Spiritual Gifts │The Distinguishing of Spirits



The Spiritual Gift of Distinguishing

of Spirits

Class of Gift: Serving 

“and to another the distinguishing

of spirits

1 Corinthians 12:10, Page 1796

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Section One


1.1 Every Born-Again Christian Has at Least One Spiritual Gift.  Every born-again believer in Jesus Christ has received a spiritual gift from the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 12:4-11, page 1796). Please recall also that one spiritual gift may have a variety of ministries (“διακονιῶν”), with a variety of spiritual effects (1 Corinthians 12:4-7, page 1796). Therefore, if you have the Spiritual Gift of Distinguishing of Spirits, that single gift may result in a variety of ministries, and produce a variety of effects.

1.2 Meaning of the Term “Distinguishing of Spirits.” The phrase used to describe the Spiritual Gift of Distinguishing of Spirits concerns a special spiritual ability to recognize spirits. The term “distinguishing” (“διακρίσεις”) means discerning, distinguishing, judging. a few examples will help in understanding its use in the New Testament.

Section Two

The Ministry of Identifying Evil Spirits

2.2 The Spirit of Satan. After Jesus explained to His disciples that He must suffer, die and be raised up on the third day, Peter rebuked Jesus and declared those things would never happen (Matthew 16:21-22, Page 1530). Jesus then turned to Peter and said: “Get behind Me satan” (Matthew 16:23, page 1530). Jesus further explained that Peter had set his mind on man’s interests, not God’s. Jesus displayed His ability as God to distinguish the spirit of satan at work in Peter. A believer with the Spiritual Gift of the Distinguishing of Spirits may be able to identify the spirit of satan or other evil spirits at work in believers and other people.

2.2 The Spirit of Python. As Paul walked about Philippi, a slave-girl followed after him. She kept crying out: “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17, page 1732).  Even though the slave-girl said nice things, Paul identified the spirit within her as an evil spirit, “the spirit of divination.” Literally, the term was “spirit of python” (“πνεῦμα πύθωνα“). The Holy Spirit enabled Paul to discern that the spirit inside the slave-girl was evil. The believer with the Spiritual Gift of distinguishing of spirits may be able to identify the true spirit behind very nice words spoken about people.

Section Three

The Ministry of Removing Misgivings

In Acts 11:12, page 1721, Peter related his experience when the Holy Spirit fell upon him and removed all misgivings (“διακρίναντα“) about going with messengers from Caesarea. The term “misgivings” relates to other uses of the root term to indicate doubts. In this case, the Holy Spirit specifically removed doubts about going with the messengers. At times in our lives, we have serious misgivings about doing certain things. A person with the Spiritual Gift of the Distinguishing of Spirits may help us identify if our “misgivings” are from the Holy Spirit or not.

Section Four

The Ministry of Passing Judgment

4.1 The Gift of Prophecy. Paul directed the proper of use of the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy. He explained that during the public meeting of the church, only two or three prophets were to prophesy at one meeting, and others would pass judgment. If a revleation is made to another, then the first must remain seated.

4.2 The Passing of Judgment. Apparently, the other prophets were to pass judgment (“διακρινέτωσαν”) upon the person offering a revelation (1 Corinthians 14:29, page 1800). At all times the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. The prophets never were to lose control over themselves, so that they fell into uncontrolled, ecstatic utterance. Instead, at all times, they were to remain in control of their own speaking. The other prophets present may be the ones passing of judgment, but a male believer here possessing the Spiritual Gift of Distinguishing of Spirits would know whether the prophesy came from God or elsewhere. Only a male with the Spiritual Gift of Distinguishing of Spirits would be proper in this context because females should remain silent and are not permitted to speak at church meetings with males present (1 Corinthians 14:34, page 1800). Likewise, the female believers should refrain from exercising authority over male believers, because of the order of creation (males first) and the spiritual deception of Eve (1 Timothy 2:12-14, page 1856).

 Section Five

The Ministry of Resolving Doubts

5.1 Discern and Doubt. Doubts cause problems for all believers.  The root term for “doubt” and the “discern” both have the same root word. Although I understand the limits, I posit that the Spiritual Gift of Serving has an aspect to it covering “doubt.” Therefore, because the root words are the same, we should consider a few verses abut doubting.

5.2 Doubt and Prayer. Jesus instructed His disciples about prayer. He focused upon doubts inhibiting prayer. Jesus told His disciples that whatever they believe will happen “without doubts” (“μὴ διακριθῇ“), it will be granted to him (Mark 11:23, page 1581; Matthew 21:21, page 1538).  The believer with the Spiritual Gift of Distinguishing Spirits may also be able to distinguish doubt from faith. Some people may speak from doubts that oppose faith, and the use of the Spiritual Gift of Distinguishing Spirits may help in separating doubt from faith.

5.3 Doubt and Food. Paul taught that believers should avoid eating things that cause other believers to stumble (Romans 14:21, page 1778). We must each eat without our own conviction before God (Romans 14:22, page 1778). If anyone doubts when eating certain things, then they are condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith, and whatever is not from faith is sin (Romans 14:23, page 1778). The person with Spiritual Gift of Distinguishing of Spirits may distinguish between faith and doubt in a believer.

5.4 Doubt and Wisdom. James commanded all believers to seek wisdom from God, but they must ask in faith without doubting (” διακρινόμενος“)(James 1:5-6, page 1887). The believer with the Spiritual Gift of Distinguishing of Spirits may be able to discern faith from doubt in the spirits of those believers seeking wisdom.

5.5 Mercy and Doubting. Jude linked doubting (“διακρινομένους”) with mercy (Jude 1:22, page 1913. Jude wrote to the called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ (Jude 1:1, page 1912). He commanded believers to have mercy on people who are doubting. Mercy refers to withholding punishment, and emotional response in a person watching another person suffer. In this case, mercy refers to lovingly helping the person suffering affliction. The believer with the Spiritual Gift of Distinguishing of Spirits may be able to discern a person suffering affliction, and pour out mercy upon them as they doubt.

Section Six

The Ministry of Appraisal

6.1 Judging. The New Testament provides very specific information about judging people, including ourselves. One aspect of judging concerns the same root word “διακρίνειν” (to distinguish or discern) for distinguishing and judging.

6.2 Discerning Arrogance. Paul exposed the sin of one becoming arrogant against another (1 Corinthians 4:6, page 1786). Paul explained that everyone who thinks they are superior (“διακρίνει”), they must remember that they are overlooking that all they have, they have received (1 Corinthians 4;7, page 1786). 

Section Seven

The Ministry of Discerning the Times

Jesus answer the Pharisees and Sdducees seeking a sign from Him. He reminded them that they were able “to discern” (“διακρίνειν”) the appearance of the sky regarding the likelihood of storms, but they could not discern the signs of the times (Matthew 16:3, page 1529). The believer with the Spiritual Gift of Distinguishing Spirits may be able to discern the spirits of the people failing to understand the spiritual signs in front of them.

Section Eight

The Ministry of Rebuke without Railing Judgment

Michael the Archangel did not possess the Spiritual Gift of Distinguishing of Spirits, but he provided an excellent example of delivering a rebuke in the name of the Lord, without a railing judgment (“διακρινόμενος“) (Jude 1:9, page 1912). While disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, Michael did not dare pronounce against the devil a railing judgment. Michael recognized the power and authority of satan. The believer with the Spiritual Gift of Distinguishing of Spirits may be able to deliver a rebuke against a powerful being in the name of the Lord without falling into a railing judgment.

Section Nine

The Ministry to Those in the Gall of Bitterness

Paul encountered a man named Simon who thought he could become like the apostles so that when he laid his hands of a believer, they would receive the Holy Spirit. After Simon attempted to buy that gift, Paul told Simon to repent, because Simon was in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity (Acts 8:22-23, Pages 1714-1715). The Holy Spirit again helped Paul to discern the spirit at work in the life of Simon.

Section Ten

The Ministry of Judgment

In 1 Corinthians, Paul confronted the believers about their practices at the Lord’s Supper. When they gathered to remember the death, burial, resurrection and return of the Lord Jesus Christ, they disgraced themselves and their testimony by their actions of getting drunk and acting selfishly (1 Corinthians 11:17-22, page 1795). Furthermore, Paul commanded them to judge (“διακρίνων“) the body rightly (1 Corinthians 11:29, page 1796). He meant that each believer must focus upon the body of Christ, crucified for us, and discern in ourselves any sin causing turbulence in our relationship with Jesus. The believer with the Spiritual Gift of Distinguishing of Spirits may have the ability to discern disturbances caused by unconfessed sins in the lives of believers.

Section Eleven

The Ministry of Acceptance

In Romans, Paul explained how more mature believers must accept the weak in faith. The strong must accept the weak, without passing judgment (“διακρίσεις”) on the opinions of the weak. Doctrine always makes a difference, but opinions may be personal. The term “opinion” (“διαλογισμῶν”)  means in this context the personal decision to eat vegetables or not or to observe one day above another (Romans 14:1-9, page 1777). That personal decision should not lead others to view you with contempt (Romans 14:3, page 1777). We are not free to have our own doctrine, but we may have our own opinions. The strong must be careful to distinguish the doctrine from the opinion. In all cases, we should not sit in judgment upon other believer’s for their opinions, and always avoid regarding them with contempt. The believer with the Spiritual Gift of Distinguishing  of Spirits may have the ability: (a) to distinguish opinion from doctrine; and (b) to accept the weak without passing judgment upon their opinions; and (c) avoid regarding others with contempt for their opinions.

Section Twelve

The Ministry of Christian Court

In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul explained to the Corinthians that believers should not take believers to court. Instead, they should resolve their differences in the church. Specifically, the two opposing parties should find a wise man who will be able to decide (“διακρῖναι”) between them (1 Corinthians 6:5, pages 1787-1788). In this case, the wise man can use his spiritual ability to make a judgment between the two opposing parties. The believer with the Spiritual Gift of Distinguishing of Spirits may be able to decide between the competing people and competing spirits opposing each other in the Christian court.

Section Thirteen

The Ministry of Discerning Good and Evil

As a normal part of growing up in Christ to a mature believer, God must train our senses to discern good and evil. Some people were born again years ago, but never matured in Christ, because they have become dull of hearing, and require teacing of the elementary principles of the oracles of God (Hebrews 5:12, page 1874). Those immature believers should have become teachers of the truth, and not remained ignorant and immature. Immature believers often cannot tell the difference between sound doctrine and the doctrine of demons. Immature believers often cannot discern that certain teachers of the Bible are not teaching the Bible, but rather teaching the doctrine of demons. Immature believers need the milk and and not solid food (Hebrews 5:12, page 1874).  Only mature believers accustomed to solid food have by repeated practice had their senses trained to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:14, page 1874). Only the regular diet of solid food (doctrine from the word of God beyond the elementary principles of the oracles of God) can truly discern good and evil. The believer with the Spiritual Gift of Distinguishing Spirits may be able to distinguish good and evil, and the spirits behind the teaching.