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Earlier we traced the Holy Spirit’s leadership of the church in Acts. As we appreciate this larger story, how do we recognize the Holy Spirit leading us at “our” level, in our personal daily lives? How do we, empowered by the Holy Spirit, fit into God’s broader mission in the world? How can we discern when the Holy Spirit is directing us, and when it may just be our interest or desire leading us? (Warning: we probably won’t arrive at the answer as to whether the Holy Spirit wants you to take that particular job or not, but we can understand better some principles that can help guide us.) How can we “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16)? Let’s seek some answers as to how the Holy Spirit guides us to participate in God’s mission today.
First, consider an important warning from I John:
1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”I John 4:1-3
In John’s time “Gnostic-influenced teachers” claimed that Jesus could not have come in flesh and blood. John gives us a tip as to how to “test the spirits”—the Holy Spirit would acknowledge Jesus’ incarnation. Other passages in John’s writings tell us even more about what the Holy Spirit engages in. Recall, for example, what the fourth gospel records as Jesus’ words: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26). Later on, Jesus further elaborates:
7 But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
12 I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.John 16:7-15
The Holy Spirit has another name, “Advocate.” The Greek is παράκλητος, or paraklētos, two words that mean “close-beside” and “make a call” (judgment). The Holy Spirit will walk “close-beside” and “make the call” about sin, righteousness, and judgment. Importantly, the Holy Spirit will not speak “on his own” but instead “will speak only of what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” (16:13). Sent by the Father (14:26), the Holy Spirit will guide us “into all the truth” (16:13) and glorify Jesus (16:14).
John’s writings are not our only source of guidance on how to discern the Holy Spirit: Paul’s letter to the Corinthians also helps in this regard. Leonard Allen notes that in terms of perceiving the work of the Holy Spirit, “his [Paul’s] criteria for discernment are laid out most clearly in I Corinthians 12-14: confession of Jesus as Lord (12:3), love (13), [and] building up the community of faith (14:3-5, 12, 17, 26).” As Allen observes,
For Paul the ultimate criterion for discerning the Spirit’s activity was not the presence of power and gifts, but rather the confession and lifting up of Jesus as Lord. The criterion for the exercise of the Spirit’s gifts is their use in a way that enables people to see and enter God’s kingdom.
Paul and John, then, both uphold the Spirit’s focus on Jesus—his incarnation, lordship, life, and teachings, for the sake of God’s mission, to the glory of Christ. Allen states that “The Spirit is God’s missionary. The Spirit of God empowers and guides the mission of God.” With guidance now on how to discern the Spirit, let’s explore three ways in which the Holy Spirit often guides us in this mission.
Three Ways in Which the Holy Spirit Guides and Empowers Us
At an individual level, each of us celebrate at baptism receiving God’s Holy Spirit. The Spirit walks beside us, as long as we do not “quench” (I Thessalonians 5:19) or “grieve” the Spirit with “unwholesome talk,” or “bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice” (Ephesians 4:29-32). So, the first way that we recognize the Spirit guiding and empowering us is in our own individual growth. We can embody the Holy Spirit’s fruit in our personal lives:
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.Galatians 5: 22-26
As we live and interact with others, the Spirit empowers us to greater Christ-like love and maturity, if we are attentive to the Spirit’s work in our lives. We can look back on our past weeks, months, and years, reflecting on how God has transformed us. Each day we take part in this Spirit-led process, an activity that occupies our energies, fuels our prayers, and characterizes our lives.
The second way in which the Holy Spirit guides and empowers us in mission is clearly illustrated in the story of Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. There we encounter an angel directing Philip to go to the road that led from “Jerusalem to Gaza” (Acts 8:26), and then “The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it’” (Acts 8:29). After Philip’s interaction with him, the Ethiopian decides to get baptized, and then “…the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:39). What an amazing story! It illustrates literally how the Holy Spirit orchestrates individual interactions so that Christ can be known. The Holy Spirit not only guides the entire direction of the church’s mission with broad strokes (e.g., Acts 2 & 10) but, as One “close-beside” each one of us, also works at the individual level, arranging us to have the chance to share Jesus with someone else.
Finally, in addition to overseeing our spiritual formation in Christ and orchestrating encounters where Jesus can be made known, the Holy Spirit also brings us together as the “body of Christ,” each with different gifts, so that we may exercise them for the common good, growing in our maturity and unity in Christ. After a discussion on the proper way to regard the use of miraculous spiritual gifts present in Corinth in the first century, Paul uses the analogy of the body to make his point:
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.I Corinthians 12:12-14
Paul compares the community of disciples to one body and each member a part of the larger whole. The different parts all rely on one another (1 Corinthians 12:17-27). In Romans 12, Paul enumerates a specific list of ordinary gifts still with us today:
6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.Romans 12:6-8
Paul possessed the conviction that Spirit-filled disciples possessed diverse gifts that were meant to serve the entire body. He also held such a conviction for gifted leaders to equip the church for greater maturity in Christ (Ephesians 4:7-13). Taken together, these passages outline how the Holy Spirit bestows on each of us gifts that we can use to contribute in different ways to the common good, for the building up of one another in Christ. The Spirit values each one of us as important to the body as a whole.
The Spirit directs us in our daily lives as we bear fruit in our character. God’s Spirit arranges interactions in our lives so that we may share Christ with others. Finally, the Holy Spirit gifts each one of us so that we may each contribute to the common good. The Spirit equips us to embody and share the love of Christ with others. The Spirit’s focus on glorifying Jesus’ life and teaching centers us, counseling us as we “test the spirits.” The Holy Spirit guides and empowers us to participate in God’s mission as we live out our lives each day.
Some questions to encourage an attentiveness to the Holy Spirit:
1. The Holy Spirit often uses others or the Word of God to call us to grow and change. What message might the Holy Spirit be bringing to you today? What fruit of the Spirit may be lacking in your character?
2. In the past, how have you witnessed the Holy Spirit arranging interactions so that others may learn about Christ, either in your own life or in the lives of those around you? How can you be more Spirit-led like Philip and respond to the call to share about Jesus with those you encounter in your daily life?
3. How has the Holy Spirit gifted you? Sometimes we may look down on ourselves or our God-given gifts. How can you use your Spirit-given gift for the common good or the building up of others’ faith?
 David Guzik, “1 John 4 – Abiding in God and His Love,” Enduring Word Bible Commentary, found at https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/1-john-4/, accessed on September 24, 2022.
 Leonard Allen, Poured Out: The Spirit of God Empowering the Mission of God (Abilene, Texas: Abilene Christian University Press, 2018), 113.
 Allen, Poured Out, 113.
 James Burton Coffman, “Coffman’s Commentaries on the Bible: 1 Corinthians 12,” accessed at https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/1-corinthians-12.html , provides a good discussion on the understanding that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased in the first century.
 A shorter, less specific list can be found at I Peter 4:10-11.