Calvary Road Baptist Church

“LED BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD”

Romans 8.14 & Galatians 5.18

Though my message from God’s Word this morning centered around the Lord Jesus Christ, I did point out two indispensable aspects of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in the lives of those chosen by Jesus Christ to be His disciples, the convicting work of the Holy Spirit before someone becomes a Christian, and the regenerating work that takes place at the moment of the sinner’s conversion to Jesus Christ. This evening is the first of two messages in which I will deal with the Holy Spirit’s ministry in the life of a believer in Jesus Christ, that person who has looked for his soul’s salvation to someone outside himself, who has trusted the crucified, risen, and enthroned savior.

In Mark 16.19, we read, “So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.” From that time until Revelation 19.11, when we look to the prophetic future and see the Lord Jesus Christ atop a white horse returning to earth in triumph to establish His millennial kingdom, we are told no less than twenty different times in the New Testament that Jesus Christ is seated at the Father’s right hand in heaven. Thus, Jesus Christ is the outside-of-you savior by virtue of what He did for you on the cross. On the other hand entirely, the Holy Spirit resides in the bosom of every truly born again Christian. Romans 8.9 makes this assertion about every believer in Jesus Christ: “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” First Thessalonians 4.8 reinforces this truth, where Paul tells new Christians, “God . . . hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.” First Peter 1.11 also sheds light on the Spirit’s indwelling: “Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify.”

It is clear that although all three Persons of the divine Godhead cooperate in the gracious saving and keeping of sinners from conversion all the way to glory, Jesus is primarily shown to be the outside-of-you and enthroned-in-heaven savior, while the Holy Spirit is shown in scripture to be the indwelling and sanctifying Comforter sent by Jesus Christ to represent Him in the believer’s life and to work in the Christian’s personality to produce Christ likeness, spiritual maturity, and godliness. To that end, Christ’s saving work can be simply described as being for the believer (First Peter 3.18: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.”), while the Spirit’s work can be simply described as being in the believer. What Jesus did He did for me, 2000 years ago and thousands of miles away. What the Holy Spirit does, on the other hand, He is presently doing to me while indwelling me.

To this point, what I have said is likely to be agreed to by just about all professing Christians. However, what I am about to say will be at odds with the prevailing views about the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Christian’s life. I say this because I am persuaded that the leading of the Holy Spirit is not what most people in contemporary evangelical circles think it is. I have two texts that I want you to find and read along with me, Romans 8.14 and Galatians 5.18. I last preached on these texts in 2003, so I am sure it is appropriate to revisit this whole matter of being led by the Spirit of God. If you visit our church web site at www.calvaryroadbaptist.org, you can read the sermon posted for 10/12/03A. I urge you to do so when you get home, or to ask me for a sermon manuscript after this evening’s service at the church office. Romans 8.14: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” Galatians 5.18: “But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.” Notice the phrases appearing in those verses, “led of the Spirit” and “led by the Spirit of God.” The Greek word translated “led” is the same root word in both verses.

The question before us is not whether or not the Spirit of God leads Christians. Both verses make that point beyond dispute. The question for us to address this evening is what precisely does it mean to be led by the Spirit? How does the Spirit of God lead? What exactly does He do when the Holy Spirit leads a Christian? Why are the answers to these questions so important? They are important because Christians need to know how the Holy Spirit deals with them, how He provides direction in their lives, and on what basis a Christian’s important decisions in life are properly made.

Three main points for your consideration:

First, WHAT THE LEADING OF THE SPIRIT IS THOUGHT TO BE

It may surprise you to learn that what the leading of the Spirit is presently thought to be by many is not what the leading of the Spirit was once thought to be by most. Today you will hear people say such things as, “When I was praying about what I should do, God said to me that I should do such and such.” Sometimes you will hear a preacher who wants to lend weight to his words and add authority to his bearing by claiming, “God told me to tell you this, so if you have a problem with it take it up with Him.” One Los Angeles area pastor has said for decades that Jesus appeared to him in the mirror one morning while shaving and told him he would do great things. However, he continued shaving; something you would not think would happen from reading what happened in the New Testament when Jesus appeared to people. You never read of Jonathan Edwards making such claims, or William Carey, or Adoniram Judson, or George Whitefield, or John Wesley, John Bunyan, or Martin Luther, or John Calvin. Why not? Because those great men of God did not believe God normally dealt with men in that fashion and made no claim that He ever dealt with them in that fashion.

However, a Chicago area preacher, the now deceased pastor of the largest church in the United States, used to say that he prayed and asked the Holy Spirit to direct him with regard to which turns he would take driving to and from his office, so he would only go by the specific route that God wanted him to drive that day.[1] Oral Roberts talks that way. Joyce Meyers talks that way. T. D. Jakes talks that way. Kenneth Copeland and Bennie Hinn talk that way. So does Jimmy Swaggart. There has been a fundamental shift over the last two hundred years in the United States in what Christians think it means to be led by the Spirit that allows spiritual leaders to make those kinds of claims.

I will not go into the depth that I did when I preached on this topic in 2003, so allow me to concisely state what most professing Christians these days think are prime examples of how the Holy Spirit normally and typically leads Christians:

First, professing Christians these days think of the Spirit’s leading in terms of His prompting, such as we find in Acts 13.1-3:

1      Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.

2      As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.

3      And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.

Those claiming to be led of the Spirit in this way strongly identify with this passage as normative for the prompting of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christians to do what God wants them to do. Thus, they are persuaded that the Holy Spirit tells them who to marry, which job offer to take, which house to buy, when it is time to leave a church, and whether it is appropriate to witness to a certain person at a particular time. A very good friend of mine would use Colossians 3.15 as an evident token of the Spirit’s leading in this way, which reads, “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.” He claimed that if you felt peace about what you were contemplating, the Spirit of God was prompting you to do it.

On the other hand, there is also an example of what is thought to be the Spirit’s prohibiting, found in Acts 16.6-7:

6      Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia,

7      After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not.

The Apostle Paul and his party were heading in a certain direction when they were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the Word of God in the Roman province of Asia. Then, when they intended to go into the region of Bithynia, the Spirit once more would not permit them to do so. How were they forbidden to preach in Asia and then not suffered to go into Bithynia? We are not told precisely how. Was it a verbal warning or a strong impulse of the mind or heart? We do not know, though this type of thing is thought by a great percentage of contemporary Christians to be how the Spirit of God routinely prevents believers from doing what He does not want them to do. For example: It is thought that if the Spirit does not stop you from marrying your fiancé in this way, it must be His will for you to go ahead and marry. If the Spirit does not prevent you from making a risky business decision, then the Spirit obviously permitted you to go ahead and do so.

Allow me to restate in order to be perfectly clear, that I grant that the Spirit of God leads Christians. Will everyone here acknowledge that I have publicly agreed that the Spirit of God does, indeed, lead Christians? However, I challenge the notion that the Spirit of God normally leads by means of “the still small voice, inner voice, inward pressure, inward urging, guiding impulse, inner impression,” or some other similar thing. I do not think the Spirit of God normally leads Christians in that fashion.

Let me explain what I mean with respect to the Spirit stopping the Apostle Paul from preaching in Asia and then stopping him from going into Bithynia. If the Spirit of God originally led Paul by impressions and directions, why did Paul head off in the wrong direction on two occasions and have to be stopped by the Holy Spirit? If he was being led by the Spirit in the fashion most think of today, why did the Spirit stop him? Did the Spirit change His mind? Did the Spirit make a mistake? If the Spirit’s leading is what most today think it is, then there is no valid explanation for the Spirit stopping Paul twice. The reason the Spirit stopped Paul twice is because the leading of the Spirit is normally not to tell people specifically what to do in the course of their lives. How many times did the Spirit of God stop Paul from doing something over the course of his thirty-year career as an apostle? Twice. Twice. Thus, what the Spirit of God did on these two occasions is not what He normally does to lead people, but are very great exceptions to what He normally does. The very same reasoning applies to the Spirit’s separation of Saul and Barnabas in Acts 13.1-3.

Next, WHY IT CANNOT BE THE LEADING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

Why is it that the kid at youth camp who feels led to go to Bible college is not led by the Spirit to make that decision? I am not suggesting at this point that he should not do that. I am pointing out that discerning God’s will is not the result of the Holy Spirit routinely impressing someone to do this or that.

Why is it that one preacher’s claim that he was led to take certain routes from his house to his office by the Spirit of God is erroneous? I am persuaded that such interventions in a Christian’s life that occurred with the Apostle Paul are extremely rare, and are not the routine ways in which the Spirit of God leads people. In other words, my opinion is that preachers who make such claims are either mistaken or was intentionally deceptive.

Why is it a mistake for a young man to fervently pray and ask God to tell him if he should or should not marry the girl he has the hots for? If the Spirit of God wanted you to ask Him what you should do in such cases, why are there so many passages in scripture provided to guide believers to make such decisions on their own? If the Spirit tells you who or who not to marry, you need no passages forbidding marriage to the unsaved; you need no passages warning against marriage to a bossy and loudmouthed woman. Those passages are provided for Christians precisely because the Spirit of God does not normally and routinely give you answers to those kinds of questions. Your guidance is already in the Bible.

What so many wrongly claim to be the Spirit’s leading,

First of all, is subjective rather than objective. When I suggest to you that something is subjective rather than objective, I am saying that too much emphasis is being placed on one’s moods, attitudes, or opinions.[2] Being objective, on the other hand, has to do with that which is not influence by personal feelings, interpretations, or based on prejudice, but that which is based upon facts. The current and erroneous view of being led by the Spirit by means of an inner voice, an inward pressure, an inward urging, a guiding impulse, or an inner impression, results in decisions that cannot be verified by any resort to scripture or by any means external to the mind or heart of the person who claims he is being led. I challenge that way of thinking as being contrary to the way God normally deals with His children.

Second, what so many wrongly claim to be the Spirit’s leading is subtle rather than striking. It is not at all uncommon these days for someone who thinks he is being led by the Spirit of God to make this decision or to not take that action to believe that the Spirit of God speaks by a still small voice. After all, He spoke to Elijah in that way in First Kings 19.12. People base an entire doctrine of the Spirit’s leadership being a quiet whisper on one verse in the Old Testament to one prophet of God atop Mount Sinai almost three thousand years ago. On what basis is that one incident supposed to be the norm for the Spirit’s dealings with Christians? Notice, however, that when the Spirit separated Saul and Barnabas, He spoke audibly so that at least five men heard Him. When the Spirit stopped Paul on two occasions, there was no question what was happening. Thus, while many professing Christians are currently of the opinion that the Spirit’s leading is subtle and understated, such was not the case with the Apostle Paul at any time in his life. Therefore, I once again challenge the modern notion of the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Third, what so many wrongly claim to be the Spirit’s leading is harmful in that it undermines the proper scriptural emphasis on gaining wisdom. God wants His people to be wise, and to grow in wisdom as they mature. However, the essence of wisdom is the making of proper decisions in light of Bible truth and the facts available to you about your circumstances. Wisdom is shown to be important in the Bible, and believers are encouraged to seek wisdom by various means. Yet, if the Spirit of God chooses your route to work, chooses the color of your tie, chooses who you should marry and what job offer to take, then the importance of acquiring wisdom and the necessity of exercising it when making decisions is undermined. Who needs wisdom when every decision is made for you by means of an impression given to you by the Holy Spirit? On the other hand, since we know God wants us to be wise, shows us how to acquire wisdom in our lives, and challenges us to make wise decisions, what most people take for granted as the leadership style of the Holy Spirit is wrong. Why renew the Christian’s mind and give him wisdom in answer to prayer so long as the Holy Spirit makes all the decisions in the end?

Fourth, what so many wrongly claim to be the Spirit’s leading ignores the Spirit’s typical use of means. When working in the Christian’s life to conform him to the image of Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God most typically makes use of various means. That is, He will not grant your request to win the lottery, because by winning the lottery no character is built, no wisdom is acquired, no faith is strengthened, no persecution or suffering is endured to God’s glory. In the same way, the reason the Holy Spirit will not give you short cuts to the lessons of life is because the Christian grows by making tough decisions, by experiencing the effects of those decisions, and by praying that God will through Bible study and godly counsel enable you to exhibit greater wisdom from both your failures and your successes. Preaching, Bible study, the counsel of godly people, delaying your gratifications, submitting to divinely instituted authority, and other such means are by-passed if the Spirit of God supposedly speaks to your heart and tells you what He wants you to do. How does anyone learn anything in the Christian life if the Spirit of God gives you the answers to the test questions? To be sure, the Spirit of God does lead, but He does so not by shortcuts but by Bible instruction, by personal Bible study, by the consensus of like-minded Christians, by the multitude of counsel, by the advice of your spiritual mentors, by the wisdom of experience, and other such things as that.

Fifth, what so many wrongly claim to be the Spirit’s leading is actually a self-authenticating means of fulfilling personal desires. Think about it for a moment. Being able to say, “I was led of God to do that,” trumps any and every objection that could ever be raised against an unwise or irresponsible decision. “I just felt led of God to say that to you,” is a wonderful way to blame God for the fallout of words you should take responsibility for speaking yourself. Concerning the leadership of the Holy Spirit, let me say that I do not believe the Spirit of God “leads” anyone to do anything that is contrary to the clear instruction of God’s Word, and the clear instruction of God’s Word is that service and ministry are to be performed faithfully (First Corinthians 4.2). As well, the Spirit of God works in every Christian’s life to exhibit the spiritual fruit of faith, which is faithfulness (Galatians 5.22).[3] Therefore, considering whether the Holy Spirit leads people by means of supernatural nudges to reveal God’s particular will to them, there is no possible way the Holy Spirit’s guidance of individuals would contradict the revealed will of God for every Christian in the Bible. In the Bible, Christians are directed to be faithful, something that is impossible for anyone to do, for example, who leaves his church. Therefore, the argument that “God led me to leave” is a spurious argument. First John 4.1 reads, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” People who leave their church without the approval and endorsement of the congregation are led by evil spirits, if they are led at all, and they show by their leaving that they are lost. The Spirit does not lead in that way, and even if He did lead in that way, He would never lead anyone to do that. People do not leave their church because they are led to do so, but because they want to do so, and wanting to do so violates God’s will for Christians to be faithful.

Finally, what so many wrongly claim to be the Spirit’s leading is actually the workings of one’s mind misunderstood rather than the guidance of the Spirit rightly understood. Not only is the heart of a sinner deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, Jeremiah 17.9, but even Christians are warned against the possibility of self-deception, in James chapter one. The mind of even the most spiritual person is sometimes a complicated maze of contradictions. That is why Christ’s own are called to submit to the church relationship, for mutual edification and correction, for instruction and accountability, and for training and correction. It is within the context of the church that training and accountability is found, that doctrine and correction takes place. Notice what we find in Hebrews 13.7 and 17:

7      Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.

17     Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

Within the context of commitment to your local church, a pastor has the liberty to confront you about unscriptural notions and foolish errors. However, that person who claims that what she says or does she was led of God to do has effectively eliminated her pastor’s ability to deal with her. What about other members dealing with you about such things? You are already familiar with Matthew 18.15 and following. Consider also Galatians 6.1: “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” However, the person who claims, “God told me to do it,” is beyond the reach of even a fellow church member to lovingly correct. After all, she claims the Holy Spirit led her. That makes her infallible and beyond the reach of any correction.

Finally, WHAT THE LEADING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT MUST BE

In Hebrews 5.12-14, we read a strong rebuke written to believers:

12     For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.

13     For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.

14     But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

We do not have time to thoroughly analyze this passage and its context, but this one thing should be considered before we conclude: Why rebuke Christians for not learning their Bibles better so they would become more mature and be more skillful to discern both good and evil if God’s plan is for them to seek and then discover the Spirit’s leading by means of impressions and “supernatural nudges” that tell them what their decisions in life should be?

This passage argues powerfully that the Spirit of God does not ordinarily and typically point believers in the directions they should go by means of impressions and promptings. He can, and on rare occasions I have no doubt that He does, particularly when He calls men to the gospel ministry. But routinely, normally, typically, the child of God has been given his Bible to learn and gain wisdom from, as the Spirit gives him increased understanding through study, the teaching of his pastor, and the experiences of life.

Thus, when Paul refers to being “led of the Spirit” and being “led by the Spirit of God” in Romans and Galatians, he is referring to a person who holds God’s Word in high estimation, who studies God’s Word, and who is guided by God’s Word. After all, the Spirit of God is the Author of this Book, which was written for us and given to us by the Holy Spirit to guide us.

If you leave Calvary Road Baptist Church, don’t blame it on the Holy Spirit “leading” you. It will be the result of your own sinful folly.

If you wrongly quit your job, don’t blame it on the Spirit’s promptings. Take responsibility for your own actions, and quit blaming God for your own foolishness.

Can God intervene in a Christian’s life any time He wants to? Of course, He can. On rare occasions He does. But normally, typically, routinely, God’s plan is for you to pray for illumination so you might understand God’s Word better when studying, submit to God’s plan whereby pastors equip you for the work of the ministry, and exercise wisdom and judgment in making decisions that you hope will glorify God.

There have been two times when God provided a specific and definite prompting to turn the course of my life: The first time was when God revealed His will that I enter the gospel ministry, something I would never have otherwise done. I do not think men should contemplate the gospel ministry apart from a definite call to the ministry. There are too many uncalled men in the ministry these days. The second time was when I stepped onto this platform for the first time as a guest speaker just short of twenty-six years ago. In a way I cannot explain, though this church had already called a man to replace the founding pastor, I was given to know that God would place me here as the next pastor. Over the course of several weeks, with me doing nothing to move events along, that is exactly what God did.

So, there is the way the Spirit of God normally and typically leads God’s people, through the ministry of the Word. Let us study God’s Word. Let us listen to preaching. Let us seek wisdom for good decision-making. Then, if God wants to give you some special directive, He is perfectly capable of doing that without ever contradicting what He has written in the Bible.

Thus, we know that a woman will never be called to the gospel ministry. A man will never receive special promptings from God to marry another man. No one will ever be led of God's Spirit to embark on some parachurch ministry that stands apart from the local church.

Be sure and read the 119th Psalm when you go home, to see how God uses His Word to lead and guide His people.



[1] According to a statement he made in a Pastor’s School at First Baptist Church, Hammond, Indiana that I attended.

[2] Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), page 1893.

[3] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 517.

 

 

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