The Work of The Holy Spirit; 3 Simple Ways to Recognize it – Connecting Truth to Life

How do we recognize the work of the Holy Spirit? That’s a great question, isn’t it? Before you read this Bible study, what do you think? Take a moment to write it down. Do you get a quiver in your liver? A strong feeling you think might be from God? How do we know the decisions we are about to make are from his Spirit and not our own will? How do we work in cooperation with him? What is our work, and what is his? The Apostle Paul’s example in his second missionary journey and other relevant Scriptures provide answers to these vital questions. From them, I see 3 simple ways to recognize the work of the Holy Spirit.

1. Does the decision fulfill our own desires or God’s desires? (Galatians 5:16-17, and Romans 8:5-6)

In Acts 13, we read that the Holy Spirit called out Paul and Barnabus for their first missionary journey. In today’s Bible reading, Paul wants to take Barnabas on a second missionary journey. He wants to share the Jerusalem resolution with the newly established churches in Asia Minor (Turkey) and strengthen them (see yesterday’s lesson). However, there is a sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas about taking John Mark with them.

Mark had turned back soon after they had embarked on their first missionary journey. Paul doesn’t want to take a quitter! Barnabas is an encourager, however, and he insists on giving Mark another chance. So sharp is the disagreement between the two men that Barnabas sails on a missionary journey with Mark to Cyprus. Meanwhile, Paul takes Silas on a missionary journey to Syria and Cilicia (Turkey’s southern coast). Who was right, Paul or Barnabas?

Are Paul and Barnabas both seeking to glorify God and fulfill their mission? Yes, but they disagree on how to do it. Can good Christians disagree and still be in the will of God? Yes!

Have you guessed how this situation works for God’s glory? That’s right! Because of the disagreement, two missionary teams are formed (Acts 15:36-40). Later, Paul will admit John Mark is profitable to the ministry (2Timothy 4:11).

2. Are we Flexible? The Holy Spirit leads as God Wills

Continuing on Paul’s second missionary journey, we see something strange about the Holy Spirit’s working. He forbids Paul and Silas to preach the gospel to cities in Asia Minor, Galatia, and Bithynia. Yet, he calls them to Macedonia (Acts 16:6-10).

We don’t know why the Holy Spirit permits them to preach to one group of people and not another—only God knows the mind of the Spirit (Romans 8:27). We know, however, that the Holy Spirit does everything in accordance with the Father’s will. We must be willing to be flexible as God changes our plans for his greater glory.

3. Are the results in keeping with the nature and work of the Holy Spirit?

Life-Giving Results

In the city of Philippi, Lydia, a wealthy businesswoman who sells purple cloth, is saved. Shortly after that, Paul and Silas are dragged into the market place before magistrates (governing officials). There they are falsely accused, beaten, and put into stocks in a dungeon.

Did resistance and persecution mean the Holy Spirit was not leading Paul and Silas? No, God told Paul that he would suffer for Christ’s sake (Acts 9:15-16). Jesus promised his disciples that they would also be persecuted if he was persecuted (John 15:17-21). The Spirit leads us to die to ourselves so others might live.

Other Scriptures about the Nature and Work of the Holy Spirit

In John’s gospel, Jesus says the Holy Spirit is our encourager, our teacher, and guide to truth (John 14:16-17 and 16:13). What the Holy Spirit leads us to do will not contradict the Bible, his Holy Word. Instead, it will lead to the truth.

In John 15:26 and John 16:13-15, Christ said the Holy Spirit would come to testify of him and glorify him, not anyone else. If the results of an action or decision praise anyone besides Christ, it is not of God.

Jesus said the Holy Spirit convicts the world of guilt regarding sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8). Do the results of an action or decision do this?

According to John 6:63 and 2 Corinthians 3:6, The Holy Spirit gives life. Do the results of an action or decision lead to spiritual life? We see they did in today’s Bible reading. Two missionary teams were formed, and because of Paul and Silas’s persecution a Phillipian jailor and his family are saved.

The Apostle Paul writes that there are fruits (spiritual characteristics) of the Holy Spirit’s work (Galatians 5:22-23). Do the results of an action or decision lead to one or more of the fruits of the Spirit?

Working with the Spirit; Doing our Part

Up to this point, we have emphasized the Holy Spirit’s work, but how do we work in cooperation with him? What is our part or responsibility?

Be Witnesses

We know it is God’s will for us to be witnesses of Christ and make disciples wherever he sends us (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). When we obey, we are working with God, and he is working with us.

Use your Mind and Understand the Culture

We work with the Holy Spirit when we use our minds to study how the Bible applies to our culture. Then we can be more effective witnesses.

When the Apostle Paul travels to different cities (Acts 17:1-3), he reasons with Jews from the Scriptures on Sabbath days. He explains and gives “evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead” (Acts 17:3a, NIV). As he reasons with them, he considers their culture and their knowledge of Old Testament Scriptures and shows them how Jesus fulfilled them.

Because of heavy persecution by the Jews, Paul and Silas leave Thessalonica at night. They find a more receptive audience in Berea, but again the Jews bring pressure upon them, so they go to Athens, Greece. Paul commends the Bereans for examining the Scriptures to see if what he said about them is right. We should also be students of the Word of God.

Know your Audience

We can work better in cooperation with God’s Spirit by knowing our audience and guiding them into all truth (1Peter 3:15).

While in Athens, Paul is disturbed in his spirit because the city is full of idols. Daily, he reasons with Jews and Gentiles in the market place using the Holy Scriptures (Acts 17:17-34). Later, the Apostle uses apologetic arguments with Epicureans and Stoic philosophers. Paul uses natural revelation, specific revelation (the Scriptures), and even their own poetry to communicate the gospel. After Athens, Paul travels to the city of Corinth. This is an evil city, full of immorality and idol worship. While there, he uses the Scriptures to illuminate truth to Jews and Gentiles, showing them that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah for which they are waiting. Although they suffer many threats and are taken before legal authorities, God encourages them to continue. He will be their shield and defender.

Christian, the Lord is also our shield and defender. Even if we experience resistance, let’s hold fast to him and do the work he has assigned us.

After Corinth, Paul makes a quick stop in Ephesus before going up to the Jerusalem church and then down to Antioch, Syria. This ends his second missionary journey. He stays in his home church for a while and encourages the disciples before leaving for his third missionary journey.


What are some ways we can tell if the Holy Spirit is leading us or if it’s our will?

How can we work in cooperation with God’s Spirit?

Focus Verses

Romans 8:5-6, NIV

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.

praying hands

Do you want to know more about God? Here are some links that might interest you

Who is Jesus?

Who is God?

Heaven; what’s it like?

Used with permission from Rodney Harrier.

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