How Can I Recognize and Understand the Holy Spirit Better?
Jesus called the Spirit the Comforter, and sometimes the Holy Ghost. It is the presence of the Spirit that sanctifies and convicts Christians after they are saved. It is the Spirit who works in the lives of unbelievers as well, testifying to the truth of who Jesus is to lead them to repentance and salvation.
The mystery and nature of God is one that people will not fully understand this side of heaven, and the saints in eternity will spend all that time getting to know Him. One of the unique and complicated aspects of the nature of God is His Triune nature. There is only one God, but He is also three distinct persons. Of these three persons, the one that many consider the most mysterious - even though He is always with the believer - is the Holy Spirit.
Jesus called the Spirit the Comforter, and sometimes the Holy Ghost. It is the presence of the Spirit that sanctifies and convicts Christians after they are saved. It is the Spirit who works in the lives of unbelievers as well, testifying to the truth of who Jesus is to lead them to repentance and salvation. Because this work is spiritual, it can be difficult even for ardent and mature Christians to discern the working of the Holy Spirit.
With prayer, the Bible, and wisdom from other believers, it is possible to recognize the voice and workings of this often misunderstood person in the Trinity.
Who Is the Holy Spirit?
The Holy Spirit is the third person in the Trinity, so it is one with the Father the Son, unified in the one, true and living God. While the nature of the Trinity is considered a mystery, there are things the Bible reveals about each of these persons.
The word used for "Spirit" in the New Testament comes from the Greek word pneuma (????u?), which can mean spirit but can also mean breath. In Genesis, an image of the Spirit of God is seen moving like wind over the face of the water in the time before time. It is also in alignment with the image of God breathing life into Adam. The Hebrew word ruach (???), means wind, with similar implications. When the Spirit of God is referred to in the Old Testament, the term "Ruach Elohim" is used.
In the Old Testament, select individuals had the Holy Spirit settle upon them, but He would depart if and when they sinned and were no longer in right accord with God.
Examples of this in the Old Testament include:
- The 70 elders who aided Moses (Numbers 11:24-27)
- The judge of Israel Othneil (Judges 3:10)
- Gideon when he went against the Midianites (Judges 6)
- King Saul, the spirit eventually departed from him ()
- King David (1 Samuel 16:13)
When Jesus had an earthly ministry, the Holy Spirit was present at His baptism in the form of a dove, one of the few moments in the Bible where all three persons of the Trinity are present. He took the form of the dove and as fire. During His ministry, Jesus told His disciples that He would leave, and send the Comforter. After His death, resurrection, and ascension, a group of believers were gathered together at Pentecost,
"And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:1-3).
After this moment, once someone believed in the truth of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit entered them, and sealed them as belonging to Him for the Day of Judgment.
Is the Spirit Just a Feeling?
It can be easy to believe the Holy Spirit is nothing more than a feeling or a conviction - at best a conscience. However, the Bible is clear, particularly when Jesus is speaking. The Spirit is a person with will and the power to enact that will. When someone falls under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, they are not just being pricked by the ethical implications of a thought or deed oriented in human wisdom. It is supernatural intervention to call a person to repentance, comfort them in a time of trial, or in other ways communicate God's will. The Bible speaks about grieving the Spirit, the way it moves, and it operates independently of the Father and the Spirit. While the best way to describe the prompting of the Holy Spirit may be like a feeling, there is much more to the Spirit of God.
What Does the Bible Say about the Holy Spirit?
Verses about the Holy Spirit include, but are not limited to:
"And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord" (Isaiah 11:2).
"And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules" (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
"But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you...Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come" (Matthew 12:28, 31-32).
"If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Luke 11:13).
"But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (John 14:26).
"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words" (Romans 8:26) .
"Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple" ().
"In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory" (Ephesians 1:13-14).
"And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption" (Ephesians 4:30).
These verses demonstrate how the Holy Spirit rests with those who love and obey the Lord, and those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. The Spirit seals the saved, guaranteeing the inheritance of the righteous and faithful in Heaven. He resides within believers, sanctifying them, and giving them spiritual gifts. It is through the power of the Spirit of God that believers can exercise spiritual gifts, and blaspheming the Holy Spirit by attributing His power to evil is unforgiveable.
How Can I Apply This to My Real Life?
Understanding and studying the character of the Holy Spirit is an important part of the Christian life, because this part of the Trinity resides within the believer. He also facilitates the relationship between the believer and the Father; "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God" (Romans 8:26-27). Studying the Bible to examine the movement of the Spirit, and how the Bible describes how He works, will help evaluate if an experience is from the Holy Spirit or not.
To recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit, prayer is important. Because the role of the Spirit of the Lord is to translate the groanings and prayers of the believer to the throne of God, having a strong prayer life is an opportunity to communicate directly with the Holy Spirit.
When someone suspects they may be receiving guidance or warning from the Holy Spirit, and has consulted the Bible and prayed, it is still appropriate to go to trusted believers to pray with you, and receive their wisdom and guidance. Their advice must be in alignment with the Bible, but it can be a good way to receive confirmation.
A Prayer to Understand the Holy Spirit Better
Thank you for sending Jesus Christ to die for my sins, and that He conquered death and the grave. I praise You for Your wisdom and mercy. Thank you for sending the Holy Spirit after Jesus returned to You, so that we could have Your presence with us at all times. Lord, I ask for discernment, so that I can understand the moving of the Holy Spirit better. I want to understand the Spirit's leadings, to be better able to obey You. Help me to recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit, so that when I am being convicted, sanctified, or led to evangelize, I can know that it is You.
I ask for this wisdom in the name of Jesus,
Ryrie, Charles. The Holy Spirit. Chicago: Moody Press, 1965.
Sproul, R.C. The Mystery of the Holy Spirit Discover the work of the LIving Spirit of the Living God. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1990.
Tozer, A.W. How to be Filled with the Holy Spirit. E-artnow, 2020.
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Bethany Verrett is a freelance writer who uses her passion for God, reading, and writing to glorify God. She and her husband have lived all over the country serving their Lord and Savior in ministry. She has a blog on graceandgrowing.com.