We live in a society in which admitting one’s own sins is seen as a sign of weakness.
True spiritual experiences have a specific source (the awareness of the beauty of God) and specific results (desire for God and spiritual fruit).
In a world where almost everyone has something to say about spiritual experiences, it should come as no surprise that much of what passes off as “from the Lord” does not match up to the guidelines of Scripture.
So how can we know if our experiences are truly of God or not? Is there a way to tell whether or not what we have experienced is genuinely from the Holy Spirit or not?
The late flowering Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards discerned two distinct modes in which we may distinguish between genuine and false spiritual experiences: firstly, the source and secondly, the results.
I.- The Source
True spiritual experience, according to Edwards, always stems from “the sense of the overwhelming beauty and loveliness of the things of God”. A person who has come into contact with God is astonished by His holiness and left breathless at such incomparable splendour.
Loveliness and beauty are key factors given that demons and false converts may have powerful experiences of the Almighty but they don’t perceive any attractiveness in God. They detest Him with a perfect hatred. They refuse to love Him with a vehement revulsion. The true saint, however, delights in the contemplation of the Most High. They desire His holiness and pant after His magnificence. There is simply nothing not to love in such a precious Lord.
Only those who see beauty in God have been kissed by the Holy Spirit. The family of the Lord rejoice in the Lord’s goodness and marvel in His attributes. The light of the Gospel pierced their darkness and dispelled the shadows of unbelief from their depraved hearts.
So, do you glory in God? Does His Christ-mediated light warm your heart? If not, you can be sure that your experience has not originated in heaven.
II.- The Results
True spiritual experiences always result in concrete consequences that are manifestly distinct from false experiences. The chief result is a hot desire after God. This desire is nowhere to be found amongst demons or false converts.
Perhaps the chief result of a false spiritual experience is pride. In Edwards’ words, “False experience is enamoured with self and grows on self. It lives by showing itself in one way or another”. A true encounter with God leads the recipient of the experience to make much of God and to forget himself (herself), whereas a false conversion only exalts the receiver of the experience. Folk who boast about having wondrous gifts of the Spirit are very often dangerous people. Their pleasure in self is a far cry from the demands of genuine spirituality i.e. humility.
Another outcome of true spiritual experiences is fruit, namely, fruit of the Spirit. The recipient’s life will be marked by such a love for God that pro-God works will be the inevitable upshot. A heart seduced by the power of the Gospel can only respond in flagrant gratitude by abounding in good works and service unto the Lord.
What are the signs of your life? Do you live in the flesh or the Spirit? Do you desire Christ to be lifted up or your own self to be glorified?
With the help of Brother Edwards we can see that not all that passes itself off by the name of “Christian” is necessarily so. True spiritual experiences have a specific source (the awareness of the beauty of God) and specific results (desire for God and spiritual fruit). Any experience that doesn’t line up with these two plumb lines can be cast aside as thoroughly non-spiritual, non-biblical and non-Jesuslike.