Question: “How can I recognize the guidance of the Holy Spirit?”
Answer: Before Jesus ascended to heaven, He told His
disciples that He would send one who would teach and guide all those who believe
in Him (Acts 1:5; John
14:26; 16:7). Jesus’ promise was
fulfilled less than two weeks later when the Holy Spirit came in power on the
believers at Pentecost (Acts 2). Now, when a person believes in Christ, the Holy
Spirit immediately becomes a permanent part of his life (Romans 8:14; 1 Corinthians
The Holy Spirit has many functions. Not only does He
distribute spiritual gifts according to His will (1 Corinthians
12:7–11), but He also comforts us (John 14:16, KJV) teaches us (John
14:26), and remains as a seal of promise upon our hearts until the day of
Jesus’ return (Ephesians 1:13; 4:30). The Holy Spirit also takes on the role of Guide
and Counselor, leading us in the way we should go and revealing God’s truth (Luke 12:12; 1 Corinthians
But how do we recognize the Spirit’s guidance? How do we
discern between our own thoughts and His leading? After all, the Holy Spirit
does not speak with audible
words. Rather, He guides us through an inner voice (John
16:13), our own consciences (Romans
9:1), and other quiet, subtle ways.
One of the most important ways to
recognize the Holy Spirit’s guidance is to be familiar with God’s Word. The
Bible is the ultimate source of wisdom about how we should live (2 Timothy 3:16), and
believers are to search the Scriptures, meditate on them, and commit them to
memory (Ephesians 6:17). The Word
is the “sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17), and the Spirit will use it to speak to
us (John 16:12–14) to reveal God’s will for our lives; He
will also bring specific Scriptures to mind at times when we need them most (John 14:26).
Knowledge of God’s Word can help us
to discern whether or not our desires come from the Holy Spirit. We must test
our inner voice against Scripture—the Holy Spirit will never prod us to do
anything contrary to God’s Word. If it conflicts with the Bible, then it is not
from the Holy Spirit and should be ignored.
It is also necessary for us
to be in continual prayer with the Father (1 Thessalonians
5:17). Not only does this keep our hearts and minds open to the Holy
Spirit’s leading, but it also allows the Spirit to speak on our behalf: “In the
same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to
pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot
express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because
the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will” (Romans 8:26¬–27).
Another way to tell if we are following
the Spirit’s leading is to look for signs of His fruit in our lives (Galatians 5:22). If we
walk in the Spirit, we will continue
to see these qualities grow and mature in us, and they will become evident to
others as well.
It is important to note that we have the choice whether
or not to accept the Holy Spirit’s guidance. When we know the will of God but do
not follow it, we are resisting the Spirit’s work in our lives (Acts 7:51; 1 Thessalonians
5:19), and a desire to follow our own way grieves Him (Ephesians 4:30). The Spirit will never lead us into sin.
Habitual sin can cause us to miss what the Holy Spirit wants to say to us. Being
in tune with God’s will, turning from and confessing sin, and making a habit of
prayer and the study of God’s Word will allow us to recognize—and follow—the
Recommended Resources: Logos Bible Software
and The Wonderful Spirit-Filled Life by Charles Stanley.