While there are numerous books and teachings on hearing the voice of God, focusing on the Word of Knowledge, Word of Wisdom, and Prophecy, little is ever said of the Gift of Discernment. On the other hand, it’s not uncommon to hear someone says “Where is our discernment?” There are two popular ways of viewing discernment, but I don’t think either one really paints the right picture.
While it has become less common, there are still “discernment ministries” whose main purpose is unrelenting criticism of Charismatic leaders. While there are certainly practices in the Charismatic movement which merit critique, these ministries usually start with the presupposition that the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased and therefore anything supernatural is not of God. This leads to very unbalanced critiques. Instead of actually discerning or separating between what is good, and what is not, everything gets lumped together as dangerous. This has the effect of scaring people away from the legitimate use of the gifts of the Spirit, which is a very sad result.
This type of “ministry” often uses 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, is branded in a negative light. The proper approach would be 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 between someone who is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a lost sheep, and a sheep with sheep droppings.
By forcing everything into broad black and white categories, we fail to discern, or separate the good from the evil. Satan’s goal is to turn us against one another, which is why the fruit of the Spirit is so important in dealing with each other. When we walk in the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc, we disarm the enemies schemes. When we start attacking each other, the usual result is destruction, not edification. We should pour water on difficult situations, not gasoline.
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 of discernment. 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 how healthy your church or friendships are, can we really call that discernment?
I believe that discernment is recognizing the strategies of the devil taking appropriate action to counter them. It’s about not letting Satan slip into your life or the lives other others around you . As you become a success, in the Spirit, this is like putting a big bullseye 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.
Elements of Discernment
I believe that the basis of discernment is first having one’s mind renewed to the Scripture. All of our experiences must be weighed against our understanding of Scripture. Here is a site which has some helpful things to say about discernment starting with this point. When you weigh your experiences against the Bible, 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. Begin with purity. 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. 2. Consider multiple perspectives. The ability to consider an issue from multiple angles and hear multiple inputs. Discernment is better when it operates as a process between multiple people when possible. Proverbs 18:13 “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame,” is basically this principle. Gather all of the available information and don’t rush to judgment. 3. Consider your own biases. 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? You see each other’s biases better than you see your own.
The Spiritual Aspects 1. 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. “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7). The more you walk with Jesus, and the more you walk in love, the more you will see what God sees instead of being impressed by someone’s status, looks, or other natural characteristics. 2. 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. Some at a high-level prophet people can walk into room and seeing everyone’s “stuff.” While this could be confused for prophecy, really I think it’s discernment. When you are in Love, it’s really not that hard to get this information, the question is just what to do with it. Use it with gentleness and love. 3. Experience. The more you exercise your gift of discernment, the more you become acquainted with the devil’s schemes. 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. Also, there are certain patterns that just come up over and over again. The first time you encounter a certain pattern you are much more likely to be taken in than the second time, you have awareness even of the hard to spot signs.
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 cunning and often shockingly deceitful. When we rely strictly on human judgment we will never win against these schemes. But when we rely upon Godly insight, you can save yourself and others much grief.
If you are interested in learning more about the discernment, and the other spiritual gifts, check out my book School of the Spirit.
There is a local “discernment ministry“ full of reformed fundamentalist bloggers who condemn all the local charismatic churches as “demonic” or practicing “witchcraft.” It’s a weird obsession