What Is The Discerning of Spirits Gift?
This miraculous gift was used by an apostle (2 Corinthians 12:12; Acts 5:1-11 - Peter was able to discern by the Holy Spirit that Ananias and Sapphira were lying; Acts 8:20-23 - Peter could look into the motives of Simon the sorcerer). It was imparted to other 1st century Christians by the laying on of the apostles' hands (Acts 8:14-18; 2 Timothy 1:6) to help the infant church mature in the faith (Ephesians 4:7-16) since the 1st century church did not have the fully revealed New Testament in its written form disseminated among all the congregations (as we have it today).
The early church needed this miraculous gift in order to be able to discern between a true prophet and a false prophet. For example, in 1 John 4:1-3, the Bible states: "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. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world."
During this historical and cultural time, the inspired apostle John was writing against an early form of a false system of doctrine known as gnosticism (which itself had various forms). One of the main tenets of gnosticism was that all flesh is evil. If all flesh is evil (according to gnosticism), and Jesus was incarnated in the flesh (John 1:14), then Jesus was evil. Choosing their doctrine over the overwhelming facts, the Gnostics denied that Jesus ever came in the flesh, which hit at the heart of the truth of the gospel because Jesus had to come in a human body to be offered as the ultimate sin-offering (Hebrews 10:5-8).
In 1 John 4:1-3, John was urging the Christians who had these miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit to test those teachers who were teaching this doctrine and to expose them as false prophets.
Today, we do not any longer have the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit available to us today because miracles were given in the early church for the purpose of confirming the word of God (Mark 16:17-20). We have the fully confirmed and revealed written word of God that is sufficient for us today (2 Peter 1:3; Jude 1:3). We must study diligently in order to discern between what is the truth (John 8:31,32) and what is false teaching (Acts 17:11; 2 Timothy 2:15).
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