What is the “Discerning of Spirits” Spiritual Gift? Discover Its Purpose and How to Activate It

“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 discerning of spirits…”

—1 Corinthians 12:7-10 (emphasis added)

Have you asked, “What is the ‘discerning of spirits’ spiritual gift?” Discerning of spirits can be a gift to know whether a prophesied word is from the Lord or if it is the Holy Spirit or a demonic spirit at work among a group of people or in a single person. By the power of the Holy Spirit, when this gift is activated, it can discern times, hidden motives, and a strategy for prayer. 

As a Believer, you have access to the gift of discerning of spirits. The key to understanding this gift is to be in God’s Word regularly so you can discern when it is His voice talking to you and not another’s voice. 

Let’s examine the gift of the discerning of spirits, its purpose, and what could be standing in the way of its operating in your life. 

Why You Need to Understand the Spiritual Gift of Discerning Spirits

We know we do not wage war against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities of darkness (Ephesians 6:12). But we also know the enemy can disguise himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). For this reason, it is essential to understand the spiritual gift of discerning spirits so that we can understand the theater of war we are in and the strategies and tactics of the enemy. 

With a keen vision into the spiritual realm, we can usher in the presence of the Lord and know how to intercede so that His will is accomplished in these last days. 

Many demonic assignments are sent out from the pit of hell during these last days, and discerning the spirits sent out is critical to battling and claiming victory. The key to walking in this spiritual gift is humility and surrender. 

The Gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12

In 1 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul lists nine gifts of the Spirit. Paul goes on to say that the Holy Spirit imparts gifts to Believers as He wills.

  • “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.—1 Corinthians 12:11 (emphasis added)

You must understand that the Holy Spirit is your Counselor, distributing His gifts to, in, and through you. The gift of discernment is not given to you because you’ve earned it. It is because God has chosen you for a purpose to bring about a Kingdom destiny for His glory.  This is part of your inheritance as a Believer in Christ. Therefore, the Spirit guides you as you accept the power and authority you have been given through Christ. 

What is the Discerning of Spirits?

The discerning of spirits is a divine discernment from the Holy Spirit. When manifested, the discerning of spirits enables a Believer to decipher the motivational spirit in others.

There is no calling within this gift to immediately reveal that discernment. Instead, this gift is used primarily for knowledge and protection. The Spirit will guide you as to who and when you share what is “picked up on” in the spiritual realm. 

An Example of Discerning of Spirits in the Bible

A biblical example of the gift of discerning of spirits manifestation is in the book of Acts. The apostle Peter discerned the intentions of Simon, the sorcerer.

Simon was a man who had practiced sorcery in Samaria, but once he saw the miracles that were performed by the apostles, he got baptized and claimed to be a follower of Christ. However, his true character was revealed when he found the source of the disciples’ power.

  • “And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’ But Peter said to him, ‘Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.’—Acts 8:18-23 (emphasis added)

Through the gift of discerning of spirits, Peter was able to recognize the misguided intentions of Simon. Simon did not want the Holy Spirit’s power in his life to bring glory to God and help build the Church. Instead, he wanted the Holy Spirit’s power for personal gain.

What is the Purpose of the Discerning of Spirits?

An open palm colliding with a fist, creating an explosion on the palm - Symbolism for “discerning of Spirits.”

All spiritual gifts are designed and distributed for the purpose of building up and edifying Believers. 

  • “Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel.—1 Corinthians 14:12 (emphasis added)

However, the primary purpose of the gift of discerning of spirits is for the Church’s protection. In other words, all spiritual gifts are given to further God’s divine plan here on Earth. This divine plan requires protection from rulers of darkness and spiritual forces that will try to oppose Yeshua’s heirs from fulfilling their purposes.

  • “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”—Ephesians 6:11-12

We must wake up to the reality that a battle is being fought in the spiritual realm. If you are one of God’s elect, chosen for the gifting of the discerning of spirits, then step boldly into that anointing. He is faithful to equip you with all the spiritual tools you need to carry out your spiritual responsibility.

Does the Discerning of Spirits Operate with Other Gifts of the Spirit?

Yes, the gift of the discerning of spirits operates in harmony with other gifts of the Spirit. For instance, in the story about Peter deciphering Simon’s intentions, Peter was also operating in the gift of prophecy. Therefore, Peter revealed to Simon that his intentions were impure and that he must repent and ask for forgiveness (see Acts 8).

Remember, part of discernment is not about disclosing the information you have discerned. Believers are called to reveal God’s truth through the gift of prophecy.   

Ways to Activate the Discerning of Spirits

For the gift of the discerning of spirits to manifest in your life, you must be able to recognize roadblocks that may be holding you back from spiritual freedom. We are quick to point out other Believers’ struggles and curses yet unable to recognize our own. 

  • “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?”—Matthew 7:3

So, what planks in your life are boarding up the door to your spiritual gift manifestation?

Remember, instruction is a friend to those who desire a right standing with God. This question is intended to reveal any obstacles preventing the manifestation of your spiritual gifts. Then you can receive instruction from the Holy Spirit as to how to move forward and A.C.T.—apply, change, and transform.

  • A- Apply: Apply the truths that are being revealed to you. Faithfully seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit and discern His wisdom through time spent in His presence. Finally, repent for anything that feels unresolved.
  • C- Change: Make the necessary changes in your life to allow your spiritual gift to manifest. Ask God to reveal if any schemes of the enemy are standing in the way of discerning of spirits. 
  • T- Transform: Petition the Holy Spirit to move you into transformative action by manifesting your spiritual gifts. Awaken to and strengthen those gifts by claiming your identity in Christ.

The Takeaway

The discerning of spirits is a spiritual gift given to Believers through the Holy Spirit. The gift enables them to decipher the motivational spirit guiding another’s actions. For this gift to operate in your life, you must be willing to be self-aware of any supernatural forces that may be standing in the way of a spiritual gift manifestation.

The discerning of spirits is given for the primary purpose of knowledge and protection. This gift commonly works in tandem with other gifts of the Spirit to help the Believer know how to proceed with the information that has been revealed.