First of all, the Spirit does not come to testify about himself; He comes to testify about Jesus (John 15:26; 16:14).  He brings to our remembrance and explains what Jesus has already said (14:2 6). What the Spirit teaches us is therefore consistent with the character of the biblical Jesus, the Jesus who came in the flesh (1 John 4:2). The more we know about Jesus from the Bible, the more prepared we are to recognize the voice of his Spirit when he speaks to us. Knowing God well enough to recognize what he would say on a given topic can often inform us what God is saying, because God is always true to his character. But be warned: those who take Scripture out of context thereby render themselves susceptible to hearing God’s voice quite wrongly.

Second,  the Spirit  does not  come  merely  to show us details such as where to find someone’s lost property, although the Spirit is surely capable of doing such things and sometimes does them (1 Sam. 9:6-20). Nor does the Spirit come just to teach us which sweater to put on (especially when it is obvious which one matches) or which dessert to take in the cafeteria line. The Spirit does, however, guide us in evangelism or in encouraging one another (for example, Acts 8:29; 10:19; 11:12.)  The  Spirit  also comes  to reveal God’s  heart  to us,  and  God’s heart  is defined in  this  context as love  (John 13:34-35; 15:9-14, 17). To walk in Christian love is to know God’s heart (1 John 4:7-8; see also Jer. 22:16).

Third, it helps if we have fellowship with others who also are seeking to obey God’s Spirit. In the Old Testament, older prophets mentored younger prophets (1 Sam. 19:20; 2 Kings 2:3-8). And among first-generation prophets in the early church, Paul instructed the prophets to evaluate each others’ prophecies, to keep themselves and the church on target (1 Cor. 14:29). Spiritual mentors or peers who are mature in their relationship with God and whose  present walk with  God  we can trust can seek God with  us and provide us a “safety  net” of sorts.

If we feel that the Spirit is leading us to do something, but recognize that much is at stake if we are wrong, we may do well to talk the matter over with other mature Christians. Proverbs advised rulers that wisdom rests in a multitude of counselors, and that advice remains valid for us as well. In the end, we may not always settle on  the counsel  others  have given us— like us, they too  are fallible— but if they are diligent  students of the Scriptures and persons of prayer, we should humbly consider their counsel. God sometimes shows us things for the church that others may not yet see; at the same time, God may well have shown some of our brothers and sisters things we have not yet seen.  I have a few spiritual mentors and peers whose counsel I especially treasure and whose wisdom time has consistently (though not always) vindicated.

Many of us as young Christians were intrigued by the frequent experience of supernatural guidance from the Holy Spirit. While most of us who have learned to hear the Spirit in that way still experience such guidance regularly today, after a number of years, sensitivity to the Spirit’s guidance in that form becomes almost second nature and thus becomes less of a focus than it once was. Nor is this guidance, exciting as it may be to one discovering it for the first time, always the most important form of guidance God’s Spirit gives us.

By this method of hearing the Spirit, we might help someone in need, because the Spirit specifically directed us to do so. But many of us have also learned to hear God’s Spirit exegetically, as the Spirit has spoken in the Scriptures.  By hearing the Spirit’s voice in Scripture, we might help that same person in need simply because Scripture commands us to do so.  But perhaps the  deepest sensitivity  to the  Spirit comes  when  we learn  to bear the Spirit’s fruit  in our  lives­ when our hearts become  so full of God’s heart that we help that person  in need because God’s love within us leaves us no alter­ native. All three forms of guidance derive from the Spirit and from Scripture. Yet where  needs  clearly exist, God’s  character that we have discovered  by means of Scripture and the Spirit is sufficient to guide us even when we have no other  specific leading of the  Spirit  or  scriptural mandate, provided neither the Spirit  nor  the  Bible argues against it. It is when the Spirit has written the Bible’s teaching in our heart that we become most truly people of the Spirit.

(Adapted from Three Crucial Questions About the Holy Spirit, published by Baker Books.)

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