Nowadays, with so many false prophets and apostles, it can be hard to tell who is genuinely speaking on God’s behalf. So it isn’t strange to hear a self-proclaimed prophet/prophetess declare that the Lord spoke to them. Yet, despite these challenging times, we can be sure that God speaks (Psalm 50:1, 3). As Christians, we can confidently say this because there is evidence throughout the scriptures. Therein, God expresses his pleasure (Matthew 17:5) or displeasure (Genesis 6:13), guidance (Acts 13:2) or warnings (1 Samuel 8:7-10), and plans for his Kingdom, the church and the future (Revelation). In the Old Testament times, God spoke to our fathers through the prophets; in the new testament times, he spoke to us through his son, our Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2). And today, we know that he speaks to us by His Spirit (Revelation 1:7, 11, 17, 29).
Who is the Spirit of God?
To understand how God speaks, we need to lay the foundation and explain the means through which He speaks–his Spirit. The Spirit is a person, part of the God-head, as we believe in the Christian faith. Listen to our podcast for more details and resources on the same. But in summary, the following are things we learn from the scriptures about the Holy Spirit.
- He is our guide (John 16:13); he guides us into Christ’s truth.
- He teaches us (1 Corinthians 2:13); he causes us to know the things of God and how to handle ourselves when things get tough (Luke 12:11-12).
- He is the giver of all Spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:7-11).
- He is our intercessor when we are overwhelmed and don’t know what or how to pray (Romans 8:26-27).
- He is God (Acts 5:1-6).
- He is the seal and guarantee of our eternal inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14).
We could add many more scriptures here that show the person and work of the Holy Spirit. But with these, we can see that the Spirit of God indeed does practical things in the lives of believers, including speaking to them.
How can one Discern when the Holy Spirit is Speaking?
There are a few things we can look out for to help us know when the Spirit speaks to us. Now, we must note that this list is not conclusive because we know all too well that we cannot fully wrap our minds around the ways of God. However, the following are some general indicators to help us distinguish a message that is truly from the Spirit of God.
- The Spirit speaks deep inside our consciences- In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes that the Spirit speaks or bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Romans 8:16, 9:1). Think about that ‘feeling’ you have deep inside when you are about to do something wrong. This restraining voice is the Holy Spirit and he will gently remind you who you are (Romans 8:16, John 16:8-9). It’s hard to explain logically, but you know there was a ministry deep within your heart of hearts that tells you who you are which now helps direct you in the way you should go (John 16:13, 2 Corinthians 1:22, Ephesians 1:13-14, 1 John 3:24). The Spirit will lead you into ways of righteousness (Romans 8:14, Galatians 5:16) it is essential to listen to his voice that comes from deep inside.
- The Spirit speaks through life experiences- Sometimes difficult things happen in our lives, and through those circumstances, the Spirit speaks to us. Acts 8 shows how the Spirit spoke through the great persecution that arose after Stephen was martyred. The great persecution of Acts 8 is what propelled the disciples to move beyond Jerusalem into Samaria, Judea and, eventually, to the ends of the world (Acts 8:1-3). God’s work needed to be done, and the persecution was the Holy Spirit’s way of pushing the disciples out of Jerusalem (Acts 8:14-16, 26-30). We see other circumstances where Paul says that the Holy Spirit prevented him from going to certain places (Acts 16:6-7). Life circumstances are ways that the Holy Spirit speaks to us. What is he saying to you?
- The Spirit speaks in dreams and visions- In the Bible, we see that God is not limited to performing things within our everyday structured thinking. Joel the prophet prophecied in Joel 2:28-29 what we see in Acts 2. We see the Holy in many circumstances in the scriptures, speaking to people through dreams and visions, although that would not be the norm today. What we see in many churches today is purported ‘pastors’ taking advantage of others in the name of seeing visions and dreams from God. Many of these false pastors will assert things of their own making to enrich themselves. This is not new (Jeremiah 14:14). That notwithstanding, we must not completely cross out the possibility of the Holy Spirit still speaking to his people through dreams and visions. The story of the Macedonian call in Acts 16:9-10 and Joseph in Matthew 1:20, 2:13, 19, and 22 reminds us that Holy Spirit will do such things for His glory and good purposes. However, we want to remind you that if you have a dream from the Holy Spirit, it will be something that matches up with scripture since he guides in all truth (John 16:13). But such an occurrence is not a regular thing.
- The Spirit speaks through the body of Christ- We may be uncertain about various things as Christians. In such circumstances, we cannot stay silent about our questions because fellow Christians surround us and can help us know what to do. In my experience, I have been highly edified many times by my fellow believers. Our singular wisdom will often have blindspots, and we, therefore, constantly need accountability from brethren to ascertain what the Holy Spirit may be speaking at that time. Consider that in Acts 5:32 and Acts 15:28, it is the Holy Spirit that speaks to multiple people at the same time to confirm a message. In unity, he spoke to the body of Christ and brought the church together. Therefore let others help you discern what the Spirit is saying.
- The Spirit speaks through Scripture- 2 Timothy 3:16-17 teaches us that God breathes out scripture, but 2 Peter 1:21 teaches us that this happened through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit empowered the writers of the Bible to know what to write (2 Peter 1:20-21). Therefore the words of scripture are the words of the Spirit. Read scripture and see if what you feel the Spirit is telling you matches with scripture. He is the one who guides in all truth (John 16:13), and what he empowered the writers of the Bible to write are also His words.
What Does His Voice Sound Like?
The Holy Spirit does speak. There are several places in scripture where we clearly see He speaks to his people (Acts 13:2, 1 Timothy 4:1). He wants to speak to you, but are you listening? Look at the circumstances of your life, the still small voice in your heart, the body of Christ, and scripture. Remember that Spirit gives us gifts and speaks through us to help guide and direct us to love one another and God more (Romans 12:6-21). Anytime you hear from the Spirit, it will be a message to build others up in love and causes you to love God more. If you hear anything else that seems to contradict that, then you’ve not heard the Spirit speaking. Remember that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23), so of course, his voice will be one of unity and not divisiveness, one of a deeper love for God and not separation from him. Listen carefully and obey the voice of the Holy Spirit.