Discernment in Spiritual Warfare


What is Discernment?

What does it mean to have discernment?  The Apostle Paul gives us an exhortation that demonstrates the need for discernment in the following verses: 

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.  (Philippians 1:9-11)

By exercising discernment, Paul writes, our love for others will grow and abound through the true knowledge of God, for it will be based on the will and wisdom of God.  Consequently, we will be filled with the fruit of righteousness, our right-standing with God, and we will be without blame, having walked in the paths of righteousness.  We will know which turns to take that will lead us to Him.

Discernment is described in slightly different terms in the following exhortation by Paul: 

But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.”  (I Thessalonians 5:21-22)

Thus, the word discernment is typically defined as the ability to distinguish, or judge, between good and evil, true and false.   It is impossible to do so, however, unless we have help from God, particularly since there are no true standards for what is good or evil in the world today.  We live in an age when truth is relative, and it is the particular situation that decides what is right and wrong, at least to those who advocate “situation ethics.”  This is why we need the guidance of the Holy Spirit to reveal what truly  comes from Him.   

The apostle John issues a warning about the false prophets who have been teaching the heresies of gnosticism, for example, a philosophy that was based on the idea that all matter is evil; therefore, Jesus could not have appeared and died physically, much less resurrected, in the flesh.  

John writes, 

Beloved, 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. 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; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.  (I John 4:1-3)

True discernment is Holy Spirit inspired, yet the writer to the Hebrews declares that we can become so aware of the differences between good and evil that even our senses may become adept at knowing the difference:

Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.  (Hebrews 5:11-14)

Thus, the Word of God is the basis of our training, first with the “milk” of the word, the fundamentals of the faith, followed by the “solid food” that is linked to the “word of righteousness,” the deeper truths of the Word that reveal to us the mysteries and secrets God desires for us to know about His plans and purposes.


The Spiritual Gift of Discernment

Both the “milk” and “solid food” of the Word of God, therefore, are significantly important in the exercise of discernment, for we must know the difference between what is good and what is evil.  In the realm of spiritual warfare, therefore, the Holy Spirit has given the Church the gift of discernment: the “distinguishing” or “discerning” of spirits (I Corinthians 12:10).  

This spiritual gift is important when it comes to “testing” the spirits to see whether they come from God, particularly when various teachings and prophecies come forth into the Body of Christ (I John 4:1). This is why we need all of the spiritual gifts described in I Corinthians 12.   If anything, we need the gift of discernment as much today as in the early Church age to help us uncover the darkness that is in our world, as well as the false teachings and false prophecies that are constantly coming forth, even in the churches.

Yes, the Word of God is the foundation of our faith, and it alone is the final arbiter of what is true and false doctrine. However, the Word alone is not enough for those who are infants in terms of their spiritual growth and development, those whose senses have not become trained to discern good and evil.  And especially in the realm of spiritual warfare, we desperately need the gifts of discernment, knowledge, and wisdom to uncover false teachings and the hidden evils of Satan, who disguises himself even as an angel of light.  

Paul writes about this problem in his letter to the Corinthians:

For such men are false apostles,deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness,whose end will be according to their deeds.  (II Corinthians 11:13-15)

My Sheep Hear My Voice

One story in the Gospel of John speaks to this issue of discernment, specifically with those who refused to believe in Jesus.  They ask Him, “How long will you keep us in suspense?  If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (John 10:24).  Jesus replies that He has already told them, but they did not believe, for the works and miracles He has performed in the Father’s name testify of Him.  

These skeptics have not exercised true discernment, however, for Jesus did not always speak literally in words, but He also spoke through signs and wonders.  They do not believe because they, like the false prophets the Apostle John describes, do not believe that Jesus has come in the flesh, even when He is standing in front of them.  Jesus tells them, 

But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. (John 10:26-28)


The Plot to Capture Elisha

Having discernment means that we can see beyond the natural world and into the realms of the spirit.   And the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, or of the flesh, but they are mighty to the pulling down of demonic strongholds, even though we cannot see them with our physical eyes.  

This kind of discernment is emphatically demonstrated in the story of Elisha, who was being hunted by the King of Aram.

The enraged king sent for his servants, demanding to know which of them had betrayed him to the Israelites.  It seemed that every time he and his armies waited in secret places to attack, the Israelites always avoided the surprise attack. The king is sure that there is someone in his house who is a spy, and he is determined to find out who it is.

Fearful that they will be put to death, one of the servants finally tells the king what he knows, “No, my lord, we are not guilty of treason.  O king; Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom.”

The king decides that an attack against Elisha will solve his problem.  Therefore, when Elisha’s servant arose early one morning, he was stricken by what he saw, an army, along with many  horses and chariots, circling the city.  He ran to Elisha, saying, “What shall we do?”

Seeing the army of the king of Aram surrounding the city, Elisha replied to his servant, “

“Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.  O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.”

In response to Elisha’s prayer, the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he saw the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

Then Elisha prayed again to the Lord saying, “Strike this people with blindness, I pray.”

The Lord heard Elisha’s prayer and struck the armed soldiers and charioteers with blindness.  

Then Elisha said to the army, “This is not the way, nor is this the city; follow me and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” 

And Elisha brought them to Samaria, where their eyes were opened to find themselves captured by the King of Israel. 

In the marvelous ending to the story (see the full account in  II Kings 6), we learn that the King of Israel takes Elisha’s advice and instead of killing his captives, he gives them a great feast and lets them return home.  Consequently, we learn, the marauding bands of Arameans did not come again into the land of Israel.


What You See Is Not What You Get

One focus of this story about Elisha concerns seeing and not seeing, on using true discernment to know how to walk in the light, to know right from wrong, to test the spirits. And what we learn is that our battles in this life should be fought with spiritual weapons, not fought with the weapons of the flesh.  


No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

WordPress Themes