The Spirit comes to us as an earnest, a pledge, a down payment on final redemption. He is here and now the foretaste of future glory. But His presence is also an indication of the incompleteness of our present spiritual experience.
How do we distinguish the promptings of the Spirit of grace in His guiding and governing of our lives from the delusions of the spirit of the world and of our own sinful heart? This is a hugely important question if we are to be calm and confident that the spirit with whom we are communing really is the Holy Spirit.
John Owen suggests four ways in which the Spirit and the serpent are to be distinguished.
1. The leading of the Spirit is regular.
The leading of the Spirit, he says, is regular, that is, according to the regulum: the rule of Scripture. The Spirit does not work in us to give us a new rule of life, but to help us understand and apply the rule contained in Scripture. Thus, the fundamental question to ask about any guidance will be: Is this course of action consistent with the Word of God?
2. The commands of the Spirit are not grievous.
They are in harmony with the Word, and the Word is in harmony with the believer as new creation. The Christian believer consciously submitted to the Word will find pleasure in obeying that Word, even if the Lord’s way for us is marked by struggle, pain, and sorrow. Christ’s yoke fits well; His burden never crushes the spirit (Matt. 11:28-30).