The Spirit of Truth

One of the names God calls His Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of truth” (John 14:17). What does this description imply for how we come to understand God’s truth?

There are two levels of understanding contained in the words—and thus the precious truths—of the Bible. One level involves what the words actually mean in whichever language those words were written.

What the Spirit of truth will do for us

But the Bible says there is a second level of understanding that involves the spiritual truths contained in those God-inspired words. Jesus taught that only those to whom God grants His Spirit can clearly understand His words at this level.

This truth is illustrated well by Jesus Christ’s explanation to His disciples when they asked Him why He spoke to the people in parables. “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. … Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matthew 13:11, 13).

The disciples themselves often did not understand the spiritual intent of Jesus’ words. But He did not leave them without hope of understanding. Jesus told them, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:12-13, emphasis added throughout). (Note: To understand why the pronoun “He” in this passage should have been translated into English as “it,” see the article “Is the Holy Spirit a Person?”)

Jesus knew they would not be able to understand the spiritual meaning of His words yet. Why? As of yet, the Holy Spirit was only with the disciples and not yet in them (John 14:17). The disciples could not understand the intended depth of the meaning of Christ’s words until the Spirit of truth was in them.

The disciples received the promised Holy Spirit on Pentecost after Christ’s death and resurrection (Acts 2:4). Then they had the capacity to begin to understand all the spiritual truths that God revealed (John 14:26).

Paul explains the Spirit of truth

In 1 Corinthians 2:6-14 is another passage that reveals these two levels of understanding. Paul refers to “the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom” (verse 7). Further, God’s wisdom is wisdom “which none of the rulers of this age knew” (verse 8). The passage refers to wisdom that “eye had not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (verse 9). Then we read, “But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit” (verse 10).

So there is knowledge that people could not know. But that same knowledge God reveals to those He calls by His Spirit. God’s Holy Spirit is thus the Spirit of truth.

In 1 Corinthians 2:11 Paul speaks of the “spirit of the man.” (For a fuller discussion of this “spirit in man,” please read the article “Spirit in Man: What Is It?”)

God gives each individual a portion of this spirit that empowers our brains with the capacity we call mind so that man is able to know “the things of a man.” This refers to the human knowledge developed by human reasoning and discovery―the knowledge of philosophy, the arts, the sciences, etc.―all the fields of human knowledge.

Paul uses the function of the “spirit of man” as a comparison to the function of the Spirit of God. As the “spirit of man” enables us to understand the “things of a man,” the Spirit of God enables us to understand the things of God―His spiritual truths. God gives His Spirit to us so “that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God” (verse 12).

As Paul explains, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (verse 14). No one without access to God’s Spirit can even begin to understand the spiritual truths of God.

 The Holy Spirit—the Spirit of truth—enables us to understand things that are beyond our physical, material world.

Spiritual truth is a mystery to the world

There are many other scriptures that show that God’s knowledge―His spiritual truths—are a mystery to the people of this world. But these mysteries are a mystery only to those who do not have God’s Spirit of truth.

Paul wrote in Colossians 1:26, “The mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints.” (Converted Christians are called “saints” in the Bible.)

We find the same understanding in Ephesians 3:3-6, 9: “He made known to me the mystery … which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets … to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God.”

But this spiritual knowledge was only being given to the saints as Jesus Himself revealed to His disciples in Matthew 13:2, 10-17, part of which was quoted at the beginning of this article. When the disciples asked, “Why do You speak to them [the multitudes referred to in verse 2] in parables?” Jesus answered, “Because it was been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven [the things of God], but to them it has not been given” (verses 10-11).

Jesus did not intend the multitudes to understand the spiritual meaning of His words yet—but that doesn’t mean He doesn’t love or have a plan for everyone! (Read more about His wonderful plan in the article “Purpose of Life” and the section on the “Plan of Salvation.”) Only His disciples were meant to understand then. Jesus said, “But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear” (verse 16).

After Jesus Christ returns to restore God’s rule to this earth, God’s knowledge will fill the earth “as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9). Then God’s spiritual knowledge will be available to all (Isaiah 2:2-3).Only the few who are called of God in this age are given access to God’s Spirit now (Acts 2:37-39). After Jesus Christ returns to restore God’s rule to this earth, God’s knowledge will fill the earth “as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9). Then God’s spiritual knowledge will be available to all (Isaiah 2:2-3).

When did God’s truth become a mystery to the world?

Paul recorded that the mysteries of his gospel message and the preaching of Jesus had been “kept secret since the world began” (Romans 16:25). This takes us back to the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve―the first two human beings God created.

One of the most amazing yet least-understood truths of the Bible is that God created humankind to give us the awesome opportunity to become actual sons and daughters of His own family (2 Corinthians 6:17-18).

God would give this awesome gift of becoming His own children to Adam and Eve and their children if they would choose to live by the principles of His way of life pictured by the tree of life. God also commanded Adam and Eve to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Tree of life

The tree of life pictured having access to God’s knowledge of life and its purpose―the knowledge of salvation. This is the spiritual knowledge concerning what humans must do to receive eternal life in the family of God.

Tree of the knowledge of good and evil

This tree pictured the way of human beings deciding for themselves what is good and evil. It is the way of self―not listening to God and His instructions. This is the way of Satan―the way he wanted Adam and Eve to choose. The serpent, Satan, deceived Eve into eating of the fruit of this tree by making the fruit appealing to her own desires and pride (Genesis 3:6).

God saw their choice. He also knew the likelihood of Adam and Eve’s descendants making the same choice under the same influence of Satan. So God set in motion a plan to hide His spiritual knowledge from Adam and Eve and their descendants.

Mankind chose to reject God and His revealed knowledge, so God closed off that knowledge to keep people from making an eternal choice. (Our merciful God plans to give all people a full opportunity to understand and change at the time that is best for them. Read more about this little-understood truth in the article “Are Most People Eternally Lost?”)

Consequences for rejecting God

After Adam and Eve sinned, God drove them out of the garden and set cherubim to guard access to the tree of life (Genesis 3:24). The only way anyone could have access to the spiritual knowledge of life would be if God would choose to grant them access to the Spirit that could lead them into all truth.

The rest of humanity would not have access to this knowledge during this age, which is under the sway of the wicked one (1 John 5:19). So, as Paul wrote, this spiritual knowledge was “kept secret since the world began” (Romans 16:25). It “has been hidden from ages and from generations” (Colossians 1:26).

After Adam and Eve’s disobedience and expulsion from the garden, the spiritual knowledge of God became hidden knowledge to mankind. After Adam and Eve’s disobedience and expulsion from the garden, the spiritual knowledge of God became hidden knowledge to mankind. Humans subsequently began deciding for themselves what they considered good and what they considered evil. They did what was right in their own eyes (Isaiah 5:20-21).

This tragic way of life has produced untold heartache and misery.

During this present age, the spiritual knowledge of God is hidden from most of mankind and will remain hidden until Jesus returns and binds Satan so he can’t deceive the nations any more (Revelation 20:3). Human civilization has gone the way of Satan ever since the day when Adam and Eve chose to eat of the forbidden fruit.

The Spirit of truth and the spirit of error

If God is calling you, God’s Spirit will be with you and you will begin to understand the truths found in the Bible.

You will also begin to see the many errors and misunderstandings people have about God and the Bible. Unlike most people in the world today, you will “know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:6).

Jesus refers to this process as the Spirit of truth guiding us into all truth (John 16:13). It is also one of the reasons Jesus called this same Spirit the “Helper” (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7).

Having God’s Spirit of truth work with us is the first step toward fulfilling God’s desire for us to become part of His eternal family. But to empower us to most clearly “discern both good and evil” and to persevere in the face of trials, we need the Holy Spirit residing within us (Hebrews 5:14).

To have God’s Spirit in us, we need to understand how to become a Christian―a son or daughter of God.

Peter explained, “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).

For more on these vitally important subjects, see:

About the Author

Steve Moody

Steve Moody

Steve Moody graduated from Ambassador College in Pasadena, California, in June of 1971. He met his lovely wife and lifelong companion, Vivian, while in college. They married a few days following his graduation.

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