A. The Function Of The Gift

The gift of discerning of spirits gives one a supernatural understanding of the nature and activity of spirits. It enables him to distinguish between the divine, satanic and human origin of spiritual activity and reveals the nature of the spirits themselves.

It is easy to confuse the works of the spirit of Satan with those of the Spirit of God: Satan always tries to counterfeit the works of the Holy Spirit. Satan is known as the deceiver, the father of lies, and the serpent. All these titles signify the subtle, crafty deceptiveness which he uses to bring about evil whenever he can. Many times his counterfeit is so plausible that one will be entirely deceived unless someone is present who functions with the supernatural gift of discerning of spirits. If demon activity were always so obviously reeking with evil and wicked intent as we tend to imagine, there would be no use for this gift of the Spirit.

In the account of the girl with the spirit of divination in Acts 16, Paul challenged the spirit which might easily have deceived other servants of God. The girl gave a perfectly true statement when she said, ”These men are servants of the most high God who show to you the way of salvation,”  but the spirit speaking was an evil spirit.

Why would an evil spirit advertise the apostles in that fashion? Because it was of no credit or help to the gospel or its ministers to have such a person following them and no doubt causing many to think she was one of them.

B. Incidents Of The Gift In The New Testament 

  1. Acts 8:23 – The incident of Peter and the other apostles dealing with Simon the Sorcerer. Peter’s ability to look at the source of Simon’s desire to have their power as evil was an example of discerning of spirits.
  2. Acts 13:8-12 – Paul discerns and defeats Elymas’ attempt to dissuade the governor from interest in the gospel.
  3. Acts 16:16-20 – Paul and the girl with the spirit of divination.
  4. 1 Timothy 4:1,2 – To expose plausible error in the Church.

C. The Operations And Need For The Gift Today

The gift of discerning of spirits is experiencing its own revival in much of the world today. It can be seen in action in the ministry of many men of God in the present renewal. It is absolutely essential that this gift operate if the Church is going to accomplish her full mission and destroy the works of the devil. There are as many demons in the world today as there were when Jesus walked the earth and in the days of the early Church. Their purpose is as avowedly evil. This supernatural gift is especially necessary for missionaries and workers in heathen lands where Spiritism, Satanism and occultism abound.

D. How The Gift Of Discerning Of Spirits Operates

The first and most obvious function of this gift is to reveal the presence of evil spirits in the life of people or churches. However, it also functions to evaluate the source of a prophetic message, a particular teaching, or some supernatural manifestation. The person functioning with this gift will be able to tell whether the source of the message or act is demonic, divine or merely human. If the source is discerned to be demonic, the person functioning in this gift will also usually be able to reveal.

  1. The nature of the demon.

This is what his work is, whether lying, causing infirmity (such as cancer, blindness, dumbness, etc.), unclean behavior and the like.

  1. The name of the demon.

This is usually revealed with the nature of the demon, although it isn’t at all uncommon to reveal a demon’s proper name.

  1. The number of demons.

As in the case of “Legion”, or Mary, out of whom Jesus cast seven devils, it is not at all uncommon for a person to be demonized by more than one spirit at a time. This is part of the information revealed by the gift of the discerning of spirits.

  1. The strength of particular demons.

Often during an encounter with an evil spirit, the one who functions with the discerning of spirits will know by revelation which of several demons is strongest and has greatest authority.

  1. About getting information.

Often, demons will give much information verbally themselves to one they know has supernaturally discerned their presence and who has power to cast them out. However, since demons can be counted on to lie, it is a good idea to treat the information they give with suspicion and count on information supernaturally given by the Holy Spirit.