A BIBLICAL GUIDEBOOK FOR SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT IN THE 21ST CENTURY

A BIBLICAL GUIDEBOOK FOR SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT IN THE 21ST CENTURY
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Dr. Paul L. King

IS IT OF GOD? – A BIBLICAL GUIDEBOOK FOR SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT
IN THE 21ST CENTURY

VOLUME I

Table of Contents
Dedication…………………………………………………………………………………………
Acknowledgements………………………………………………………………………………
Preface……………………………………………………………………………………………..
Chapter 1: Why Do We Need Discernment? …………………………………………………….
Chapter 2: Basic Biblical Foundations for Discernment………………………………………….
Chapter 3: Basic Biblical Principles of Discernment……………..……………………………..
Chapter 4: Principle of Spirit-Trained Perception: Types, Degrees, and Nuances of
Discernment……………………………………………………………………………………..
Chapter 5: Spiritual Eyesight Limitations: Hindrances to Discernment…………………………
Chapter 6: The Principle of Distinguishing Unbiblical vs. Non-Biblical………………………..
Chapter 7: To Judge or Not to Judge: Discernment vs. Judgment……………………………….
Chapter 8: Is All Discernment from God?—Avoiding Undiscerning Discernment……………
Chapter 9: Discerning Discernment Myths: Questionable Claims of Discernment..…………..
Chapter 10: Rightly and Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: Discerning True and False
Use of Scripture………………………………………………………………………………….
Chapter 11: Is Cessationism of God?………………………………………………………………………………..
Chapter 12: Is Continuism of God? Biblical Affirmations of Continuing Supernatural
Gifting……………………………………………………………………………………………
Chapter 13: If It Is Miraculous, Is It Always from God?……………………………………………………
Chapter 14: True Fire, Wildfire, Strange Fire, or No Fire? Discerning True and Counterfeit
Revival………………………………………………………………………………………….
Chapter 15: If God Is Not the Author of Confusion, Why Is Revival So Messy?………………….
Chapter 16: Discernment of True and False Manifestations……………..…………………….
Chapter 17: Discerning Spirit, Flesh and Demonic…………………………………………….
Chapter 18: May the Force Be with You—Which One? Discerning Psychic from Spirit……..
Chapter 19: How to Develop Spiritual Discernment…………………………………………. .
Chapter 20: Preview of Volume 2: Is It of God? Applying Biblical Principles of
Discernment……………………………………………………………………….
Appendix 1 Discernment Resources
Appendix 2 Continuum of Judgment
Appendix 3 Cessationist vs Continuist Frame of Reference
PREFACE
Many people have told me this is a book that is needed now (like yesterday) and it needs
to be accessible to everyone. I had started to write a comprehensive book on spiritual
discernment throughout church history, but I came to realize that such a book would be a volume
of nearly a thousand pages. Hence, I have cut back the content and divided the work into two
volumes. This first volume is intended to be a broad overview of principles of discernment. The
second volume will be more specific practical application of those principles. For the sake of
brevity, I have omitted some of the documentation, church history, and in-depth analysis that a
thorough academic book would include.
This book does not address discerning the will of God for your life. Many fine books deal
with this type of discernment. Rather, this book focuses on whether an unusual teaching,
practice, or manifestation is from God. Most, but not all, of the issues in this book deal with
issues found in the charismatic movement and their opponents.
These principles of discernment have been carefully thought through, studied through,
prayed through, examined closely through the grid of Scripture illumined by the Holy Spirit,
researched throughout church history, and forged out of 48 years of ministry, especially in the
areas of spiritual warfare and discernment.
Jonathan Edwards, in his classic work The Religious Affections, acknowledges that no
foolproof rules or formulas for discernment exist, admitting, “yet I am far from pretending to lay
down any such rules as shall be sufficient of themselves, without other means.”i With Jonathan
Edwards, I do not claim that I have all of the answers. I am certain that most everyone who reads
these books will disagree with some of my conclusions. An old Jewish maxim states that if three
rabbis get together, there will be four opinions.
I am still learning and growing in discernment. Discernment is not infallible. I want
always, like Apollos, to be teachable and learn the way of Christ more accurately. With more
information and insight from others, and revelation from the Word and the Spirit through prayer,
I am always willing to reexamine my conclusions. I still puzzle over some issues of discernment
and try to withhold judgment until I receive further light from the Spirit, the Word, church
history, or the experiences and insights of other discerning believers.
My hope and prayer are to provide a mature, balanced approach that is both fully open to
all that God wants to do and reveal, yet also exercising mature discretion so that the Holy Spirit
is not quenched or grieved. My heart is for genuine holy revival in the power of the Spirit. Let’s
explore and seek the Lord together and pray for the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth.
CHAPTER 1
WHY DO WE NEED DISCERNMENT?
“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” (Phil 1:9-10).
John Cassian, one of the most significant writers on discernment throughout church
history, counsels, “Discernment is the mother of all virtues, as well as their guardian and
regulator.”ii Following the counsel of the ancients, A.W. Tozer declared that the spiritual gift
most needed in the church today is the gift of discernment.iii Noted author Lee Grady and former
editor of Charisma magazine admonishes that discernment is “the most neglected of all spiritual
gifts.”iv Jack Hayford counsels, “The deeper we move into the last days, the greater the need for
our young people to have the shelter and the shield, the presence and the power, the wisdom and
the discernment of the Holy Spirit!”v So then, what is discernment and why do we need it?
What Is Discernment?
First of all, we should make clear what discernment is not. Discernment is not criticism.
Discernment is not fear of evil. Discernment is not suspiciousness or skepticism. Discernment is
not judgmentalism. Discernment is not just negative assessment; discernment is also positive.
The main Hebrew word for discernment is bin, meaning “to perceive, discern, separate,
distinguish, turn the mind upon to understand.” It is related to the Hebrew word for “between,”
with the idea of distinguishing or dividing between. You are not a person of discernment or
understanding until you can distinguish between two things that seem similar. If it all looks all
the same to you, you are not discerning.
In the New Testament, the Greek verb krino and noun krisis are the common words for
“judge” and “judgment.” They designate the making of a decision up or down, for or against.
Discernment is implied in the making of a judgment, but it does not guarantee in human cases
that the judgment is wise and right. In the New Testament, the term is usually used of critical
judgment, and we are almost always commanded not to make a judgment (see Chapter 7).
The main New Testament words for discernment imply investigating thoroughly
(diakrino) and carefully distinguishing or analyzing (anakrino). A modern-day term we often use
for this process is “critical thinking,” which is defined as “the mental process of actively and
skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information to reach
an answer or conclusion.” It is vital to understand that critical thinking is not criticism, but
analysis. However, for spiritual discernment, it is much more than a mental process; it involves a
spiritual process of receiving insight from the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.
Discernment, at its root, is the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, good and
evil. Yet it is more than that. Charles Spurgeon wisely declared, “Discernment is not a matter of
simply telling the difference between right and wrong; it is telling the difference between right
and almost right.” Or as Oswald Chambers, who was influenced by Spurgeon, put it, “The good
is sometimes the enemy of the best.” Discernment involves not only distinguishing good from
evil, but also degrees of good, better, and best. As Paul writes in the passage above, God desires
that we strive for the best.
Humility—The Essential Character Quality for Discernment
John Cassian stressed that humility is essential for discernment. Frances Frangipane
emphasizes that humility is the stronghold of the godly.vi We are humbled when we receive
discernment from God. I know this from my own experience. Several people have said to me that
I have a gift of discernment of spirits, and various spiritual gift inventories as well as practical
experiences of life have seemed to confirm it from time to time. However, the more I have
studied spiritual discernment in Scripture and throughout church history, as well as from other
experiences of life, the less discerning I feel I am. I am humbled at the awesome responsibility to
discern as well as humbled by my imperfect discernment.
As I seek discernment with humility, I find that I have to readjust my thinking time and
again. Sometimes I have thought I have been fully discerning and balanced, but the Holy Spirit
has shown me—not quite so. Periodically, He has revealed to me that while I might have been
partially and even mostly correct, sometimes I have had an imbalanced view and have had to
repent of my judgmental attitudes. Also, there have been times in which I thought I was balanced
but did not have a full understanding and as a result have been too accepting. With new
information and revelation, I had to acknowledge that some things I thought were okay were not
so okay after all, and I was not as discerning as I thought I was. In all of our discernment, we
always need to humbly admit the possibility of a margin of error. I will address the problem of
undiscerning discernment in chapter 8.
That means discernment is not judgmental (we will come back to this point in Chapter 7).
People tend by nature to think they are discerning. However, as one of my colleagues has
quipped, “Some people think they have a gift of discernment, but it is really a highly developed
sense of suspicion.”
Oswald Chambers cautions that God never gives us discernment in order that we may
criticize, but that we may intercede. Corrie Ten Boom likewise affirmed, “Discernment is God’s
call to intercession, never to faultfinding.” Genuine discernment does not lead us to judgment,
but to prayer. In Paul’s prayer for discernment above, he prays that our love may abound in our
discernment. True discernment is rooted in love, not a critical spirit.
Humility in discernment also means that our motives must be pure, and our will must be
surrendered to God. We do not discern to advance our agenda. Discernment begins, not with
others, but with our self. John Climacus, a sixth-century monk, affirmed that discernment begins
with “real self-knowledge.” We cannot discern truth and error without first discerning the error
in our own lives. As Jesus declared,
Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in
your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Brother, let me take out the speck that is
in your eye,” when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite,
first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that
is in your brother’s eye (Luke 6:41-42).
Jesus went so far as to say that we are hypocrites if we do not discern the error in our own lives
before we try to discern error in others. In order to be discerning, we first need to pray again and
again:
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way (Ps 139:23-24).
Why is humility necessary to discernment? Several Scriptures show that we need to approach
discernment humbly:
• We are exhorted not to trust our own understanding and wisdom: “Trust in the Lord
with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways
acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes” (Prov
3:5-7).
• God’s thoughts and ways are beyond us: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts. Nor
are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the
earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa
55:8-9).
• We are warned to not think too highly: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take
heed that he does not fall” (1 Cor 10:12).
• We know only in part: “For we know in part and we prophesy in part” (1 Cor 13:9).
Therefore, we may hear God imperfectly, or we may hear God clearly, but misinterpret
what God is saying. We may hear, and even properly interpret, but misapply, like Job’s
friends.
• Much of our discernment is through practice and training, i.e., by trial and error, and
only comes through maturity (Heb 5:14).
Why Do We Need Discernment?
Because God Is Pleased with Our Desire for Discernment. First of all, God is pleased that we
ask for discernment. He places a high priority on discernment. David exhorted in his prophetic
poem: “Now therefore, O kings, show discernment” (Ps 2:10). Solomon followed this prophetic
counsel from his father by asking God for discernment (1 Kgs 3:5-9). The Lord was pleased with
Solomon’ request. His response to Solomon shows us how much God values our desire for
discernment:
Because you have asked this thing and have not asked for yourself long life, nor have asked
riches for yourself, nor have you asked for the life of your enemies, but have asked for
yourself discernment to understand justice, behold, I have done according to your words.
Behold, I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you
before you, nor shall one like you arise after you. I have also given you what you have not
asked, both riches and honor, so that there will not be any among the kings like you all your
days. If you walk in My ways, keeping My statutes and commandments, as your father David
walked, then I will prolong your days (1 Kgs 3:11-14).
To Distinguish Spirit from Demonic, Because Not All Spirits Are from God. Apostle
John, who had an intimate relationship with Jesus and more than sixty years of discernment
experience leading the church, was very aware of this, warning:
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 (1 John 4:1-3).
Some supernatural spirits are demonic in their origin but may appear to be from God to the
undiscerning.
Because Not All That Is Supernatural Is from God. Jesus Himself made this clear:
“Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your
name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’” (Matt 7:22).
Because Not All Angels of Light Are from the Light. Apostle Paul shares from his life
experience: “Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14). That which
appears to be light may not be light. Being touched by an angel does not guarantee that it is an
angel from God who has touched you.
Because Believers Can Be Deceived. Jesus cautioned, “For false Christs and false
prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the
elect” (Matt 24:24). Some may say, “Well, this means only if believers could be deceived. But
believers cannot be deceived.” However, this is an assumption based on mistaken belief that
believers cannot be deceived. In reality, they can. Any of us can be deceived.
There are two Greek words for “if” in the New Testament. One is an “iffy-if,” meaning
that it is uncertain; it may or may not be so. The other word is a certain “if,” and could be
translated as “since” or “when.” The certain “if” is used here, meaning, “since the elect can be
deceived.” Paul also warns, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not
fall” (1 Cor 10:12). We see an example of this in Galatians 3:1, when Paul questions the
Galatians, “Who has bewitched you?”
Because Even the Innocent Can Be Deceived. In an old Peanuts cartoon, Charlie Brown
opines, “How can we lose when we are so sincere?” Sincerity and innocence do not provide us
automatic discernment. Satan, disguised as a serpent, deceived Eve in her innocence by
questioning what God said, “Did God really say . . .?” (Gen 3:1). He questioned God’s authority,
wisdom, and truth. He reinterpreted and distorted what God said.
Because We Are Commanded to Examine All Supernatural Things Carefully. Apostle
Paul exhorts us regarding supernatural manifestations such as prophecy, “But examine
everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thess 5:21).
Because Scripture Can Be Mishandled and Misused. Paul cautions to handle Scripture
carefully: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to
be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). Likewise, Peter counsels
against twisting Scripture:
. . . and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul,
according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them
of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable
distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. You therefore,
beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the
error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness (2 Pet 3:15-17).
Because We Can Mishear the Voice of God. The Lord called Samuel three times, but
each time he thought it was Eli, because “Samuel did not yet know the Lord, nor had the word of
the Lord yet been revealed to him.” Eli was not walking close to God, but he had enough
discernment to know from experience that God was calling Samuel (1 Sam 3:4-10). Like
Samuel, we may not recognize the voice of God. Or conversely, and more often, we may hear a
voice and think it is the voice of God when it is not.
To Distinguish Spirit from Flesh. “But a natural [Greek, psyche—soulish] man does not
accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand
them, because they are spiritually appraised. . . . And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to
spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid
food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are
still fleshly.” (1 Cor 2:14; 3:1-3). Some manifestations may appear to be from the Holy Spirit but
are instead manifestations of the flesh. A person who is perceiving out of their natural or soulish
realm cannot perceive the things of the Spirit or distinguish between that which is soulish
(fleshly) that which is of the Spirit.
To Distinguish Flesh from Demonic. “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are:
immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger,
disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I
forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit
the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:17-21).
Notice that in the middle of this list of deeds of the flesh, “sorcery,” or witchcraft is
mentioned, which is obviously demonic. This shows two things: 1) even something demonic
begins in the flesh; 2) something in the flesh can become demonic. Discernment is needed to
know if you are dealing with the flesh or the demonic. On one hand, we don’t want to call
something demonic if it is the flesh. On the other hand, to call something the flesh when it has
moved over into the realm of the demonic, can be dangerous and spiritually devastating.
Because Our Mind Is Not Discerning Enough. “Lean not on your own understanding
(wisdom)” (Prov 3:5). John MacMillan, a missionary pioneer in spiritual warfare and
discernment, explains how discernment is beyond reason, “Spiritual discernment does not occur
through the negation of ordinary reason–it is rather the enlargement of the reasoning faculties to
grasp things beyond the ken of the visible and the material.”vii
Avoiding The Extremes
For some people, no need exists to write such a book, because for them no genuine
supernatural manifestations exist today. Some people presuppose discernment as clear-cut, either
black or white, either true or false, with nothing in between. Although that may be true about
some manifestations, discernment is not so clear-cut in other cases. For instance, some believe
that a prophetic utterance is either totally true or it is false, it is either totally accurate or it is
spurious; there is no middle ground, no mixture. However, a close examination of Scripture does
not support that presupposition. Scripture does indeed teach that some things are clear-cut (for
instance, angels are either from God or they are not), yet sometimes also degrees of gray or
mixture may legitimately be discerned. Cavalierly dismissing a movement or manifestation as
counterfeit is the easy way out, but it is not the biblical discerning way.
On the other hand, many in the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements argue that no
need for discernment exists for one or more of the following reasons:
• There are no false manifestations. If it is supernatural it must be from God. All healing is
from God. All dreams are from God. All tongues are from God, etc.
• Christians can’t have demons, so no counterfeit manifestations can exist among
Christians.
• God provides the gift of discernment, so no other discernment is necessary.
• Human attempts to discern quench the Spirit and grieve the Spirit, stopping the flow of
the Spirit.
These viewpoints are unbiblical myths that show a lack of awareness, lack of understanding of
Scripture, lack of discernment, ignoring the reality of counterfeits among Christian circles, or
actual deception.
Be a Berean
In his insightful book A Charismatic Truce, noted charismatic leader David Shibley,
writing in 1978, cautioned prophetically:
The first warning I give to charismatics is the warning against deception. Much has been said
already about the deceptiveness of highly sensuous religious experiences. By the end of this
decade I believe there will be miracles all over the place: miracles from heaven and miracles
from hell. Since charismatics have a strong orientation toward the supernatural, the devil will
try to delude them so that they will believe a lie. It wouldn’t be the first time. After the great
revival in Wales during the early years of this century, there was a nightmarish aftermath.
Thousands of sincere Christians were caught up in demonic counterfeits because they craved
the supernatural. It could happen again. In fact, in some cases, it is already happening. . . . It
is a sheer disaster to accept any expression of tongues without any attempt at discernment in
this vital area. There are false manifestations.viii
Shibley’s warning is just as relevant and timely today. Other earlier charismatic leaders such as
David Wilkerson and Larry Christiansen gave similar admonitions. Gary L. Greenwald of Eagle
Nest Ministries cautioned against “charismatic witchcraft.”ix Michael L. Brown of the
Brownsville Revival has echoed their admonitions in his excellent recent book Playing with Holy
Fire, acknowledging, “we Charismatics are so gullible.”x
Many in the charismatic movement tend to accept such manifestations indiscriminately;
the evangelical church has tended to reject such manifestations indiscriminately. Consequently,
both are right and both are wrong. Real discernment finds that the truth lies somewhere in
between: that many more manifestations are genuinely from God than most evangelicals are
willing to acknowledge, and that many more manifestations are not from God than most
charismatics are willing to admit.
Evangelicals should not assume that a manifestation is suspect until proven innocent.
Neither should charismatics assume that a manifestation is genuine just because it appears
supernatural. Evangelicals need to give the benefit of the doubt to serious-minded moderate
charismatics. Charismatics need to be willing to admit that certain phenomena could be fleshly
or counterfeit and need to be willing to test the spirits, not let them slide by.
Luke writes of the Berean Jews to whom Paul presented the gospel: “Now these were
more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness,
examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). I encourage
you to be a Berean as you read this book in examining everything by Scripture through the
illumination of the Holy Spirit.
i Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2007 reprint), 123. ii John Cassian, “Second Conference of Abbott Moses,” Chapter 4; Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series,
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979 reprint), 11:310. iii A.W. Tozer, The Root of the Righteous (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1955, 1986), 153.
iv J. Lee Grady “Discernment—the Most Neglected of All Spiritual Gifts,” accessed online at
http://wfdchurch.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Discernment-Lee-Grady-12.2016.pdf v “Jack Hayford Quotes,” Prayer Coach, accessed at https://prayer-coach.com/2014/11/18/jack-hayford-quotes/
vi Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlegrounds (Cedar Rapids, IA: Arrow Publications, 1989), 21.
vii John MacMillan, “Spiritual Discernment,” Alliance Weekly, Nov. 14, 1936, 726.
viii David Shibley, A Charismatic Truce (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1978), 73-74. ix Gary L Greenwald, Seductions Exposed (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 1988), 107ff. x Michael L. Brown, Playing with Holy Fire (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2018), 9.

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