The spiritual gift of discernment and motivational gifts of the spirit: The supernatural motivation to detect error and speak truth

The Spiritual Gift of Discernment

“Among the gifts of the Spirit, scarcely is one of greater practical usefulness than the gift of discernment. This gift should be highly valued and frankly sought as being almost indispensable in these critical times. This gift [the spiritual gift of discernment] will enable us to distinguish the chaff from the wheat and to divide the manifestations of the flesh from the operations of the Spirit.” 

A.W. Tozer on the indispensable spiritual gift of discernment

What is your spiritual gift? Could it be the spiritual gift of discernment?

This article is written for Christians to educate Christians about their motivational gifts. If you are not a Christian, you are welcome to read if you have an open mind. In fact, it will benefit you to understand spiritual gifts since most of us have Christians in our lives as friends and/or family members.

Whoever you are, knowledge of these gifts will bring more harmony and peace within yourself and within your relationships. Interestingly, according to my web stats, this category (the gift of discernment) has, through the years, been my most-viewed category, attracting the most amount of readers.

Since becoming a Christian, have you noticed a new gift inside of you? Have you wondered why you are experiencing interesting, new motivations? It’s a big deal that you and I understand our gifts and the gifts in others.

There are several spiritual gifts, and they result in entirely new drives.

For instance, someone with the gift of giving will notice that they have a new peculiar desire, a strong motivation, to be generous. The spiritual gifts are not imaginary, they are actually all new motivations. This is why someone who was previously greedy can turn into a giving person.

The thing about spiritual gifts, as with all gifts, is that we don’t choose the ones we receive. They are not something we choose for ourselves. The giver decides who gets what gift, including the spiritual gift of discernment. The gifts are from the grace and goodness of God (they are undeserved). The purpose of the spiritual gifts is to humbly serve God and others. They are gifts of the Holy Spirit which are divinely empowered.

If you have the spiritual gift of discernment, you know all too well that this is an important yet tough gift to carry. Otherwise known as the gift of discerning of spirits, it is perhaps the hardest motivational gift to carry. It is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:10.

The spiritual gift of discernment is a crucial yet sacrificial gift for the common good.

The spiritual gift of discernment often is paired with the gift of prophecy. The two are similar.

What is the gift of prophecy? The gift of prophecy is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 14. It is the gift of communicating (forthtelling) revealed truth, even hard or unpleasant truth (from the Greek origin and meaning of the word, there can also be a foretelling element to this gift). The motivational gifts are also addressed in Romans 12 (another chapter which correlates is Ephesians 4).

Dr. Ed Hinson, D.Phil, D.Min, Th.D. teaches a class on spiritual gifts. Dr. Hindson has lectured at Oxford University, the Harvard Divinity School and numerous evangelical seminaries including Trinity, Dallas, Denver, and Westminster. He explains:

The gift of prophecy is a gift of declaring truth in order to help somebody avoid a path of error.1

He [the one who is motivated by the gift of prophecy] is going to push you to a decision, he’s going to confront the issues in your life – that’s his style!2

Like prophecy, discernment is a truth gift. It’s a verbal gift. It’s crucial that we understand this spiritual gift. If we don’t, we will vastly misunderstand ourselves and those in our social circles who possess this often misunderstood gift. Life became a bit easier once I understood my own gifts. There is an entire population of individuals who don’t know about the gift which motivates their drives and behaviors.

Knowledge is power!

There is a scripture which expresses the importance of understanding our own spiritual gifts and the gifts of others: “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed” (1 Corinthians 12:1). “To be uninformed” is from the Greek verb agnoein which means to not know, to be ignorant of, even with the idea of willful ignorance.

If we don’t understand spiritual gifts in ourselves and others, it will lead to false judgments which break unity and damage relationships.

That’s right. Ignorance and misunderstandings of spiritual gifts leads to damaged relationships. Spiritual gifts correlate with relationships, and therapists and caregivers (especially Christian coaches and counselors) should understand the dynamics to better serve others.

I have seen this in action. One person does not understand the others’ spiritual gift and therefore assumes the person must be wrongly motivated. The fact is that we are a diverse bunch. Where did we get this idea that we are supposed to be carbon copies of one another? The same chapter conveys the notion that all the spiritual gifts differ from each other just as an eye differs from an arm. We are all part of the same body.

The Bible likens this to a whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, growing and building itself up in love, as each part does its work. God gives us spiritual gifts as motivational tools so that we can be of service and “edify” others (built up with the truth).

The spiritual gift of discernment is the most misunderstood of the gifts.

It’s that internal, intuitive drive that causes you to discern what is going wrong and fix. Often, those who possess this gift are considered the misfits, the whistleblowers and the “black sheep”. Of course, those in hard-hearted error don’t enjoy being discerned or corrected by a discerner. Not many do!

Even, if it is a gentle correction. Even when they use their gift with love, they are confrontational. Thus, they often ruffle feathers.

Consequently, those with this gift often experience hostility, gaslighting, silencing/stonewalling and spiritual abuse.

Nevertheless, they are excellent BS Detectors and are here for a reason. They can easily detect what goes unnoticed by others.

Those with this gift are like the white blood cells of the body.

We ignore those with this gift at our own peril. This gift is invaluable when it comes to deceitful teachings and/or abusive practices in organizations, cults, religious settings or coercive-control groups. These are the ones that are shunned by hard-hearted, hyper-authoritarian religious gurus or those who are abusing power.

I also liken those who have this gift to those who know there is a giant waterfall downstream and shout at the ones in the boat heading down the river in blissful ignorance. The discerner is not one for small-talk. This person will hold up a sign, metaphorically speaking, with a loud and clear warning, “Hey! Watch out! There is a huge waterfall ahead! You really need to get out of the boat and swim in the other direction!”

What so often happens is those heading downstream pay no attention and the discerner becomes an annoyance that disrupts the “peace”.

I knew a discerner who warned a group of people of something dangerous, before they dismissed the warning entirely. Two years later, every one of them came back and said, “We should have listened.” It was too late, and their kids suffered tremendous harm and trauma that will likely take them a lifetime to overcome.

Those with the gift of discernment can’t stand errors and social injustices like lies, manipulation, and human oppression. They are highly empathic and can detect hypocrisy, false peace and false unity when others don’t.

Do you know a discerner? Like those with the gift of prophecy, they are the seers. They can be lonely because often they see issues long before others do. They are like bomb-sniffing dogs. They detect the invisible. Share this article with them. I find that this population could use an extra hug.

Contrary to the tougher gifts, not many are going to turn away someone with the gifts of giving, encouragement, mercy or service. These gifts are easier to carry and use.

The gift of mercy is a compliment to the gifts of discernment and prophecy.

Years ago, David Backus wrote the following article* about the spiritual gift of discernment and the gifts of the spirit. I originally retrieved the article at the Free Believers Network on April 16, 2016. It is, by far, the best description of the spiritual gift of discernment I have come across.  I asked the author if I could post his article and obtained his permission:

“I can usually spot them. It’s my job as I contribute my portion of the work to the Body of Christ. They are sometimes outcasts. Sometimes they are quiet and introverted. Other times they are more outspoken and abrasive. Either way, they are misunderstood. Usually, if they don’t want to be removed from their local church group, they conform, grudgingly and brood quietly. Many aren’t aware of why.

Often they get accused of being unteachable or unsubmissive to authority and being headstrong. The problem is, many times even they don’t recognize why or what they have. Usually these people’s hearts get crushed early on in the institutional church system.

I am speaking, of course, of those with the spiritual gift of discernment. This specific gift doesn’t get a lot of limelight and exploitation like the more powerful gifts. It is usually a threat to most pastors and it is more difficult to manipulate and control.

This [those with the spiritual gift of discernment] is one of the biggest population of people in churches that get their share of spiritual and religious abuse.

Either they conform to the all-knowing constraints of their pastors, or they get swept under the carpet, or booted out. Their warnings about error taking hold in the church often go ignored and usually such people aren’t given a position of leadership or to even speak in the average church setting.

I like to call the gift of discernment the twin gift of prophecy. People who are prophets or who work closely with prophets possess this gift as well. It complements and tempers the prophetic gift nicely.

The discerner is the watchman in the late hours of the night. They constantly scan the horizon for possible danger. They watch closely and carefully with a highly critical mind, for anything that might damage or lead the church away from the truth of the things of God.

If I were to liken the discerner to a part of the body of Christ it would be the immune system. They are the body’s defense system against viral lies that would infiltrate His people.

Unfortunately, due to religious pride, financial corruption and desire for power and control, religious abuse, or even the more passive aggressive church communities have rejected this crucial part of the body, rendering it vulnerable to the lies of the enemy.

Usually discerners don’t get along well with the pastor who doesn’t understand the gift and insists on running the show. They also don’t get along well with the “be nice and don’t judge” mentality of the average church attender. Often, discerners get accused of being judgmental, overly critical, or even arrogant.

I would offer comfort here though, there is an entire book of the Bible dedicated to the discerner. It is most often overlooked and poorly understood. It is one of my favorites, the book of 1 John. I take deep comfort in this book and other passages in the Bible which reaffirm this gift in me.

To the pastor or the observant church member, I say this. Look for the ones who usually are considered and labeled rebels.

They don’t fit in, they don’t play nice with the status quo.

They sometimes have a chip on their shoulder, they usually complain about the way things are and can tend to be overly critical. Look for the loner who is in the group, but never at complete harmony with it. Also look for the one who drives you crazy with their being “unteachable” and “unsubmissive.” Chances are, they have the gift of discernment, even if it is undeveloped and not brought under the control of the Holy Spirit and His Love.

To the Discerner: If this blog describes you, make sure you are submerged in love for people. Use your gift based on love. My gift of discernment became the most effective when I learned that God is love, and I asked God for the gift of seeing the world, especially the Church through His eyes.

As with all spiritual gifts, it needs to spring out of God’s flame of love for others deep inside of you. Fall deeply in love with people before operating in this gift. When you love people, you will never go wrong. And things can go awry when love is withheld and selfish motives are the root.”

*I obtained the author’s permission. Please do not copy.

  1. Hinson, Ed., D.Phil, D.Min, Th.D. BCOU: 102 Using Your Spiritual Gifts in Counseling (Introduction to Biblical Counseling). American Association of Christian Counselors. Light University. 12:38 minute mark.
  2. Ibid., 35:43 – 36:30 minute mark. Emphasis in brackets added.

Rebecca Anne

Rebecca Anne is a book author, coach and board certified pastoral counselor who specializes in counter-cult education (helping cult victims) and trauma recovery. She has nearly fifteen years of experience with social work research, psychology research, copywriting, editing and coaching. From the University of Michigan School of Social Work, she received advanced training in practice methods, advocacy and social justice frameworks related to social work practice and a Masters Certificate in Social Work: Practice, Policy and Research.

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