Perhaps this question has been asked before and I missed it, but what would you say is the difference between the influence of the Holy Spirit and the gift of the Holy Spirit? Is there a difference?
There is a very big difference between the influence of the Holy Ghost and the Gift of the Holy Ghost. Part of the explanation for the difference lies in what the role of the Holy Ghost is for us during mortality. Above all else, the Holy Ghost is responsible for testifying of truth when we encounter it in this life. This comes to all of God’s children, regardless of almost any other condition. I say almost because there are people in this life who have hardened their hearts to such an extent that any promptings from the Holy Ghost are unnoticed, unfelt, or totally disregarded.
Nevertheless, it is also by this action by the Holy Ghost that we all gain our first spiritual awareness of truth. It is how we begin our spiritual education in this life. It is how we begin our testimonies. We hear a truth, such as “Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.” When we hear that in a spiritually aware moment, the Holy Ghost communicates the truth of it to our spirit. It is on a level so pure, with a connection of spirit to spirit that all but prevents us from questioning its validity. Sometimes it is felt as an epiphany would feel. We then know the truth in a way we cannot explain readily, nevertheless we cannot deny the truth we have learned.
This is one of the key moments of coming to Christ, our first dealings with the Holy Ghost. As I said, it is something that operates in all who are sensitive enough to feel it, and especially in those seeking for it, such as our dear brothers and sisters that are investigating the Church. While this act is not the only mission of the Holy Ghost, it is the only role the Holy Ghost can play in our lives without receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost.
Prior to baptism, and receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost, Its influence upon us can only be transitory, moment to moment. When we are baptized and we are given the Gift of the Holy Ghost, only then do the other missions and roles of the Holy Ghost have an opportunity to become part of our everyday lives.
Having the Gift of the Holy Ghost means that as we are worthy, the Holy Ghost will be a constant companion with us, rather than only when we hear truth. In this capacity the Holy Ghost is called the Comforter. All the wonderful implications of this role alone are a marvelous gift to us. There are many other things that the Holy Ghost can do for us as well. Some of these things include the following;
Guide us in our actions, lead us to truth, instruct us, teach us, testify to us of truth as well as moving us to speak of the truth we have received. It can grant us wisdom, power, and judgment. It can reveal other’s thoughts and intentions to us and help us remember truth. It can show us what we should do, grant us a remission of our sins, and sanctify us according to our worthiness.
There are other things the Gift of the Holy Ghost allows us to have access to as well, but I hope this paints at least a partial picture of how important maintaining our worthiness for the Holy Ghost’s companionship really is.
On an interesting side note, I find it fascinating that some of the most important things we need from Heaven are given to us in the initial stages of our spiritual journey back to Heavenly Father. For example, when Christ began to re-establish His church on the Earth, the first thing he did was begin the spiritual instruction of Joseph Smith with the First Vision. The very next thing Jesus did was to begin the process of translating the Book of Mormon.
In a related way, when we approach the Lord through baptism, the first thing we do is the ordinance itself. The very next thing we do is be given the Gift of the Holy Ghost. While we may take it for granted sometimes, there is an important question we need to ask ourselves.
How important is the Gift of the Holy Ghost in the Lord’s eyes, if it is the first step, immediately after baptism, in our personal journey back to Heavenly Father? Do we consider our worthiness of that companionship seriously enough?
As I said before, Keith, the Holy Ghost will testify of truth to anyone willing, and prepared, to listen. However the true purpose of the Holy Ghost cannot be realized in this life without receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost. The difference is important. However the good news is that the Gift of the Holy Ghost is open to all who are willing to embark upon the path of Christ, beginning with the ordinance of baptism. That such a wonderful gift is available to us teaches me of not only the love of Christ for us all, but His serious intent that we have every tool available to us to assist us on our journey through this life.