How do we know it’s God? It’s one of the most common questions Christians ask as they seek to discern the voice of the Spirit in their lives.

In response, most would call for the highest standard of all — test it against Scripture.” 

But this is not what we mean. Testing our revelations against Scripture” means that I could claim that God told me” to commit genocide in line with Deuteronomy 7. I could justify marriage to a prostitute on the basis of Hosea 1, and I could file for divorce for reasons of race and religion according to Ezra 10:11.

When we say, test it against Scripture” what we actually mean is test it against the character and nature of God as revealed in Scripture.” Which begs a further question, what is the nature and character of God revealed in Scripture? 

The answer is simple. 


In response to our question, how do we know it’s God?”, we’ve been given a living, breathing demonstration of God’s character and nature. Jesus is the living Word of God; the image of the invisible God’ (Col. 1:15) and the exact representation of his being’ (Heb. 1:3). As the living Word of God, Jesus provided us with a vivid and tangible template for God’s heart in multiple situations. Then he sent his Spirit to continue his ministry and mission after he left.

That means everything the Spirit says today is Jesus-shaped” – any true Spirit revelation will always be consistent with the character of God as revealed in Jesus. 

Our experiences will either be a reminder of the truths Jesus established in his incarnation (John 14:26) and now recorded for us in Scripture; or they will concern things to come” (John 16:13) that line up with God’s nature in Jesus. Therefore, discernment must always start with the question, would Jesus say this?

The Word of God in the Flesh

This test not only applies to everything Jesus said, but everything Jesus did. The beauty of the incarnation is that it embodied God’s message. This message transcends the words Jesus said to the actions he performed and the impact they had on others. 

So, when Jesus gathered children into his lap, he was sending a message about who God is. When Jesus touched the leper and refused to throw rocks at an adulterer, he was communicating God’s heart. And when Jesus stretched out his arms on the cross, he spoke the greatest message of all.

The demonstration of God’s character in Jesus means that discernment of God’s voice is accessible to everyone — from the highly educated to the young and illiterate. 

I was recently teaching a group of young people about how to discern their experiences through a Jesus-shaped lens. One boy — about ten years old – shared how he thought God had told him to be friendly towards the boy at school who nobody would play with. 

Do you think it was God? I asked. Would Jesus say this?”

Then we talked about the short man in the crowd in Jesus’ day – a tax collector named Zacchaeus who everybody hated:

Do you remember what Jesus did when Zacchaeus climbed a tree?” 

He invited him over for dinner.” 

So, do you think Jesus would say be friendly to the boy at school nobody liked?” 

The answer was clear even for a child. 

In Jesus, God has provided a clear picture of the things Holy Spirit says. That makes knowing Jesus our starting point for recognizing the Spirit. Of course, the truest and most reliable record of Jesus’ life and ministry is provided in the Scriptures, particularly the Gospels. We learn to discern God’s voice by reading them deeply.

Our Old Covenant Shadow

This Christocentric approach to discernment raises questions about the rest of Scripture, and the Old Testament in particular. Don’t we use all of Scripture to discern God’s voice?

The answer is yes – and no. When it comes to discernment, Old Covenant experiences of God become less useful as a model for our own. While the prophets spoke the words of God, Jesus came as The Word of God. In the past, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Hebrews 1:1 – 2a)

Jesus’ incarnation overshadows the revelation of God in the Old Testament. As the fully embodied Word, Jesus filled in the blanks of the prophet’s words. It is therefore nonsensical to use their lens to discern our experiences. Why use a shadow when you have the perfect image? Why look back to the prophet’s time when they looked forward to ours? (1 Pet. 1:10 – 12).

What’s more, there’s real danger in using Old Covenant experiences as a reference point for our own. Our churches will end up looking more like a tribal theocracy than a Jesus-shaped movement. Violence, abuse of power and wealth can all be justified biblically when we use the Old Covenant as our lens. 

This approach was exemplified during the time of the 2016 North American election. In the months leading up to voting day, the internet was awash with prophecies about Trump’s pending victory. Many of them claimed that Trump would be like King Cyrus of old — used by God to sovereignly favor the purpose of God’s people. 

While God may speak about matters of national interest, and as citizens of a democracy, we have a responsibility to contribute to societal concerns, we should also be careful not to apply an Old Covenant lens to our claims to revelation. In the prophecies surrounding the American election, the Persian King Cyrus acted as the reference point to the Spirit’s message rather than Jesus. Yet we know that Jesus never said, Peter, go to Rome, drum up support in the Senate, get the church praying and bump Emperor Tiberius off the throne. Then the kingdom of God will come!” 

Rather, Jesus said that the kingdom of God advances through prayer, good deeds, preaching the gospel and laying our lives down in self-sacrificial love. The outcomes of listening and following the Spirit will look like Jesus.

An Old Covenant paradigm for Spirit revelation is also at work whenever disasters or calamities are accompanied by prophecies about God’s particular judgement on sin. Given that, Jesus directly repudiated this kind of assessment from his disciples in a similar situation, we must remember the words and actions of the Living Word (e.g., Luke 13:4). Discernment must be based Jesus’ clear lens rather than prophets’ shadowed ones.

Let us not take people back to the Old Covenant by using their experiences as our filter for ours. As we know, the Old Covenant was transitory and has passed away. Jesus’ coming means that we now live under a more glorious” covenant that is defined by the beauty and clarity of the Jesus-shaped Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:7 – 18, Hebrews 8:6 – 11, 12:18 – 24

So, when we ask, What is God like?’, Jesus says, Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9). When we ask, How do I know it’s God?’, Jesus says, it will sound like me (Rev. 19:10). We need to always ask, Would Jesus say this?’ Every vision, no matter what the context, must be seen through his eyes. Why look into a shadow when we have perfect light?

Adapted from The Church who Hears God’s Voice: Equipping Everyone to Everyone to Recognise and Respond to the Spirit by Rev Dr Tania Harris.

Tania Harris

Tania Harris (Sydney, Australia) is a pastor, speaker, author, practical theologian and the founding director of God Conversations (god​con​ver​sa​tions​.com), a global ministry that equips people to recognise and respond to God’s voice. Tania consults with and trains ministers in Spirit-led discipleship and the development of church cultures that facilitate hearing God experiences. Her PhD research, academic publications and books God Conversations and The Church who Hears God’s Voice all aim to equip everyone to recognise the Spirit in the context of their local church.