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The Tripartite Man 2: Spirit – Intuition6 min read

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warrantedThis post is part of a series.

John Calvin coined the phrase Sensus Divinitatis (Sense of the Divine) to describe the innate sense and awareness of God that all humans possess, as well as the ‘organ’ of awakening acted on by the Holy Spirit in awakening us to salvation.

William Lane Craig, the eminent Christian philosopher and apologist refers to this in his arguments for the existence of God, calling it “the self-authenticating witness of God’s Holy Spirit” – that is, that God can be “immediately known and experienced.”

Of course, such claims irritate anti-theists because such subjective experiences defy reasonable inspection or discussion, and the fact that the typical born-again process itself seems to lead with experience rather than intellect frustrates them even more. (See Are you a Christian because of your experiences, or because of logic?)

Calvinist philosopher Alvin Plantinga refers to Sensus Divinitatus in his own defense of faith in Warranted Christian Belief, making it a primary assumption (a given) in his “externalist reformed epistemology.” Don’t ask me to explain what that is right now ;)

But just what is this sense of the divine? How does it work, what is it like, and how can we discern it from a bad case of indigestion?

As described in the introduction to this series, the spirit is the non-corporeal (non-physical), supernatural (as opposed to natural) part of the human makeup. And I believe that the scripture defines three general functions of the spirit, namely intuition, conscience, and communion.


Before discussing these three functions of the spirit, I want to head off some objections.

1.1 “Intuition isn’t a biblical word”

While the specific word is not used, the experience that we label “intuition” is described in Romans 1, which we will examine. Further, there are many theological, philosophic, and psychological terms not used in the bible, but ARE used in describing or systematizing what the bible teaches. These words and concepts, such as “the trinity” or even Calvin’s “sensus divinitatis,” as long as they are truly used and defined in accurate Biblical terms, are very useful for understanding Biblical ideas.

1.2 “These functions are all subjective, can often be wrong, and therefore can’t really tell us anything about truth”

The objection here is that there is no way to objectively measure or test these impressions upon the human senses, and so they are therefore not valid in determining what is true. But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater – these functions, I will argue, are necessary, but not sufficient in in determining moral and spiritual truth.

If our intuition, conscience, and communion faculties are real, and working properly, then they ARE reliable for determining what is true, especially in concert with our reason, intellect, and experience.

Scripture gives us a good bit of description and instruction on what these more subjective faculties are, how to get them working properly, and how to test and balance their use WITH reason, experience, scripture, and practice (see The Wesleyan Quadrangle).

So let’s define these functions, understand their use, and then get on to how to train and use them.


The definition of intuition we are using here is more simply known as our “knower” – a gut feeling about the truth or falsehood of something. To be more exact, here’s the dictionary definition:

The act or faculty of knowing or sensing without the use of rational processes; immediate cognition.

Here’s a biblical and practical example of how intuition works:

Romans 1:20
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.

That is, the sense of awe we get in the grandeur of nature is part of what the Bible expects us to recognize intuitively as evidence for God. This grandeur can be seen and experienced in grand vistas as well as the complexity of biochemistry, or the order of the universe – i.e. it’s a teliological experience, if you will – we realize God is real through the design, order, complexity, and beauty of the creation.

We have all experienced this awe – even Carl Sagan, the eminent scientist and atheist experienced this awe:

The cosmos is full beyond measure of elegant truths; of exquisite interrelationships; of the awesome machinery of nature.

However, he did not attribute this wonder to God, but to the impersonal forces that he suspected created the Universe. But Biblically speaking, this awe, or other intuitions about the truth or falseness of various propositions or plans are supposed to be a part of how we navigate life and determine what is true.

2.1 Intuition in Everyday Life

In the everyday practice of life, we use intuition for many big decisions, like in deciding whom to marry, where to live, what career to choose – we may use reason as well, but reason alone can not tell you whom to marry, or which job is the ‘right’ one at the time.

Some might object that in such decisions, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong,’ but nevertheless, we DO rely on such impressions, since reason alone can NOT make those decisions for us, though it can help winnow down our choices.

One of the most important uses of the intuition is in sensing what is true or not about God. We must, in a sense, be “true to ourselves” in this matter – we can’t make ourselves believe something we don’t, but if we fail to listen to our intuition about such things, we may be sorely disappointed in the future and say to ourselves “I KNEW it, I should have listened.”

In Part 3, I will discuss the role and function of the Conscience as part of the three functions of the spirit.