Earlier this year I was asked by a reader to describe my experience of the charismatic gifts. I am now almost finished with this series, and am also reviewing some useful resources for those wanting to find out more about the charismatic.
I have spent more than thirty years of my life in charismatic churches, and these reflections try to summarize that experience. This particular series is not an attempt to justify the continuation of the gifts theologically – I have done thatelsewhere and in my debate with Dan Phillips. Nor is this post intended to persuade you – I want you to be persuaded by the Bible, not mere experience! Instead, here I want to simply answer the question, “What do the gifts look like in practice in places that claim they exist today?” I did, however, begin the series by looking at the context of 1 Corinthians 12 in five posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” 1 Corinthians 12:7-11
My dear blogging friend, Tim Challies, is writing a book on discernment. There is clearly an important aspect to discernment that involves examining the Scriptures and learning the truth which they contain. There is then a comparison of that truth with what individual people say. This post will not address these important aspects of discernment. The verse makes it clear that there is a spiritual gift of discerning (or distinguishing) spirits. Like prophecy, this gift needs to be fed by our knowledge of the Scriptures, and will be richer, more developed, and less likely to err in people who are well educated biblically.
There is, however, in mature Christians who have this gift, a growing ability to simply “sense” that something (or rather someone) is not quite right. People often describe “just knowing” or even simply “seeing” that someone is, in some way, “not right.” This feeling can be more specific – so, for example, I have heard many reports of people who met other Christians and somehow simply “knew” that the other person was a Christian just by looking at them – and no, they weren’t carrying a Bible! There is a meeting of spirits that seems to sometimes happen that makes you recognize each other. Equally there can be a strong sense of danger or even a specific warning when meeting people.
Incidentally, have you ever noticed how someone’s eyes are the window to their soul, as Jesus says? Many Christians who have been Christians for a long time have a gleam in their eyes that tells you they are saved – it is hard to explain or define, but it is there. Some who operate in discernment will tell you that when they look into the eyes of a person, they can suddenly “see” things about them, or at least get a sense that says “this one is godly” or “beware of this one.”
This gift can be very helpful for the Christian leader seeking to bring others into some form of ministry. A sense of “warning” about someone can help prevent certain actions which might later prove to have been very wise. Some would go so far as to say that someone without this gift in a significant way should not be a church leader.
Those who operate in this gift are also sometimes used in deliverance ministry. The ability to see the root of a problem can be very helpful to them in their prayer ministry. Hours of “digging and delving” can be avoided in a moment of spiritual insight and wisdom.
Distinguishing the spirits also applies to leading church meetings and leading churches through the differnet seasons of their lives. There is no doubt that some leaders seem particularly able to tell how their poeple are feeling about something even before they go and ask them. Leadership then comes easily to these people as sensing where people are is the first step to being able to then begin to lead them to the place where God wants them to be.
It is hard to define or describe this gift – but it certainly seems a very useful one indeed!