A lot has been said in the past 15 years about prophecy and the prophetic. There are numerous books and teachings on hearing the voice of God. These often focus on the Word of Knowledge, Word of Wisdom, and Prophecy, but little is ever said of the Gift of Discernment. I have repeatedly heard people over the years say “Where is our discernment?” however. Perhaps what this is indicating is that the Gift of Discernment is something that has not been restored to the church in the fullness that the others have recently been, and that God is going to do something about it.
There are a couple of views out there that I think miss the mark.
First, in fundamentalist circles, you will find people talking about the gift of discernment as being unrelenting criticism of Charismatic leaders. I would like to say flatly that this is not discernment at all, but the lack thereof! Fundamentally discernment is about being about to parse out the difference between that which is holy and that which is vile. In the case of sites like www.discernment.org the opposite seems to be the case. It is a guilt by association method, whereby anyone who ever had anything to do with someone who was unorthodox, or said something that does not agree with particular interpretations are branded in a very negative light. This again, is a lack of discernment. It throws the baby out with the bathwater. A proper approach is to look comprehensively at a person’s character, life, fruit and ministry, and to separate the good from the bad. A discerning person should be able to recognize the difference between someone who is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a lost sheep, and a sheep with sheep droppings. J By forcing everything into broad black and white categories, we fail to discern, or separate the good from the evil. When we do so based on loose associations or one time statements, we are dangerously close to character defamation.
On the Charismatic end of the spectrum, the gift of discernment is discussed in terms of a very supernatural ability to actually see demonic or angelic spirits. This is a remarkable ability, which some people do have or experience, and I think does fall under the general heading of “discernment” but I do not think this is the primary meaning of the Bible’s discussion of discernment. This is because “seeing” spirits physically is not really the point. It is the ability to recognize their activity that counts. If you can see demons walking in and out of the room, but cannot tell that the church you attend is actually a cult, you really do not have discernment! What counts is the ability to recognize the strategies of the devil and to take appropriate action to counter them.
Discernment is first about moving people one step at a time into their destiny (including yourself). Secondly it is about not becoming a casualty. As you become a success, in the Spirit, this is like putting a big bulls eye on your head. The more damage you are doing to Satan’s kingdom the more he wants you and your team out of the game. Discernment is one of the things you and your team will need to avoid these snares and continue up the increasingly steep cliffs of the Spirit. William Branham was a man, for example, who moved incredibly in the prophetic and different kinds of discernment, but because others were not able to discern and correct him, he had a tragic end, made more tragic by the people who still worship him to this day. Below I’ve listed some of the key ingredients of real discernment.
I believe that the basis of discernment then is first Scripture. Having one’s mind renewed to the Scripture is the first basis of being able to discern anything. All of our experiences must be weighed against our understanding of Scripture. Here is a nice site which at a glance seems to say a lot of helpful things about discernment starting with this point. When you weigh your interactions against the Bible truth it will keep you in the narrow channel of Truth. A large number of major discernment issues can be resolved just by living Biblically, and refusing to walk with those who are not also doing so.
The Natural Aspects.
1. The ability to consider an issue from multiple angles and hear multiple inputs. Proverbs 18:13 “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame,” is basically this principle. This is first gathering all of the available information, and not deciding too quickly.
2. A corollary to this principle: You have to be able to consider the bias which you yourself may be bringing to the table before discerning something. Do you have a bias because of your gender, racial or theological experience which may prevent you from seeing the situation correctly? Do you have a personal relationship which is hindering your perception of a situation, etc? Discernment is better than when it operates as a process between multiple people when possible. You see each other’s biases better than you see your own.
3. This relates to the purity principle. If there is something in your heart that is tainting the well, then it will affect your discernment. The men of Jezebel’s day succumbed to her deceitful charm and schemes, but the eunuchs were not deceived because they were not susceptible to the same influence. Likewise, various kinds of sin in our hearts are ultimately what lead us down the wrong roads. For example, if in your heart you really want to get rich (greed), and someone comes along preaching a theology that tells you it is your God-given right to be rich, you are more likely to believe it, Scriptural or not.
The Spiritual Aspects
1. Love. All discernment is going to be limited by the degree of Love you are able to walk in. The more you Love people in the Christian sense of the word, the more you will be able to see into the Spiritual realm. When you have little Love, you see them according to the flesh-in pride, envy, lust, or just generally in the natural .
2. An awareness of the Spiritual realm. While you can discern some fundamental things apart from Spiritual sensitivity, as you grow your awareness of the Spirit you become more attuned to what is actually occurring in a situation. I think it was Carol Arnott who talked about walking into a room and seeing everyone’s “stuff.” While this could be confused for prophecy, really I think it’s discernment. Because you are looking through the eyes of the Spirit instead of the eyes of the flesh. When you are in Love, it’s really not that hard to get this information. I believe the Arnott’s counseled to ignore this information, but I definitely believe in using it, just doing so responsibly.
3. Experience. The more you exercise your gift of discernment, the more you become acquainted with the devil’s schemes. There are certain patterns that just come up over and over again. For example, the first time you encounter someone who is trying to manipulate you, you might be taken in, but if you learn to break free, then you will be able to look more clearly not only at that situation, but also at situations you encounter in the future, avoid them, and help others to do the same. Secondly, when you have experienced what a person is going through and dealt with it in your own life, you will discern it. If I used to be depressed, and then I meet a depressed person, I will see it.
The gift of discernment is extremely valuable to the Body of Christ. By exercising it we will avoid the traps that Satan sets out for us to fall in. He is the father of lies, so his schemes are often cunningly and shockingly deceitful. To rely strictly on human judgment we will never win against these schemes. But to rely upon Godly insight, we can consistently avoid being a casualty.