Being Led by the Holy Spirit
Not many people will disagree with the statement that the Spirit of God leads Christians today, but when you ask how He leads us, the debate begins. Pretty much every religious group that calls itself "Christian" believes they are being led by the Spirit to believe and practice the things they do on a congregational level and on an individual level, but in spite of the claims of being led by the Spirit, all of these religious groups are going in different directions, even to the point that their beliefs and practices are brought into conflict with the clear teaching of Scripture.
There are many views on how the Spirit leads us today. Here are three of the popular ones:
1. Through feelings
2. An inner voice or nudging
3. Through dreams, visions, or new revelation
There are religious groups that believe one, more than one, or even all of these are ways the Holy Spirit leads today. But what does scripture say? The phrase “led by the Spirit” is only found two times in the New Testament in referring to Christians.(; ).
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” ().
“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” ().
If you were to do sermons on some of the most abused Bible passages, the two “led by the Spirit” passages would be near the top of the list. What is interesting about this topic is that when a good number of people talk about being led by the Holy Spirit, they use these two verses as “proof texts” to show that the Holy Spirit leads the Christian today, but what they tend not to do is actually look at the context of these two verses to show what it means to be led by the Holy Spirit. These two verses are the conclusion of the arguments made in their surrounding context. Nowhere in the context does it mention that those who are led by the Spirit are led by an inner voice, inner nudging, or new revelation. These texts do not make these arguments, or anything near these arguments. The arguments of these groups or people just assume their beliefs about the leading of the Holy Spirit INTO the text. They just begin with the assumption that the Spirit leads in these ways and read both of these texts with this understanding. But they cannot provide a Bible passage which shows that the Spirit actually leads Christians in these ways today. Their whole position is assumed without Biblical evidence. They beg the question on this issue.
Let’s look in particular at the context of to see what Paul means whenever he says that we are led by the Spirit of God.
Those Who ARE Led by the Spirit
RECEIVED THE SPIRIT
Having the Holy Spirit is a prerequisite of being properly led by the Spirit. This point is made in :
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, "Abba, Father."
The sons of God are the ones that are led by the Spirit and receive the Spirit. The whole context of this verse contrasts those who are in the flesh and those who are in the Spirit. The person living in the flesh is at enmity with God. It is impossible for them to be pleasing to Him. They "cannot please Him" (v8). Verse 9 makes the point that because we have the Spirit of God we are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, and because of this, we are able to be led by the Spirit and live according to the Spirit.
As we have already studied, this passage is teaching us about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within our bodies along with the benefits of His dwelling within us as Christians. We have seen in scripture that this indwelling begins when we in faith and with a repentant heart are baptized into Christ. At this point the Spirit comes within us, sanctifies us, gives us new life, strengthens us, and seals us. Our bodies become the temples of the Spirit.
I believe it is important to repeat this point because the majority of those who claim to get inner voices or nudges from the Holy Spirit are not even Biblical Christians. Even if the Spirit did lead Christians in the way they believe He does, they would not be recipients of this leading because they have not received the Spirit of God yet. This is a prerequisite of being led by the Holy Spirit.
SET THEIR MINDS ON THE THINGS OF THE SPIRIT
You also cannot be led by the Spirit unless you set your mind to be led by the Spirit.
"For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be" ().
Paul makes an important contrast here. Those who live according to the flesh do so because they set their minds to do so. This is where being led by the Holy Spirit begins. If we don't set our mind on the things of the Spirit, we will be open to receiving leading of the Holy Spirit. Our minds are unable to if we are setting them on the things of the flesh. This will lead us in the wrong direction.
The question must be raised, "What are the 'things of the Spirit" that Paul is referring to in this passage? I believe He answers the question in verse 7 when he says what the carnal/fleshly mind cannot submit to: the law of God. What has the Holy Spirit given us to lead us? We saw in our lesson a few months ago that the Holy Spirit inspired and confirmed the word and He uses it as His tool to convict and lead sinners to Christ. This doesn't end when we become Christians. He continues to use His inspired word to lead us and work within us.
This is spoken of in the Old Testament:
“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— 32 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” ().
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” ().
As the Holy Spirit indwells us, He uses His word to convict us and to push us in the right direction as God’s people. If we remember from our lesson a couple weeks ago, the Holy Spirit, who is referred to as the Finger of God in , literally wrote the Ten Commandments on those two tablets of stone. Under the New Covenant, He would write His law somewhere else: On the hearts of those who are under the covenant. The law of God is written on our hearts, and as Ezekiel says in the passage I just quoted, the Spirit who is within us will cause us to walk in God's ways. He works in us to lead us to observe His law. As Paul says in :
"work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God (I believe through the Spirit) who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure."
The Spirit is working in us and leading us to desire the will of God. I believe this work that God does in us is through the Holy Spirit. He leads us to will for and to work for His good pleasure as we work along with him. We are coworkers with the spirit in the construction project of building our lives to look more like Jesus Christ. He is working in our minds to transform them and renew them so we can discern what the will of the Lord is ().
Some questions on the leading of the Holy Spirit
Does the Spirit Lead Through Other People?
I also believe that the Holy Spirit will use other people to lead us. Those who set their minds on the things of the Spirit will be influenced by the preaching and teaching of the Spirit’s word (which He works through) and also through our seeking of wise council, which we are encouraged to do many places within scripture. He does this through the preaching and teaching of His word and through wise counsel that we seek. Of course we need to compare everything we are being told with the word of God, but once we see the things we are being told agree with the will of God or are wise applications of His word, I believe it is safe to say that it is the Spirit who is working through that person within us to lead us through His word. Have you ever had those lessons that you believe were preached just for you? Have you ever had a brother give you a word of encouragement or challenge you to do something that you were neglecting that convicted you or led you to godly sorrow and repentance? The Holy Spirit can use other people as tools to share his word with others. And when this happens, it is the Holy Spirit who is truly working.
Does The Spirit Work Through Our Emotions?
If there is one subject that is debated about how the Spirit leads, it is this one. But as we have talked about before, we need to be careful not to take an over-reactionary position on a subject because of the misuses and/or abuses of other religious groups. This is one area in which I believe that even well-meaning brethren completely miss the boat. Many say very emphatically that the Holy Spirit NEVER leads us through our emotions or feelings. I have a question for those who believe this:
· How do you know this for certain? What Bible passage would you go to which shows this as emphatically that you claim it, or shows this at all? There is not a Bible passage that I know of that teaches this. We usually beg the question regarding this issue based on warnings we are given in scripture about trusting our emotions. But these warnings do not necessitate that the Spirit NEVER works in us through our emotions.
When we examine the scriptures, we can know that there are some feelings or emotions that the Spirit uses to lead us to do His will which is revealed in scripture. There are feelings we know the Holy Spirit gives. I just hinted at some of them in my last point.
Conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment ()
“And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” ()
Even after we become Christians, the Spirit still works within us to bring us to repentance when we sin. We feel conviction; we feel guilt; we feel godly sorrow as we see in ; all so we can be led by the Spirit to repentance. Just as we saw in scripture in the last lesson, He does use the word to do this. He continues to convict us of sin, righteousness and judgment. If the Spirit is not leading you and me in this way today, we are in trouble!
He Stirs Us to Do His Will?
He stirs our emotions within us to desire His will and to repent when we are not doing His will. We see a clear example of this in . Haggai goes to the Israelites who had stopped building the temple. They were working on their homes instead. Haggai, through the Holy Spirit preaches to the people, telling them that they need to consider their ways. They needed to get back to work on His house which was still in ruins. We are told in verse 12 that Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the people obeyed the voice of YHWH/Jehovah and they feared His presence (the Holy Spirit-2:5). Then in verse 14 we are told:
"So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God" ().
The Spirit, through the preaching of Haggai, stirred the people. He brought them to conviction and led them to get back to work on the temple. He will use His word to do the same within us to move us, convict us, and to lead us to godly sorrow and repentance.
Other feelings or emotions the Spirit gives:
· Some of the fruits of the Spirit include emotions.
o Joy, peace
· The Spirit gives us comfort so we can comfort others
· The Spirit encourages us with His word
Words of Caution
Many people feel that the Holy Spirit is leading them in some way. This may or may not be the case. One thing we know for sure is that if you are feeling led to do something that is contrary to the will of God as given in the Bible, the Holy Spirit IS NOT leading you! We must show caution in how we trust our feelings and emotions. Our feelings are subjective. They are not always a trustworthy basis for truth. The Bible is clear that the heart is a deceptive guide:
"He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, But whoever walks wisely will be delivered" ().
"There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death" ().
Take Saul of Tarsus as a key example that we must be careful not to put too much stock in our feelings and intuition:
"Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them" ().
The Spirit has provided an objective standard by which to know the truth: His word. If you have a feeling that the Spirit is leading you/stirring you to do or believe something, ALWAYS submit it to the word of God. If your feeling is based on what you see in scripture, it is possible that the Spirit may be working. Because we study the word of God, it will affect us emotionally. Bible study needs to be more than an intellectual exercise. If we are investing ourselves fully into our service to God, the Spirit will work within us, even within our emotions.
LIVE/WALK ACCORDING TO THE SPIRIT
"For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace" ().
If we set our minds to the things of the Spirit, it will make a difference in our lives. We will live according to the Spirit () or as Paul says in , we will walk in the Spirit. This is the main point that the passage deals with regarding being “led by the Spirit.” If we are led by the Spirit, we will desire to be fruitful, as is described in in the "fruits of the Spirit" passage. If we set our minds on the things of the Spirit, we will naturally have the fruit of the Spirit seen in our lives. We will have "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, [and] self-control"
These things will be in us, and abounding, as Peter says in if we are being led by the Holy Spirit. The trajectory that we, and the world will see in you, is not going in the direction of everyone else in the world. Our trajectory in life being led by the Spirit is different. We desire to do God's will, and as Paul tells us in Romans 812-14, we will By the Spirit Put to death the deeds of the flesh
"we are debtors--not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God" ().
"For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law… And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (; )
Are you being led by the flesh or by the Spirit? This question can be easily answered by asking another question, "Are you, by the Spirit's help, putting to death the deeds of the flesh?"
The Spirit is working in us through His inspired word in His work of sanctification, as we talked about in our last lesson. He began our sanctification process when He regenerated us and took up residence in our bodies, and He continues His work. We need to, as Christians, dig deep into God's word, and allow the Spirit to change us and mold us. If you are being led by the Spirit, you will be living an increasingly Holy life as you grow as a Christian. He will always lead you to obey what He reveals in scripture and get closer to God through it.
Does this describe your life?
The Importance of the Spirit's Leading
Knowing how the Spirit leads is vital to our lives as Christians because being led by the Spirit is evidence that we are Christians.
- “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”
– “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”
If you are not being led by the Holy Spirit, you are not a son of God and you are still under the curse of the law.
Do you as a Spirit-led child of God:
· Set your mind on the things of the Spirit;
· Live/walk according to the Spirit; and
· By the Spirit crucify/put to death the flesh.
If you do not, your soul is in danger. Remember, to be carnally minded is death (). You are at enmity with God (v7) and are not pleasing to Him (v8). You must repent if you claim to be a child of God and are grieving the Spirit who dwells in you.
If you have not yet received the Spirit, the Spirit teaches in His word that He can give new life to your body that is dead because of sin. This happens through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit. God commands you to repent, and to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and He promises to give you His Holy Spirit to dwell in you as His child.