by Sharon Beekmann
Something was amiss in Abigail’s life, so she joined a six-week archeological dig in Israel to figure it out. One morning mid-way through her stay, she awoke and saw a six-foot man dressed in a full-length robe standing in the doorway. Stunned but unafraid, she looked at the man and he at her. Something in his appearance and countenance told her he was an angel. After a few seconds, he spoke mentally to her, “God exists. Jesus Christ is Savior.” He smiled and left as mysteriously as he appeared. Mary cried her relief and said aloud, “Jesus, I believe. Take my life. Be my Lord.” Abigail bought a Bible and when she returned home, she joined a church where she grew in faith and served God.
Did Abigail see an angel? I assume she did. The angel pointed her to Jesus, the Holy Spirit enabled her to make a confession of faith, she bought a Bible and joined a faith community. Most counterfeit angels simply stare and if they speak it all, they relay mystical knowledge of some sort.
Christians understand that the source of spiritual inspiration matters. Biblically, there are only two spiritual sources of inspiration: God and Satan. Given the stakes, it makes perfect sense that God wants us to grow in our ability to recognize what is and is not of him. He instructs us through Word and Spirit. Discernment is not a mystical knowing, but a process of engaging and understanding Scripture under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit applied in real life situations. God himself is the source of Christian discernment.
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ (Philippians 1:9-10).
Here Paul associates discernment with the pursuit of God’s holiness. Christian discernment is both the result and means of growth in Christ. He wants us to grow in wisdom and understanding that comes from him (Colossians 1:9).
You may think that discerning the source of supernatural beings such as angels and demons, or even appearances of the dead, requires a different process than that used when distinguishing right and wrong, good and evil. But that is not true. Christians depend on the Bible in all matters of faith. The challenge Christians face is that biblical stories in which angels and demons appear are never primarily about them. They are about God and how he fulfills his purposes in his creation. Supernatural beings are auxiliaries in his grand story of who he is and what he has done, is doing, and will do in his creation. The Bible simply doesn’t say much about these supernatural beings. They are never the main point of his story. But God tells us enough—we can discern the difference.
Furthermore, the ability to discern is not restricted to a few gifted Christians. God equips new and old believers with his Spirit, Word and body. He wants us to know and follow him wherever he leads. But we must stay on the path and, as we do, we learn to differentiate him from others who clamor for our attention.
Sharon Beekmann is a Teaching Elder in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). For many years, she conducted a private practice in individual, marriage, and family therapy. She writes and teaches on spiritual discernment and is Chair of the Women’s Resource Council that administers the ministry of The Well: Women’s Resources for the EPC. Sharon is an Associated Faculty at Denver Seminary. Her books include Rescued and Redeemed: How to Discern Demons from the Devine and Silencing Satan: Handbook of Biblical Demonology. She is currently writing Angels, Demons, and the Dead: How to Discern What is and Is Not of God. Website: www.sharonbeekmann.org.