Summary: How do we discern the Holy Spirit's guidance?
How can we tell if an idea comes from the Holy Spirit or not?
Many people claim to be led by the Holy Spirit, but we need to test what they say and find out the truth for ourselves.
One place that we can look at is John 16:12-15 where Jesus teaches about what the Holy Spirit’s guidance looks like.
1. Jesus’ Unfinished Work
Jesus still had many things to say to the disciples, but they could not yet bear it. They would have to wait for the Holy Spirit to guide them into those matters. For example, the conversion of the gentiles would certainly be a shock to some, just as eliminating certain prejudices are a shock to us and we may not yet be ready to receive that truth. What about John 15:15 where Jesus claims that he already taught them all things? MacLaren’s Expositions explains, “There is a difference between principles and the complete development of these.” What Jesus taught would need unpacking. The Holy Spirit would guide Jesus’ disciples into that knowledge. Would the Holy Spirit’s guidance ever end?
2. First Completed in the Apostles
Would the Holy Spirit’s guidance end with those disciples or continue until our day? There is no end-point given. The principles which Jesus taught would need further explanation as they apply to non-Jewish cultures and new generations. The Holy Spirit is a teacher who guides us into all truth. As a member of the Trinity, God the Holy Spirit is in perfect unity with God the Father and God the Son, teaching what they would teach. The disciples were led into writing the Gospels. We are guaranteed that the Holy Spirit guided that word written down for us. The disciples lived out that divine guidance, beginning with the book of Acts and then through the rest of the New Testament.
3. And Completed in Us
The guidance of the Spirit continues in the Church. Some teachings have been more fully formulated since the New Testament was written. What the Holy Spirit teaches is always consistent with the teachings of Jesus, just as Jesus echoed the Father’s teachings. If the Spirit guides us into all truth, how can sola scriptura (the Bible alone) be our entire source of truth? Perhaps a more logical term is prima scriptura (primarily the Bible) and secondarily tradition which includes the Holy Spirit’s inspiration throughout Christian history. Let’s also add reason and experience, when they are consistent with the Bible. That means worshiping God with our minds, guided by the Holy Spirit and experience of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
4. Spirit of Truth
In Acts 2 the disciples spoke in foreign languages to make the Gospel plain to others. That was new. What is the Holy Spirit’s purpose today? It is to be with us forever, and teach us everything, remind us of all that Jesus said, to testify on Jesus’ behalf, to prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment, and guide us into all the truth. In our passage He is called the Spirit of truth. His purpose in the early church was to reveal that truth to other languages and cultures. His purpose today is also to guide us into the truth about the issues of our time which were unheard of among those first disciples.