When we begin to understand the Holy Spirit, we start to understand God’s character. We begin to search after God’s heart more intentionally and discover God’s hand over all the things in our lives. As a result, we begin to trust God with whatever direction he takes us on. But in order to understand the Holy Spirit, we first need to look at when he first appears in scripture, who the Holy Spirit is, and the Holy Spirit’s purpose.
The first mention of the Holy Spirit in scripture is found in Genesis 1:2.
“The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (English Standard Version)
This is important to note because the Holy Spirit has always been in existence from the beginning of time as part of the Trinity.
In the New Testament, we first see the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus after his baptism.
One day Jesus came to be baptized along with all the others. As he was consumed with the spirit of prayer, the heavenly realm ripped open above him and the Holy Spirit descended from heaven in the visible, tangible form of a dove and landed on him. Then God’s audible voice was heard, saying, “My Son, you are my beloved one. Through you I am fulfilled.” – Luke 3:21-22 (The Passion Translation)
The reason for God’s audible voice was not for the sake of Jesus, but rather the onlookers so they did not question or doubt that God was at the center of everything Jesus did.
Since God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all one, no part of this Trinity is greater than the others. They all have specific roles to fulfill in allowing us to understand who God is. The role of the Holy Spirit is to dwell within each believer and open their eyes to the things of God whether in scripture, in nature, or in whatever way God sees fit. We do not see Jesus becoming indwelt with the Holy Spirit because he was already fully God and had the Spirit from the beginning. As humans, however, we are born into our sinful nature and require a moment of faith and trust in Jesus. It is in this moment that we are baptized in the Holy Spirit. This baptism initiates the indwelling of the Holy Spirit throughout a believer’s life.
The role of dwelling inside each believer is what helps us begin to understand the purpose of the Holy Spirit, and that purpose is to glorify God.
But when the truth-giving Spirit comes, he will unveil the reality of every truth within you. He won’t speak his own message, but only what he hears from the Father, and he will reveal prophetically to you what is to come. He will glorify me on the earth, for he will receive from me what is mine and reveal it to you. Everything that belongs to the Father belongs to me—that’s why I say that the Divine Encourager will receive what is mine and reveal it to you. – John 16:13-15 (The Passion Translation)
How To Understand The Holy Spirit
Understanding the purpose of the Holy Spirit helps Christians know what is truth and what is not truth. It is the Holy Spirit who enlightens us when it comes to all things about God. How he does this is an endless list. Just a handful of these ways include, but are definitely not limited to sermons, tongues, healing, conversations, quiet whispers, the audible voice of God, decision making, etc.
Martin Luther, the famous leader of the Reformation, encourages people to
“learn to recognize the Holy Spirit — to know that his mission is to present to us the priceless Christ and all his blessings; to reveal them to us through the Gospel and apply them to the heart, making them ours.” (Luther, The Gift of the Holy Spirit)
Once we begin to recognize the Holy Spirit, he provides discernment over each situation we find ourselves in. He is the voice within us telling us to go left or right. The important thing to remember is that since the Holy Spirit’s purpose is to glorify God, he will never contradict anything God says.
The fact that the Holy Spirit will never contradict anything God says should provide peace in each believer’s heart. This should serve as a check point to ensure a believer is following God’s will and not their own.
Charles Spurgeon highlights three situations for Christians to ensure they are understanding the Holy Spirit correctly. These situations should encourage the believer to double check what they think the Holy Spirit is saying with the truth of God’s word.
The first situation Spurgeon highlights is when a Christian makes a decision that feels comfortable.
“If a comfort which you think you need, and which appears to you to be very sweet, does not glorify Christ, look very suspiciously upon it … It is a poisonous sweet; it may charm you for a moment, but it will ruin your soul forever if you partake of it. But blessed are those comforts which smell of Christ, those consolations in which there is a fragrance of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the King’s palace, the comfort drawn from his person, from his work, from his blood, from his resurrection, from his glory, the comfort directly fetched from that sacred spot where he trod the winepress alone.” (Spurgeon, The Holy Spirit’s Chief Office)
The more you study scripture and compare it with what you believe the Holy Spirit to be telling you, the easier it will become to understand if it is the Holy Spirit speaking or your sinful nature.
Secondly, Spurgeon employers believers to double check their understanding of the Holy Spirit’s leading when they partake in any ministry.
If a ministry claims to be a Christian ministry, it is important to research and make sure they are following biblical principles before you join.
“Any doctrine which magnifies man, but not man’s Redeemer, any doctrine which denies the depth of the Fall, and consequently derogates from the greatness of salvation, any doctrine which makes sinless, and therefore makes Christ’s work less,-away with it, away with it. This shall be your infallible test as to whether it is of the Holy Ghost or not, for Jesus says, ‘He shall glorify me.’” (Spurgeon, The Holy Spirit’s Chief Office)
Thirdly, Spurgeon points out that believers should be cautious of any internal leading during religious movements.
Throughout history, there have been countless religious movements. From the emergence of baptists in the 17th century to the foundation of Pentecostalism in the 20th century, there have been people discussing new religious movements. Spurgeon understood this dilemma, and as a result, he not only encourages each believer to check all movements with what the bible says to be true, but to also ask these questions:
Does this movement glorify Christ?
Is Christ preached?
Are people pointed to Christ?
Is he preached as first and last?
Are believers directed to be justified by faith in Christ resulting in following Christ even to the point of death?
Does this movement copy Christ’s divine example?
(Paraphrased from Spurgeon, The Holy Spirit’s Chief Office)
These questions should help any believer begin to see whether or not a certain religious movement is of God. If you believe the Holy Spirit is calling you to a religious movement that directly conflicts with any of these questions or with truth in the bible, it is likely not the Holy Spirit’s leading.
Not only are these questions good to ask during religious movements, they are also good for any believer to ask themselves when it comes to any leading of the Holy Spirit.
When being led by the Spirit, people throughout history have argued over whether or not something is of the Spirit or not. Praise be to God for the Holy Bible, because the answers to all life are found within these words. And since the Holy Spirit is the one who enlightens each believer to the truth when a believer reads scripture, we should continually seek after God with every word he has inspired in the Bible. If the Holy Spirit’s purpose is to eternally glorify God, that should be our same vision.
In Psalm 86:11-13, David prayed,
“Teach me more about you, how you work and how you move, so that I can walk onward in your truth
until everything within me brings honor to your name. With all my heart and passion I will thank you, my God! I will give glory to your name, always and forever! You love me so much and you placed your greatness upon me. You rescued me from the deepest place of darkness, and you have delivered me from a certain death.” (The Passion Translation)
Praise be to God for sending the Holy Spirit to teach and enlighten us on the things of God. May our prayer forever and always be these same resounding words of David.