by Matt Slick
When do we know that the Holy Spirit or God has spoken to our heart? How do we know we are doing God's will and not our will?
These two questions are common and not so easily answered in a specific manner. There are, however, general principles by which we can know we hear the Holy Spirit. I offer the following guidelines, not as a formula, not as a guarantee, but as a means to help people understand and recognize when the Holy Spirit is speaking to and through them.
- Become a Christian
- John 1:12, "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name."
- It should go without saying that we should be Christians before we seek to hear from the Holy Spirit. Though there are many non-Christian groups such as the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, and aberrant Christian groups like Roman Catholics, the necessary first step is that we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God through receiving Christ as Lord and Savior. This can only occur if a person is saved from God's judgment by trusting, through faith alone, in the work of Christ alone. Of course, this means that we must understand and know that Jesus Christ is God in flesh, the only begotten Son of the Father, that he died for our sins, and that he was physically risen from the dead.
- Therefore, you must be indwelt by God before you can hear from him.
- Therefore, in order to hear from the Holy Spirit, you must first be saved.
- Read the Bible to know how to pray and recognize false impressions
- 2 Tim. 3:16-17, "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work."
- We cannot claim to be in the will of God and thereby hearing the Holy Spirit if we are believing or acting in a manner contrary to the revealed Word of God. We need to study the Bible. It is God's inspired word and it guides us so that we might know how to pray and also so that we can discern whether what we think we hear from God really is or is not true.
- Take for example the Mormons. They pray about the Book of Mormon and believe that the Holy Spirit tells them that Mormonism is true. However, Mormonism clearly contradicts the Bible since it teaches there are many gods, people can become gods, there is a goddess mother in heaven, etc. What they think they are hearing from God the Holy Spirit, really is not from him at all.
- Therefore, by reading God's Word, we can at least eliminate any suspected communication from the Holy Spirit should it prove contrary to the Bible.
- Pray in accordance to God's will
- 1 John 5:14, "And this is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us."
- We discover the will of God by conforming our lives, our thoughts, our actions, to the words of Christ and the apostles as taught in the New Testament. But, it is in prayer that we enter into the presence of God and seek to hear from him.
- Therefore, we need to hear from God's Word, and we need to be in prayer for God's will.
- Confess your sins
- Psalm 66:18, "If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear."
- We cannot claim to walk with God and yet abide in unrepentant sin. If you want to be in the will of God and hear the Holy Spirit work in your heart and life, you must confess your sins and repent of them. You cannot hear from the Lord if you are wilfully living in a manner contrary to the holiness of God.
- Therefore, if there are sins in your life from which you have not turned, then you need to confess them before the Lord and be cleansed.
- Wait upon the Lord.
- Psalm 40:1, "I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry."
- Sometimes the answer to prayer takes longer than we expect. This is why hearing from the Holy Spirit requires that we be patient. When we ask of God, when we seek his will, we can know instantly what his will is in many cases by reading the Bible. But in those areas where the Bible is not specific and we ask God something about life's direction, who to marry, what job to take, etc., we must wait in order to hear from the Holy Spirit.
- Oftentimes, we can discern the will of the Holy Spirit by the becoming aware of an increase or decrease of desire in our hearts as we repeatedly pray and wait on him. In other words, God often puts a desire into our hearts that increases over time as we pray about something. If that desire is in agreement with scripture, then it is most probably from the Lord. If the desire in your heart decreases, it may be that the Lord is not speaking to you on that topic. Look at it this way. Pray and ask the Lord to increase desires in your heart that are from him, and decrease those that are not. And, always make sure your desires are in accordance with the Bible.
- Therefore, be patient and give the Lord the opportunity to answer you, to speak to your heart.
In these principles, you can find how to hear the Holy Spirit, how to recognize his work in you. Be filled with the Spirit in salvation. Study what the Bible says so you might recognize truth. Pray for his will. Confess your sins and be patient. The Lord answers but sometimes he has to prepare the groundwork before the answer can come to fruition.