The Holy Spirit or a Bad Piece of Beef?

Cathedra-HolySpirit 2Have you ever wondered how to know if something is from the Holy Spirit or something else? You feel something warm inside at a concert or revival meeting. Your church has a wave of emotions come over the congregation at a service. A person says they have a message from God for you. You feel a tug of the heart to stop and talk to a total stranger at the mall.

Chances are, you have wondered about these or similar things before. We ask, “Is this the Holy Spirit? Is it my fragile mind, a guise of Satan, or a bad burrito?” Thankfully, some great thinkers, like Jonathan Edwards, have gone before us and thought about these kinds of questions.

Edwards was a master at discerning the work of the Spirit. He wrote a little booklet about it called Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God. Edwards lived and ministered in the thick of the Great Awakening–a time of great revival in New England. His theology of the Spirit’s work was thus formulated in the crucible of everyday ministry, not in the sanitized study of a theoretical theologian. He was ruthlessly biblical in his approach, and 1 John 4 was an especially helpful guide for him. From Scripture, Edwards found five marks, or signals, that the Spirit is at work:

  1. Treasuring Jesus: When something happens and people fix their gaze upon the Jesus revealed in Scripture and upon what he has accomplished in the gospel, you can be sure it is the Spirit of God. 
  2. Hating Evil: When something opposes the work and interests of Satan, and when sin is exposed and killed, you can be sure it is the Spirit of God.
  3. Loving Scripture: When something moves people toward an increased love and desire for the Bible and its rich and layered truth, you can be sure it is the Spirit of God. 
  4. Discerning Truth and Error: When something enlightens people to believe in, embrace, and apply truth as it is seen in Scripture, you can be sure it is the Spirit of God.
  5. Loving God and People: When something produces sincere love for God and other people, you can be sure it is the Spirit of God.

Much more could be said, but this is clarifying, convicting, and comforting! As we encounter happenings, feelings, or urges and run them through this “grid,” we will be able to discern the work of the Spirit. Even more, let’s pray for the Spirit to work so that we continually see these five marks evident in our individual and corporate lives!