How to Test the Spirit – Learning Discernment
Never put man’s opinion above God’s Truth. Sounds obvious right? As I was prayerfully writing this post I found myself writing about the confusion that can happen with us as Christians today because our Perfect God in His amazing grace has chosen to work and speak through imperfect man by His Holy Spirit!
It seems more than ever that we live in the midst of a world where it seems to whisper or even yell, “follow the MAN speaking, follow the MAN behind the pulpit, follow the prophet (MAN) or the MAN doing “signs and wonders.” By the way when I use the term “MAN”, I am talking about mankind which is both men and women.
Now we have a tendency, at least I know I do, when I see the word “opinion” to think well that’s just what they think, its’ not scripture. But, what if the “opinion” being spoken by man is a scripture from God’s Holy bible? What if a “man of God” is performing miracles, signs and wonders in Jesus name? Does that throw us off?
I think if we are honest, many of us have been in a position at one time or another, where we may not have discerned properly between what is God and what is man or the enemy, even with ourselves. So while it may sound obvious regarding man’s “opinion,” I think a good question to ask is, do you actually know how to discern who you are hearing: God, man or the enemy? In other words, is it the Holy Spirit of God giving that person utterance or leading that person as they teach, preach, prophesy or is it something else that is not Godly? Sometimes it can be a mixture. How important is it that we know? Well lets see what the scriptures say.
What Does the Bible Say?
The main way God speaks to us first and foremost is through His Word. So let’s look at some scriptures in the bible regarding this topic. There are many in the bible and I will only touch on some for this post. In fact this may turn into a series depending on how God leads.
The scriptures tell us in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another.
So this scripture is telling us clearly to respect our leaders and fellow workers in the Lord, to “esteem them very highly because of their work.”
However 1 John 4:1 also talks about how we need to also test the spirit. “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
I think most of us know to respect our leaders and fellow workers in Christ. I also think that this may be precisely why it may be hard for some to “test the spirit,” because they may think they are somehow being disrespectful if they test what is being said. They also may assume that just because God spoke through a person once means it’s automatically God all the time. This can create confusion and the enemy can take advantage.
What I also notice in the 1 Thessalonians scripture is that at the end it says, “Live in peace with one another.” This part honestly kind of makes me laugh to myself because the Lord knows how hard it is for His imperfect creation to live in peace with one another at times! All of our fleshly egos, insecurities and pride perhaps? Remember when the disciples were arguing over who was the greatest? (Luke 9:46) Also could He be possibly adding that in there to remind us that as we “test” the spirit, we need to be respectful about it? Just a thought.
Scriptures about God Working through Man
Here are some scriptures talking about how our Perfect God does indeed choose to work through imperfect man by the power of His Holy Spirit. Now does He work in other ways? Yes. However, for the sake of the point of this particular post, lets focus on man.
John 14:12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Mark 16:17-18 And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
Matthew 10:20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Scriptures on our Need For Discernment and Testing
The scripture also tells us in 1 Timothy 4:1 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.
2 Corinthians 11:13 Paul talks about some who are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.
Gee whiz. Wow, that is sobering and to the point isn’t it?
What about signs, miracles wonders in the name of Jesus. Is that a guarantee it’s God? Well Jesus Himself says in Matthew 7:21–23:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
We’re getting quite a picture here, aren’t we? Respect, yet test, God works through man but test the spirit behind man, the Holy Spirit is real and so are counterfeits. Test.
Lastly, Matthew 10:41 Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward.
Now, here in Matthew, we see that it’s when we welcome a prophet of God or a righteous person of God then we will then receive the reward that God wants to give us through that person by His Holy Spirit! So what happens when we don’t welcome them? It infers we will not receive. Are we back to the gee whiz again?
We want to pay attention and listen to what is coming out of the person speaking as well as their walk.
So we can see here just by these scripture examples that it’s not as simple as listening to a person who says they are a man or woman of God and just swallowing everything they say hook, line and sinker. We want to test it, pay attention and listen to what is coming out of the their mouths. At the same time, we want to be respectful in this process and make sure we don’t act like a religious Pharisee or walk by fear, unbelief and paranoia.
Often times paying attention to a person’s character may possibly help give some insight, but not always as that is really only a snapshot and it would have to be very obvious. This is based on Matthew 7:16 when Jesus was teaching about fruit (character). “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?”
Some practical examples of character may be, does the person say or preach one thing and then live the opposite of what they say? I don’t mean mistakes which we all make. We are all imperfect in a constant process of growing in the Lord. I mean a lifestyle, for example, do they peach all about “I love you” but then when they are done speaking won’t acknowledge the people listening or be respectful to the leaders or congregation? Do they teach, give me your tithes, but don’t tithe themselves as a pattern of behavior that has not changed? Pay close attention to who you listen to or sit under, this is an example of inspecting the fruit or character of a person. I will do a post on that later.
John 3:16-17 For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.
Now I say pay close attention with caution, as I don’t want someone to take this out of context and use this as a baseball bat to hammer someone over the head with. Nor do we want to become sin conscious going against the very work of Jesus Himself. If God says He will remember our sins no more then we need to be very careful about thinking we should be uncovering them with another (Hebrews 8:12)! Sadly, this is a problem in the body of Christ that have turned so many people off from going to church and we need to take responsibility for it. Discerning is a fine line, test, pay attention, observe respectfully but do not to cross over into trying to play God or judge.
Remember what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. In other words you can have gifting from God including discernment but if you walk this gifting out without love as far as God is concerned you are a clanging gong!
We must not forget that we all have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and all need a Savior Who’s name is Jesus! We all need to be saved by God’s grace. It is not based on our works but on Jesus’s work lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). We are all imperfect, Jesus is the only Perfect One. Maybe this is the “peace” Jesus was referring to in 1 Thessalonians 5:13?
Our Loving Father does not hit others over the head with a baseball bat or worse. Remember our Abba Father’s character.
Our Loving Father does not hit others over the head with a baseball bat or worse. so in our “testing” remember our Abba Father’s character. John 3:16-17 For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.
So how do we manage this? This can be like a tricky maze for some, how to discern, how to test. Let’s first look at what testing the spirit is not to help us keep the proper perspective.
What Testing the Spirit is Not
- Staring a person down and putting them under a critical microscope.
- Sitting on some high horse looking our nose down at someone (Pharisee).
- Being ungracious.
- Being disrespectful.
- Being unkind.
- Jumping on the first mistake a person makes and then making assumptions.
- Not allowing someone to be human and have the Holy Spirit teach them.
- Taking the place of God.
- Nasty gossip and calling it “discernment.”
- Being judgmental in the flesh.
Ephesians 6:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
The gift of discerning of spirits is a challenging and powerful gift to have from God. It can be very hard especially at the beginning when you are picking things up that others don’t and you may not understand what’s happening. Just like in any gift from the Lord, training is always needed and never stops! I will do another post on that later.
Suffice to say, I had to learn years ago to pray and ask the Lord to please give me not only His discernment but also His love, grace, forgiveness, wisdom and anything else that was needed to go with the discernment He was giving me by His Holy Spirit! LOL. I joke about it now but any of you that have experienced some tough situations when you were discerning a lying spirit behind a person you trust who is lying to your face without flinching know what I mean. It is very important as we pray for discernment that we stay humble before God and ask Him for a pure heart before Him. We cannot afford to miss this part.
A key scripture to remember is Ephesians 6:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
What Testing the Spirit is
So what are some ways we can test the spirit?
Here are a few tips that I hope may help you to test and discern. It is not an exhaustive list and does not replace training (learning over time by trial and error) in the Lord but they are some guidelines.
I have put in bold the quick points and added more in depth explanation for those who may want more information. My prayer is that you find this helpful.
- Get in the Word of God! God does not contradict Himself. Does what the person of God claim to be saying line up with scripture?
- Spend time with the Lord. Get to know Your Heavenly Abba Father, the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit. This can only happen by spending time with God and cultivating relationship, the same way you did with your closest friend or your spouse. When you do this you will begin to recognize the Lord’s characteristics and it will be harder to fool you.
- Pray. Always ask the Lord for His spirit of wisdom, discernment, knowledge and understanding of the Lord and also regarding the person you are listening to. Also for His protection, wisdom and guidance. Don’t be afraid to ask the Lord point blank, Lord is this person speaking by Your Spirit or himself? Lord, please help me to receive what You want me to and if there is anything I should not receive that I don’t, in Jesus name amen.
- Godly counsel. The bible talks in Proverbs (15:22) about wise counsel. Now when I say this I’m not talking about worldly wisdom to be clear, it’s leaders or other Christians. Write the message down, play the recording, show them the book or whatever the resource of the person. Pray together and ask their impression. Do they think it’s from God, man or the enemy?
- Do you “witness” to it? Some other ways to put this are, do you feel a yes inside by the Holy Spirit? Is it something that resonates inside you? Do you feel peace or joy? Does it confirm something? Have you been praying about this and you have a knowing inside that this is from God?
- What are you feeling and why? We don’t want to be led by our feelings but rather be led by the Holy Spirit, which sometimes will then produce a feeling. Notice the difference.This is learned over time.
- Audience. If you are at an event, who else is there? Do you know any of them? Are they baby Christians or others that you’re unsure about? How to they seem to you? For example if you see a bunch of Christian leaders that you know have good discernment there and they are supportive and comfortable, that is worth noting. While it may not mean the person speaking is still being led by the Lord it is a good possible indicator. If need be you can ask them what they discern. Along the same lines if they don’t look comfortable or leave, pay attention.
- Trust and obedience. Trust God will watch over you and will warn you if there is an issue. Be prayerful and if you do get a check and feel led to leave, obey and leave. God is God and He can restore it back to you if for some reason you got it wrong. Remember God is your source not man. While He may choose to work through man, He knows your heart and concern and He ultimately can work through whoever and whatever He chooses.
What Do You Think?
Can you see where people can get confused or go overboard either direction sometimes with this? Either becoming hyper critical, paranoid and religious or too trusting and not prayerful enough? What have you learned? Have any discerning tips?
Would love to hear your thoughts and examples in comments below.
Your Feedback and Comments
Thank you for reading. I truly appreciate your comments and feedback and that is what will make this a wonderful place to share, grow, spur each other on and encourage one another in our journey. So I encourage you to please share your thoughts, examples as well as other topic requests.
Questions? Please read our comment guidelines here.
God bless you and may you always stay blessed in Jesus name amen.