“What is the Spiritual Gift of Discernment?”

I was reading some of Probe’s responses to e-mails and came across a message which touched on discernment as a spiritual gift (“Do You Know Why My Dreams Come True?”). Over the years I have noticed that I often get what I classify as a “gut reaction” to people, particularly in Christian settings. I seem to detect, almost immediately, whether a person is sincere or a phony. Amazingly, I am almost always correct in my initial reaction, though it sometimes takes years before that reaction is confirmed. However, rather than attribute such feelings to the Holy Spirit, I have always seen them as a prideful or fleshly response to some subconscious cue I get from the other person’s behavior. Could you elaborate on discernment as a spiritual gift? What exactly is it, how does it work and what is its purpose? And, most importantly, how can one determine whether they, in fact, have such a gift? Scripture references would be helpful.

I’m delighted to hear from you! I thank the Lord every time I hear a believer recognizes they have the gift of discernment because the body of Christ desperately needs this “early warning system.” Unfortunately, it’s been my experience that many people dismiss any spiritual gifts they can’t understand or grasp naturalistically–in other words, that are so supernatural in origin and manifestation they can’t be explained any other way. So we lose out BIG when they are not encouraged or exercised.

The gift of discernment (1 Cor. 12:10) is a supernatural ability to distinguish between the spirit of truth and the spirit of error, between holiness and evil.

Just as counterfeit money experts can quickly distinguish phony money from the real thing, those with the gift of discernment can distinguish holy and unholy spirits and discern truth from lies. A person with this gift can spot a phony before others do. It’s been my experience that they can also tell when someone is lying. When you ask them, “But how do you KNOW?” they just shrug and say, “I just know. I don’t know how I know, it’s just there in my spirit.” Proof that it’s the Holy Spirit’s empowering is given when they are continuously validated in their assessment.

This is NOT the same thing as a “psychic ability.” Deut. 18:10-14 sternly forbids any involvement with spiritism. Only believers in Jesus Christ have this supernatural ability from the Holy Spirit.

1 Tim. 4:1 says that in latter days, deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons will come, so the important role of the gift of discernment is to identify those spirits and doctrines.

A discerning spirit tests the spirits with this rule of scripture:

“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.” (1 John 4:2,3)

Leslie B. Flynn writes in his book 19 Gifts of the Spirit, “Any relegating of Jesus Christ to an inferior spot less than the incarnate Son of God, the crucified and resurrected Savior, means that spirit is not of God.”

This is helpful to know when we are analyzing and evaluating things we hear and see in the spiritual domain (for example, when watching Oprah’s New Age friends on her show). But just as important, though, is the exercise of this gift in our everyday lives. Those who have the gift of discernment have told me it’s like an internal alarm bell going off. Some examples:

• Our church used to be located on a busy street where panhandlers often came by with a sob story about needing cash for their babies in the hospital or some other pretense. One of the people who worked in the office had the gift of discernment and, after spending just a couple of moments talking to these people, she could tell which ones really needed help and which ones were looking for money for booze. (If they were truly in need, there really would be a baby in the hospital, for example.)• A friend took her 4-year-old son to see an art exhibit adjacent to art museum in Corpus Christi. The moment they entered the exhibits tent, her son stopped dead in his tracks. “Mommy, we can’t go in there. This place is bad.” Teri sensed the exact same presence of evil. They never saw a single piece of art before turning around and leaving. It turned out to be sponsored by a cult. Both mother and son later realized they have the gift of discernment.• My husband Ray met a popular evangelical preacher at a dinner, but had a profoundly uncomfortable reaction to the man. (The word “slimeball” kept coming to mind.) There was no apparent reason, but it was a gut response. To be honest, this was before I realized he had the gift of discernment, and I dismissed his reaction as a critical spirit. The man was later removed from his pulpit for his adulterous lifestyle.

We have found these questions helpful in determining if one has this gift:

• Do you have an internal alarm that goes off when you encounter something phony or evil?• Even when you’re the only one who senses something wrong, is your “intuition” eventually validated?• Do you (and others) consider yourself a good judge of character?

I hope this helps!

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