James W. Goll

B. Childress
Jun 25 2010 08:00 AM

          And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.
                                                                            John 10:5

                        “Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is
                                                      good.  Abstain from all appearance of evil."   
                                                                  I Thessalonians 5:19-22

“And a stranger they simply will not follow” (John 10:5). This chapter will help that statement become a reality for you.  
Let’s learn to recognize the voice of God so well that all the other voices sound unfamiliar.

Let’s not be like some people I know (and you probably know some as well) who would benefit from some lessons in
discernment. Instead of making the time to take driver’s training classes, such people quickly get into the fastest car they
can find and go off to the races. Some, sad to say, end up in a ditch or become casualties of driving without a license!
Let’s avoid the ditches. Let’s get our permits first, while being mentored by others, and then graduate to driving alone.
Where hearing God is concerned, driver’s education includes discernment lessons.

The Need for Discerning of Spirits

The gift of discerning of spirits, which is listed in the New Testament as one of the gifts of the Spirit, is desperately
needed in Today’s Church culture. This gift helps a believer distinguish what motivates spiritual activity. It helps a
Christian see through the gray areas and differentiate light from darkness. C. Peter Wagner has defined discerning of
spirits as follows:

    The gift of discerning of spirits is the special ability that God gives to certain members of the Body of Christ to
    know with assurance whether certain behavior purported to be God is in reality divine, human or satanic (see I
    Corinthians 12:10; Acts 5:1-11; 16:16-18; I John 4:1-6; Matthew 16:21-23).

In The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts, Sam Storms shares some examples of the gift of discerning of spirits in

  • Acts 16:16-18, where Paul discerned that the power of a certain slave girl was in fact a demonic spirit.
  • Acts 13:8-11, where Paul discerned that Elymas the magician was demonically energized in his attempt  to oppose
    the presentation of the gospel.
  • Acts 14:8-10, where again Paul discerned (“saw”) that man had faith to be healed.
  • When a person is able to discern whether or not a problem in someone’s life is demonic or merely the
    consequence of other emotional and psychological factors, or perhaps a complex combination of both.
  • When people with this gift are often able to detect or discern the presence of demonic spirits in a room or some
    such location.
  • In Acts 8:20-24, Peter was said to “see” (not physically, but to perceive or sense) that Simon Magus was filled with
    bitterness and iniquity.
  • It would seem that Jesus exercised something along the lines of this gift when he looked at Nathanael and
    described him as a man “in which is no guile” (John 1:47). In John 2:25 it is said that Jesus “knew what was in

Bottom line: This gift helps the believer see below the bottom line!

The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

When the outward appearance of the wolf is disguised, the human eye cannot immediately discern the wolf. However,
the sheepdog will not be deceived, even by the sheep’s clothing. He is not deceived because he does not judge by his
eyesight but by his sense of smell.  The wolf may look like a sheep, but he still smells like a wolf. In Scripture,
discernment is like a sense of smell, acting independently of the natural eyesight.

Isaiah the prophet, foreseeing the ministry of Jesus as the Messiah, the anointed one, declares that “the spirit of the
LORD…shall make him of quick understanding [literally, quick of scent] in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge
after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears” (Isaiah 11:2-3). Those to whom God commits
the care of His sheep must likewise, through the Holy Spirit, be quick of scent.

Wisely Judging Revelation

What would you think if you had a spiritual experience that made your hair stand on end? Would you write it off as
absolutely satanic or crazy because it didn’t fit into your theological grid? Consider some of the experiences of Daniel,
Isaiah or Ezekiel recorded in the Old Testament. Daniel lay weary for days because of the impact of a supernatural
vision.   Isaiah had his lips seared by a burning coal. Ezekiel was forced to lie on his side for 390 days straight. Then
there’s Zechariah, Paul and John the beloved disciple. An angel strikes Zechariah dumb, Paul is blinded, John sees
visions of such magnitude that the entire book of Revelation is inadequate to record them.

We need the gift of discernment, don’t we? Most of us in the Western world, if confronted with such events, would tend
to chalk them up to psychological disturbances or the devil. Entire segments of the Body of Christ have written off
hearing from the Lord because of fears about being deceived and led astray. It’s true that such experiences can come
from the supernatural power of the enemy, from the human mind or from God Himself. Yet, as we have seen in this book,
God wants us to recognize His voice, and our Master is very capable of preserving us from harm and deception.

Jesus said:

    “For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened….
    If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father
    give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” Luke 11:10, 13

We can trust our Father. If we ask Him for the things of the Holy Spirit in the name of Christ, we will get the real things,
not counterfeits. Two of His best gifts are wisdom and discernment. We need to stick close to Jesus and ask God to
enable us to grow in them!

Sources of Revelation

The Scriptures teach us that spiritual revelation or communication comes from one of three sources: the Holy Spirit, the
human soul or the realm of evil spirits.

Holy Spirit is the only true source of pure revelation. It was the Holy Spirit who moved the prophets of the Old
Testament and the witnesses of the New Testament. “No [true] prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but
men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (II Peter 1:21). The Greek word for “moved,”
phero, means “to be borne
along or even to be driven along as a wind.”

Thoughts, ideas and inspirations that don’t originate with the Holy Spirit can be voiced by the
human soul – the second
source.   These come out of our unsanctified portion of our emotions (see Jeremiah 23:16 and Ezekiel 13:1-6). As
Ezekiel the prophet said, these are prophecies out of men’s own hearts. He reports the words of God as he heard them,
“Woe to the foolish prophets who are following their own spirit and have seen nothing” (Ezekiel 13:3).

The third source of revelation,
evil spirits, can appear to be angels of light (good voices), but they always speak lies
because they serve the chief liar and father of lies, Satan. Messages delivered through evil spirits are often especially
dangerous to people ignorant of God’s Word or inexperienced in discernment because Satan loves to mix just enough
truth with his lies to trick gullible people.

Remember the slave girl with a spirit of divination described in Acts 16? She spoke the truth about the disciples, but she
got her information from a satanic source. Eventually, the apostle Paul had heard enough: He was irritated (something
just didn’t seem right!), and he commanded the spirit of divination to leave her. He discerned that her accurate
revelations were coming from the wrong supernatural source. When the slave girl’s owners became upset because their
extra income had disappeared along with the evil spirit, Paul’s discernment was confirmed. After all, God’s servants don’t
sell their services as psychics.

Testing Revelation

The only way we can accurately and safely approach interpreting the motivation behind revelatory activity of any kind is
to ask God for the spirit of wisdom and understanding. As reviewed in chapter 3, God still speaks today through many
different avenues, including visions. Dreams, His inner voice, His external audible voice, His creation, and so forth. Yet
our most important source of revelation is the canon of Scripture. Since the Bible is our absolute standard against which
we must test spiritual experiences, let’s look at nine scriptural tests.

To be assured of receiving accurate and valid revelation, we can apply the following list of nine scriptural tests.

    1.  Does the revelation edify, exhort, or console? “But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and
    exhortation and consolation” (I Corinthians 14:3). The end purpose of all true revelation is to build up, admonish
    and encourage the people of God. It is summed up best in I Corinthians 14:26: “Let all things be done for

    2.  Is it in agreement with God’s Word?  “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (II Timothy 3:16, NKJV).
    Where the Holy Spirit has said “yea and amen” in Scripture, He also says yea and amen in revelation. He never
    contradicts Himself.

    3.  Does it exalt Jesus Christ? “He shall glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine, and shall disclose it to you” (John 16:
    14). All true revelation centers on the person of Jesus Christ and exalts Him (see Revelation 19:10).

    4.  Does it have good fruit? “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are
    ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-16). The true voice of God will produce fruit in
    character and conduct that agrees with the fruit of the Holy Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23 and Ephesians 5:9).

    5.  If it predicts a future event, does it come to pass? “When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the
    thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has
    spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him” (Deuteronomy 18:22).

    6.  Does the revelatory turn people toward God or away from Him? (See Deuteronomy 13:1-5.) If a person’s words
    seem to be accurate, but they end up turning people away from following Jesus Christ as the Son of God, then it
    is a mistake to adhere to his or her ministry.

    7.  Does it produce liberty or bondage? “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but
    you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Romans 8:15). True
    revelation given by the Holy Spirit produces liberty, not bondage (see I Corinthians 14:33 and II Timothy 1:7).

    8.  Does it produce life or death? “For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (II Corinthians 3:6). The authentic
    voice of God always produces growth and life giving energy, not hopelessness, stagnation or defeat.

    9.  Does the Holy Spirit bear witness that it is true? "And as for you, the anointing which you received from Him
    abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things,
    and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him” (I John 2:27). The Holy Spirit is called
    “the Spirit of truth” (John 16:13). His indwelling presence in our hearts and minds provides us with a kind of
    supernatural common sense about the accuracy of words that seem to be from God. This ninth test is the most
    subjective and therefore must be used in conjunction with the previous eight standards.

May God give us the ability to walk in the grace of discerning His voice from all the “voices of strangers.” May we each
experience the fullness of the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (see Ephesians
1:17-19). Let’s pause to lift a prayer for His help:

    Father God, Your Word tells me to not despise prophesying, to test all things and to hold fast to what is good.
    Teach me to discern Your voice. I lift up Your Word as my standard. Help me to be a wise steward of Your grace,
    dear Lord. Teach me to discern good from evil. Grant me an appropriate fear of You and the wisdom to judge
    revelation properly. In Jesus’ mighty name, amen.


THE BEGINNERS’S GUIDE TO HEARING GOD, by James W. Goll, Copyright 2008, Regal From Gospel Light.