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Bible Q&A: What Is the Discerning of Spirits?

August 11, 2014

Question: Could you please look over this definition of discerning spirits? What are your thoughts?

Answer: Discerning (or testing) of the spirits is simply the ability to distinguish which spirits are from God and which ones aren’t (see the passage below):

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already (1 John 4:1 ff).

Definitions like the one that you found in this article are very common amongst our charismatic friends. But I believe they are overly (and unnecessarily) focused on seeing (visually) the spirit world.

In our biblical example, there are no ghosts, just an exhortation to test a given teaching to see whether or not it is from God. And the way that the spirits are tested (in this case) is by doctrine: Does the teacher teach the incarnation of Christ? The test does not involve the ability, in any way, to “see or visualize” the spirit world.

I’m not questioning whether people have the ability to “see” the spirit world. But this gift isn’t really about that. Every Christian ought to test the teaching they hear to see whether or not the teacher is from God. But Some Christians have an uncanny ability to do this, and it is a gift from God, given for the protection and the building up the body of Christ.

Warmly in Christ, Pastor Tim

The Author
Tim Augustyn

Tim serves as the resident pastor, writer, and editor of Unlocking the Bible. He was born and raised in northern Wisconsin, came to faith in his 20's while working in the business world, and received a Master's in Divinity from Trinity International University. He is author of the children’s book Man on the Run, and co-author of The One Year Unlocking the Bible Devotional with Colin Smith. Tim and his wife, Janna, and their four kids live in Arlington Heights, Ill.

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