Distinguishing Between the Spirit and the Serpent

John Owen, notes Sinclair Ferguson, identifies four ways the Holy Spirit’s ministry in a believer’s life is distinguished from Satan’s (the Serpent).

  1. 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. (Matthew 11:28-30)
  3. The “motions” of the Spirit are orderly. Just as God’s covenant is ordered in all things and secure, (2 Samuel 23:5) so the promised gift of that covenant, the indwelling Spirit, is orderly in the way in which He deals with us. Restlessness is not a mark of communion with the Spirit but of the activity of the evil one.
  4. The “motions,” or promptings of the Spirit, Owen says, always tend to glorify God according to His Word. He brings Jesus’ teaching into our memories; He glorifies the Savior; He pours into our hearts a profound sense of the love of God for us.

Of what Owen highlights, I note four summary statements:

  • The Holy Spirit who inspired the Scriptures leads believers by the illumination and application of the Scriptures, i.e. he helps us to understand and apply the Scriptures in our lives. The Word of God is central.
  • Through the Holy Spirit’s ministry, believers find comfort and assurance in the commands of Scripture. Furthermore, they find and experience pleasure in obeying the Word, even if that obedience leads to struggle, pain or sorrow.
  • The Holy Spirit’s ministry is orderly and marked by peace, not restlessness.
  • The Holy Spirit’s work is Trinitarian. The Holy Spirit’s ministry always brings glory to God the Father according to the Word, he shines the light on Jesus and his teaching and through this glorifies the Son, our Savior, and he assures us of God’s love for us.

I conclude with a number of questions to ponder:

  1. What do we learn from Owen about the Holy Spirit’s ministry?
  2. What about the Word of God?
  3. What about the relationship between the two?
  4. What are some of the contemporary challenges to these truths?
  5. What are some of the practical applications of these truths?

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