnate Christ. Why? Because He allowed Himself to be worshipped, and commanded Joshua to take his sandals off because the ground was now holy.

The point, though, is Joshua was discerning something spiritual — the Lord of Hosts. The gift of discerning of spirits was in operation.


Visions come under the gift of discerning of spirits. The Book of Revelation was given while John “was in the Spirit” (Revelation 1:10; 4:2). The gifts of the Spirit are manifested as the Spirit wills (1 Corinthians 12:11). We’re in the Spirit when He opens the spirit realm to us. We can’t do that by ourselves.

The Occult

When people delve into witchcraft and occult practices, they’re attempting to open the spirit realm. When they do, all they get is the satanic realm of the spirit. In that realm, they cannot say that “Jesus is Lord” (1 Corinthians 12:3) because only demonic influence is happening.

Take note of the surprise the witch at En Dor had when God allowed Samuel’s spirit to come out of the grave and speak with King Saul (1 Samuel 28:7–25): “When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice” (vs. 12).

Why would she be startled and cry out? Doesn’t she bring people back to speak with loved ones? Shouldn’t she be accustomed to this phenomenon, being a witch?

She was startled because she only dealt with satanic spirits of deception. God allowed Samuel to actually come back from the grave to speak with Saul. That never happened before. Humans don’t come back from the grave in her line of work. She deals with familiar spirits. Familiar spirits are demonic beings that are familiar with people, places, and things and use this familiarity to deceive people into believing they’ve contacted someone that had died.

The gift of discerning of spirits is a supernatural revealing of the spirit realm by the Holy Spirit. I hope that this article helps you to understand what is the discerning of spirits .

Stay strong and prepared!

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