1 John 4.1 “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” (ESV)
The American theologian of the 18th century, Johnathan Edwards, studied the phenomenon of what has been called the First Great Awakening, a move of God’s Spirit in the English-speaking world. He was concerned that the Spirit of God not be quenched, that is, not be hindered or suppressed, but he also wanted to sift and sort the supposed conversions and the genuine conversions, coming from this movement. Edwards wrote on the “Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God.” Do you have the evidences of the work of the Holy Spirit in your life? It may be useful to apply 1 John 4.1 – “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” (ESV)
There are quite a few claims of spiritual life; there is that which is real, and there are a lot of counterfeits out there. Don’t confuse external excitement about the things of God with internal change brought about by God. Edwards wouldn’t consider someone to be converted simply because she had raised a hand in a meeting or because he walked down an aisle or prayed a prayer as coached by a preacher, much less because he became overwrought with emotion. These things can happen when someone is converted, but they are not proof of a genuine work of the Holy Spirit. They themselves are not the mark which God seals His own.
What are the distinguishing marks of a true work of the Holy Spirit? Edwards lists five:
1) The elevation of esteem in Jesus Christ as Son of God and Saviour. This is the surest sign of the operation of the Spirit upon a person. “He will bear witness about me,” Jesus said of the Spirit in John 15.26. He says, “He will glorify Me,” John 16.14. False spirituality isn’t interested much in Jesus, but in self and on the excitement of what is taking place. A true work of the Spirit exalts Jesus Christ and leads us to faith and love for Him.
2) A true work of the Spirit opposes the reign and work of Satan and causes us to turn from sin. Mere moralism does not prove the Spirit’s work, but Christ-exalting sanctification is always a sign of His presence.
3) A true conversion brings an increase of interest in God’s Word, a desire to know what the Bible teaches and, importantly, to put it into practice.
4) There will be a desire to have a sound grasp of true, Biblical doctrine and a zeal to defend it against attacks. People who come to love sound teaching and preaching, who reject worldly and secular humanistic dogmas, are evidently under the influence of God’s Holy Spirit.
5) Love is the mark of the Spirit’s work. Edwards – “If the spirit that is at work among a people operates as a spirit of love to God and man, it is a sure sign that it is the Spirit of God.”
But what if we examine ourselves according to these marks, and discover that we have an imperfect evidence of these things? What then? We find that we exalt Christ, but not so much as we should. We hate sin, but we still sin. We love God’s Word, but often neglect it. We like sound doctrine, but it seems so little of it has trickled down from our ears to our hearts and lives. We love others, but we find there is still a heap of self-love, too! You might ask, “does that mean I don’t have the Spirit of God, I am not His?”
If you have these things whatsoever, incomplete as they may be, shot through with imperfection as they are, yet genuinely there in any amount — it is the work of God’s Spirit. That is the only way they’d be there, period. No believer will be perfect in this life –Phil 3.12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (ESV) Non-Christians will not bear these true marks of the Holy Spirit, especially when they are under trials.
If we have these things, though imperfect, if we have trusted in Christ and trusted Christ, it is the mark of a genuine work of the Spirit of God. It these things are present within us, however weak, we do not have grounds to doubt our salvation. And think of this: the fact that we have a seal on us to testify of ownership and authentication is that our heavenly Father sees we have need of such to assure us and ground us in Him. We are weak, we are vulnerable. He knows this and provides for us His Spirit to confirm us. “…and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places….” (Ephesians 1.19-20 ESV)