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The Gift of the Holy Ghost and the Mormon Religion

The Gift of the Holy Ghost and the Mormon Religion

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“We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Article of Faith 4).

In our examination of the previous three chapters of Gospel Principles, we have seen that the LDS Church has a radically different understanding of the “first principles and ordinances of the Gospel” than what the New Testament teaches. LDS doctrine departs from the biblical teaching on these matters in the following ways:

  • It reinterprets faith in Christ to mean a determination to prove oneself worthy by one’s own obedience to the commandments.
  • It redefines repentance as a lifelong attempt to eliminate from one’s life anything that would detract from such personal worthiness.
  • It restricts valid baptism to those baptisms performed by men holding the “Aaronic priesthood” in the LDS Church.
"The consistent teaching of the New Testament . . . is that the gift of the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit himself, given to all those who truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ."

The LDS Church’s teaching about the “gift of the Holy Ghost” is just as much at variance with the Bible as its view of these other fundamentals. This article responds to the LDS doctrine as laid out in chapter 21 of Gospel Principles. It addresses the following key questions:

  1. What is the “gift of the Holy Spirit”? It is the life-transforming power and presence of the Holy Spirit in all those who truly believe in Jesus Christ, not a privilege of continuous guidance only for baptized and confirmed members of the LDS Church.
  2. Is a ritual required to receive the gift? Neither baptism nor the laying on of hands is necessary in order to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, although every Christian should get baptized.
  3. Who can give us this gift? No human being, other than Jesus Christ, can give anyone the gift of the Holy Spirit.
  4. How can we recognize the Holy Spirit? We recognize the Holy Spirit’s work by its agreement with the teachings of the Holy Spirit in Scripture, not by our feelings. 

A. What Is the “Gift of the Holy Spirit”? 

1. The LDS Church distinguishes between receiving the Holy Spirit as an experience available to all people and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit as a privilege reserved only for members of the LDS Church.

According to Gospel Principles, “There is a difference between the Holy Ghost and the gift of the Holy Ghost…. The gift of the Holy Ghost is the privilege—given to people who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ, been baptized, and been confirmed as members of the Church—to receive continual guidance and inspiration from the Holy Ghost” (121). That is, the LDS Church claims that while non-Mormons may receive the Holy Ghost (i.e., the Holy Spirit) in some limited way, only its baptized and confirmed members in good standing have the privilege of receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, defined as continuous guidance from the Holy Spirit. Thus, Gospel Principles makes the following assertions:

“A person may be temporarily guided by the Holy Ghost without receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost (see D&C 130:23). However, this guidance will not be continuous unless the person is baptized and receives the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost” (122).

The point of this distinction in LDS doctrine is to allow for the possibility of non-Mormons experiencing something of the Holy Spirit while at the same time claiming that the “gift of the Holy Spirit” is something no one can receive apart from the ecclesiastical system of the LDS Church and its priesthood.

2. The New Testament clearly teaches that receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit is the same thing as receiving Holy Spirit himself.

What does the Bible say about this subject? Here it is important to define terms clearly and in a way that is consistent with the Bible’s teaching. We should, and do, distinguish between the gifts (plural) of the Holy Spirit—the various manifestations and ministry empowerments of the Spirit—and the gift (singular) of the Holy Spirit. However, the gift of the Holy Spirit is not something other than the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit on and in believers in Jesus Christ. As we will show in this section, this is the teaching of all three of the main authors of the New Testament writings—Luke (in his Gospel and in Acts), John (in his Gospel and first epistle), and Paul (as seen in at least six of his epistles). The consistent teaching of these New Testament authors is that receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit is synonymous with receiving the Holy Spirit himself. Thus, the LDS distinction between the Holy Spirit (available to non-Mormons) and the gift of the Holy Spirit (available only to Mormons) is clearly inconsistent with the Bible.

Let’s turn to the New Testament and see exactly what it says on this subject. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus assures his disciples that if they “know how to give good gifts” to their children, their heavenly Father will surely “give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (Luke 11:13). (All biblical quotations in this article are taken from the ESV.) Here, Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as the gift. In Acts, to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit is the same thing as to receive the Holy Spirit himself. Peter, for example, told the religious leaders in Jerusalem, “And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him” (Acts 5:32). Peter and John went to Samaria to pray that the new believers there “might receive the Holy Spirit” (8:14-15), and indeed “they received the Holy Spirit” (v. 17). In this same context, Peter referred to this event in which “the Spirit was given” (v. 18) as “the gift of God” (v. 20). Likewise, Acts refers to the imparting of the Holy Spirit on Cornelius and his family as both “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (10:45) and “giving them the Holy Spirit” (15:8; see also “received the Holy Spirit,” 10:47; “the same gift,” 11:17). In this context, then, we should understand Peter’s words on Pentecost, “and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38), to mean that they would receive the Holy Spirit himself.

The Gospel of John teaches that God, through his Son Jesus Christ, “gives the Spirit without measure” (John 3:34). Jesus hinted at this when he talked with the woman at the well in Samaria: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). Jesus did not mention the Holy Spirit specifically in his discussion with the Samaritan woman, explaining only that the water that he came to give would become “a well of water springing up to eternal life” (4:14). However, later in John’s Gospel we learn that the “living water” is a symbolic reference to the Holy Spirit. In chapter 7, Jesus announced that whoever believes in him will have flowing from his heart “rivers of living water,” which John explains referred to the Spirit: “Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive” (7:37-39). The night before he died, Jesus assured his disciples that the Father “will give you another Helper…the Spirit of truth” (14:16-17). In his first epistle, John says that we know that God abides in us “by the Spirit whom he has given us” (1 John 3:24); God “has given us of his Spirit” (4:13).

Paul also teaches that God gives the Holy Spirit to all believers in Christ. “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). We “have received the Spirit of adoption as sons” (8:15), what Paul calls “the firstfruits of the Spirit” (8:23). We “have received…the Spirit who is from God” (1 Corinthians 2:12); God “has given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 1:22; see also 5:5; similarly, Ephesians 1:13-14; 4:30). Paul refers in several other places to believers in Christ “receiving” the Spirit (2 Corinthians 11:4; Galatians 3:2, 5, 14; see also 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8).

The consistent teaching of the New Testament, then, is that the gift of the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit himself, given to all those who truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 11:17). In Luke’s writings, the Holy Spirit whom God gives to Christ’s disciples bears witness to the reality of the risen Christ and of God’s forgiveness and acceptance of those believers (Acts 2:33, 38; 5:32; 11:17; 15:8-9). In John, the Spirit whom the Son gives to those who believe in him is the “living water,” the life-giving power of the Spirit in those who believe in Christ (John 4:10; 7:37-39). The Spirit as the “Helper” provides support in Christ’s stead to his followers (14:16-17; 15:26; 16:13-14), assuring them of God’s abiding presence and acceptance (1 John 3:24; 4:13). In Paul’s epistles, the Spirit whom God gives believers in Christ assures them of God’s love, functioning as a “guarantee” or assurance of their future redemption (Romans 5:5; 8:23; 2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14; 4:30). All three of these biblical writers, then, view the gift of the Holy Spirit as an integral aspect of the saving work of God in Jesus Christ. The gift is the life-giving, empowering, and assuring presence of the Holy Spirit in and on those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ. Everyone who accepts the biblical gospel of salvation, who truly trusts in Jesus Christ, receives this gift of the Holy Spirit. 

B. Is a Ritual Required to Receive the Gift? 

The LDS Church insists that the only way anyone can receive the gift of the Holy Spirit is through the rituals of baptism and the laying on of hands. Mormons are taught that unless they are baptized by a priesthood holder in the LDS Church, and have such a priesthood holder also lay hands on them, they cannot receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. “After people are baptized, they are confirmed members of the Church and given the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands” (Gospel Principles, 122).

1. Cornelius and his household received the gift of the Holy Spirit before they were baptized (Acts 10:44-48), a fact flatly contradicted by Joseph Smith and the LDS Church.

Gospel Principles makes no serious attempt to show from the Bible that a ritual is necessary to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The one passage of the Bible that it cites pertaining to the subject of the gift of the Holy Spirit flatly contradicts the LDS doctrine. The manual claims:

“We read in Acts 10 that the Roman soldier Cornelius received inspiration from the Holy Ghost so that he knew the gospel of Jesus Christ was true. But Cornelius did not receive the gift of the Holy Ghost until after he was baptized” (122, emphasis added).

Acts 10, however, says the opposite: that Cornelius received the gift of the Holy Spirit before he was baptized:

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 10:44-48, emphasis added).

Luke says that “the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word” before Peter had even finished speaking, and explicitly explains that this meant that “the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out” on the Gentile family of Cornelius (v. 45). Luke also quotes Peter as calling for them to be baptized because they had “received the Holy Spirit” (v. 47). Here again, receiving “the gift of the Holy Spirit” is synonymous with receiving the Holy Spirit himself; there is no difference. And the order here is undeniable: first, the receiving of the gift (vv. 44-46); second, baptism (v. 48). Furthermore, since Cornelius and his family had not yet been baptized when they received the gift, clearly no one had laid hands on them to impart the gift. We must conclude, then, that these people received the gift of the Holy Spirit before they had been either baptized or had hands laid on them.

Although honest people can disagree about many things, in this instance there really is no room for doubt that the statement made by Gospel Principles—that “Cornelius did not receive the gift of the Holy Ghost until after he was baptized”—is flat wrong. Furthermore, it is difficult to see this claim as anything but a deliberate distortion of the facts. This false statement, in clear, explicit contradiction of Acts 10:44-48, has appeared in Gospel Principles from the very first edition over thirty years ago (see Gospel Principles, 1978 ed., 101). More than that, the LDS Church has been contradicting Acts 10 on this point since Joseph Smith himself. In 1842, Joseph made the following comments:

“There is a difference between the Holy Ghost and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Cornelius received the Holy Ghost before he was baptized, which was the convincing power of God unto him of the truth of the Gospel, but he could not receive the gift of the Holy Ghost until after he was baptized” (History of the Church, 1949 ed., 4:555; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, ed. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976 ed.], 199).

LDS leaders have quoted these statements from Joseph Smith, including in general conference, to support their doctrine that one can only receive the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands by someone holding the LDS priesthood. For example, in 2003 Joseph B. Wirthin quoted the above statements from Smith and commented:

“The gift of the Holy Ghost, which is the right to receive the Holy Ghost as a constant companion, is obtained only upon condition of faith in Christ, repentance, baptism by immersion, and the laying on of hands by authorized servants endowed with the Melchizedek Priesthood. It is a most precious gift available only to worthy members of the Lord’s Church” (“The Unspeakable Gift,” Ensign [conference report], May 2003, 26).

The LDS Church has been perpetuating this falsehood ever since Joseph Smith and continues to do so today in a doctrinal manual that all Mormons are expected at some time to study.

2. The Book of Acts shows in its six accounts of people receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit that no ritual was required to receive the gift.

There are two occasions recorded in Acts when apostles laid hands on some people prior to them receiving the Holy Spirit. Both of these occurrences, however, involved “irregularities”—unusual circumstances that led to the special involvement of those apostles. When Philip preached the gospel to Samaritans and many of them believed and were baptized, the apostles Peter and John went to Samaria to pray for the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17). The fact that two apostles needed to make the trip to Samaria for this purpose actually raises something of a problem for the LDS doctrine, since in Mormon religion any elder would “have the authority to bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands” (Gospel Principles, 76). In any case, the visit by the two apostles indicates that something more was going on than the need for someone to lay hands on the Samaritans. Evidently the fact that they were Samaritans was itself the issue: this was the first occasion on which non-Jews were baptized into the Christian movement. To ensure the unity of the faith and the integrity of the Samaritan segment of the church, the authenticating evidence of the outpouring of the Spirit on the Samaritans was withheld until apostles could be on hand to validate this expansion of the church.

When the apostle Paul met a dozen or so men who had received the baptism of John the Baptist but not baptism in the name of Jesus, he found out that they had also not received the Holy Spirit. Paul explained about Jesus to them, baptized them, and laid hands on them, and the Holy Spirit came on them, resulting in them speaking in tongues and prophesying (Acts 19:1-7). Once again, it is an apostle that lays hands on them; and once again, the rituals are done with people who fall into a different category than other believers (in this case, disciples of John). We should also notice that in this passage the laying on of hands does not seem to be a separate ritual, or at least not performed on a separate occasion, from the rite of baptism. What Luke says is not “they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, and later Paul laid his hands on them,” but simply, “they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, and when Paul laid his hands on them…” (vv. 5-6). This is one man (Paul) with one group of people (the dozen disciples of John), apparently on one occasion, in which Paul baptizes and lays hands on them.

In all, the book of Acts recounts six separate occasions in which someone received the gift of the Holy Spirit (see table below). It is fascinating as well as instructive to observe that whenever people received the gift, the relationship of that experience to baptism or the laying on of hands differed each time. In three instances Luke tells us that the laying on of hands precedes the receiving of the gift (the Samaritans, Paul, and John’s disciples), whereas in the other three instances the laying on of hands is not mentioned at all. On one occasion baptism is not mentioned at all (the apostles on the day of Pentecost), on three occasions people are baptized before they receive the Spirit (the Jews, the Samaritans, and John’s disciples), on one occasion they receive the Spirit before they are baptized (Gentiles), and on one occasion it is implied that the person (Paul) receives the Spirit before he is baptized. It is almost as if Luke had originally chosen these incidents to illustrate the lack of any regular order or relation between Christian rituals and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit.

 

Receiving the Gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts

Acts 2:1-4
Acts 2:38-41
Acts 8:14-27
Acts 9:17-18
Acts 10:44-48
Acts 19:1-7

The Apostles

Jews

Samaritans

Paul

Gentiles

John’s Disciples

(Belief in Christ)

 

Gift of the Holy Spirit

 

Repentance in Christ’s name

Baptism

 

Gift of the Holy Spirit

Belief in Christ

 

Baptism

 

Laying on of hands

Gift of the Holy Spirit

Belief in Christ

 

Laying on of hands

 

Gift of the Holy Spirit

Baptism

Belief in Christ

 

Gift of the Holy Spirit

 

Baptism

Belief in Christ

 

Baptism/ Laying on of hands

Gift of the Holy Spirit

 

The one and only constant in these six incidents is that faith and repentance focused on the person of Christ precedes the reception of the gift of the Holy Spirit. No one receives the gift of the Holy Spirit who does not believe in Christ. However, no ritual seems to be indispensable or a prerequisite to receiving the Holy Spirit. In fact, as we have seen, some people receive the gift even before they are baptized, as the case of Cornelius’s family explicitly illustrates. Moreover, the order of the rituals varies: sometimes laying on of hands is a second ritual taking place sometime after baptism (the Samaritans), sometimes laying on of hands takes place before baptism (Paul), and sometimes laying on of hands takes place on the same occasion (perhaps even as part of the same ritual) as baptism (John’s disciples). If these accounts teach us anything, it is that the Holy Spirit is not tied to a particular schedule or religious routine!

We conclude, then, that Christians do not need to have been baptized or had hands laid on them before they can receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The LDS claim that such rituals are necessary is erroneous. These ritual actions symbolize the work of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit in bringing people into the salvation of the new covenant. Contrary to LDS doctrine, the rituals are not the indispensable vehicles of that salvation. 

C. Who Can Give Us This Gift? 

Mormons are likely to agree completely with the following statement: “Every worthy elder of the Church, when authorized, may give the gift of the Holy Ghost to another person” (Gospel Principles, 122). Yet the statement crystallizes in just 19 words a radical difference between LDS religion and New Testament Christianity.

1. Jesus is the only human being who can give anyone the gift of the Holy Spirit.

You see, the New Testament never speaks of any mortal human being giving another the gift of the Holy Spirit. My point is not simply that God is the one ultimately who gives the gift. Mormons would certainly agree (see D&C 33:15, quoted immediately preceding the statement I quoted above). My point is that no one on earth is authorized or qualified to give anyone else the gift of the Holy Spirit on God’s behalf. The issue here is the LDS concept of the priesthood, according to which God gives worthy LDS males the spiritual authority and power to give other worthy members the gift.

According to the New Testament, the only human being who can give anyone the gift of the Holy Spirit is the Lord Jesus Christ—and he is far more than just a human being. The New Testament speaks of both God the Father (Luke 11:13; John 14:16; Acts 5:32; 11:17; 15:8; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; 5:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:8; 1 John 3:24; 4:13) and of Jesus Christ (John 4:10; 20:22; Acts 2:33) as the Giver of the gift of the Holy Spirit. No one else is ever identified as giving anyone the gift of the Holy Spirit. Just as God the Father “gave” us his Son for our salvation (John 3:16), so also the Father and the Son “give” us the Holy Spirit to make that salvation effective in our lives. In this context, I can no more give you the Holy Spirit than I can give you Jesus Christ. He is not mine to give. Nor is it within any other mere human being’s purview to give the gift of the Holy Spirit to another human being.

2. Peter and John did not claim to give anyone the gift, but instead asked God to do so (Acts 8:15-20).

There is one passage that some might suppose lends support to the idea of human beings giving others the gift of the Holy Spirit. Luke says that when Peter and John went to see the newly baptized Samaritan believers, a wicked man named Simon “saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands” (Acts 8:18). Simon tried to bribe Peter to give him the power, and Peter rebuked him severely (vv. 19-20). But does this mean that Peter actually had the power to give people the gift of the Holy Spirit? Not at all. Luke had already explained that when Peter and John met the Samaritans, they “prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit” (v. 15). Luke clearly means that Peter and John asked God to give the Samaritan Christians the gift. They could no more give people the gift of the Holy Spirit than I can. All they could do is what any true believer in Jesus Christ can do—ask God to give people that gift. Hence, in Peter’s rebuke of Simon Magus, Peter referred to that gift as “the gift of God” (v. 20). The Holy Spirit is God’s gift, and God is the one who gives that gift.

Peter and John were apostles; they were men whom God specially and mightily used in extraordinary ways. But even Peter and John did not exercise what the LDS Church understands to be the power of the priesthood. There is no such thing. Priests in the Old Testament were types or figures who foreshadowed the coming of our great heavenly Priest, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 5-8). As our only heavenly Priest, Christ alone mediates between us and God the Father, and Christ gives us the Holy Spirit as God’s gift to secure us in our salvation. Mortal priests and priestly orders have given way to the immortal, heavenly Priest and so are now obsolete.

We do not lose anything of value by acknowledging that there is no mortal, earthly priesthood to mediate between us and God or to be the channel of divine power. Rather, we gain something: the truth that no one stands between us and Christ if we truly believe in him. 

D. How Can We Recognize the Holy Spirit?

1. Contrary to LDS teaching, a feeling is not a sufficient basis for concluding that an experience or idea really comes from the Holy Spirit.

Gospel Principles quotes and endorses the comments of Boyd K. Packer concerning how one can recognize the Holy Spirit. According to Packer, who is the president of the LDS Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the way to recognize the Holy Spirit is by one’s feelings:

“The Holy Ghost speaks with a voice that you feel more than you hear…. While we speak of ‘listening’ to the whisperings of the Spirit, most often one describes a spiritual prompting by saying, ‘I had a feeling…’” (123).

This description of the work of the Holy Spirit implicitly reveals an uncomfortable fact for Mormons, which is that their doctrine of the gift of the Holy Spirit leaves them somewhat conflicted. On the one hand, the LDS Church teaches Mormons to believe that they have a unique gift of the Holy Spirit’s “continual guidance and inspiration” and speak of “the fulness, power, greatness, and glory” of this gift (Gospel Principles, 121, 122). No one outside the LDS Church supposedly has this gift, “one of God’s greatest gifts to us” (123). Yet the largely unspoken reality is that most Mormons do not experience continually, regularly, or even frequently anything they can definitely identify as clear guidance or inspiration of the Holy Spirit different from what millions of Christians outside the LDS religion also claim to receive.

The truth is that many new religious groups claim that its members experience the “still small voice” or the “whisperings” and “promptings” of the Holy Spirit within them. These experiences are associated with starkly different understandings of who or what the Holy Spirit is as well as how one comes to experience the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Some of them are traditional, Bible-believing Christians; some of them are not. For example, some confess that the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus Christ to be God in the flesh, resurrected from the grave; some don’t. Some recognize the Bible as the infallible word of God inspired by the Holy Spirit; some don’t. These very different forms of Christianity cannot all be valid paths to God in Christ or valid expressions of the Holy Spirit. After all, the Holy Spirit is not going to tell some people that Jesus Christ is God and tell other people that he isn’t God. Therefore, at least some of these groups that claim to have special or even exclusive access to the Holy Spirit must be wrong.

How, then, can we tell what is really the Holy Spirit and what is not? The suggested method of trying to listen for or sense the “promptings” or inner feelings of the Spirit’s presence is not a reliable method. It is too subjective, too easy to engage in well-meaning self-deception, and too easy to confuse our own feelings with divinely inspired impressions. The fact that traditional Christians and a variety of new religious groups claim that their members experience the Holy Spirit is evidence that we need an objective standard—something external to our feelings and subjectivity, something we can all examine and to which our feelings can be compared. Thus, the apostle John urges us: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

2. We should test all claims of the Holy Spirit’s leading or inspiration by comparing them with what the Holy Spirit has already revealed in the Bible.

The best way of testing whether some experience or feeling or opinion is from the Holy Spirit is to examine it in light of the Bible. Specifically, we are to examine all spiritual claims on the basis of the test of whether they agree with the sound teachings of the Holy Spirit-inspired Scriptures. Doing so makes a lot of sense: we may be confident that the Holy Spirit is not going to tell people today something that contradicts the Christian teachings that the Holy Spirit inspired in the Bible (2 Peter 1:20-21).

Mormons often respond to this biblical principle by claiming that the Holy Spirit has testified to them of some basic biblical truths. So, for example, Gospel Principles states, “The gift of the Holy Ghost is one of God’s greatest gifts to us. Through the Holy Ghost we may know that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that His Church has been restored to the earth” (123). Bible-believing Christians certainly agree that God lives and that Jesus is the Christ. We are as convinced of these truths as Mormons are. Does this mean that we also have the gift of the Holy Ghost? Yet we disagree about the third claim: Mormons believe that the LDS Church is the true church restored to the earth, while evangelical, Bible-believing Christians hold that the true church is the fellowship of all believers throughout church history who have accepted the biblical gospel. The only way to know what is genuinely of the Holy Spirit and what is not is to test such claims by comparing them with what the Holy Spirit says in Scripture.

For example, John goes on to offer a doctrinal test by which to distinguish true teachers from false ones: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God” (1 John 4:2). John isn’t suggesting that this one doctrinal test is sufficient in all cases for determining whether a religious teacher or a “spirit” that claims to be giving divine revelation is really from God. In John’s situation, the issue of Christ having come truly in the flesh was a critical issue on which the false teachers of the day were exposed. The clear principle, however, is that faithfulness to the true doctrine about Christ was and is a primary test of whether a “spirit” is from God.

When the Berean Jews heard from Paul the gospel about Jesus as the Messiah, they did not seek an inner spiritual experience to validate Paul’s message. Instead, “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). This is what we need to do with any religion—not just that of the LDS Church, but any religion, including our own—that claims to teach the truth about Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. We need to compare alleged revelations of the Spirit, as well as any impressions or promptings we may feel the Holy Spirit is giving us, with the clear, objective teachings of the Holy Spirit in the Bible. Sadly, this is not the approach that the LDS Church teaches its members to take. Here is yet another significant difference between a Bible-based Christianity and the religion of the LDS Church.

For Further Reflection:

  • In the New Testament, is there any difference between receiving the Holy Spirit and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit?
  • Can someone who truly trusts in Jesus Christ for salvation nevertheless be deprived of the gift of the Holy Spirit?
  • Did Cornelius and his household receive the gift of the Holy Spirit before, or after, they were baptized? Why is this important?
  • Do the accounts in the book of Acts show any consistent pattern of ritual preceding the reception of the gift of the Holy Spirit? What implication does your answer have for the LDS claim that the gift can be received only by the laying on of hands?
  • Can any earthly human being give another human being the gift of the Holy Spirit? How does your answer affect your concept of the priesthood?
  • If non-Mormons profess that they regularly receive promptings of the Holy Spirit, what is unique about the spiritual experience of Mormons?
  • According to the New Testament, what method should we use to test someone’s claim to be inspired by the Holy Spirit? How does this test compare to the method taught in the LDS Church?

 

For Further Study:

“Did Not Our Heart Burn within Us?” Luke 24:32 and the Mormon Testimony. Rob Bowman examines the LDS use of Luke 24:32 to support the idea that we should seek a burning feeling from the Holy Spirit to confirm religious claims.

Mormons and the “Burning in the Bosom” (D&C 9:8). Why this passage in LDS scripture does not teach that God gives everyone a burning feeling to know what is the truth.

Truth, Salvation, and the Mormon Testimony: Does Having a Testimony Make It True? Chuck Larsen explains why Mormons can question their testimonies to the LDS Church without denying the good and true things they believe.