The Holy Spirit is one of God’s most wonderful gifts. How do you know for sure you have the Holy Spirit? How can you be led by it and grow spiritually?
One of God’s greatest gifts is the Holy Spirit, and it provides a lifeline to God by which He gives many of His other wonderful gifts. The Holy Spirit gives a Christian spiritual power and understanding and makes it possible for us to become more like God and eventually inherit eternal life.
(This process of transformation is explained in detail in the articles in our section “Christian Conversion: How Does the Bible Say We Become Christians?”)
So it is important to know how to receive the Holy Spirit, how to be assured that we have it, how to be led by it and how to “stir it up.”
How do we receive the Holy Spirit?
The Bible says we receive the Holy Spirit after repenting and being baptized.
Jesus Christ told His disciples that they would receive the Holy Spirit after His death. On the Day of Pentecost, the beginning of the Church of God was announced with powerful miracles, and Peter preached an inspired sermon describing how we can receive the Holy Spirit:
“Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:38).
When do we receive the Holy Spirit?
Other passages show that the Holy Spirit is given to the repentant believer after baptism when a minister lays his hands on the person and asks God to give the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17).
Repentance, belief, baptism and the laying on of hands are the steps God asks us to follow today before He gives His Holy Spirit. If a person has not followed these steps, he or she does not have the Holy Spirit in him or her yet.Repentance, belief, baptism and the laying on of hands are the steps God asks us to follow today before He gives His Holy Spirit. If a person has not followed these steps, he or she does not have the Holy Spirit in him or her yet.
Do unbelievers have the Holy Spirit?
No, the Bible ties together believing God and receiving the Holy Spirit.
- Jesus “spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive” (John 7:39).
- Jesus also said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16).
- Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus that “having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13).
Belief in God is a prerequisite for receiving God’s Holy Spirit.
Are babies born with the Holy Spirit?
No, the Holy Spirit comes after repentance and baptism, which the Bible shows are adult decisions. (See our article “Infant Baptism?” for more on this.)
Some have wondered about the fact that John the Baptist was to be “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15). But the Bible gives examples of the Holy Spirit working with people before their conversion.
Jesus told His disciples before His death that the Holy Spirit “dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). They received the Holy Spirit seven weeks later on the Day of Pentecost.
Even Samson was set apart from the womb, and the Bible says, “The Spirit of the LORD began to move upon him” when he was still young (Judges 13:25). Judging by his selfish and sinful way of life, it doesn’t seem he was converted till the end of his life.
What does the Bible say we should do to avoid quenching the Spirit?
In David’s impassioned prayer of repentance, he pleaded with God, “Do not take Your Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 51:11). He knew that if he didn’t keep repenting and seeking God, he was in danger of an unpardonable sin, for God will not forgive us if we do not repent.
To avoid these dangers, a Christian must do the opposite. Instead of grieving the Spirit, we should pray daily to be filled with God’s Spirit, to “walk in the Spirit” (meaning to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit), and to sow to the Spirit—to grow spiritually (Ephesians 5:18; Galatians 5:16, 25; Galatians 6:7-8).
Instead of putting out the fire of the Spirit, Paul encourages us to “stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:6-7).
What are some evidences of the Holy Spirit?
How do you know you have the Holy Spirit? In addition to following the biblical process outlined in Acts 2:38, we can examine our lives for the evidence.
The Bible lists many things the Holy Spirit enables us to do. Paul wrote that God’s Spirit opens up our spiritual understanding of things that seem like foolishness to those without spiritual discernment (1 Corinthians 2:10-14).
Through regular prayer and study of the Bible, the Spirit helps us grow in understanding of God’s plan and our part in it. It writes God’s laws on our hearts and minds, helping us internalize God’s way of life and think like He does (Hebrews 8:10). It enables us to transform or change our minds (Romans 12:2).
One of the most important evidences is that “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5). Godly love is described in more detail in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Though we all fall short, a Christian should see this fruit growing in his or her life.
Paul lists other important fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” The “fruit of the Spirit” refers to the characteristics we develop as we exercise God’s Spirit in our lives.
Paul also told members of the Church in Corinth, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? [through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit]—unless indeed you are disqualified” (2 Corinthians 13:5).
Christians will examine themselves to see how much this fruit of the Spirit is growing and will regularly ask God to provide His gracious Spirit to help them grow more. See more about this in the articles in “The Fruit of the Spirit” section.
God also gives different spiritual gifts to different people, but they all are given “for the profit of all” (1 Corinthians 12:7; see verses 4-11). None of these gifts are given for show or personal glory.
Some today mistakenly think that what is called “speaking in tongues” proves whether one has the Holy Spirit. However, even in New Testament times the gift of speaking in other languages was only given to some, and Paul warned that it was being misused in Corinth (see 1 Corinthians 14 and our article “What Is Speaking in Tongues?”).
How does the Holy Spirit work?
There’s a lot of confusion about the Holy Spirit and what it does in a person’s life. Some believe that God takes over, or possesses, and controls the believer by His Holy Spirit, enabling the believer to speak in tongues or do other miraculous deeds.
While the Holy Spirit does enter us after baptism and the laying on of hands, it does not possess us and dominate us against our will. The idea of “being possessed” by the Holy Spirit is more reminiscent of demon possession than how God actually works.
In the Old Testament, the prophet Elijah had a crisis of faith. After seeing God work a wonderful miracle, he ran for his life because of Jezebel’s threats (1 Kings 19:2-3).
After he arrived at a secluded place (verse 9), God gave Elijah four demonstrations of His power. There was a strong windstorm that actually smashed the rocks of the mountain, an earthquake, and a fire—yet God’s presence wasn’t in any of these powerful phenomena.
Then God spoke with “a still small voice” (1 Kings 19:11-13). God doesn’t always, or even often, work with large, awe-inspiring miracles. Sometimes God’s Spirit quietly deals with us by causing us to reason with more clarity and see things with a new awareness.
The Holy Spirit gives us a greater ability to see how we can apply God’s wisdom to our daily decisions.
A Spirit of power
The Holy Spirit does not directly control us, but it is still a spirit of great power. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). It gives us strength and insight to make the necessary changes to who we are on the inside.
Only through the help of the Spirit can we be transformed into beings who are continually growing to more closely resemble the character of God. The Holy Spirit helps us change into new men and women.
The Holy Spirit leads us as a guide on the path, but it does not drive us. It leads us just as it led Jesus Christ (Matthew 4:1). It can also give our lives direction as it did for Christ (Mark 1:12). But the Holy Spirit does not force us to do anything. We are free moral agents; we make our own choices and decisions.
Following the lead or direction of the Holy Spirit is very important. The Bible plainly states, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Romans 8:14). God’s people are to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit. We must live according to the Spirit—setting our minds on the things of the Spirit (Romans 8:5).
This leads to the vital question: How does the Holy Spirit lead us and help us?
How to be led by the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit works with us in different ways, all of them depending on the extent to which we allow it to lead us. The Bible reveals a number of ways that the Holy Spirit works with our minds to help us.
- The Holy Spirit opens our minds to understand God’s way.
The apostle Paul declared that the Holy Spirit enables us to “comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge” (Ephesians 3:16-19).
The Holy Spirit also opens our minds to properly understand what is found in the Bible—“for the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10).
- The Holy Spirit changes our minds to pure minds.
The Holy Spirit helps us to put off the old man and to “be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man” (Ephesians 4:23-24). The Holy Spirit works to change our minds so that we can have the mind of Christ. We must work to transform our minds instead of conforming our minds to the world around us (Romans 12:2).
- The Holy Spirit teaches us.
The Holy Spirit teaches us about God’s way of life, bringing to mind the words of Jesus Christ (John 14:26). It is described as “the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge” (Isaiah 11:2).
- The Holy Spirit comforts and encourages us.
One of the primary descriptors that Jesus used for the Holy Spirit was the word Helper or Comforter (John 14:16; 15:26). One way Jesus Christ comforts us through the Holy Spirit is by giving us His unique peace. “My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
- The Holy Spirit keeps us in touch with God.
The Holy Spirit is evidence that God is living in us, and that we are living in God (1 John 3:24). It is through Jesus Christ that we “have access by one Sprit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18). The Holy Spirit even helps communicate things we don’t know how to say to God (Romans 8:26).
Stirring up the Holy Spirit
We must do more than follow the lead of the Holy Spirit. We are to stir up the Holy Spirit daily in our lives (2 Timothy 1:6).
There are four primary ways that we can stir up the Holy Spirit.
- Bible study lets the Holy Spirit work in a greater way in our minds as we take in God’s Word and allow it to instruct us.
- Meditation, or concentrated thinking, on the Bible also stirs up the Holy Spirit in our minds, helping us to focus more deeply on God’s words.
- Prayer, or talking to God, stirs up the Holy Spirit in our lives as we talk to God and seek His will.
- Occasionally, we must also go without food and water in a religious fast to draw closer to God and stir up the Holy Spirit.
For more on these, read the articles in our section on “Prayer, Fasting and Meditation: Relating to God.”
So, how do you know you have the Holy Spirit? God will give the Holy Spirit after repentance, baptism and the laying on of hands. Yet our part is not finished once we receive the Holy Spirit. We must yield to the Holy Spirit. It is up to us whether we will follow the lead of the Holy Spirit and stir it up on a daily basis. If we follow the Holy Spirit’s lead, we will walk according to God’s way of life (1 John 2:6).
The Holy Spirit can help us greatly, but only if we let it. Will we focus on the things of the Spirit and follow the lead of the Holy Spirit? Will we allow the Holy Spirit to help us? For further information, read our article “Christ in Us: How Does He Live in You?”