How Do You Know the Spirit Is Working in Your Life?

Scott Aniol

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Many Christians today would tell you that if the Holy Spirit is working in your life, then you will experience extraordinary manifestations. But is that really the main way the Holy Spirit works?

By far, the dominant action attributed to the Holy Spirit with relation to every Christian is his work of sanctification. In the New Testament, to be “filled with the Spirit” means to be characterized as spiritually mature and godly as we are more and more controlled by the Spirit as he fills us with his Word.

Therefore, of particular importance for this discussion is a careful focus on what Paul calls “the fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22–23, the results of such an ordering in the life of the Christian: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Indeed, the overwhelming emphasis in the NT concerning what will characteristically define the life of a mature, Spirit-filled Christian is on sobriety, discipline, dignity, and self-control—Paul commands believers to “think with sober judgment” (Rom 12:3), “be sober” (1 Thes 5:6, 8), and “be self-controlled” (Tit 2:12), as does Peter (1 Pt 1:13, 4:7, 5:8; 2 Pt 1:6). In particular, he urges older men to “be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness,” older woman to “be reverent in behavior,” and younger women and men to “be self-controlled” (Tit 2:2–6).

These qualities are what characterize believers as “spiritual” because they have let the Word of Christ richly dwell in them, submitting to the Sprit’s sanctifying control through his Word as he brings order and stability to the believer’s life. We wouldn’t really characterize this sanctifying work of the Spirit as “extraordinary experience,” though it certainly is a divine work.

Furthermore, contrary to what might be common expectations among evangelical Christians today, Scripture never describes the fruit of the Spirit’s work in a believer’s life with language like intensity, passion, enthusiasm, exhilaration, or euphoria. These are disordered passions.

Rather, sanctification is the result of the progressive work of the Spirit to sanctify a believer, to bring a believer’s whole person into harmony with the will of God, through the ordinary disciplines of his Word. John Murray summarizes the Holy Spirit’s work in sanctification: “It is the efficacious and transforming enlightenment of the Holy Spirit by which the people of God attain ‘unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ’ (Ephesians 4:13).”1John Murray, Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1957), 225.

Walk by the Spirit

Galatians 5:16 tells us clearly how we should respond to this understanding of how the Holy Spirit works in our sanctification: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

Unlike salvation, which is monergistic, that is, the Holy Spirit does all the work in regenerating dead souls, sanctification is synergistic, meaning that although sanctification would never happen apart from the Holy Spirit’s active work, we have part to play as well: We must walk by the Spirit.

What does it mean to walk by the Spirit? Based on what we have seen, the answer should be evident. To walk by the Spirit is to let him fill us with his Word, and so we must read his Word. To walk by the Spirit is to pursue those qualities that characterize the Spirit, and so we must meditate upon Scripture and actively work to pursue those things. To walk by the Spirit is to allow the Spirit to lead us through his Word, and so we must meditate upon and memorize Scripture so that when we come to decisions in our lives, we will choose that which aligns with God’s moral will as he has articulated in in Scripture.

Let us actively walk by the Spirit, so that we will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

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1 John Murray, Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1957), 225.
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Scott Aniol

Executive Vice President and Editor-in-Chief G3 Ministries

Scott Aniol, PhD, is Executive Vice President and Editor-in-Chief of G3 Ministries. In addition to his role with G3, Scott is Professor of Pastoral Theology at Grace Bible Theological Seminary in Conway, Arkansas. He lectures around the world in churches, conferences, colleges, and seminaries, and he has authored several books and dozens of articles. You can find more, including publications and speaking itinerary, at Scott and his wife, Becky, have four children: Caleb, Kate, Christopher, and Caroline. You can listen to his podcast here.