Discerning the spirits
Knowing what God is doing in your life

1.  Presenting Problem

Failure to recognise what is happening in the area of spiritual warfare, especially as this relates to the hidden work of the devil of which we should be aware (Acts 20:28 -31; 1 Cor 2:15; 2 Cor 2:9 -11).  Struggling to come to terms with hardship and being uncertain of God’s purposes in it.  Believers being led astray by false promises e.g., over finances.  Inability to speak with authority into the lives of others.

2.  Superficial Solutions and Explanations

a.  General cultural features – middle class people are polite

b.  Special cultural features – Christians expect that they should think the best of everyone and not “judge” them

3.  God Tests His People

a.  This is evident in God allowing the devil to test Adam and Eve.

b.  Abraham is tested by God (Gen 22:1; Heb 11:17)

c.  It is repeatedly stated that God tests Israel (Ex 16:4; 20:20; Deut 8:2ff; Judges 2:22; 3:1,4; Ps 81:7 = Ex 17:2,7).

d.  The wisdom writers expect this (Job 7:17 -18; 23:10; Ps 66:10).

e.  It is in the prophets (1 Chr 29: Jer 9:7;17:10)

f.  This theme is continued in the New Testament – in the life of Jesus (Matt 4:2 -11; Heb 4:15) and in that of Christians (2 Cor 2:9; Heb 4:15; James :3; 1 Peter 1:7; Rev 2:10,23).

4.  This Testing May be Actively Cooperated With

a.  By prayerful request (Ps 26:2; 139:23).

b.  In the power of the Holy Spirit (Mark 4:1).

5.  The Inner Life of the Believer is What is Tested

a.  Faith – Heb 11:17; 12:2 James 1:3; 1 Peter 1:7)

b.  Heart – (Ps 26:2; 139:23; Jer 17:10; 1 Thess 2:4; Rev 2:23).

6.  This Takes Place by God Causing Character to be Tested Through Suffering

a.  By physical need – Ex 16:4; 17:2ff; Deut 8:2ff; Job ; Matt 4:2

b.  By persecution/enemies – Judges 2:22; 3:1,4; Ps 66:10 -12; 1 Pet 4:12; Rev 2:10

c.  By good report – 2 Chron 32:31; Prov 27:21; John 2:23 – 25

7.  The Aim of Testing is to Mature

a.  To teach the fear of God – Gen 22:12; Ex 20:20

b.  To bring prosperity without idolatry – Deut 8:16

c.  To produce purity – Job 23:10; Ps 66:10

d.  To bring salvation and glory to God – Heb 4:15; 5:7-9 ; James 1:3,12; 1 Pet 1:6 -9

8.  It is Possible For Believers to Be Unaware of / Fail the Test

a.  Israel rebelled in the wilderness

b.  Israel repeatedly fell into idolatry

c.  David falls into sin (Ps 51)

d.  James and John do not know themselves (Luke 9:54 – 56?)

e.  Philip is confused (John 6:6)

f.  Peter betrays Jesus and weeps bitterly (Luke 22:62)

g.  All this testing occurs in the context of a favoured / gracious relationship

9.  All God’s Gifts Imply Testing

a.  Paul teaches that the gifts of God are spiritually discerned, this is the primary role of the gift of the Spirit gift of the Spirit (1 Cor 2:12 – 14).

b.  The greatest gift of God is Christ (John 4:10; 2 Cor 9:15)

c.  Only by the Spirit can we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16) so that we do not need external instruction to verify or validate what God is doing in our lives (1 John 2:20,27).

d.  The Spirit brings a mature knowledge of all of God’s gifts by opening up the meaning of the cross.  Without this understanding all of the gifts of God (always freely given) will be abused and we will fail the test because our understanding will be infantile, fleshly or worldly (1 Cor 2:6;14;3:1ff; Heb 5:11- 14).

10.  The Cross is the Supreme Testing of Humanity

a.  The Father’s gift to Jesus is his Sonship.

b.  Inwardly, this is knowing God as “Abba! Father!” (Mark 14:36).

c.  This consciousness is removed at the cross, where Jesus is tested not only by physical need and persecution but by the absence of the presence of God (Mark 15:34).

d.  At this point the one who inspired the psalmist to test his heart (1 Peter 1:11; Ps 139:23) to see if there was wickedness within him has his own innermost thoughts laid bare by God (Heb 4:12 – 13).

e.  By the Spirit he is completely unaware of any evil within him (Heb 9:14) and yet he experiences abandonment for which there can be no explanation in himself.

f.  In this situation of absolute testing Jesus remains steadfast to the purposes of the  one he has always called “Father”, his faith in God’s character is perfected (Heb 12:2) and he himself reaches complete maturity (Heb 2:10; 5:9).

11. Responding to the Cross

a.  We have the Word and Spirit to teach us all things (John 14:26; Rom 0:8;1 John 2:20,27) about Jesus.

b.  In this way we can understand all the purposes of the Father (1 Cor 2:9 – 10).

c.  To the degree we allow God to open up our hearts through testing, as Jesus did, by the revelation of the power of the Spirit we can know what is in ourselves.

d.  To that degree we will spiritually discern what is in the lives of others (John 2:23 – 3:3; 1 Cor 2:15).

e.  The testimony we carry in ourselves is the centre from which faith may act to recognise sin and deception.

f.  This looks beyond the world of outer appearances (1 Sam 16:7) to the inner reality of human life where idols dwell and wickedness inhabits.

g.  In the discerning of spirits (cf. 1 Cor 12:10,14:2;14,32) we move deeper into the realm of the work of the Spirit, sharing in the testimony of the one who searches all things, even the depths of God (1 Cor 2:10).

h.  We begin to hear God ever more clearly for ourselves.

i.  From this centre our faith grows and the Word we speak in prayer and prophecy begins to open up both our own hearts and the hearts of others (Acts 2:37; 1 Cor 14:24- 25; Heb 4:12 – 13).

j.  The results of this will be resistance, repentance and deep joy.

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