How do you know if a Christian has the Holy Spirit?

Years ago, my wife and I were members of a church affiliated with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. For those who aren’t aware, Canadian Pentecostal churches tend to be a little less, as one American friend put it, “circusy.” They’re generally a little more conservative in their expression of things like speaking in tongues and open prophesying.

Despite not being terribly showy, there were still certain expectations within the church culture. For those of us who did not speak in tongues, the question was often raised, “Why wouldn’t you want all that God has for you,” as if it was a failing on our part that we didn’t express our faith in such ways. (Never mind that Paul wrote that, “each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another” [1 Cor. 7:7] and “in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue” [1 Cor. 12:30, 14:9].)

I would leave meetings praying that if it was truly what God wanted for me that I would have the gift, but it never came. In fact, the only thing that came was conviction that this was not a gift that I was to have at all, something that confused the very few leaders I told. Yet the pressure was still there. I was in a worship gathering where two of the pastors both were praying that I would be “baptized in the Spirit” and speak in tongues. And, honestly, it was tempting to start faking just to get people to shut up about it.

Yet that wouldn’t have been honoring to Christ, nor would it have been respectful to them or beneficial to me. Instead, our family eventually decided to leave rather than let our doctrinal convictions on this (and a host of other matters) become a point of conflict.

The concern I have with the line of thinking surrounding whether or not someone “has the Spirit” is it leads to a false dichotomy—that there are some Christians who are on a higher spiritual plane than others. But there’s nothing in Scripture that says there are some believers in Jesus who have the Spirit and others who don’t. Sinclair Ferguson, in speaking of the indwelling nature of the Spirit says, “to have the Spirit is to have Christ… to not have the Spirit of Christ is to lack Christ.” 1

Simply, the difference between having the Holy Spirit and not is the difference between being saved and lost. If you’re in Christ, you have the Holy Spirit in His fullness. If you lack the Holy Spirit, you’re still lost in your sins.

So how do you know if the Holy Spirit is within you? Look at the fruit of your life.

  • Do you want to obey Jesus—and do you strive to do so? (Matt. 7:15-18)
  • Do you love others—especially those who are unlovely? (Matt 5:43-48)
  • Are you seeing increased evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in your life? (Gal. 5:22-23)
  • Do you have a growing hatred of evil and love for what is good? (Rom. 12:9)
  • Are you increasingly generous with your time, talents and treasure? (Matt 6:19-24)
  • Are you increasingly aware of your own sinfulness and need of God’s grace? (1 Tim. 1:15-16)

What we all need to recognize is that apart from the Spirit’s work within us, the answer to all of these questions is going to be a resounding “no.” It’s impossible to do any of them without the Spirit at work, bringing life into what was dead. So perhaps we ought not to worry so much about whether or not we lack the Spirit. Instead, let’s examine the fruit of our lives and see what is revealed.

  1. Sinclair Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, 54


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