How do I know if the Holy Spirit is in me? Very few questions are more important. All of us face it at some point. And it’s a question asked even by pastors too, like this one. “Dear Pastor John, greetings in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am a pastor in Dubai. Can you tell me: How can I know for sure if I have the Holy Spirit inside of me? I got saved at 8 and am now 33. I still haven’t experienced the power of the Holy Spirit in my life — not demonstrably. I would really appreciate it if you could explain to me how to be filled with the Holy Spirit. What does this look like?”
Let’s begin with a clarification: Our friend is asking two very distinct questions, and it’s not clear to me that he knows that he’s asking two very distinct questions. So, my first concern is to make sure that he understands biblically that these are two very distinct questions.
His first question is “How can I know for sure if I have the Holy Spirit in me?” His second question is “How can I be filled with the Holy Spirit?” Now, it is possible to be in a season of true Christian life and not be filled with the Holy Spirit. And that’s what I’m not sure he understands. But it is not possible to be a Christian at all if one does not have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.
Every Christian Has the Spirit
To be a Christian is to have the Spirit of Christ. Romans 8:9: “You . . . are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”
So, no one is a Christian if he does not have the Holy Spirit. Then in Ephesians 5:18, Paul addresses Christians who have the Holy Spirit. And we know that, by the way, because in chapter 1 he said, “You [my readers] . . . were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13–14). Then he says in Ephesians 5:18–20,
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but [you Christians, who already have the Spirit] be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In other words, being filled with the Spirit is a level or a quality of Spirit-empowering that sometimes is more, and sometimes less. For example, in Acts 4:31, it says that the Christians had gathered for prayer, “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”
So, one of the effects of this extraordinary, precious, sweet, powerful, unusual experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit is that we are more ready and free and bold in our witness to Christ. Or according to Ephesians 5, we are more ready, more free, more eager to overflow with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs and giving thanks to God.
Having the Holy Spirit marks one off as a Christian. You can’t be a Christian if you don’t have the Spirit. There are no Christians who don’t have the Holy Spirit. Being filled with the Holy Spirit is what all believers should seek to experience for the sake of the wonderful, Christ-exalting freedom and boldness and power that it brings.
“So, how do you know if you have the Holy Spirit?” he asks. And I’m responding, “You know you have the Spirit if you are, in fact, a Christian — if you have been born again.”
Our Condition Before Christ
Now, to answer this question biblically, it is really important to know the condition you were in before you were converted. Unless you know from the Bible, not primarily from experience — I’m not even worried about people like me who can’t remember when they were converted; let me make that plain. I’m saying that we must learn from the Bible the condition we were in before we were converted. Not from our mother’s memory or our memory or anybody’s testimony about how bad we were, but from the Bible.
From the Bible, we learn what our condition is. Many people, thousands of people, have been badly taught about the condition they were in prior to conversion. And the biblical answer is this:
- We were spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1, 4).
- We were unable to receive the things of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14).
- We were in what Paul calls the mind of the flesh, which is not able to submit to God or please God (Romans 8:7–8).
We did not have the power to change our wills or our hearts or our minds or our affections. We were bent entirely away from God. How then did we receive the Holy Spirit? It was a miracle. It was sovereign grace, God’s grace sovereignly applied to us in our helplessness.
Raised from the Dead
“The wind blows where it wishes,” Jesus says. “And you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). A miracle happened. The Spirit opened your eyes (Acts 16:14). God shone in your heart omnipotently, to cause you to see the light of the gospel of the beauty and the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). He imparted life, he gave you life, so that you would no longer be dead, no longer be blind, no longer be hostile to God, no longer be unable to please God, no longer be rebellious, no longer view the cross as foolishness.
Instead, you saw the glory of Christ in the gospel. You saw it as more beautiful, more desirable, than the things of this world. You were made alive by the Spirit of God. God was real and precious and beautiful. You were no longer blind. You saw the cross and Christ and his way and his word as more attractive than the promises of sin. Instead of hostility to God, you loved him and you wanted to please him. Instead of doubt and suspicion and hardness, you saw his promises as true and you trusted in them, banked on those promises. Christ became your treasure.
That’s how you know you’re alive. That’s how you know you’re converted. That’s how you know you have faith. That’s how you know that the Holy Spirit is within you. None of that would be happening if the miracle of God’s Spirit were not at work in you. But you wouldn’t know that unless you had been taught from the Bible how dead you were, and how utterly impossible all of this beautiful transformation is apart from the sovereign work of the Spirit (Luke 18:27).
Are You Amazed?
If you have been taught that you were the decisive cause — let me say this again now because this is incredibly widespread and destructive. If you have been taught that you were the decisive cause of all of that, then you won’t be amazed at your change. You will see it as decisively your work, and therefore as no real evidence that you are born again, that the Spirit is within you. That’s one of the great tragedies for those who deny the sovereignty of God in salvation.
Ask yourself this: Are you amazed at the sovereign grace of God that you wake up every morning as a believer in Christ? Are you amazed? True saving faith is the number-one evidence that you are born again. First John 5:1: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.” That means born of the Spirit and possessing the Spirit.
So, Tony, I think we need to stop here. I know he asked, “How do you get filled?” I haven’t said anything about that, but I think we need to stop here because his other question, “How can I be filled with the Spirit?” is just too big to tack on here at the end. And I think what we’ve touched on here is really the nub of the issue: What is the discernible work of the Spirit in our lives? And what is the central biblical answer? It is that he raised us from the dead and made Christ our supreme treasure.