How To Distinguish Between Our Thoughts and the Holy Spirit Speaking

I was scrolling through TikTok and found someone trying to answer how he knows the Holy Spirit is speaking rather than just misinterpreting his own thoughts as the words of the Spirit. After fumbling over his words to try to explain the difference, he claimed that the words of the Spirit were like thoughts, but louder. I find such an answer to be completely unhelpful. Fist, there was no use of Scripture whatsoever to back up his claim. Second, the Holy Spirit does not work that way. I want to give you an actual answer to this question. Here it is. Are you ready? You don’t.

I don’t disbelieve that the Spirit will speak to people. I have heard what I believe to be the voice of the Spirit one time in my life. I believe the Spirit spoke to Old Testament prophets so that they would relay the word of God to Israel and Judah. I am confident that this is not the Spirit’s primary way of working or communicating with people. Christianity is not mysticism–these are two completely different and incompatible worldviews.

In John 13, Jesus sits with His twelve disciples to have Passover. He begins by washing their feet and then prepares them for His departure. Keep in mind, the 12 are Jesus’s primary audience for His teaching. The teaching in this section of John’s Gospel certainly applies to us. The primary audience is important to know so that we may understand Christ’s words. As Jesus prepares The Twelve for His departure, He tells them explicitly that the Holy Spirit will come. He tells them exactly how the Holy Spirit will work.

I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.

John 14:16-17

Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will indwell The Twelve and be with them forever. Look at the wording. The world cannot receive the Holy Spirit because it does not see or know Him. This means that all those who are in Christ to receive the Spirit. The Spirit abides with each believer following Christ’s departure from the earth. He does not abide with those who are not in Christ.

Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as a helper. Simply put, if we are in Christ, we really do have the help of the Holy Spirit in this life.

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.

John 14:26

Jesus tells The Twelve that the Holy Spirit will teach them all things and remind them of Jesus’s words. We receive a clue as to how the Spirit will communicate–by bringing it to their remembrance. The Spirit will lead their thoughts. This verse is the most pertinent to the question posed. We don’t distinguish between our thoughts and the words of the Spirit because the Spirit actually communicates by bringing thoughts to our minds. Jesus is also clear about the content. The Holy Spirit brings to mind all that Christ has said. What the Holy Spirit teaches the Twelve may be new understanding for them, but it is not new revelation. The fullness of the revelation of God was already present in Christ. To insist otherwise is to belittle the divinity of Christ, a ramification many people don’t intend when they insist on the presence of progressive revelation in the post-crucifixion world.

We are aware of the process of sanctification. As we live in Christ, we are being conformed to His image. This includes our thoughts and prayers. This means that, as we live in Christ, our thoughts actually reflect more and more the thoughts and words of God. This is how the Holy Spirit communicates. It is more transformative for us. It’s not weird, mystic, or cultish.

This is why we believe in the verbal-plenary inspiration of Scripture. The words of the New Testament writes were given by God through His Spirit. They were transferred to paper in the words with the personalities of the human writers. Why? The Holy Spirit communicates in the sanctified reflections of our minds. It is why we want pastors who study and wrestle with God during the week, being transformed by the renewing of their minds so that they can also test and approve God’s will.

When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me

John 15:26

Jesus tells His disciples plainly that the Holy Spirit will testify about Him. The Holy Spirit does not testify about a coming windfall. The Holy Spirit is not telling us what to wear on a certain day. The Holy Spirit does not tell us what job to take or school to go to or person to date. Because we are being sanctified and can test and approve God’s will (Romans 12:1-2), we don’t need some mystical answer. It is good to pray and fast while we are testing God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will for our lives or thinking about and praying through a big decision. Ultimately, God’s work transforming our minds is good work. The Holy Spirit testifies about Jesus. Draws us to Jesus. Conforms us to the image of Jesus. Jesus is the content of the Holy Spirit’s communication in our lives. That is the Spirit’s mission. He will not get off mission.

But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.

John 16:7-11

Because the Holy Spirit testifies about Jesus, He convicts the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. This is His mission. He turns thoughts and hearts to Christ. The Holy Spirit’s work in the world is the reason Jesus is the hottest topic of debate. The Spirit is moving and people are reacting. The louder the world gets about Jesus, the more the convicting work of the Spirit is proved. If it were not for the work of the Spirit, Jesus would have simply been at least practically forgotten like every other historical figure. But, the Spirit is moving.

Here, our theory about how the Spirit communicates is confirmed. He communicates through conviction–conviction concerning judgment, sin, and righteousness. He does not normatively speak audibly for people to hear. He does not normatively speak like a second voice in the headspace of a schizophrenic. If people are having conversations like that, they need psychological help and prayer. The Holy Spirit speaks through conviction. He speaks to everyone–those who do not believe, those who are in Christ, and those who have been judged with the ruler of this world (Satan).

I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.

John 16:12-15

Jesus has already taught about how the Spirit will guide The Twelve into all truth. His words glorify Jesus. He will share what is to come, teaching we see in Jesus’s own ministry. He will disclose the words of Christ again and again. If the words we think we hear glorify us rather than Christ, I can guarantee they are not the words of the Holy Spirit.

Anytime we hear something, especially on TikTok or see it on any social media platform, our first response out to be to check Scripture. Many people talk. Some of them have taken the time to understand. Social media makes it really easy for people to be quick to speak and slow to listen. May we be slow to speak and quick to listen. Seek understanding first, then share what you’ve learned. Finally, may we be led by the Holy Spirit. If He is always glorifying Christ, our Spirit-filled lives will also always be glorifying Christ–not ourselves.

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