The Power and Purpose of the Gift of Discernment

In over twenty years of ministry, I’ve run into a lot of confusion and misunderstanding fiery dovewhen it comes to the spiritual gift of discernment. I don’t claim to be an expert on it, by any means. Most of what I have learned about it has come the hard way, by making mistakes along the way. I hope this brief article will provide some clarity.

The gift of discernment is listed in the spiritual gifts list found in 1 Corinthians 12:7-10, where it is referred to as “discerning of spirits.” It is also mentioned in Hebrews 5:14. Both of these verses use the same Greek word which literally means, “to separate, discriminate; to learn by discriminating, to determine, decide, a judging; judicial estimation.”  In 1 Corinthians 14:29, it is used of “discerning” what is of the Holy Spirit in a gathering of believers where prophecies are spoken. It’s primary purpose is to discern what God is doing and/or saying in a meeting or situation.

In 1 Corinthians 11:31, the same word is used in judging oneself, “For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.” This refers to discerning whether we are operating in the Spirit, in our soul, or in the flesh. This is its second purpose. This includes discerning if other people are, as well. However, this is not for the sake of making a character call of anyone. Discernment can tell you what someone is operating in, whether Spirit, soul, or demonic spirit, but it doesn’t tell you how they got to that place.

It’s third purpose is for discerning the operation of demonic spirits. In Acts 16:16-18, we see Paul operating in this kind of discernment. “Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future… This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.” Though the spirit speaking through her was telling the truth, Paul’s spirit was troubled and he recognized it as an evil spirit and set her free from it.

When God reveals something through the gift of discernment and we mistakenly use it to judge or accuse someone, we are partnering with the accuser of the brethren, Satan. This grieves God’s heart greatly, for His purpose in revealing it, especially if it’s negative, is so we will partner with His heart in intercession for that person to be set free. I have ministered to many believers who have been deeply wounded by brothers or sisters who used their “discernment” to call them out and judge them. Others have been ostracized and slandered because of gossipers who often share what they believe they discerned as a “prayer request” for a backslidden brother or sister.

Discernment is not suspicion; there is no spiritual gift of suspicion. If we are operating in suspicion, we need healing and possibly deliverance. Discernment is not judging for the sake of condemning. In Hebrews 5:14 we are told discernment comes with maturity. “But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” It is God’s way of sharing His heart with us for those who are wounded and trapped in bondage. Our response should be the same as His, mercy and compassion that fuels our prayers that He would heal and deliver them. If we are found faithful, we may be privileged to be the one He uses to set them free!

The Beautiful Body of Christ

The longer I walk with the Lord, the more I see, recognize, and appreciate the beauty ofBride of Christ His body. Of course, His body is far from perfect; in fact, it is dysfunctional in many ways. It’s easy to see the problems and issues because we are all in the process of being healed, restored, sanctified, and conformed into His image. No one that I know of, especially myself has arrived. Yet Jesus is overwhelmingly passionate for us, His bride, even in our flawed, broken, and immature condition. It is impossible to truly love Jesus and not love His people, including pre-Christians.

We see whatever it is we are looking for, whether it is in others or in our lives in general. If we are wounded, we will likely have a very negative view of just about everything – people, situations, and life. The more we are healed, the better we are able to see more clearly. Instead of fault finding, we begin looking for the glory of God in others. The more we seek to discover the treasure God has placed in everyone, the more we will find it and stand in awe of His amazing mercy and grace.

I am continually amazed when I watch my brothers and sisters in Christ. I have the awesome privilege of working with some truly gifted and anointed believers of all ages. So often, they say things that literally astound me…things I would never have seen or thought of. Some have tremendous gifts to lead worship and usher in the manifest presence of God. Others often have a word of encouragement at a time it is desperately needed. I know some that can pray with such power and authority that the very throne room of heaven is opened and listening intently. Many love to humbly serve in the background, unnoticed by most, but greatly esteemed by their Father.

When the gifts of the Spirit are freely flowing among a group, the beauty of the Lord is overwhelming. There is nothing more glorious than seeing the body function as Jesus intended and enabled us to. It is at times like these that I feel God’s all-consuming love for His people as He smiles over us with great pleasure. It often brings me to tears. If His body is this beautiful in our weak, broken, and immature state, imagine what we will be like when we are finally perfected in Him! We will be the most beautiful creation ever seen in heaven or earth. This is where we are going, beloved. This is our high calling and destiny! To be a bride worthy of the King of kings and Lord of lords; the Son who will reign forever and ever, with us by His side.

The really amazing part is that He sees us that way already. He sees where we are, and He sees where He is taking us. He is totally committed to finishing what He began at creation. He is fully able to accomplish what is impossible for us. He is preparing us even now. Look with His eyes, feel with His heart, and you will see it too.

The Fruit of Intimacy with God

In my last article, I began discussing the necessity of having intimacy with intimacy with GodGod, especially based on Matthew 7:21-23. If you didn’t read it, you can do so here. This passage is near the end of the Sermon on the Mount, which begins in Matthew 5. Throughout this sermon, Jesus is laying out the core values for Kingdom living. This is important to understand in order to grasp the significance of this passage in Chapter 7.

Reviewing some of last week’s article, Jesus spoke of recognizing false prophets by their fruit (see verses 15-19). He then described a group of people that claimed to know and belong to Him, saying, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he that does the will of My Father who is in heaven.” He then adds, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers!’” The day He is speaking of is Judgment day, when we will all stand before Him and give an account of our lives. This group operated in spiritual gifts, miracles, signs, and wonders for some part of their lives on earth. Yet, He not only reveals that He never knew them, but goes so far as to call them “evildoers,” and casts them out of His presence. This is as serious as it gets!

The word “knew” speaks of intimacy, as mentioned last week. The word “evildoers” means, “The condition of one without law; contempt and violation of law, wickedness, iniquity.” (It is also used in Matthew 23:28, where Jesus rebukes the religious leaders for their hypocrisy and wickedness.) He then finishes the sermon by telling the parable of the two men who built a house. This parable, I believe, holds the key to what Jesus was saying.

He said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Jesus speaks of two groups of people – those who obey His words, and those who do not. In verse 21 He stated that only those who do His Father’s will, can enter the kingdom of heaven. Again, He is speaking of obedience. Regarding intimacy, He said that if we love Him, we will obey His commands (John 14:15). This wasn’t said in a threatening way at all, which is how we often imagine. He was saying that when we truly love Him, obeying Him will come naturally, because you always want to please the one you love.

The fruit that He looks for is not operating in spiritual gifts or miracles, signs, and wonders. The fruit He wants to cultivate in us is obedience to the Father. This is how He lived His life and how we, too, will live, as we are more and more conformed into His image. As we abide in the life-giving flow of the Vine, we will naturally produce fruit without straining or striving. We will operate in spiritual gifts, miracles, signs, and wonders as well, but this must come from the overflow of our intimacy with Him. This is critical if we want to stand before Him on that day and hear Him say, “Well done, My good and faithful servant.”  

The Necessity of Intimacy with God

When it comes to walking with God and learning to grow spiritually, I believe keeping Father-and-sonthings simple is always best. We human beings seem to enjoy complicating matters. This usually leads to confusion and misunderstanding and none of us have time for that. I strongly believe time is short. We must be about our Father’s business of expanding the Kingdom, first in our own lives, and then in our spheres of influence.

We hear a lot of talk, stories, and testimonies these days of God’s Kingdom breaking in here on earth. People are getting saved, healed, and delivered of demons, and all of this is good! God can certainly use anyone, including a donkey, to accomplish His purposes (see Numbers 22:21-30). Yet He is waiting for mature sons and daughters that He can use most effectively. Even creation expectantly waits and longs for that reality (see Romans 8:19). We are told in Revelation 19:7-8 that the bride must make herself ready. God is always faithful to do His part, but we must do ours. We cannot do His part and He will not do our part.

One of the most sobering passages of Scripture to me is Matthew 7:21-23. Jesus describes people who call Him “Lord” and walk in signs and wonders (prophecy, deliverance, and miracles). He prefaces this description with, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (v. 21). This statement begs the question — isn’t operating in spiritual gifts the will of the Father? These people He speaks of seem shocked by His statement as well. They reply, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” (v. 22). His response to them is, “I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers!” (v. 23). So what exactly is He getting at here?

In the verses immediately before, Jesus is speaking of how to discern false prophets. (Of course, this would also apply to false teachers, pastors, apostles, evangelists, etc.) He says that we will recognize them by their fruit. Many, even today, consider the “fruit” of one’s life or ministry to be that which is seen outwardly, like miracles, signs, and wonders, operating in spiritual gifts. I have seen and known many who flock to meetings and conferences to receive some kind of impartation, prophetic word, or other “touch from God” that will radically change their lives. Not all of this is bad, nor am I condemning their desires. I have done the same thing many times. However, so often, our flesh wants to take the easy way – have somebody lay hands on me and impart to me what they have in God – and it just doesn’t work that way. Spiritual growth is a process. God will, at times, use others to impart gifts to us, but we cannot neglect taking responsibility for our personal growth and relationship with Him.

In verse 23, Jesus states, I never knew you. This word means: to come to know, understand, recognize, to understand completely. It implies the “knowing” of relationship. It is also used to convey the thought of connection or union, as between man and woman. In other words, it speaks of intimacy. Jesus is saying that intimacy with Him must come first. So what does this look like and what does it mean for us? We will look at that in next week’s post, stay tuned!