Scriptures for the discernment of spirits

by | Nov 18, 2020 | Presence

Photo Ignatius of Loyola Apotheosis-Luis Fernández García  CC BY-SA wikimedia


Recommended Scripture Reflections


In the daily Examen prayer, we look for God’s presence in our day and our response to that. Resolutions made to God in previous days are accounted for as well. Our ‘response’ becomes the conversation to take into mental prayer with God. This is the way of incremental healing and sanctification. Holiness isn’t an event; it is a lifestyle of living a discerning life. Thus, in the examen and mental prayer, we pick apart the reasons for our response, behaviors, attitudes, coming to better know our own thoughts vs. God’s inspirations. To grow in knowledge of God, one also grows in understanding of self. 

This growth, however, necessitates discerning God’s will in the small details of the day, rejecting the enemy who tempts and allures with his own suggestions. Rejecting the enemy and surrendering to God does more than prevent sin. It forms the soul to Christ’s—the intellect and will. It does so by building virtue, upon which God gives supernatural virtue and the seven gifts of the Spirit. Grace builds upon nature. All of this gives the person ability to discern the enemy’s ways in order to more quickly reject them.  St. Ignatius of Loyola gives us a set of 14 rules to follow in the action of this, the recognizing of desolation and proper response to it. For those unfamiliar with or wanting a refresher on discerning spirits in everyday life, Fr. Tim Gallagher’s series of podcasts are easy to understand and eye-opening:

As with the work of all saints, these rules are born out of God’s Word in scriptures. These can aid us in understanding God, ourselves and the enemy so as to stay in step with God. St. Ignatius recommended several ways to meditate upon scripture in order to hear God’s message. One method is to meditate on just a word or phrase at a time from a passage. Another method is to envision yourself within the situation of the passage: do you feel hot sun, cold wind, dust on your feet; who is with you in the setting, what is their body language and expression, etc. Then having been placed in this setting, read again the passage to reflect upon its meaning. Scripture references that may be helpful[i]:


Tradition of Discerning Spirits:


Gen 4:7—Voice of God and his opponent

Num 5:14—jealousy “a spirit which comes upon a man”

Ps. 51: “put into me a new and constant spirit” and to “keep my spirit steady and willing”

Hos. 5:4—Denouncing spirit of idolatry “Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God since a prostituting spirit possesses them”.

1 Kgs 3:4-13 — God invites Solomon to ask for anything he wants. Solomon asks for wisdom and understanding. Pleased, God also grants him wealth.

Gospel of John–distinguishes between Spirit of Truth & the one called the Liar.

Matt 4:1—“Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil”

Matt 12:25 Jesus gives rules of discernment “If Satan drives out Satan, he is warring against himself”

Matt 6:25—“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”

John 15:19—“If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own”

Matt 6:1 Jesus distinguishes self-righteousness when doing good to get other men’s approval

Mark 8:33 Peter is chastised “because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s”

Beyond the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and many epistles speak directly of discerning spirits. Example would be

1John—warns early Christians to test spirits to see whether they come from God

1Jn 2:16—“the sensual body, the lustful eye, pride in possessions”  stands in the way of what “comes from the Father”

1Cor 12:10—Paul lists charisms for the church in Corinth including “recognizing spirits”

Col 1:9—Paul prays for Colossians “through perfect wisdom and spiritual understanding you reach the fullest knowledge of his will”, precisely spiritual discernment.


Ignatius rules of discernment

Rule 1: When a Person Moves Away from God

2Peter 2:4; Romans 3:9-18; Gal 5:16-26; Ps 51; Luke 9:25; James 1:13-18; Ps 32; 1Pet 5:8; Matt 4:3; Jn 8:44; Jn 17:14-16;

Rule 2: When a Person Moves Towards God

Mt 11:23; Judges 6; 2Samuel 11:1-12:15; Luke 18:9-14; 1Jn 1:8-2:2; Luke 7:36-50; 1Sm 2:22-30; 1Sm 3:13; 1Sm 15:10-23 (1Samuel distinguishes two standards); 2Cor 7:10; Ps. 23; Mt 19:26;

Rule 3: Spiritual Consolation

Is 43:1-7; Ez 36:25-32; Eph 1:3-14; Heb 2:5-13; Mt 23:37; Ps 63:7; Lk 11:13; Lk 7:36-50; Eph 5:25; Exod 13:21-22;  

Rule 4: Spiritual Desolation

Jn 1:1-18; Acts 5:41; Lk 4:18

Rule 5: Spiritual Desolation—a Time for Fidelity

Luke 12:4,5; Luke 1:26-38; Phil 2:6-11;

Rule 6: Spiritual Desolation—a Time for Initiative

Mt 4:18-25; 1Cor 15:20-28; Matt 7:7; Ps 34:6; Jn 14:27; Ps 23; Phil 4:13;  

Rule 7: Spiritual Desolation—a Time for Resistance

Mt 2:1-12; Judith 8:25-27; 2Cor 12:9; Ps 117:2; Phil 4:13; Deut 32:7; Ps 105:5 & 143:5; Jn 16:32

Rule 8: Spiritual Desolation—a Time for Patience

Mt 2:13-23; Lk 2:39-52; Rom 8:28; 1Cor 15:10; Rom 8:26; 

Rule 9:  Why Does God Allow Spiritual Desolation?

Jn 16:7; Ps 42:9; Jn 14:16 & 26; Jn 15:26; Jn 13:1; Heb 12:2; Jn 15:5; Matt 5:3; 1Pet 5:5; Heb 12:5-13

Rule 10: Spiritual Consolation—a Time to Prepare

Mt 3:13-17; Psalm 23; Is 43:1-7;

Rule 11:  Spiritual Consolation & Spiritual Desolation—Finding Our Balance

Jn 8:31-45; Mt 4:1-11; 1Pet 5;5; Mk 14;27-31; Mk 14:66-72; Is 55: 1 & 12; Mt 11:28; John 14;

Rule 12:  Standing Firm in the Beginning

Ps 51:12

Rule 13:  Breaking the Spiritual Silence

Gen 2:18; Phil 4:7

Rule 14: Strengthening the Weak Point

Phil 4:13; Lk 4:18;



[i] Names of rules taken from The Discernment of Spirits: an Ignatian Guide for Everyday Living by Fr. Timothy Gallagher.


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