Spiritual Discernment – Seeing behind the ordinary

Doctrinal Foundation Series by Rev. Jay Werman.

Text based: 1 John 4:1

“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try (dokimazo) the spirits whether they (spirits) are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”

Definition: Discern is the ability or faculty to distinguish or do judgment, given by God with the purpose to comprehend and understand the spiritual realm.

In the Scriptures we found 2 types of discernment:

One that is given to a specific ministry, which function in full capacity and it carry the purpose of confirming such specific ministerial gift

The other one is given to every born again Christian. The level of function depends upon the level of spiritual growth

We will develop both concepts in depth later as we lay down a solid foundation.

The Hebrew word used in the Old Testament is “yada,” which means:

  1. To know, to learn, to perceive.
  2. To perceive and see, find out and discern.
  3. To discriminate, distinguish
  4. To know by experience.
  5. To recognize, admit, acknowledge, confess.
  6. To be acquainted with.
  7. To have knowledge, be wise.
  8. To be instructed, comprehend.

The word is used 930 times in the Old Testament.

The Greek word used in the New Testament is “dokimazo,” which means:

  1. To test, examine, prove, scrutinize. The reference behind the use of the word implied whether a thing is genuine or not, in the same sense as testing metals.
  2. To recognize as genuine after examination.
  3. To approve, deem worthy.
  4. When the word is used as “testing” it is used literally or figuratively. by what is implied or suggested, “to approve, allow, discern, examine, try.”

Any of the above definitions of the word “dokimazo” will depend on the use of it in the passage in question and the context under which the writer was inspired to use it.

Some examples:

  1. Prove – Luke 14:19; Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 8:8; 13:5; Gal. 6:4 (compare with Rev. 3:2), 1 Th. 5:21
  2. Approve – 1 Cor. 16:3; Ph. 1:10
  3. Tried – 1 Peter 1:7
  4. Discern – Luke 12:56. In here “discern” refers to recognize the plain facts of the times. Verses 56‐57; Mt. 16:1‐4

Let’s explain the use of the word “discern” in connection with Hebrews 5:11‐14.

In the Old Testament God’s discernment was given to a certain people and in limited use; Priests, prophets and kings were anointed (separated for a specific work) and experienced a limited work of the Holy Spirit through them. After the resurrection of Jesus, men were given the experience of the new birth (new spirit with God’s nature 2 Cor. 5:17), which allowed God to give discernment in a deeper way through the manifestation of God’s Spirit. Every born again Christian has the ability to walk in the spiritual realm by using the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. In 1 Cor. 12:10 it’s stated that “discernment of spirits” is a gift given to the church. One thing to observe in 1 Cor. 12:10, is that the word “spirit” is used in plural, implying the varieties and types of spiritual being. We also found in 1 Jn. 4:1 a parallel passage that expanded the meaning and purpose of such spiritual gift.

We found 4 types of spiritual beings registered in the scriptures;

God: is mentioned in the scriptures as 3 distinct individual persons; God The Father, God The Son, and God The Holy Spirit. It’s also known as The Godhead. The following passages speak about it. Acts 10:38; 1 Jn. 5:5‐11, 13, 20. In Gen. 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Isa. 6:8; Jn. 14: 23; 17:11, 22‐23. We will get in more details when we study the subject of “God”.

Angelical Begins: Are mentioned 212 times in the scriptures. Gen. 16:7, 9‐11; 21:17; 22:11; Exo. 23:19‐20; Num. 20:16; 22:22‐27; Jdg 13:20‐21. Etc.

Demons: Also knows as “unclean spirits”; Zech. 13:2; Mt. 12:43; Mk. 1:23, 26; 3:30; 5:2, 8; 7:25; Lk. 4:33; 8:29; 9:42; 11:24; Rev. 18:2. In Ephesians 6:12 Paul described the ranks and the hierarchy position of Satan’s kingdom. We will get more details when we study “demonology”.

Human spirits: Men were created “tripartite” or in 3 parts; we are spiritual beings, have a soul, and lives in a body. 1 Th. 5:23; Heb. 4:12.

We become control and govern by our senses because of the spiritual separation between God and us. Rom. 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death” and Gen. 2:17 “…for in the day that thou (Adam) eatest thereof thou shalt surely die”. The definition of “death” under the biblical context means “separation” and it apply to either literally or figurative sense.

Discernment in Jesus ministry:

Jesus’s ministry was the only earthly ministry to have spiritual discernment operating at full capacity, because of the purpose of his divine mission and the nature. Jesus was 100% pure in every sense of the word and for that reason all the gifts of the Spirit mentioned in 1 Cor. 12:8-10 were fully operated in Jesus’s ministry. The same applied for every ministry, call, and operation in each administration as it is expressed in Ephesians 4:11; 1 Cor. 12:4-10. John 3:34 say “…For God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him”. Compare with Isa. 11:2; 42:1; 61:1; Lk. 4:16-21; Acts 10:38. Most of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that operated under Jesus’s ministry are not explained in detail in the Gospels, but we can get a glimpse of them in the letters written by the apostles where we found them. Jesus not only used in his earthy ministry the gift of “discerning of spirits” mentioned in 1 Cor. 12:10, but also the spiritual discernment that is produced and resulted by the Word of God. Jesus also operated in all the ministries given to the body of Christ but without any limitations whatsoever Eph 4:11.

Let’s details some examples of the discernment in Jesus’s ministry.

– Mark 4:35-41. In this occasion we found an attack against Jesus life. If you read the biblical record with a natural eye and your intellect, you will miss what really happened in this scenario.

Let’s analyze Mark 4:35-41;

  1. “And the same day”. Reading in the context of the chapter “in the same day he taught to the people by the sea”. V. 1
  2. Jesus was asleep before the storm started. V. 38. “The hinder part of the ship”, which is the rear end of the ship; the part opposite to the stern or front, head, nose, prow. Jesus knew perfectly every attack that satan will bring to him, that’s the reason why Jesus were asleep. The trust of Jesus on God’s word was absolute; Jesus fulfilled every prophecy and promised expressed by God in the Old Testament, including Psalm 23; 91; 112, etc. every word of God became of reality under Jesus’s ministry. “There shall no evil (brought up by satan) befall thee”. Psalm 91:10. Because of his obedience to the father, protection was guaranteed upon him.
  3. The disciples panicked to a point where they got desperate and awoke Jesus. V.38.
  4. “And he arose, and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was great calm”. V. 39. By the used of the gifts of revelation (through which God reveals the true source of any physical event) Jesus knew the reason of this physical attack. The prophet Amos 3:7 say “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets”.

Our fight is not against physical neither with material elements but spiritual elements or satanic agents, Ephesians 6:12. Jesus knew this better that anybody; his comprehension of the spiritual realm is beyond our limited understanding. Observe when in Mark 4:39 says “And he arose (he didn’t asked what’s going on, perfectly knew), and rebuked (to admonish, reprehend, scold or change sharply) the wind”. Jesus compared the winds in Mt. 7:24-29 with “attacks that comes to destroy”. Satan used a physical element like the wind to try to kill Jesus while he was asleep, but God’s protection was upon Jesus. Read Psalm 4:8. “…And said to the sea. Peace, be still”. Be still implied “to make speechless, reduce to silence, to muzzle”; in other words, “to mute, silence, hush, pacify, and calm”. Something provoked this physical element to rise against the ship where Jesus was resting. If it was nature involved in this event, can nature raise against the creator? Obviously not, that would contradict the Scriptures that reference God’s control over everything. Genesis chapters 1 and 2 describe God’s power to create, compare with Gen. 7:4; Exodus 9:33; Dt. 11:17; Job 37:6; Jer. 10:13; etc. Col. 1:16 say “For by him (speaking of Jesus) were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth (including nature), visible and invisible…”. This event in Mark 4:35-41 was provoked by satan because Jesus was exposing satan’s methods of deception. The attack happened right after Jesus taught “the sower parable” in Mark 4:1-20; “the lamp” 4:21-25; “the seed growing” 4:26-29; “the mustard seed” 4:30-43. In the book of Job 1:12-19 satan caused storms allowed by God. Paul called satan “the prince of the power of the air”. Eph. 2:2. In Gen. 3:2-4 Satan used an animal to tempt Eve and caused Adam to betray God.

  1. “And he (Jesus) said unto them, why are ye so fearful? How is it that ye have no faith?”. V. 40. Fear is the opposite of faith.
  2. “And they feared exceedingly”. V.41. The Hebrew word for fear can be translated as honor, respect and reverence, to hold someone in high esteem. Because of what they saw, their respect, reverence and honor grew in them. Exodus 20:20 speaks of two types of fears: one that is induced by satan through terror, the other, as in Proverbs 1:7, comes from the beginning of knowledge. Panic does not come from the Lord, rather it is based on an attack from satan.

The gift of “Discerning Spirits” (1 Cor. 12:10) and the spiritual discernment that is developed in Jesus because of God’s word in Him allowed Him to see in the spiritual realm and distinguish between something caused by satan or by nature.

In Luke 9:54-56 we found Jesus discerning the hearts and intentions of two of his disciples. Retaliation wasn’t part of Jesus’s earthly ministry; he came to save the lost. Lk 19:10. Jesus rebuked his two disciples and told them to discern what spirit was motivating them to do such actions. In the Old Testament we are advised neither to avenge nor hold grudges. Pro. 24:29

The motives of these two disciples to bring judgment over this village for rejecting to receive Jesus wasn’t aligned with God’s purpose and Jesus discerned this. He was forming them not to avenge based on their senses and to discern what spirit brought this upon them. Many years later John wrote about “Try the spirits whether they are of God”. 1 John 4:1.

In these passages we found Jesus rebuking the disciples for not distinguishing the spirit that was motivating them to react based their senses. Their judgment was clouded because of the lack of spiritual discernment.

Let’s analyze in depth what these passages described.

  1. Jesus time to fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament had come. V. 51
  2. On His way to Jerusalem he sent his disciples to a village in Samaria but they rejected him. Verses 52-53. Exactly like Edom refused Israel to pass through their land in Num. 20:14-21. Edomites were descendants of Esau and God instructed them not to fight them in Dt. 2:4-9
  3. “and when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord (Gr. Kurios), Wilt thou that we command fire to come down from Heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?”. V. 54. Elijah commanded fire to come down from heaven that killed 102 men in 2 Kings 1:9-14. Jesus knew the consequences of not correcting his disciples at this specific moment, since his message was salvation not condemnation as Jesus himself expresses it later. V. 56; Mt. 1:21; John 3:17; 10:19. In his teaching, Jesus taught of not avenger or does retaliation. Mt. 5:38-48; 18:21; Luke 6:27; John 13:34; 15:9; 17:26.
  4. “but he turned, and rebuked them”. V. 55. “Rebuked” meaning to “reprove, censure severely”.
  5. “and said, ye know not what manner of Spirit ye are of”. V. 55. “Manner” from the Greek word “oios”, which means, “what sort of” connecting with “what Spirit is motivating you”. They couldn’t comprehend the purpose of Jesus until they received the Holy Spirit as it is stated in John 14:26. The gospel isn’t spread by sword but by persuasion of the Holy Spirit and God’s love. 2 Cor. 5:18-21. Peter took revenge and cut off the ear of the high priest and Jesus told him to put that away. John 18:10-11. In the scriptures it is stated that God will avenge his people when his wrath will come upon those that had rejected and disobeyed him. Ezek. 25:17; John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; Rev. 14:10; 16:16-19; 19:15. Paul said, “Put off all these, anger, wrath, malice…” Col. 3:38. Compare with Eph. 4:31.
  6. “For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village”. The word in the Greek language for “lives” is Psuche, which is translated “soul”. Because this village rejected Jesus that action of harming wasn’t aligned with the purpose that Jesus came to fulfill and he made that very clear.

Let’s dissect two words from their original language and in accordance with their biblical context as part of these series of classes about spiritual discernment. Each of these two words has a different meaning and usage, which is defined by the Scriptures. One interpretation is given to each specific passage of the Bible; whichever was meant by the author of the Bible, God. The application of passages of the Bible might by different in the sense in which the Holy Spirit wanted to use it. For instance, we can use a passage of the Bible to have application that covers our nation, our city, our local churches, etc. but even though the application might change, the interpretation doesn’t. God’s word doesn’t change or age as it is expressed in Psalm 119:89; Isa. 40:8; Luke 21:33; 1 Pet. 1:25-26.

Let’s break it down the two words used in the New Testament for “try” or “prove:”

  • The word from the Greek “Dokimazo” means “To test, examine, prove, scrutinize, approved. These definitions are used in the following passages and the application of each word will depend upon the context where that word was used. Luke 12:56; 14:19; Rom. 1:28; 2:18; 12:2; 14:22; 1 Cor. 3:13; 11:28; 16:3; 2 Cor. 8:8, 22; 13:5; Gal. 6:4; Eph. 5:10; Php. 1:10; 1 Th. 2:4; 5:21; 1 Tim. 3:10; Heb. 3:9; 1 Pet. 1:7; 1 Jn. 4:1. In the case of James 1:3 “Knowing this, that the trying (dokimion, noun, that is defined as “the proving – that by which something is tried or proved”) of your faith worketh patience”. Trying in verse 3 imply “tried or test of character, a proof”.
  • The other Greek word is “peiramos”, which is translated as follow;
  1. an experiment, attempt, trial, proving
  2. trial, proving: the trial made of you by my bodily condition, since condition served as to test the love of the Galatians toward Paul (Gal 4:14)
  • The trial of man’s fidelity, integrity, virtue, constancy
  1. an enticement or lure to sin, temptation, whether arising from the desires or from the outward circumstances as it is expressed in James 1:1-15
  2. an internal temptation to sin
  3. of the temptation by which the devil sought to divert Jesus the Messiah from his divine errand
  4. of the condition of things, or a mental state, by which we are enticed to sin, or to a lapse from the faith and holiness
  5. Temptation (i.e. trial) of God by men
  • Rebellion against God, by which his power and justice are, as it were, put to the proof and challenged to show themselves.

Satan and his demons use three different ways to lure us to sin. 1 Jn. 2:15-17; “The lust (cravings) of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride (boast) of life”. Verse 16. Satan used these three different ways to deceive Eve in the garden. Gen. 3:1-7.

The Most High God will keep blessing your life!!