Acts 17:11 Archives

Teaching on the Gift of Discernment

Answers, considerations, and experiential observations by Dean VanDruff.

  • "Tell me more about the problem of assuming natural abilities are spiritual gifts."

  • One of the most radical examples of this is the story of Gideon's army.

    Judges 7:2 (NIV) The Lord said to Gideon, "You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her."

    God obviously was not interested in human strength or talent. The basic principal is put in a couple of nice summary verses:

    Zec 4:6b (NIV) "'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the Lord Almighty."

    Joh 6:63 (NAS) "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing."

    Joh 6:63 (NIV) "The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing."

    Jer 17:5 (NAS) Thus says the Lord, "Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind And makes flesh his strength..."

    The risks and benefits of having a natural talent vs. a spiritual gift--or not—are important to recognize. Below is a definition of Discernment and commentary from a previous posting:

    Discernment: is the heightened ability to read or hear a teaching, to encounter a problem, or to consider a proposed course of action, and then determine whether the source behind the teaching, problem, or action is divine, merely human, or satanic. This will be a much needed gift near the End of the Age....

    Talents vs. Gifts

    Quibbling over the distinction between gifts and talents has little value in discovering what gifts we have. It would be odd for God, who made us, not to "build into" some of us natural talents that would later be used as gifts. On the other hand, neither should we be surprised if the Holy Spirit gives gifts to make up for a lack of natural ability. The value of understanding the difference between gifts and talents comes after discovering a spiritual gift--in understanding the temptations and pitfalls of obedience if natural talent is present, or absent.

    For those with spiritual gifts that intersect with natural talent, there is always the temptation to minister in the power of the flesh. If this is the situation, we must be careful not to produce "Ishmael's" with the natural ability God has given us (Gal 4:23). We must wait upon the Lord to use our natural talent with supernatural results. Natural talent, after all, won't last long. But those who have learned to trust in God and are strong in the Lord will live forever (Luke 8:18).

    For those who are gifted in areas where they have no talent, fear of failure can paralyze the spiritual gift. But if we are obedient to the Spirit's low-risk promptings, God will confirm the gift in us with power, and our confidence in God will grow into full maturity. (If pride grows as well, God will let us fall to remind us where the power comes from.) Those who excel in gifts where they have no talent bring glory to God and remind everyone just how gracious He is.

  • "I think I have the gift of discernment..."

  • John 3:30 (NAS) "He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease."

    Discernment is one of those areas where this is most stark. Some people have a good sixth sense, for example. They can "read people". To illustrate how this is not a spiritual gift, compare it to being color blind or not. Many men are color blind, but I have incredibly good ability to perceive color. Is this a "spiritual gift"? Well, perhaps obtusely, since God made me this way; but not in the scriptural sense of gifts given at the time of new-birth, or by being filled/baptized with the Spirit later. Back to our example of being good at reading people, in the past such people have often taken on the trade of being a gypsy or psychic, but obviously God is not behind this sort of occult activity.

    Laura and I both have the gift of discernment, and struggle with the natural "flesh" thing as well; Laura more than me--since she is better than me, naturally. An excellent training tool has been email. We got 445 emails just last night. Now then, is this person really on the verge of suicide, or is this just a prank? Is this someone asking an honest if stupid question, or a brilliant but insincere question? If the person asking were right in front of us we could observe their eyes and body language and gain many clues. Or, we could easily figure out by accent that English is a second language for them and that is why their desperate plea is put in sing-song language that seems almost mocking. Or, that the brilliant question comes with a smirk and is meant to derail, waste time, or will end up misquoted and lampooned in some pagan news group. On the internet, where all you have is ciphers floating on a screen, all the "fleshly" natural props are unavailable! And, as you might imagine, the stakes are high on the downside: for this might be the last cry for help before divorce... or worse. How to tell? Well, this has forced us to differentiate clearly between natural "reading" and real / true / pure spiritual discernment. For it is not about having good antennae in the flesh, it is about staring at Jesus and waiting for His strength, power, wisdom, life, and leading. It is about dying and being resurrected into new life. When the real thing comes it is MILES from the natural in character and effect. When it doesn't, it is a drag, since flesh by itself stinks. I have had some scandalous failures in the past, but this has humbled and humiliated me--which is good. This internet "sensory deprivation" thing--both where we have done well and failed--has been an excellent training ground. Now when I meet someone, I deliberately try to tune-out what I perceive in the flesh, and simply ask God for discernment in how to respond or not. They say the blind develop heightened senses in other areas. This is a good metaphor for becoming blind in our fleshly abilities such that our spiritual gifts might be awakened by faith and grow.

    2Co 5:7 (KJV) For we walk by faith, not by sight.

    Phil 3:7 (NIV) But whatever was to my profit [Paul's fine human capabilities, skills, accomplishments] I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish [KJV: dung] that I may gain Christ.

  • "I can discern things; but I have very low knowledge of Biblical teachings. Is it possible to have one without the other?"

  • I believe it is, if it is the real spiritual stuff. If it is just a natural "hunch", of course, you will not find confirmation later--either from yourself or others--through scripture and/or simply the way things play out.

    Here I will offer some insights that might not be shared by many in the current "puffed up with knowledge" Christian environment that we live in. I am of the view that discernment is not knowledge based, but I suspect that many in the modern church would disagree. For example, Hank Hannegraf nearly always uses Scripture to discern and calls his a "discernment" ministry, but I think this incorrect. By using Scripture, his is a "knowledge" and/or an "understanding" or "teaching" ministry. Discernment is more elemental than human thought, more in the domain of the heart or spirit and not so much the mind--except as a conclusion afterwards. In scripture, it is "discernment of spirits" not "discernment of knowledge" or "discernment of facts"; and spirits must be spiritually discerned.

    1Cor 12:7-10 (NKJ) 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, another discerning of spirits...

    1John 4:1 (NAS) ...test the spirits to see whether they are from God...

    The major categories of spirits are 1) God, 2) the devil (or world, if you will: Js 3:15), and 3) the flesh. People with mature discernment can tell the difference between flesh and spirit in themselves and others, thus the difficulty and learning needed at the outset to grow in the gift. They can also perceive the demonic as acute pain, angst, or discord in their spirits. But many in the body do not want to "submit" to this gift, exalting knowledge (biblical, in particular) above all. This is very inefficient and misapplied... even silly at times. For example, you (I suspect) could tell a man from a woman (in most cases) without doing a hormone test, no? The hormone test is like "finding a scripture"--much more accurate for difficult cases; but it is inefficient and silly (even bullying?) to insist on this in every case. Most often you can just tell. So it is with discernment. If it were simply a matter of looking up scriptures, then why a separate gift from knowledge, wisdom, and understanding?

    Given this, I have felt led in the last few years not to provide scriptural support if this was not the basis of my conclusion--and normally with real discernment it is not--even if I can come at it from this angle, which I most often can. While this has not gone over well with a few people, predictably, I feel it is time to burst the swollen knowledge bubble. It is like having spiritual smell--why pretend we saw something we really smelled just to make those without smell feel better? And smell can go around corners and into places that sight can't. Now I just tell them: "that is demonic" pure and simple. Scripture only tells us to discern and is not case specific. My freedom in this boldness is that God (if He can be taken at His word <smiles>) always confirms by two or three.

    Mat 18:16 (NIV) ..."'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.'"

    2Cor 13:1 (NIV) "Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses."

    Thus, we should never, ever, submit to one man's prophecy, discernment, or whatever--cult like. If it is really God, then He will confirm it His way. Sometimes the second or third witness is simply the Holy Spirit in us going "YEAH!" (1Jn 5:7-9) but God never breaks His own rules. Thus, we are free to take risks and not worry about misleading anyone, for it is really God then He will get the glory by doing it His way: through at least two or three separate witnesses. This does not work so well in most modern churches, because the "witnesses" are afraid to death (in the pride of flesh) that they might be wrong and thus paralyzed into inactivity. Well, they will never know or learn until they try. Discerners are given to the body like a nose: they are to sniff things out and give advance warning to that which is gross or moldy or toxic, as well as what might be glorious, gorgeous, or splendid. When we discern, we need no hype or "authority", we can just simply state in humility and the freedom that Christ has provided in the new-wineskin structure (such as "by two or three"). What people do with this information is up to them and God, but we must speak if prompted by the Holy Spirit with strong discernment within.

    In conclusion, my advice might run counter to popular opinion, but I am of the view that discernment has little to do with how much scripture you know, but is more like an ability to see or "smell" into the spirit world. You would do well to learn more of the Bible, and you are doing this... but I think you will find this more like outside confirmation than applying to the basic gift; it will be like getting the hormone test results back on the "queen" that you knew in an instant was not a woman.

    Well, if I am right, you will have a tough row to hoe with all the "knowledge touters" beating you up, rejecting your gift, or asking for "hormone tests" from you... and the like; but be bold and know that if it is really Christ-in-you then He will confirm it later even if people reject it now. Remember, it is His glory we are after, not ours. And when it comes to any deficiency in knowledge that you might have, if you are submitting to Christ's body in your life, then this might well come mainly from others--for this is how God wants it to be. Are all the nose or hand? Just be the nose and get real good at it, and if you are rejected then remember how this felt when you are tempted to reject the foot or some other part. Because sometimes we cut off our noses just to spite our face. For God wants us to be interdependent, that is why He gives gifts "as He chooses".

    We really need each other.

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