Monday, September 30, 2019

Anonymous Asks (60)

“How can I tell if it’s my own feelings or the Holy Spirit?”

Depending on the sort of feelings you are talking about, distinguishing between one’s own natural internal impulses and the promptings of the Spirit of God is not always perfectly straightforward. There are many emotional reactions that are completely in harmony with the Spirit.

This is true of the obvious ones like love, peace, joy and so on, but it is also true of emotions some Christians consider more questionable. It is not wrong, for instance, to be angry, vexed, disappointed, perplexed or even jealous when your feelings are aligned with God’s.

On the other hand, it is not the Spirit of God that makes us content to ignore sin in our lives and hearts, even if that feeling seems a comparatively peaceful one.

The Source of a Desire

So then, how do we tell the source of any particular impulse? Well, I’m not sure it really matters, at least not at the beginning. If that sounds strange, consider: the important thing is that we feel the things the Holy Spirit is feeling, want the things he is wanting, and hate the things he hates. Whether the promptings to be Spirit-like come directly from God himself or indirectly from a sense of duty, a good upbringing, a naturally kind disposition or an empathetic nature is not (at least initially) so important as the fact that we are acting like children of God. Afterward, perhaps, having done the right thing or avoided doing the wrong thing, we can try to work through to the best of our ability what exactly it was that prompted us to behave that way.

Better and Worse

Of course it is better to act under the direction of the Holy Spirit than by mere natural instinct, but the instincts and desires of a Christian are always in the process of being transformed into the likeness of Christ. This is the job of the Spirit of God. The transformation takes place at different speeds in different individuals. Some start at the top of the class, like Nathanael, about whom Jesus said, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” even before he had begun the process of discipling him. Wonderful stuff! Others struggle mightily in the process of becoming conformed to the nature of the Son of God. Peter provides a good example of that up-and-down sort of discipleship, one moment demonstrating great faith and the next moment acting as the inadvertent mouthpiece of Satan himself.

Why We Do What We Do

Because the Holy Spirit has more work to do on some of us than others, figuring out why we did a particular good thing is not always easy. Sometimes, for instance, we may avoid sinning out of fear of the consequences. Now, love is a better motive than fear, without any doubt. One day we may arrive at the place where all our actions toward God and men are motivated by love. Wouldn’t that be great?

In the meantime, however, it is still far better to avoid sinning because of the fear of God than to willfully disobey him.

The Spirit and the Word

So then, if we are seeking to feel what the Holy Spirit feels, to love what he loves and hate what he hates, how exactly do we know what that is?

This last point may be all too obvious, but I’ll share it anyway: the word of God is the work of the Spirit of God. The Bible is God’s Holy Spirit speaking. This is a point made frequently about the Old Testament by the writers of the New. “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,” begins the writer to the Hebrews. He is about to quote from Psalm 95. Or in Acts 4, the disciples pray and their prayer starts like this:
“Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit ...”
before going on to quote from the opening verses of Psalm 2. Not only is this true of the Old Testament, but of the New Testament as well.

The Non-Contradiction Principle

Because God does not contradict himself, we can be confident that the sort of behavior and thinking that God loves and hates have not changed over the last few thousand years since the Bible was written. If we are acting consistently with the teaching of scripture, rightly understood, then we are acting at the direction of God’s Holy Spirit. If we are acting inconsistently with the teaching of the Bible, we can be sure our impulses are coming from somewhere else, whether it is our own natural desires, the flesh, the world or even an evil impulse prompted by Satan himself.

Thus, if you feel the urge to engage in conduct God has forbidden or to avoid doing something God has explicitly commanded in his word, don’t think for a moment that is coming from the Spirit of God. He cannot and will not prompt you to act in violation of his own nature.

Those desires are coming from somewhere else entirely.


  1. This is a question that the person attempting to actualize biblical teaching and knowledge in their life will eventually come across. After all, just as appropriate electronic sensors can measure and react to light, humidity, sound, gravity, etc., we would expect that our mental, emotional, intellectual sensors should detect the spiritual influences in our life if they exist (granted, you must be inclined to want to pay attention to that). From my own experience I would say that I detect those mostly by realizing that I have missed the opportunity to respond to the spiritual influence, i.e., by missed opportunity.