In 1 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul lists nine supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. One of these manifestations of the Spirit is called “discerning of spirits.” I believe that this is a vital gift for the church today.
I would define discerning of spirits in the following way: the supernatural ability to perceive what is happening in the spiritual realm and to judge between the Holy Spirit and demonic spirits.
Sometimes this gift may function in recognizing the activity of the Holy Spirit. The Bible says that John the Baptist “saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him” (John 1:32). John was given supernatural insight into what was happening in the spiritual realm, and “saw” the Holy Spirit come upon Jesus.
This gift can also make us aware of the presence of angels. In 2 Kings 6:14-17, the prophet Elisha perceived that he was protected by a heavenly army. This caused him to not fear the physical army that was trying to capture him.
And discerning of spirits also operates in exposing the presence and/or the identity of evil spirits. This can be for an individual who is in need of deliverance, or for a place that is influenced by a demonic spirit.
Like other gifts of the Holy Spirit, discerning of spirits can operate in a variety of ways. For example, it can come through God opening your eyes to see what is happening in the spiritual world, but it can also come as a strong impression or physical sensation. It can come through the voice of the Holy Spirit or through a vision. Some have reported discernment coming through the sense of smell.
Hebrews 5:14 says, “But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” Notice that our senses can be “exercised” to cultivate discernment over time. We can grow in our sensitivity to what is happening in the spiritual realm.
In whatever way that this gift functions, it is very significant for the body of Christ. With New Age and occult counterfeits in the world, and mixture creeping into the church, we need discernment like never before. With so many in need of deliverance, we need this gift to help recognize the presence and influence of demons. We also need to be able to recognize the moving of the Holy Spirit so that we can cooperate with Him in His work.
So let’s ask for the Lord to release the fullness of His gifts among us, including the gift of discerning spirits!