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How to Differentiate Between Discernment and the Discerning of Spirits

Discerning of spirits is a gift of the Holy Spirit that allows us to very easily detect and decipher the motivating spirit behind something.

I used to think this spiritual gift was the same as discernment but that is NOT right. This is the gift that everyone should be praying to access.

Here’s where we’re going. I will:

  • Define what discernment is
  • Explore the spiritual gift of the discerning of spirits
  • Highlight some personal and biblical illustrations of discerning of spirits in action

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discerning of spirits
Photo by Joshua Newton on Unsplash


Discernment in general, is the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure—what is not easily seen.

It is an ability to judge well. The world’s version of discernment is an intuition based on experience, but that isn’t the case for the Believer. Our discernment comes from the Holy Spirit.

“The spirit has no need to be intuitive because the spirit of God knows the mind of God.”

Discernment is something that A LOT of people have but choose to ignore. I think the people who really pay attention to their discernment well are people who grew up in rough neighborhoods. Seriously, we can spot shady behavior and shady people a mile away.

You know who else has really good discernment? Babies and kids. A lot of kids have superb discernment. They just are really good at detecting people they can trust versus people they want to stay away from.

Discernment is Not Being Critical

When someone is critical, they are inclined to criticize severely and unfavorably. They find fault and point out the faults of others. It’s a form of judgment and I’ve learned that criticism can be an addiction. In fact, it’s highly addictive behavior. And often, people don’t even realize they’re doing it. They just have this compulsion to critique every little thing they see. Critiquing everything about a person is not the same thing as having discernment because discernment is not fault finding. It is being able to judge well.

Discernment is Not Suspicion

Discernment is also not suspicion. Suspicion is the act or an instance of suspecting something wrong without proof or with only slight evidence. Suspicion is really mistrust. Mistrust without any proof.

Most, if not all, people have some level of discernment. Discernment is necessary. Because God is so good and so gracious, He gave us a superior, more accurate gift through his spirit.

The Gifts of the Spirit

Before we zoom in on the gift of the discerning of spirits, I want to talk about spiritual gifts more broadly. In the book of Acts, before he even talked about the gifts specifically, the Apostle Paul said listen I will not have you ignorant about spiritual gifts. He was committed to making sure the Believers didn’t misunderstand them, and I get it. Spiritual gifts are important to God.

Paul outlines some of the gifts of the spirit in 1 Corinthians 12 which says:

There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.

Paul is communicating a few things through these scriptures. We learn through these scriptures that all of us have at least one spiritual gift. We also learn that these gifts are to be used for the benefit of all. Then we learn what these nine gifts are. These nine gifts can be separated into three categories: revelation gifts, power gifts, and vocal gifts.

Revelation Gifts. The revelation gifts of Word of Wisdom, Word of Knowledge, Discerning of Spirits reveal something. God manifests his omniscience, which is his all-knowing, through these gifts.

Power Gifts. God manifests his omnipotence, his all-powerfulness, through the power gifts that do something. These gifts are the gift of Special Faith, the working of miracles, and the gifts of healings

Vocal Gifts. God manifests his omnipresence, the truth that He is present in all places at all times, through the vocal gifts that say something. Supernatural speaking. These gifts are the gifts of prophecy, different kinds of tongues, and interpretation of tongues.

God gave us these supernatural gifts through His Spirit and He expects us to use them to help each other.

Alright, so let’s zoom into the revelation gift of discerning of spirits

The Discerning of Spirits

The discerning of spirits is the gift that gives us the supernatural ability to see in the spirit world. To discern means to perceive by seeing or hearing. Discerning of spirits is seeing or hearing in the spirit realm. This gift also reveals the kind of spirit that is operating behind a supernatural manifestation. There are three kinds of spirits: divine, satanic, and human.

If you are discerning a spirit, then that means you are seeing it or hearing it. This is very different from knowing that a particular spirit is present or involved in a situation. Knowing that a spirit is present is likely either the revelation gift of the word of knowledge or it can be regular discernment at work. The Holy Spirit might drop in your spirit that a spirit of lust is behind something or a spirit of rejection. That’s your discernment working. There are many scriptures about having the discernment to distinguish between good and evil. But if you do not see the actual spirit with your eyes, then that is not the gift of discerning of spirits.

I shared a personal example of this on the audio of this episode...

During that encounter it was very clearly revealed to me that there was another spirit communicating those words. It was extremely obvious to see after the Holy Spirit revealed that to me. But, since I could not see the spirit, this was not the gift of discerning of spirits. This was another gift at work.

I want to highlight something really quickly before I move on. It’s really important that we remember that at the point where we are able to recognize that a spirit behind a statement or action is not from God, we should also bear in mind that we are no longer dealing with the person we know or love in that moment. So we shouldn’t hold whatever the statement or action is against the person.

Discerning the Deceased

Before I move forward and dive into illustrations of discerning of spirits at work, I want to talk about something. This is one of the things I felt God wanted me to share in this episode, and it’s about seeing the spirits that resemble dead people you know. A lot of people see dead people. They see them in their dreams and sometimes while they are awake. Let me be clear, these are NOT the people as you knew them. 99% of the time These are familiar demonic spirits so do not engage with them.

The Bible is crystal clear about God’s position on the dead, about communicating with the dead, and inquiring of the dead.

Scriptures say that “…the dead know nothing. They have no further reward, nor are they remembered. Whatever they did in their lifetime—loving, hating, envying—is all long gone. They no longer play a part in anything here on earth.” Ecclesiastes 9:5-6

God’s instructions for those who seek to communicate with the dead:

Leviticus 19:31: “Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them: I am the Lord your God.

Leviticus 20:6: If a person turns to mediums and necromancers, whoring after them, I will set my face against that person and will cut him off from among his people.

A medium is channel of communication between the earthly world and a world of spirits. Necromancers are people who conjure the spirits of the dead for the purpose of revealing the future or influencing the course of events

God's position on those who serve as mediums:

“A man or a woman who is a medium or a necromancer shall surely be put to death. They shall be stoned with stones; their blood shall be upon them.” Leviticus 20:27

Rebuke those spirits in the name of Jesus. That’s all I feel led to share about that.

I do want to make sure to stress that the gift of discerning of spirits allows you to discern more than just evil spirits. Let’s get into some illustrations of this gift at work. I’m gonna start with discerning a divine spirit.

Mary discerned angels

On the first day of the week after Jesus was crucified, Mary Magdalene went to Jesus’ tomb early in the morning while it was still dark. When she arrived, she saw that the stone that had been blocking the front of the tomb had been rolled away. She runs to tell Peter and John that Jesus had been taken. Peter and John ran to the tomb. John made it to the tomb first and peeked in but he didn’t go inside. Once Peter caught up, he went in and saw the cloths that Jesus had been wrapped in, but no Jesus. Later, Mary stepped into the same tomb but she saw something they didn’t see. She saw angels. We don’t know this for sure, but those angels were likely there when John and Peter went in, but the gift of discerning of spirits was not operating in them at that time, so they could not see the angels. Only Mary could discern them. John 20.

Whenever you see an angel or an evil spirit, you are able to discern spirits.

Paul encounters an evil spirit

Now let’s look at an example of discerning an evil spirit. See Acts 16:18 where Paul was with his team going back and forth in Philippi for a prayer meeting. There was a girl who had a spirit of divination in her, which is a fortune telling spirit, and every time Paul would walk by she would say, “these men are the servants of the most high God who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” She would say this day after day after day. These men are the servants of the most high God who proclaim to us the way of salvation.”


One day as Paul was walking by her and she said it again, but this time was different. This time, Paul’s spirit was so grieved and so annoyed that he turned to the girl and spoke directly to the spirit saying, “you spirit in the name of Jesus I command you to come out of her” and the spirit came out.

Here’s the thing I want to highlight. What the girl was saying was true! She was literally telling the truth. But the spirit was trying to counterfeit and camouflage in there like it was the spirit of God.

That is why this gift is so important. God does not want us to be deceived simply because something seems accurate. We need to know the motive and spirit behind things, because guess what? The devil has access to supernatural information too! Soooo many things can seem right when they are actually wrong.

Absence of Discerning of Spirits

A great example of the need for discerning of spirits is when Samuel was tasked to anoint the new king. King Saul had been rejected by God as king of Israel after Saul completely disobeyed God. The prophet Samuel was given a directive from God, who said, “you are to anoint for me the one I indicate to you.”

Samuel locks eyes on Eliab, Jesse’s oldest son. To Samuel, Eliab looked like a king. God said no though. Don’t look at his appearance and all of that because I have rejected him. While Samuel was busy looking at Eliab’s body, God was looking at the man’s insides. God tells Samuel, “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Samuel would have anointed the wrong person had God not checked him. I believe that had Samuel been able to discern Eliab’s human spirit, he would have immediately known that Eliab was not the right person for the job.

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Want More?

If you enjoyed this episode the difference between discernment and the discerning of spirits, then you may also enjoy the episode of the show about overcoming satanic deception or this episode detailing what to expect when operating in your purpose.

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