When it comes to spiritual warfare and discerning the demonic realm, many presume that Jesus somehow had an unfair advantage that is beyond our capability today. That is not true; we can see and discern the demonic realm just like He did.
In Matthew 16:23, Peter took Jesus aside and told him that he (Jesus) would not die as Christ had just spoken to the Pharisees. Jesus looked directly at Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Wow! What a stirring rebuke to one of his favorites! We understand that Jesus did not “see” Satan and was not calling Peter “Satan” but in that instant he recognized the source behind the thought that Peter turned into words. I have no doubt that Peter was startled and quite possibly hurt by Jesus’ words.
Most Christians have no problem with the deity of Jesus but many struggle with the reality that Christ, being fully man, was just like us in every way. Of course, we recognize that he led a sinless life but the reality is that the tools he had to work with (his mind, intellect and emotions) were just like ours. We also have the Holy Spirit living in us, and all the same gifts of the Spirit are available to us!
It is important for believers to have that revelation, or they will be continually waiting for God to equip them more fully to do warfare or lead the blessed, abundant and victorious life.
In the instance where Peter spoke, Jesus accurately and quickly discerned the spiritual source behind those words. He knew it wasn’t Peter’s own thought and operated in the gift of discernment (1 Cor 12:10), just as in other scriptures he used other spiritual gifts to do his Father’s will on earth.
Jesus did not go looking for demons, but the demons knew who he was and were alternately fearful, antagonistic and reverential to him in different instances. He saw demons most frequently manifesting in people and cast them out. Only after his baptism and forty days in the desert do we see Jesus and Satan in a face-to-face encounter where Jesus was tempted three different times (Matthew 4: 1-11).
Most people (happily) do not have face-to-face encounters with demons, although some do. When these happen, discernment is not an issue because people KNOW they are in the presence of darkness even if they have very little biblical teaching or theology to stand on. A person with a valid experience will always triumph over someone with a theological argument!
Seeing Demons: Discerning of Spirits
The majority of our encounters with demons will involve us discerning them and responding properly. One key to successfully discerning demons at work is that we gain control of our thought life.
Just as Jesus was, we too are tempted by demons (Are there many among us who consider ourselves so important that Satan himself would have time for us?). They will work most often through other people to say and do things to us or just through our own thoughts.
How can this help us today? What are we to do?
- Recognize that we have the same tools and gifts that Jesus had to resist the demons. We should not be afraid, but ignorance can lead to bad results (Hosea 4:6)
- Jesus has given authority to cast out spirits (Mark 16:17)
- We are to resist spirits (James 4:7)
- We can bind up spirits in people (Matt 16:17).
- Ask for, and believe by faith, we receive the spiritual gift of discerning of spirits and walk in it!
- Jesus discerned the source behind the words Peter spoke. We can do the same! Exactly!
- When we acknowledge the gift and our spirit is sensitive and open, we need to have faith that God will speak to us, and we will “know” the spiritual reality rather than what we see in the flesh.
- Take the thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor 10:5) and then discern the source, just like Jesus did!
- Give yourself grace to grow in this area. Starting out on a new exercise routine can involve some short term pain but slow and steady progress is the best approach to achieving optimal long-term results. Patience, patience, patience!
- When you discern the source of the torment (and know that it is not flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12), then we can address the situation with spiritual weapons. To be increasing successful does require growing awareness and spiritual maturity, but God will give us grace as we step out in faith. Trials test our faith, and we become more mature by persevering as we go through them.
If you’ve had a poverty mindset with respect to the gifts and power of God that is available to you, it’s a simple matter to repent and move in a new direction. God will meet you as you step out in faith.