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9 Power Gifts of the Spirit: Discernment of Spirits

9 Power Gifts of the Spirit: Discerning of Spirits | by Jamie Rohrbaugh | FromHisPresence.comDiscernment of spirits. Discerning of spirits. Whatever you want to call it, what is this spiritual gift and why is it important?

I believe that discernment of spirits is one of the most useful, crucial, vital gifts for these last days.

Of course, all the gifts are important, and we should earnestly desire them all! But I’m particularly partial to discernment of spirits for the following reasons:

  • It can save your tail in tough situations.
  • It can help you win in spiritual warfare.
  • It can protect you from being seduced by the enemy.
  • It helps you help others get free from spiritual and emotional bondage.
  • It can help you walk in wisdom and have your steps ordered by the Lord.
  • If you operate in this gift, God can use you to help protect His flock and entire people groups through intercession and, sometimes, wise and Holy Spirit-led intervention.

That’s a lot. In order to discuss this spiritual gift appropriately, I’d like to break it down into four parts:

1. The definition of discerning of spirits.
2. How it helps you when it’s fun.
3. How it helps you when it’s NOT fun. (Because, unfortunately, sometimes we do have to fight battles, and battles are never fun. BUT GOD always wins anyway, if we will stick close to Him and obey Him.)
4. And finally: If you have this gift, what is your worst nightmare?

So here’s the first question:

What is discerning of spirits / discernment of spirits?

Discerning of spirits is one of the gifts included in the list of power gifts from 1 Corinthians 12:7-11:

Start-quoteBut 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 the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills” (emphasis mine).

The absolute best way I can describe discerning of spirits is to say this:

When you have this gift, you can “smell” what kind of spirit is present in a space–either in the place that you’re in, or in the person to whom you’re speaking. Sometimes you can even see that spirit.

It works the same way whether you’re with someone who’s filled with the Holy Spirit or whether you’re talking to someone who’s being oppressed by a demon.

If you’re talking to someone who is filled with the Holy Spirit and operating in the Holy Spirit, you sense Him on and in them. You can feel the glory of God on them. You can see the light of Jesus shining out of their eyes.

You can smell a sweetness and a peace–a holiness–about them, even if they’re having a horrible day and they’ve just kicked the dog, chewed someone out, or whatever. Even if they’re sinning at the moment, they still belong to Jesus; and you can sense His Spirit in them.

But if someone is under the influence of an evil spirit–whether it’s someone who’s not saved and is totally possessed by demons, or whether it’s someone who is saved and is being oppressed by demons–you can sense the presence of the evil spirit too.

(Oddly enough, you can even sense open doors to the enemy, and you can tell where and what they are.) Often, you can see the foul spirit or the open door in their eyes. And if you have discernment of spirits, you can tell what kind of a demon it is–and often, what its stronghold/root/door of access is (and what it takes to get rid of it).

You can just smell the spirit someone walks in. It’s not a literal smell necessarily (although it could be); it’s a spiritual sensation, but it’s not dull at all. It’s a very sharp, very keen awareness. And, whether something evil or something holy is operating, more often than not you can see it when you look into a person’s eyes.

That’s what discernment of spirits is. Now, let’s talk about how to use this gift!

Discernment of spirits is always a blessing. However, as I mentioned above, sometimes using this gift is fun; other times, not so much. So how do you use this gift when it’s fun?

6 Things to Remember about Discernment of Spirits | by Jamie Rohrbaugh | FromHisPresence.com
Click the infographic to repin it on Pinterest!

By the way, I made you a free, printable bookmark of the infographic at right. Click here to download the 6 Things To Remember about Discernment of Spirits FREE printable bookmark!

Discernment of spirits is easy when it’s fun. It’s fun in situations like this example:

Your friend tells you that they’re really struggling in their thought life. They have this sense that something horrible is about to happen. You sense that they are being tormented by a demon of evil forebodings, a la Proverbs 15:15, which says:

Start-quoteAll the days of the desponding and afflicted are made evil [by anxious thoughts and forebodings], but he who has a glad heart has a continual feast [regardless of circumstances]” (Proverbs 15:15, Amplified Classic version).

So you tell your friend that you have this sense they are being tormented by this particular demonic spirit, and you ask if you can pray for them. Then you pray, and you command that spirit to leave in Jesus’ name and they pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit in its place. Suddenly, they have a tremendous sense of relief and they feel a thousand tons lighter.

Three days later, they report to you that they are still feeling relieved. Jesus set them free!

In that case, hallelujah! You operated in discernment of spirits and the Holy Spirit used you to accomplish His purposes. All glory to Him!

In that situation, discernment helped you. Through this anointing to discern between spirits, the Holy Spirit used you as His hands and voice to help set your friend free. How fun is that? There are few things more exciting than seeing someone step into spiritual freedom in Christ.

However, in some situations, using discernment of spirits is not fun. Necessary, yes. Helpful, yes. But fun, no.

It’s not fun in examples like these:

Example 1:

You meet someone new. They seem nice enough, but something they say or do is out-of-the-ordinary and doesn’t line up with the Word of God. Alarm bells go off in your head.

You do want to discern between good and evil, but you don’t want to make snap judgments; so you stay quiet and pay attention. You know that Jesus said (Matthew 7) that by their fruit you shall know them. So you watch and see.

Over time, you, personally, see red flag after red flag after red flag. You’re not listening to gossip; you’re seeing things for yourself, and the red flags keep piling up. You compare them all to God’s written Word, and the fruit absolutely contradicts what God says.

Uh oh. We’ve got a problem here.

In this situation, discernment of spirits is helpful because:

  • It’s warning you about a potential problem.
  • It’s keeping you from falling under the seduction of that potential problem. (Because if you come into agreement with an evil thing, all of a sudden YOU’ve opened a door to the enemy in your own life.)
  • If you are a leader of a people group that is targeted by this enemy invasion, God may end up using you to sound the alarm about a problem, or to deal with that problem directly (depending on what your scope of authority is).

But it’s not fun because:

  • At least some people will disagree with you;
  • It’s never fun to find yourself in the middle of a spiritual battle;
  • Conflict is never fun; and
  • You might have to do something with the information you sense, which is also never fun.

Example 2:

Someone you love is habitually making bad decisions. You sense that there’s a root spirit at work, and you know what it is.

However, the person isn’t open to feedback or correction. So all you can do is pray and wait and trust God–which can be agonizing sometimes, because His process is soooo sloooooow sometimes.

Your discernment is at work there, but it’s not fun. Knowing what’s wrong and not being able to do a thing about it, except pray, is not fun.

Related: If your child is away from the Lord and “working on their testimony,” I wrote an encouraging word for parents with struggling kids here and a radical prayer for parents here.

So what do you do in these situations where the Holy Spirit is helping you discern that something is wrong?

Oh, beloved. Rule #1: Be so, so careful. Remember that Ephesians 6:12 tells us that the devil is our enemy, not people. This is so important. People are NOT your enemy.

Here’s the crux of the issue: If you have discernment of spirits, your worst nightmare is to be RIGHT in situations like these.

You don’t want to be right. You want it to all go away. You want everything to be fine. You want everybody to walk in holiness and righteousness. You want everybody to examine the Word of God for themselves and make sure their own actions line up with it.

You want–desperately, agonizingly–to be WRONG.

So here’s what you do if the scope of the situation is so large that it requires intervention:

  • First, you pray.
  • Then, you’re careful to pay attention only to those things you have personally seen with your own eyes and ears.
  • If you have any personal offenses toward the person, you must get those things out of the way through the conflict resolution process found in Matthew 18 first. If you don’t, your ability to hear and discern will be totally compromised. So if you have personal offenses, go to the person in person and talk about the situation and resolve it, please.
  • Then, you pray some more.
  • If you have a relationship with the person, ask questions if things could possibly be vague. Just asking questions about something you’re concerned about can resolve a world of issues before they ever begin. You may be  wrong, and just asking a few questions would totally clarify it. (Note: Not everything needs clarifying. Some fruit is black-and-white-obvious. But if you could possibly be construing the situation the wrong way, please do ask questions.)
  • As you do these things, you compare actual fruit to the written Word of God. FRUIT. Not your feelings; not gossip; not hearsay; not your personal opinion. FRUIT.
  • Take your time and be sure to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, not your own emotions.

If you want some examples of fruit to watch out for, read my article about the difference between the Jezebel spirit and true prophecy here, along with my article about how to pray against the Jezebel spirit and WIN, here.

I have been in situations before where I have sensed something was wrong for YEARS.

YEARS. And I have agonized over it. Doubted myself. Felt certain I must be wrong. Decided to let it all go over and over again.

But in that situation, every time I decided it must all be in my head and I should let it go, something would happen that would make those alarm bells go off stronger than ever. Literally for years before I did anything about it.

I’m not proud of the fact that I didn’t do anything about it for years, because I should have done something sooner than that.

It was right for me to move slowly, but just not that slowly. However, I was afraid of potential repercussions, so it was very hard to act. 🙁

Eventually, I did act … but only when I got to the point where I didn’t care what the cost was to me personally. I arrived at the point where I felt that, if protecting the people who were getting hurt cost me everything I had labored for, it would still be worth the sacrifice.

And then, the intervening went well.

So when intervention is required, what else should you do after pray and are oh-so-careful?

Well, first, more prayer. Possible fasting, seriously. No joke.

But after that, if you feel led–and only AFTER you have made sure to resolve any personal issues you may have had with the person–go to the person in your environment who is responsible for alarms such as this.

When you go, make sure you have facts and FRUIT to discuss. Not just feelings. Feelings lie. Sensations lie, and instincts can be wrong. Jesus said you will know them by their fruit. So if you have a concern, gather FRUIT.

After you present the fruit, it’s in your leader’s hands. But I would continue to pray, no matter what.

But sometimes the thing you are discerning doesn’t require actual intervention.

For example, if you sense that someone has an open door to the enemy in their life, but they’re not causing a problem or hurting other people, I don’t think that generally requires intervention. Even though you might sense what the open door is, you won’t be able to do anything about it if a person doesn’t want help.

Advising or correcting people who don’t want advice or correction is generally not a fruitful endeavor. So in those situations, I would encourage you to:

  • Pray for the person;
  • Be nice to them;
  • Be their friend if you’re friends;
  • Love them, and believe the best of them;
  • Ask the Lord to reveal truth to them and set them free;
  • Ask Him to help them see things from His perspective;
  • Ask Him to separate the person from any evil influence; and
  • Ask Father to open a door to speak to that person about the subject if He wants you to do so.

Remember that you and I are not the Holy Spirit. We cannot work in someone’s heart.

I’m preaching to myself here too, because I know how hard it is to sit back and not try to help someone you love! Ultimately, only Holy Spirit can do any kind of work that needs to be done in someone’s heart.

So what do you do? Just love someone and rest in the fact that they belong to Jesus, who said:

Start-quoteAnd I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand” (John 10:28-29).

You and I cannot convict anyone. All we can do is love someone, and shower them with the goodness of God (which the Holy Spirit uses to bring people to repentance).

So that’s my lowdown on discernment of spirits. What questions do you have about discernment of spirits? Leave a comment below, and I’ll do my best to help if I can.

Read all posts in this series about the power gifts!

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20 Comments

  1. Doug Warner says:

    Hi again,
    Just let me say, what a really great article. It’s a powerful way to discern.
    I plan to use this ASAP and make a bullet point card to assist me and remind me.
    Thank you,
    Doug

    1. Hey Doug, I’m so glad you found it helpful. I just finished making an infographic and a free, printable bookmark if you want it. Just refresh the page and you’ll see the infographic and download link about halfway down the post. 🙂

  2. Rebecca L Jones says:

    Wise advice, I have tried to talk to people and made it worse. As for the smells, I had a friend who who’s a believer not let a man in her house because of that. There is a rose smell, and I have been smelling gasoline, I’m not sure why. And it appears I run into people who are Christians, but are offended, confusing oppression and possession. I have also had the Holy Spirit tell me someone was a willing sinner, so I let it go. I hope you do some more studies on this.

    1. Yes, very often we get discernment just so we can pray. But, prayer is powerful and should always be our first response anyway. 🙂
      Thanks for reading, as always! <3 Have a super day!

  3. Kendra Morgan says:

    This is my first time reading your blog. I know it was the perfect timing of God for me to see this today. Thank you for writing such spirit filled words. It is very informative and it makes me say, “OUCH,” to some things I haven’t been doing. Thanks so much for releasing the ever so changing words. My outlook on my current process has changed, instantly!!! Blessings..

    1. Kendra, welcome aboard! I’m so glad you stopped by. Thank you for reading! I pray in Jesus’ name that Papa God would fill you with grace, grace, and more grace as you make whatever changes He is speaking to you about. 🙂

    2. Charmaine says:

      Thank you for the blog. The Christians I know never seem to understand when I say I can smell spirits, I used only notice and recognize the ones that smell foul, rot and sour which were demos surround people with mental illness but then I realized recently that I have also smelled in the air sweet and pleasant scents which are from God and must be angels.

  4. Thank you so so much ! I am so grateful to the Lord and you for writing about this.

    This is the FIRST article I have ever read which describes what I experience when the Lord shows me things. I have searched the Internet using key words “eye, spirit, ” etc… and found little.. but your article is right on. When the Lord shows me things, it’s not like I am looking for it, it just happens. I sometimes see the spirit(in the eyes, superposed over their face or the glow of the glory of the Lord in their eyes or on their face), sometimes l physically sense the spirit and sometimes I hear the type of spirit speaking, good (Holy Spirit ) or bad operating in a person’s life.

    Last year, June/July I was so concerned that perhaps it was the enemy because it seemed this gift has grown stronger, so I was praying asked the Lord’s help. I have felt so ALONE, that no one would understand. No one else at church speaks about this. Last August, I received a call from a believer, someone who I believe is Holy Spirit filled but with whom I rarely speak one to one. He started to speak about an experience where he was preaching and a demon manifested. He then said something along the lines of because he has this gift, he can tell that I do also have it.

    But try to mention this to people, and then you’re concerned they might think you are crazy or hyper spiritual. Mentioned it to my husband, he said always put it on the shelf and leave room to say that you could be wrong, in case it’s not the Lord.

    He doesn’t understand that I never seek it, it happens when I least expect it. It’s almost at times like the curtain between the spirit and natural is removed, and the spirit is superimposed on the natural.

    But at least now I understand more about seeing a bad spirit in the eye of a believer. I always thought that it meant that they were being influenced or yielding to a wrong spirit. I was not wrong but the mention of a door open makes sense.

    I know we do have to be careful, but it is not me being critical of someone but something in the spirit I see and nothing I do on my own. I don’t control it, it’s as He wills.

    Most times I pray about what I have seen/sensed. If I am very concerned, then I might speak but in a vague term not to frighten the person (ie. Be careful.etc.. .). I don’t say “oh I saw that there is a demonic influence in your eyes” . That would be foolish. At another time I asked the Lord to open the door for me to speak.

    I pray that the Lord would make people in our congregation, especially my husband, know that He’s given me this gift instead of me feeling like I have to be careful, hide it so that people won’t think I am strange. So that if I see something and if I have to speak, that I don’t have to be concerned about wording it in a way that they can receive it and think me normal at the same time. That if I say to my husband the Lord showed me xyz, that he would believe and respect me. I have spoken about it to a few people but there is always the concern that they might think me strange.

    But all this to say THANK YOU ! Someone else experiences the same thing!

  5. it is funny So funny I’ve always struggle with Discerning of the spirit sometime when I’m around other people i since all kind of things that I just cannot understand I sense they are not who they say they are sometimes they seem to be so nice to me and other times they seem to be so distant so far away. for spiritual leaders Especially the lifestyle they live it’s amazing when I say amazing it’s not good these are leaders of the church the body of Christ Jesus I sense people continue to live in a world full of sins and become sins them self they become so caught up in the world that they themselves don’t even recognize where they are . these people are not who they say they are and God the Bible tells we should know them by their fruits. At times people that comes around me that means me no good at Times I know they would send back spirit kill me . It’s so hard me to tell others at times I feel so discouraged within myself that I’m not doing nothing in my walk with Christ i fee I that I need to fight harder I need to use the whole armor of God when it comes to other people or trying to distract me. at times I feel like I’m under attack by the enemy so much cause he’s trying so hard to destroy me and my family of all in my marriage. I know I am blessed by the Lord I know that I have power and authority over everything that is evil I am glad for life cause Jesus Christ has been so good to me. I can’t trust anyone at times because they pretend to be someone they’re not so I observe them alot I try not to say too much any more to people. but I observe the way people look at me whenever I keep my distance from them. I see that sometims when I look at them in a clear vision I begin to see them for who they really are. I try my best to keep my distance because I recognized and realized that the enemy was using them to distract me are to have me fall or step out of boundary blessing with my God. at times I feel like so happy but now feel weighted down when I go around other people or when I go in the house of the Lord to worship Him I feel so many things coming at me I can’t understand it I’m still doing my best to read the word of God everyday but at times I feel like so many things is coming at me and people look at me so strangely the minute they see me they would say to me I can see a difference in you they say are I can see a light coming off of you your presence is so different from others but I don’t understand it at times. Some people run away from me because they have told they feel something coming off of me that is so powerful that makes them want to change even people I know that I live around that live a horrible life are afraid to be around me I try to minister to them but they refused to hear it they can’t stand to be in my presence because they feel something on the inside while I’m talking to them praying for them. people that died struggle with every day problems or they may sinners who claim to be pastors and leaders of the Church of the Living God and doing the opposite I pray all the time and ask God to show me what does this mean please continue to pray my strength that God will open the vision so I may understand the gifts he has place up on me please pray for me God bless you

    1. I HOPE YOU ARE POSITIVE INFLUENCE ON THESE PEOPLE

      I AM IN NO WAY PERFECT BUT I AVOID ALCOHOL AND TOXIC FOODS WHEN AROUND OTHERS. I don’t know, but yes these people will feel your vibes. I hope in my life certain people will stop their toxic behaviors.

      again i am a sinner too. but these people that you can see that they are just struggling and such it is nice you pray for them

    2. Thanks for this Blog.I would love to get personally in touch with you.

  6. Hi Jamie, I posted the last comment but have one question that I should have included that has me puzzled.

    Would you know why I would see the glory of the Lord on the face or the Holy Spirit in the eyes in some people than in others? I believe that even though I have not seen it in all people who I consider born again, that they are still born again believers.

    Thank you again

  7. I worked for a number of years in a musical situation with a talented person who just came out as trans. No signs prior, etc….AT ALL.

    There was a general breakdown of the work relationship over the period of a year. He is very defiant about this trans thing and is not saved.
    I lost my temper with him a bit as I would not allow him to wear a dress on stage and he essentially cuts tie with me which is fine concerning the circumstance, but I sense the work of demonic deception is at play in his life as this was such a sudden thing.
    Depression in his background and I sense it might be manic depression, but I am not a health professional to make that kind of assumption, I just base it on what I have observed in his conduct.

    And I do use the male pronoun concerning him, not the female one he wants people to use. The enablers surrounding him are into channelling and reading tarot cards and I do pray for his protection, but I can’t go beyond a person’s free will if they embrace these kinds of things.

  8. Danny Castro says:

    Hello I just read your article of discernment. My mother has told me that I have the power of discernment and that I should learn how to use it. It seems that I can feel other people’s emotions and they are usually strong to the point if someone is jealous, irritated or angry I become the same way a if they are my own feelings. I would like some help on how to deal with emotional attacks that I know are not mine but I feel as if they are. Thank you!

  9. Melody kingsbury says:

    Thank you. Please pray for my daughter. She says she gay and dresses as man. This is going on for 10 more years. I believe she’s still a women. I don’t know how else to pray for her. She doesn’t talk much to me like mother daughters do. It breaks my heart. But I believe on the holy spirit and lord can restore her. Please email any advice. Thank you.
    Melody

  10. Jacob Barnor says:

    God bless you for such a powerful revelation. I have been searching for details and tips on how to use this supernatural manifestation but found none. I have been experiencing unusual signs like sensing people. smell, seeing diverse images when praying with my eyes closed and sometimes in dreams. What have been my most worry is the inability to explain why I’m sensing and what to do about it. I want to know what the Holy Spirit is up to and what to do next in special times like that. Thank you

  11. Hi Jamie… I pray all is well with you and your family. My question regarding this is, what to do when someone you loved for so long seems possessed by the demon spirit? I say possessed bc I have done nothing wrong, yet this man demonstrates hateful behavior toward me (and now his children as well). He has done nothing but hurt and wronged me over the past ten years and has gotten worst within the past 5. I pray for God overwhelm his heart with love.

    The idea of discernment of spirits came to me through you Jamie. But I have said to myself that it’s almost like this person has been the devil himself bc of the demonstrated anger and hateful behavior for no legitimate reason except for when things don’t go his way.

    I only hope I can handle this. My worry is for the children bc they live with us and he has chosen himself over them and neglected them of his love. He doesn’t have conversations with them and constantly spites me. I asked him if he believed in God and he sarcastically said “yes”. I said, “I pray for you everyday,” and his response was, “I don’t want to hear none of that. I don’t want none of your (exclaimed profanity) prayers. This smelled like the devil himself and was frightening.

    The problem is we share the same living space and I am unable to move out. I constantly pray for peace and love in his heart. I even asked God to help me though this season and prayed for promotion. I am learning so much about myself spiritually through this season and have become so much closer to God. How do you help someone who has been taken over in this way? It’s almost as if someone poured him a glass of hell flames and he is overpowered by them and loving himself in this image.

    Please help me understand how to fight this enemy because I am in need of spiritual warfare support! Thank you Jamie, for you have helped me understand so much within this season of death and resurrection, but there is so much more I don’t know and need to learn to defend me and my children from the enemy.

    1. Amber, it’s too bad that nobody answered you, because I am in a similar situation and I would love to hear some advice. But I am praying for you today, and maybe you could pray for me, too? I believe my husband (who is an unbeliever) is seriously oppressed by demons. He has been treating me hatefully for 20 years although I have never done anything but try to love him. Many times I have sensed an actual demon speaking through him with a force of hate that was like a blazing fire. I am uncertain how to handle the situation except to pray for his salvation.

      1. Hi Laura….

        I know that feeling of that horrid energy your talking about. I prayed and prayed for answers on how to deal with that. Reading Jamie’s story of how to understand when someone hates you helped me cope with that. Knowing that it hurts God to see him behave that way made me feel bad that he was in such a space that he couldn’t see that was a terrible thing to do, not only me, but to God our Father.

        So I made my list of prayers and prayed that God reveal himself to him, and touch his heart and fill it with so much love that it would pour out of him. I don’t know what his fate is, but he is not the same angry person. I am not certain if it’s still with in his mid or heart, no longer see the head of that horrible demon that I experienced. I am not afraid of it because God is always with me.

        My problem is, right before getting married, infidelity came between us and I refused to marry after that knowing what I was dealing with.. I still stayed because I loved him and had a family by then and didn’t know how to function without him.

        I currently have no way to move out because I am not financially stable. Even though he has another place he still invades my space here because this is his property. So I continue to pray for God yo make a way for me to have peace of mind while here. So far the torture has stopped.

        So Laura, I thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your story with me. I ask Hod to protect you with his surrounding light and loving glory so long as you need. I completely and wholeheartedly understand what it feels like to love someone and be painfully tormented by their actions. Just remember, it is not your fault, you can’t own his actions. Just continue to pray for him, and ask God to touch his heart in such a way that it will give him what he needs so he can stop hurting you. I wish you the best Laura, and each time I pray, I will pray for you also!

  12. thank you for this article. I have been smelling two different scents over the last 6 months. It seems to be random, but more often during prayer. I want to believe it is a gift. So that I’m not crazy I have asked my wife, who has a sensitive nose, if she smells anything. Every time it is “no”. When I do detect the smell I just ask the Holy Spirit that I do his will and not mine. I don’t know what to do with it other than that. Sometimes, when I walk into a room when someone is there I’ll smell it. I am just so unsure of myself.

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