“… to discern both good and evil.”
“… discerning of spirits …”
I Corinthians 12:10
There is a great matter that must be brought out into the open—never has enough been said or taught on the subject of the importance of the defense of discernment. For example, and I will list many of these type things that we often face: How do we know if something is a cross we are meant to bear, or is it an unnecessary burden Satan has put in our path? Is what we face an attack God has allowed to eventually strengthen our resolve, or is it an unleashing of evil from Satan to discourage us? And another way to say it—is it meant to teach us or to trap us? These are real issues for all of us.
There have been times in my life and yours when we ask, is this trial sent by God or a trap sent by Satan? Is the open door an indication of God going before me or an ambush of the devil? We have all asked questions like that. There is always God’s loving Spirit and the devil’s lying spirit. There is the help of a ministering angel, or is it a designed deception that appears as an angel of light? And all of us have asked the question, do I see it as a signal to resign or as a need to resist?
Any active person in the work of God has faced variations of these things. Paul taught that we are to compare. Scripture bears witness to an unwavering need to discern between the power of truth to liberate us and of error to corrupt us. It is one of the most distressing features of Christian service; it’s not black and white, but the ability to discern which is which. Clear contrasts are not always before us, there is the need for God-given discernment. Far too many are too gullible, it is evident; many exhibit a naïve willingness to accept that which may have come from a wrong source. “Do not believe every spirit” (I John 4:1). So we admit there is such a thing as terribly misguided tolerance of the false and the potentially destructive message we can receive.
So here is something that may, at first, sound strange, but unbelief is sometimes a mark of belief! It indicates mature discernment. Two extremes in people must be acknowledged: one is an emptyheaded superstition which tends to believe everything, and the other is a hard-hearted suspicion that believes absolutely nothing. In between is a balanced, mature faith that gives discernment, alive in a person’s life.
We live in a world that loudly clamors for our attention. How do we determine if at its source it is a lie from hell or truth from heaven? Everything that is from God will give faithful honor to the Lord and it will promote Christ-like godliness. It will uplift people and edify. Paul says it this way, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.” (Titus 1:15-16) This is an example of Paul’s discerning spirit expressing truth plainly and powerfully.
It is my belief that too little attention is paid to that supernatural resource. It is a point that needs to be stressed—the difference between the enlightenment of God and the entrapment of Satan. We must have the “discernment of spirits.” The Living Bible says it this way: “To one person the Spirit gives the ability … to know whether evil spirits are speaking through those who claim to be giving God’s messages—or whether it is really the Spirit of God who is speaking.” (I Corinthians 12:8, 10)
Here is a common pitfall. One very powerful entrapment is the blinding created by unforgiveness and the constant dwelling on past hurts from people. We have to choose to forgive. Forgetting the things that are behind us—revenge and retaliation is a very real source of spiritual blindness that makes discernment unlikely. In the spirit of the Lord Jesus, clean your mind saying, “Father, forgive.”
In the spirit world there is what is called in Psalm 1:1, “the counsel of the ungodly.” That counsel gives advice which must be rejected. We must be able to say—“I know where that comes from!” There is the constant subtle scoffing at the things of God on one hand and on the other, the constant thinking about ways to follow God more correctly and closely. Each right choice helps us make another right choice and, in a sense, a spiritual momentum with the help of discernment.
Satan loves to taunt us with vivid reminder of past failure saying: “You did it once and you’ll do it again—that’s just you.” Constant condemnation from the father of lies magnifies the failures of the past and creates a mood of hopelessness. Let God flood your soul with “hope [that] maketh not ashamed” (Romans 5:5). Let Him give a clean, clear mind that reveals godly discernment.
Discernment is a secret power given to us as a privilege only because of our belonging to the Lord. We could say, it is the basic tool we require as we face life’s perplexities, and, of course, the great purpose of discernment is not enlightenment but enablement; it is not superior knowledge but supernatural action that honors God. In some ways there is no better assurance of our salvation than to discover that we have God’s gift of discernment operating in our lives. It has been wisely said, they are well kept whom the Lord keeps—discernment helps us avoid danger. Let me say it this way, discernment is the capacity to sense as we trust God while not being able to make sense out of everything immediately. Discernment is not just knowledge, it is a step beyond it—it is a work of God that goes beyond the limits of our five senses—it is God’s secret guidance.
Discernment is very closely related to godly wisdom so, it’s akin to a godly person’s desire to be obedient without knowing all the facts. It is being wise with decisions without human discussions. It is not words but works that indicate discernment. It is not just an ability to get out of a problem, it is the ability to never get into one.
Wisdom is the proper use of knowledge, but discernment is what is sensed without knowing why. It is attributed to God in a spirit of humility. The discerning person and the wise person are bonded together—both of them are people who know the most about God. God wants to give every Christian godly discernment. Not all Christians have great mental powers, and they are not all outgoing extroverts, but all should be both discerning and wise.
Discernment requires that we meet all the sophistry and subtlety of Satan in the exact same way Jesus met them, with an unequivocal declaration of “It is written” (read Matthew 4:4, 7, 10). Never come up against Satan in your own wit or wisdom. Remember, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (Psalm 119:105) We have the power of the Spirit to aid us constantly.
Discernment is the God-given ability to sense what is vital and what is trivial. It is to sense between good and bad without having all the facts before you. Paul said, “… I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless …” (Philippians 1:10, NLT)
So it’s before us: we discover the source of discernment from the Word of God by the Spirit of God with the help of faith while submitting to the will of God. That’s the source of spiritual discernment.