Is it possible to tell if an idea or occurrence, like a natural disaster, is from God? If it’s possible, then HOW can anyone tell what’s truly of God and what isn’t? John gives us a simple way to discern truth from error in 1 John 4:1-6. We are to try, or test, the spirits that are behind the philosophies or occurrences we see or hear. Those that are in agreement with the teachings of God’s prophets and apostles (i.e. what is written in the Bible) are of God. Those that contradict the Bible are not of God.
Simplicity in Christ makes a firm foundation
But several decades before John simplified this in the scripture, Paul explained to the Corinthian church in more detail why he conducted his ministry the way he did and how that would help them in the long run to hone their spiritual discernment. When he shared the gospel for the first time with people, Paul kept the message simple [1 Corinthians 2:1] and just shared the fact that Jesus Christ came to die for our sins by being crucified so we could be saved [1 Corinthians 2:2].
He did not use great oratorical skills, or big, fancy words, or quote famous philosophers and writers of that day, but relied solely on what the Holy Spirit told him to say or do and demonstrated God’s word through his lifestyle for the year and a half he lived among them [Acts 18:11; 1 Corinthians 2:4]. What was his purpose for that? He wanted their faith to stand firmly on God’s power, not on human wisdom, human reasoning, or human philosophy. Part of the reason why churches lack discernment and allow anti-Biblical things to go on in their congregations and why young people tend to leave the church once they are out on their own and why Christians sometimes shy away from stating with confidence what is or isn’t of God is because they are standing on human wisdom, human reasoning, and human philosophy–the very things Paul was avoiding.
A firm foundation sparks spiritual growth & expands wisdom
However, as believers grew and matured in their faith, Paul tended to expand his teaching to encompass a greater amount of God’s wisdom in his teaching, including mysteries and hidden wisdom God kept secret until the dispensation of the gospel. The mysteries he decided would take effect for the church’s glory even before he formed the world [1 Corinthians 2:6-7]. This hidden wisdom is not to be confused with gnosticism which believes knowledge brings salvation and that all matter is evil. God’s wisdom is totally separate from worldly wisdom and wisdom of world leaders because those types of wisdom will come to nothing [1 Corinthians 2:6]. So whether the philosophy is Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Stoic, Epicurean, Darwin, Marx, Machiavelli, or Kinsey, they are all nothing compared to God’s eternal truths which will one day do away with all others when Christ returns to rule Earth.
Why do most people, including the ones ruling or wanting to rule the world, reject the Lord of glory and his followers? Their eyes have not seen, nor have their ears heard, neither have their hearts received the things God has prepared for those who love him [1 Corinthians 2:9]. But God has revealed to his followers all of the things he has prepared for us. They have been revealed to us by the Holy Spirit [1 Corinthians 2:10]. This is how we discern what is of God and what isn’t. This is how we can tell if something is a blessing from God or not and whether a bad thing that happens is God’s punishment or not. It is God’s Spirit that searches out the meaning or intent behind all things, including the deep hidden things of God [1 Corinthians 2:10].
Expanding godly wisdom expands spiritual discernment
Just like a man’s spirit is the only one who knows what type of character he truly is deep down inside, God’s Spirit knows everything he desires deep down inside and how he plans to carry them out [1 Corinthians 2:11]. Since true believers have received God’s Spirit and not the spirit of the world, we can know the deep things of God [1 Corinthians 2:12]. We can know what he has freely given to us as believers. We can know his deep desires and what his plans are. We can know what is of him and what is not of him because that’s why he gave us his Spirit.
He wanted to reveal to us, to share with us “the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him,” [Ephesians 1:17]. He did not want us to be unwise, “but understanding what the will of the Lord is,” [Ephesians 5:17]. It is Jehovah’s desire that we “be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding,” [Colossians 1:9]. Surely our Father will do nothing, unless he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets [Amos 3:7], those of us who are his children.
These revelations are what we believers should speak and they can only be taught by the Holy Spirit as we compare spiritual things with spiritual to judge, or discern, by the Holy Spirit what is good spiritual or bad spiritual [1 Corinthians 2:13]. Those who are self-willed and whose lives are based on human nature and human understanding reject what comes from the Holy Spirit, considering them foolish [1 Corinthians 2:14] since those things are spiritually discerned.
A spiritual person, one who relies on the promptings of the Holy Spirit, can discern the spiritual value (or lack thereof) of all things, but they cannot be judged with any validity by anyone given to human nature and understanding [1 Corinthians 2:15]. Why not? Because no one knows the mind of the Lord to instruct Jehovah on how he should carry things out [1 Corinthians 2:16]. This is why it is pure insolence when atheists and other idolaters have the audacity to belittle how God does things or what he does, implying their way would be better than his. It is also pure arrogance when leaders of the church, instead of doing the things God said to do, would listen and give in to pressure from the world and make immoral, ungodly compromises to be accepted by the world. But those who are spiritual have the mind of Christ and will embrace all things from him no matter what the cost [1 Corinthians 2:16].
Summary: The closer you get to God (prayer, reading & studying the Bible, etc.) and the more you submit to the Holy Spirit, the greater your spiritual insight & discernment will be.