How to Discern the Voice of the Holy Spirit: 5 Truths from God’s Word

Today I am honored to feature guest writer Bethany McIlrath! Be sure to check out more of her amazing posts at


For a longer time than I’d like to admit, I avoided talking about the Holy Spirit because somehow the Spirit seemed weirder, wackier, and harder to explain than God the Father or Jesus Christ. One of the difficulties I’ve had is in accurately expressing how the Holy Spirit works.


How to Discern the Voice of the Holy Spirit: 5 Truths from God's Word |

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Language is limited.

It’s hard to clarify in just a few words how having a “feeling” about something is different from the “feeling” of the Holy Spirit working.

Saying “The Spirit spoke to me” quickly gets us labeled. It sometimes confuses people who wonder if they’ve never heard the voice of God – though if they’ve trusted the Lord as their Savior, they have. The voice of the Spirit just isn’t like any other voice we know.


Our discernment is also limited.

Sometimes recognizing the Holy Spirit’s work is even more difficult than explaining it.

We wonder if our sense of peace is actually a deceitful optimism, and we struggle to trust any leading in our hearts when we know our hormones are out of whack. We look at our requests of the Lord from every angle, feel everything we can about every known solution, and then strain to see “which option” the Spirit is pointing to.


All that to say – here’s a bit of what God says in His Word about recognizing the Holy Spirit’s voice:


  • The Spirit agrees with Scripture.

Jesus said the Spirit proceeds from the God the Father. The Spirit testifies to who God is, who Christ is, and what God’s Word says (John 15:26.) In another instance, Jesus argued that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Although speaking about how He drove out demons, a greater point is that God in the Trinity is wholly united (Mark 3:25.)

If what you feel led to do is contrary to Scripture, the Spirit is not the one leading you in that instance. Examine anything you count as true, including direction for your life, against God’s whole Word.


  • The Spirit won’t be tied to things of the flesh.

Being in the realm of the Spirit means we aren’t in the realm of the flesh. The two are diametrically opposed. The Spirit is even at war with the flesh. We, however, are often easily entangled by our flesh – our sinful motives and passions (Romans 8:9.)

When discerning if the Holy Spirit is the one directing you, check how “in the flesh” you are. Are feelings like fear of man or selfish gain motivating you? If so, the flesh is influencing your direction. Deal with this issue before the Lord and continue seeking until what’s left in your heart is not a human, sin-warped motive, but godly conviction.


  • The Spirit doesn’t sound like you… His voice is distinct.

Sometimes the Spirit speaks to us in ways we enjoy. Other times, the Spirit convicts us or rebukes us. No matter what the Spirit says, though, the Spirit doesn’t sound like you. John 14:17 highlights how the Spirit is not part of this world the way we are. As we get to know the Spirit personally, we recognize that He is not like us and doesn’t speak the way we do.

To get to know the Holy Spirit – get to know God. Know His Word, know His character, know His work. Because God is three in one, knowing God is part of learning to recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit. His voice is unique from yours. His is the one you hear in stillness and in silence. You hear Him in your heart when your mind races or when other voices are shouting loudly because He lives there, steadfast. His voice is distinct.


  • The Spirit will require you to ask for help and teach you how to rely on God.

Jesus described the Holy Spirit as our Teacher. And to learn from the Holy Spirit, we need to listen humbly and accept the help and instruction He offers. (John 14:26)

The Spirit isn’t in the business of waiting for us to impress, but is all for giving you what you need so desperately to please and glorify God: the power of God in you. You won’t muster this up yourself! If you’re listening for the Holy Spirit, listen for One who calls you to ask God, rely on God, and be humble before God.

He’ll say “by faith” when we say “by sight.”


  • The Spirit speaks with authority.

In a beautiful passage referencing the perfect unity of the Trinity, Jesus explains how the Spirit speaks with authority: He is God. (John 16:12-15) All the Spirit makes known to us is what Jesus wants made known to us. Jesus spoke with authority. The Spirit does too.

As you seek to be led by the Spirit, start by submitting to God’s authority. Listen for messages repeated by different unrelated sources. Look for confirmation in God’s Word. Sort out the sin in your heart that may be interfering. Ask the Lord’s help. And listen – though quiet, the Spirit’s word is as unwavering as God’s written Word.


Our Helper

Becoming familiar with the Holy Spirit and His voice is part of maturing in our faith. The relationship we have with the Spirit is precious. It is by the Spirit we are sealed for salvation. Jesus, our personal savior and friend, sent the Spirit to help us. God says He comforts us and guides us through His Spirit who lives within us. God’s Word says it is the Spirit who fights the sin seeking to rise up in us.


Learning the sound of His voice is imperative for drawing near to God, living like Christ, and taking up as our own the abundance of what the Sovereign Lord offers us. Be still, be diligent in the Word, and get to know Him for yourself.


You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. - Romans 8:9


*Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.

**Photo by nic on Unsplash


Bethany McIlrath


A learner at heart, Bethany McIlrath believes that listening to the Lord’s Word and being attentive to all that He teaches her through daily life is a priceless blessing. Eager to share about her Savior, you can find Bethany’s writing on her blog: She would love to connect with you on Twitter or Facebook as well.  





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  1. LOVE THIS! I have been thinking about the Holy Spirit and how we can get to know Him intimately as well. This post is a great followup to my latest post, Do You Know the Power of the Holy Spirit? I will be sure to share this! I love that you say the Spirit doesn’t sound like us, and I find such encouragement in knowing that as we get to know the Spirit more intimately, we begin to sound more like the Spirit! Thank you for these truths!

  2. This is awesome, Bethany! We just talked Him in Sunday School yesterday and the power He has to help us in the journey of sanctification. Many people I know are struggling with things and we were encouraging them to trust and put hope in God’s power, not our own. I think when we focus on Him (in all 3 parts, which ironically we’ve also been learning more about in school), we get our mind in those heavenly realms where we start to see through the lense of eternity in everything. I love how you broke this down. It would be a great teaching for a group study too, because it does seem there is less about Holy Spirit out there as far as books go.

    1. Thank you Meghan! I love that God timed the post so you could share what you’ve been learning about the Holy Spirit with me : ) He is powerful- which just makes it even wilder that He is LIVING in you and me! Focusing on all 3 persons of the trinity- I love that, will be praying over that! Thank you again!

  3. Great points, Bethany! The one about the Holy Spirit not sounding like us really resonates with me … there have been times when that still, small Voice has impressed thoughts in my heart that I KNOW did not originate with me because I would never have told myself that! (Usually it has to do with keeping my mouth shut about something.) 🙂

    1. Thanks, Lois! HA- yes. For me, His voice is distinct from what originates in me because what He says is a whole lot more faithful, brave, and wise than I can even start to pretend to be. His suggestion of when to be quiet is also *quite* different than mine!! But I’m always so glad when I listen!

  4. This is so good! Wonderfully explained and super practical. It’s easy for us to sometimes take the Holy Spirit for granted without truly getting to know Him and listening intentionally for His voice daily. Thanks for sharing 🙂 Your neighbour at #CheerleadersofFaith

  5. The reminder that “the Spirit doesn’t sound like me. His voice is different.” is a valuable piece of data for this mother who has to be very careful not to impose her own “spiritual direction” upon grown and growing sons. I love this journey of freeing them to become the men God intends them to be, but there are times when I’m tempted to interfere. And on the flip side of that, if I behave myself, they are more likely to come asking for advice.

    1. Oh Michele, I find the same thing with friends and in my marriage. My husband and I may or may not have established a “no preaching” rule when we disagree because I tend to think I know exactly what He isn’t listening to the Spirit saying. I’m not always (often) right, and even when I am- it’s for Him to speak, not me! And you’re so right- our loved ones are more likely to ask for and respect advice when we’re humble and well-behaved.

  6. Well done ! (and you are so young!) (: I needed this today as I’m asking for some specific guidance and wanting to be clear. I’ll review these points before the day is done. With my personality, it’s difficult to wait and listen so God must use an elephant crashing through the room to get my attention. Perhaps a gauge to measure my maturing in Christ would be the size of the elephant. Blessings, sue

  7. Thank you for these clear and truthful reminders to listen to the voice of God’s Spirit. This thought especially is speaking to me today: “If you’re listening for the Holy Spirit, listen for One who calls you to ask God, rely on God, and be humble before God.” I have found this to be so true, but constantly need to be reminded to seek after His help! And, He is so good to answer us, isn’t He? I’m blessed to be your neighbor over at #TellHisStory this week!

    1. Thanks, Bettie! I have found that to be so true as well. It’s not our natural inclination to ask, rely, and be humble, but I’m so glad the Holy Spirit calls us too. He is so faithful to answer and is all sufficient. I’m blessed by your comment, thank you!

  8. This is excellent! Not only does it match scripture, I could never in a million years come up with it. It reminds me of that scene in The Nativity Story, where the woman is telling the little children a story about God and she asks how He comes to them? She says in a still small voice. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks Sherry!! I’m so glad you found it helpful- God’s Word is awesome, isn’t it? I like the image you share! If you don’t already, check out Alyssa’s posts on this blog, something I so appreciate about her writing is that it’s all so straight-from-the-Word!

  9. I’ve been writing a blog post myself just this morning on the Spirit as a witness in our lives, so this aligns perfectly! Thanks for your work into distilling this into such a readable format, Bethany. These truths aren’t always easy to understand but you’ve explained them well. “To get to know the Holy Spirit – get to know God. Know His Word, know His character, know His work. Because God is three in one, knowing God is part of learning to recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit.”

  10. Alyssa,
    I so appreciated your blog on discerning the voice of the Holy Spirit. Far too few messages these days on the work of the Holy Spirit. I am the pastor of a small Evangelical Free Church in Princeton MN. I do quite a bit of writing – also have a blog
    I have been doing a series on the work of the Holy Spirit – also the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This coming Sunday i am finishing up the series with “Recognizing and Responding to the Voice of the Holy Spirit” I was looking on line to see what others might have written on the subject and came across your blog. I will share some of your thoughts with my congregation. I am wanting our people to recognize the voice of the H.S. and then follow His lead. So many Christians do not recognize His voice and fail to live Spirit- filled, Spirt -led lives. (Galatians 5:25) Appreciate your insights. Have a blessed Christmas season. – Pastor Bruce Talso


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