Recognizing the Spirit

Hello all! Chad here.

On this beautiful (ok, cloudy) Sabbath day, I wanted to share this sacrament meeting talk that I wrote a few months ago regarding the Spirit.  I was re-reading it recently, thinking about how I have felt the Spirit.


Recognizing the Spirit

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today I am going to be speaking on understanding the Holy Ghost.

Perhaps you have seen on Facebook this past week that Mormons and the Holy Ghost were in the news.  The scientific article “Reward, salience, and attentional networks are activated by religious experience in devout Mormons” or the more attention-grabbing article “Brain Scans on Mormons Show Religion Has a Similar Effect to Taking Drugs.

In the study, Mormon subjects had their brains scanned by magnetic resonance imaging while reading the scriptures and praying.  Throughout the experiment, they were asked whether they were feeling the spirit.

Mormons are unique in that we seek out and encounter God in everyday experiences.  The way we do this is through the Holy Ghost.

But even while we talk about the Holy Ghost, and while we account many of our spiritual experiences to the influence of the Holy Ghost, sometimes we have a hard time explaining it to others, to those outside the Church, and to our children.  Sometimes, we ourselves have questions about the Holy Ghost.  So how do we understand and recognize the Holy Ghost?

Questions about the Holy Ghost

I want to share three experiences to illustrate some of the questions that can arise:

Experience 1: I remember as a youth my Sunday School teacher explained that the Holy Ghost speaks to each person differently.  Some may feel a warm feeling, others may hear a voice.  Still others may recognize the Holy Ghost through the actions of others.  I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out how the Holy Ghost talked to me.   What way did the Holy Ghost speak to me?  It was almost like I was trying to decipher a code.

Experience 2: While on my mission, I taught others about how the Book of Mormon was evidence that Christ’s church was restored in our day.  I extended to them Moroni’s promise that if they asked God with a sincere heart and real intent, God would “manifest the truth of it unto you by the power of the Holy Ghost.”  But I couldn’t pin down a singular experience where the same had occurred to me.  My companion, a convert to the Church, would tell this powerful story of the moment he knew that the Church was true.  I would try to base my story around a single moment of prayer or scripture study that was particularly powerful, but it didn’t seem to fit the mold.  Had the Holy Ghost made the truth manifest to me?

Experience 3: In Germany, some of the people most open to learning about the gospel were students.  A student we were teaching commented that what we called the Holy Ghost could be explained as simply a mix of chemical in the brain that made us feel good.  I knew that God worked through physical means, much as individuals and neighbors could be answers to prayers.  But how could I best explain it to this young man?

How can we recognize the Holy Ghost?  How can we distinguish the Holy Ghost from other moments of just feeling good?  How do I feel the Holy Ghost more in my life?

The Purpose of the Holy Ghost

To answer these questions, I want to first talk about who the Holy Ghost is and what is his purpose.  When we understand these two important doctrines, our ability to recognize the Holy Ghost increases.

I want to turn to the Bible Dictionary.  Here, we learn that the Holy Ghost is “The third member of the Godhead and a personage of Spirit, not possessing a body of flesh and bones.”  This is unique within Christianity.  The Holy Ghost is a separate being from God and Jesus Christ.  He isn’t an ethereal spiritual influence, but a distinct personage.  This means that when we feel the Holy Ghost, we are having shared spiritual experiences.  To quote LDS author Samuel M. Brown, “Even in our most personal and private periods, we are not alone inside our heads.  Notice that the Holy Ghost introduces the Other into the inmost sanctum of our person, our consciousness.”

To continue in the BD, “The Holy Ghost is manifested to men on the earth as the power of the Holy Ghost and the gift of the Holy Ghost.”  This outlines two distinct purposes of the Holy Ghost.  The Holy Ghost “witnesses of the Father and the Son” (2 Nephi 31:18) to all those who seek after the truth.

When we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, the Holy Ghost does more than impart knowledge.  “For those who receive this gift, the Holy Ghost acts as a cleansing agent to purify them and to sanctify them from all sin.” 

This is the central role of the Holy Ghost, and why it is so important in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is through the Holy Ghost that our repentance becomes acceptable before the Lord.  When we are baptized, our sins are washed away, and we renew that covenant at the sacrament each week.  But it is by the Holy Ghost that that is made possible.

The Holy Ghost is closely tied to grace, the divine help or strength, which makes it possible for us to aim to be perfect, even as our Father in Heaven is perfect.

The Purifying Power of the Holy Ghost

The Holy Ghost helps purify us in two ways.

The Holy Ghost helps change our desires to do good.  The Holy Ghost worked on the people of Mosiah in this way: “Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.”  Our disposition is our characteristic attitudes.  It is a reflection of both our desire and our will.  If the Holy Ghost were only able to change our desires, but not our ability to do good, we would be on a continual guilt trip.  But he helps change our entire disposition.

This is the spirit that softened Nephi’s heart so that he did “believe all the words of his father” and did not “rebel against him.”  This is the spirit that inspired the sons of Mosiah to zealously strive to repair all the injuries which they had done and to preach the word unto the Lamanites.

The Holy Ghost also speaks peace to our soul when we have both confessed our sins and forsaken them.  It is by the Holy Ghost that Enos knew that God could not lie and his guilt was swept away.  And it is by the Holy Ghost that God speaks peace to our souls so that our confidence can wax strong in the presence of God.


This gives us a first way that we can recognize the Spirit in our lives.  We can recognize the Spirit when we feel increased desire and power to do good.  When we are able to forego temptation just one more time than usual.  When we feel increased love towards, towards those we struggle to get along with, or towards total strangers.  When we feel a change of heart while serving others.  This is summarized in Galatians: “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.”

This comes with an important corollary, as explained by ameritus general authority F. Enzio Busche: “When we are not satisfied with the world of our feelings—when we are grouchy and unhappy or we are slothful or sloppy—we must know that we are not under the influence of the Holy Spirit.  People who sin are not under his influence.”  When we do start to feel lazy or irritated, we should take the time to pray and to invite the Spirit back into our lives.

A few closing points

The Spirit is not a genie in a lamp to give us answers and help only when we ask for them.  He will teach us things we often don’t expect, and sometimes don’t want at first.  Jesus taught this principle to Nicodemus: “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8

The Spirit helps us connect with others in a way we wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.  I want to shed new light on a scripture that is usually interpreted a different way.  In 1 Cor 6:19, we read that “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” We commonly interpret this as a reason to keep our bodies clean.  But what if we additionally read body to mean the body of Christ?  The Holy Ghost is the spirit of the body of Christ.

When we partake of the sacrament, we covenant to always remember Jesus Christ and keep his commandments.  We are promised that the Spirit with be with us always.  This is literal.  The Spirit doesn’t have to lie dormant most of the time in us.

The Spirit is polite. “The Spirit is a divine entity.  It therefore gives the ultimate example of politeness.  It will not intrude in our lives.  It will not force itself into our lives except under circumstances in which we may endanger our salvation—for instance, by breaking a covenant.”

When we do receive spiritual promptings, we must act on them.  When we do not respond to the promptings of the Spirit, we will receive less such promptings until we no longer receive them.  The promptings of the Spirit are a trust from the Lord.  We may be asked to help someone in need, strengthen someone’s faith, or change the course of our own lives.

The Spirit witnesses and confirms truth.  You have been taught spiritual truths.  You know perhaps intellectually that Jesus Christ is the Savior and that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet.  But the Spirit internalizes that knowledge and testifies to your heart.  You will recognize the Spirit when the gospel becomes uncompromising to you.

We can increase the Spirit’s influence in our lives when it becomes our deepest desire to have the Spirit.  We can pray for that desire. In 3 Nephi, we read that the disciples “did pray for that which they most desired; and they desired that the Holy Ghost should be given unto them.”


When we are under the influence of the Spirit, it makes our life an adventure.  The Spirit constantly challenges us to be a little better, to love a little deeper, to serve a little more, and it gives us the power to do so.  When we are under the influence of the Spirit, we will feel our knowledge increasing and our creativity expanding.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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