But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the … discerning of spirits. 1 Corinthians 12:7–8, 10
The ability to recognize false teaching and false teachers is an ability given by God referred to in 1 Corinthians 12:10 as the “discerning of spirits.” Since false teaching is one of the greatest hindrances to the progress of the church, God has given some believers the ability to discern error so that others might be warned and protected from being led astray. We desperately need the gift of discerning of spirits in these days of spiritual confusion. The apostle Paul had a strong gift of discernment in contrast to those who seemingly had no discernment at all, evidenced by the fact that some of the men in the Corinthian church welcomed as apostles were actually ministers of Satan (see 2 Corinthians 11:12–15).
In the book of Acts, we have a couple of examples of the discerning of spirits. The first is Peter’s discernment of the true spiritual condition of Simon. Although Simon had seemingly believed and was baptized, Peter saw that he was “poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity” and was seeking to use God to further his own agenda, as all prophets do (see Acts 8:9–25).
Another example is when Paul and the other disciples were in the city of Philippi and a slave girl was following them shouting, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” The Bible says that she did this for many days, and it greatly annoyed Paul, so he turned to her and said, “I command [the demon] in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out that very hour” (Acts 16:16–18). Paul was exercising the gift of discernment because even though this girl was proclaiming truth, it was coming from the wrong source. Paul did not want Satan promoting him!
How Can We Know the True from the False?
With so many false prophets in the world today, how can we know the true from the false? By asking the Lord for the gift of the discerning of spirits and by staying in the Word of God.