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What the Bible says about Discerning the Spirits
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Deuteronomy 13:1-5

The first factor added here is that God recognizes that false prophets, through the power of Satan, can accomplish signs and wonders. The magicians of Egypt imitate Moses' staff-into-a-serpent miracle before Pharaoh (Exodus 7:8-12). The end-time False Prophet will do similar signs as the Two Witnesses, causing most of the world's population to worship the Beast (Revelation 13:11-15). Paul warns in II Corinthians 11:13-15 that Satan's servants are clever counterfeits of Christ's. Signs, wonders, and miracles, then, are not conclusive proof that a prophet is from God.

The second factor Deuteronomy 13 adds is our need to recognize the spiritual message accompanying the prophet's signs and predictions. This is the essence of the apostle John's admonition, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (I John 4:1). No matter how impressive or accurate a prophet's miracles or prophecies, his credibility hangs on whether he leads people toward or away from God.

The following questions, then, must all be answered before we judge a person as a true or false prophet:

1. Does he claim to prophesy in God's name or in a false god's name?
2. Do his prophecies come to pass?
3. Does he do signs and wonders?
4. Does he teach the truth based on God's Word?

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Was Herbert Armstrong a False Prophet?

Deuteronomy 13:1-5

What is coming from the prophet's mouth? Something false. Who is this prophet speaking for, what supernatural spirit? It is not the spirit of God, but a demon speaking through a human being, inspiring and motivating him. God permits it and expects His people to put that person to the test. God expects us to be able to discern the spirit that is motivating the speaker. The test is to see whether we will remain loyal to God—loyal in terms of keeping His commandments.

Thus, the listener better have a good working knowledge of God, which returns us to II Corinthians 10:5, where Paul warns that reasonings will exalt themselves against the knowledge of God. This clarifies the devices that Satan will use to turn us aside. This also underlines our need to be able to thwart those devices. We need to have a good working knowledge of God—not things about God so much, but the knowledge of God the Person, the Being with whom we have a relationship.

Also, Deuteronomy 13 confirms that some of these false prophets will be able to do miracles, which Paul confirms in II Thessalonians 2, and John confirms in Revelation 11. What is in the New Testament is built upon what God has already shown in the Old Testament—that Satan's modus operandi will be carried through from one covenant to the other. We have to understand that such signs—the ability to do miracles—are not of themselves indications of authority from God. They must be combined with teaching that agrees with God's already revealed will.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Satan (Part 2)

Job 4:12-21

When we closely examine the nature of the being that troubled Job's friend, we learn that this spirit appealed to the carnal desire for a special revelation. If we remember the content of serpent's appeal to Eve, "Your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5), we see a similarity.

We notice that the spirit came at nighttime, in the form of a nightmare, an approach that could be characterized as intimidation, not an approach that God chooses to use with believers. We remember from Paul's second letter to Timothy that "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (II Timothy 1:7).

Generally in Scripture, when people express fear at the appearance of angels, the angels comfort them, saying something akin to "Fear not" (see, for example, Daniel 10:12; Luke 1:13, 30; Revelation 1:17). Yet, this elusive being in Job 4 prefers to remain obscure and daunting, something atypical throughout God's Word.

We also observe that this spirit's message begins with an accusation, a technique usually ascribed to Satan (Revelation 12:10). The being insinuates that God does not trust the angels. However, we understand that God often entrusted His Word and weighty responsibilities to angels. If this spirit is so sensitive about God charging some of His angels with folly, it is perhaps that this message came from one of the rebellious angels who followed Satan. It is no wonder this evil spirit had bitterness and animosity against God.

In several places, the Bible contradicts the assertions that this demon makes. In fact, God Almighty has trusted His church—human beings!—with the mandate to carry His priceless gospel throughout the world. As for no one observing when a person perishes, we are assured by Christ Himself that no human being ever dies without God being mindful. As He keeps meticulous records of all the falling sparrows (Matthew 10:29), He also keeps track of the deaths of His saints, which He regards as precious (Psalm 116:15). Our God is not intent on destroying us, as the demon intimates, but as Paul writes in Romans 8:28, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose."

Several Bible commentaries, including Barnes Notes, erroneously suppose that this communication is consistent with God's revelations. We can extrapolate from God's stern rebuke of Job's friends (Job 42:7-9) that He considered the communication not to have been consistent with His character.

Remember, the main principle of interpreting Scripture is that the Bible interprets itself. Contextually, then, Eliphaz probably received his counsel from a familiar spirit totally out of sync with the whole counsel of Scripture.

David F. Maas
The Gift of Discerning Spirits

Matthew 10:16

Christ's mandate to us that we become "wise as serpents and harmless as doves" implies that we must develop discernment, the ability to detect motivation and the spirits that motivate. The gift of discerning the spirits will become increasingly important as we approach the end of this age because deception will be the hallmark of these extremely dangerous times.

In the Olivet Prophecy, the disciples ask Jesus to reveal the sign of His return. Jesus does not give one sign but several. At the top of the list, he warns the disciples of deception, and follows it up with warnings of false prophets, false miracles, and the warning not to be deceived (see Matthew 24:4-5, 11, 23-26).

We deduce from this last warning that false "Christian" ministers and ministries will have the capability of performing convincing lying wonders and signs. These false ministers will demonstrate power—occult power—for the specific purpose of leading all people astray, including the most sincere believer.

We have a clear warning from the apostle Paul that the battles we face on a daily basis cannot be won by conventional weapons that we can attain from the world. The weapons we must seek should be spiritual, having the power to destroy arguments and every false claim that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and God's Word (II Corinthians 10:3-5).

David F. Maas
The Gift of Discerning Spirits

1 Corinthians 12:10

To discern spirits is a supernatural ability enabled by God's Holy Spirit that allows a person to determine the source of a spiritual manifestation, whether it emanates from God, the Devil, the world, or man. If we have this gift, God will reveal information about the presence or absence of spiritual entities. Usually, people regard this gift as useful to detect evil spiritual forces or influences. It can also detect the presence or absence of angelic intervention or the prompts of God's Holy Spirit working within us.

The apostle John writes in I John 4:1, "Beloved do not believe every spirit, but test [try] the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world." We are commanded to examine thoroughly any spiritual teaching with our critical faculties to see whether the presenter is handling the Word of God accurately. Because evil spirits have the capacity to produce paranormal phenomena, the Scriptures exhort us to prove or test the spirits, proving all things, holding fast only to what is good (I Thessalonians 5:21).

It is highly imperative that we use our God-given reasoning and understanding in doing this, but we should not rely exclusively on our intellect. Likewise, it is unwise to allow our inward feelings to sway us, but we should seek the guidance of God's Holy Spirit. Undoubtedly, the most reliable guide concerning the testing of Spirits would be the Scriptures. We know that God's Word—the Bible—is truth (John 17:17).

We must remember that just reading or mumbling God's Word without understanding is next to useless. We have leaders who eloquently read teleprompters but have not the foggiest notion of what they are saying. Likewise, reading the Word of God without understanding makes us a spiritual "empty suit." Reading God's Word with understanding via the Holy Spirit enables us to tap into the spiritual realm, know "the things of God," and make right judgments (I Corinthians 2:10-16).

David F. Maas
The Gift of Discerning Spirits


 




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