“INNER PROMPTING? I DON’T THINK SO!”
1. This morning we will slay a sacred cow. If you are not familiar with the term, sacred cow refers to something that is considered to be exempt from criticism or questioning.
2. The sacred cow that we will slay this morning is the popular opinions that professing Christians have about being “led by the Holy Spirit.” What most people are referring to when they make comments like “God told me to do this,” or “I was led of God to do that,” or “the Holy Spirit impressed me to tell you something,” is not only wholly and completely unscriptural, but is also an unspiritual attempt to shift responsibility for a personal decision a person is making to God. Thus, if the decision turns out to be a bad one, it’s God’s fault.
3. Consider a church member in some southern California evangelical church who has created a problem with the pastor or with another church member that he is not willing to properly resolve. Rather than do the right thing and reconcile with that other member, or humble himself and seek forgiveness, he will leave the church, saying “God told me to do this.” And he does this as a way of shifting the responsibility for his wicked behavior to God, and white wash it so that it appears to be holy, when it is actually defiled.
4. The primary verse in God’s Word that people use to justify such nonsense, to shift blame away from themselves and onto God, is Romans 8.14. Please turn to that verse. When you find our text stand and read along with me while I read aloud: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”
5. The question before us is not whether the Spirit of God is able to lead the believer, or whether the Holy Spirit of God does lead the believer. The question before us is what it is to be led by the Spirit of God and how the Spirit’s leading is accomplished.
6. Three lines of thinking for your consideration before this morning’s sermon:
1A. First, THE COMMONLY ACCEPTED MEANING OF OUR TEXT
1B. I have been a Christian for thirty years. I came to Christ here in southern California, and my first exposure to southern California Christianity after my conversion was while worshiping with professing Christians of the Charismatic and new evangelical persuasion. I mention that to assure you that I speak with some authority on the subject, having been familiar with southern California Christians for a long time.
2B. Whether it is a Pentecostal, or a Charismatic, or some new evangelical Christian, it is almost universally held to be true that the Spirit of God leads Christians by means of what I will call “a supernatural nudge.” Such a leading is some type of inner witness that supposedly communicates God’s perfect will to you, or prompts you to do what God wants you and only you to do.
3B. Independent Baptists may remember a preacher named Jack Hyles. He claimed such leadings of God’s Spirit in his life that he said he prayed for and got specific directions from the Holy Spirit concerning what tie to wear in the morning when putting on a suit, which street to drive on to the church office, and other such things. What Jack Hyles claimed as being true in his Christian life is exactly parallel to the claims that are typically made by those I refer to as southern California Christians; the Charismatic, the Pentecostal, and the new evangelical crowd. Sadly, this is also the philosophy embraced by many otherwise good Baptist brethren.
4B. To restate then, the commonly accepted meaning of our text is that the Holy Spirit of God leads believers by imparting to individual Christians something akin to impressions, knowledge, directives, or some such thing that enables the child of God to gain specific insight concerning a definite course of action to take or decision to make. Those who hold this view also encourage believers to pray for and seek such individual, specific, authoritative direction from God, from the Holy Spirit, or from the Lord Jesus Christ.
5B. My friends, I have no doubt that God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit can provide such direction to Christians. Numerous verses in the Bible can be cited showing this very thing. What I challenge is that such is the meaning of our text, whether such is the norm for the Christian, and whether such specific communiqués from God the Father, from the Savior, and from the Holy Spirit should be sought by Christians in their desire to know and do God’s will.
2A. Next, WHAT THE TEXT REALLY TEACHES
1B. I consulted a number of credible commentators, just to show you that I am not attempting to foist my own isolated opinion about this text on you. Let me read their pertinent comments:
1C. John Murray, who was a professor of systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, wrote, “‘Led by the Spirit’ implies that they are governed by the Spirit and the emphasis is placed upon the activity of the Spirit and the passivity of the subjects.” What he wrote is good. But my question is, Governed by the Spirit how?
2C. James Dunn, not our friend here in church, but the author of two volumes of the Word Biblical Commentary, writes about this leading of the Spirit these words: “Paul clearly thinks of the leading of the Spirit in terms of strong inner conviction, of deeply felt compulsion being allowed expression in conduct and lifestyle.” I am all for strong inner conviction and deeply felt compulsion. But I would ask, How does this strong inner conviction, this deeply felt compulsion, come about?
3C. My old Scottish Baptist friend from the 19th century, Robert Haldane, wrote in his commentary on Romans, “The manner in which the Spirit leads them is not by violence against their inclination, but by bending and changing their will, in a manner consistent with its nature.” While Haldane does not express what he thinks are the means by which the Spirit of God leads a Christian, what he understands does rightly stand in opposition to what most people today wrongly think. You see, most professing Christians these days do not think the Spirit of God bends or changes the will of a Christian, but merely informs them what they should do.
4C. We begin to really get somewhere when we read what William Hendriksen had to say. “What, then, does the leading of the Spirit - to change from the passive to the active voice - actually mean? It means sanctification.” In other words, the leading of the Spirit has to do with progress toward greater spiritual maturity and holiness, not promptings and directives.
5C. John Mac Arthur wrote these words: “Believers are not led through subjective, mental impressions of promptings to provide direction in making life’s decisions - something Scripture nowhere teaches. Instead, God’s Spirit objectively leads His children sometimes through the orchestration of circumstances (Acts 16:7) but primarily through: 1) illumination, divinely clarifying Scripture to make it understandable to our sinful, finite minds (Luke 24:44, 45; 1 Cor. 2:14-16; Eph. 1:16-17; cf. Eph. 3:16-19; Col. 1:9); and 2) sanctification, divinely enabling us to obey Scripture (Gal. 5:16, 17; 5:25).” Though wrong about Lordship salvation and the blood of Christ, Mac Arthur is right about this.
2B. The simple fact of the matter is that in Romans 8.14 the apostle Paul made reference to the fact that believers are led by the Spirit of God. But Paul provided no information in that verse, or in the immediate context in which that verse was written, that shows us by what means the Spirit of God leads believers.
3B. Since it was Paul who wrote our text, would it not be a good idea to examine how Paul typically behaved, and whether there is any suggestion in his writings that he typically asked God for, or typically received from God, supernatural nudges and promptings to indicate to him what God wanted him to do?
1C. Turn to First Thessalonians 3.1: “Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone.” Examine the context on your own, but what Paul is saying here is that a decision was made because they thought it was a good idea. “. . . we thought it good to be left at Athens alone.” Paul and his party did what they thought was best.
2C. Now turn to Philippians 2.25: “Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants.” Paul sent Epaphroditus from Rome back to Philippi because . . . he supposed it necessary. In other words, Paul thought it was the right thing to do.
3C. First Corinthians 16.4: “And if it be meet that I go also, they shall go with me.” Here Paul indicates that, if he thinks it is a good idea he will take the special offering to Jerusalem himself, and the people they delegate to go can go with him. As things turned out, Paul did go to Jerusalem with the offering. He did think it was a good idea to go, so he went.
4C. Folks, we know that there was a time when the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus. We know that, later, when he changed his name to Paul, the Lord Jesus Christ spoke to him. And we know that on two occasions the Holy Spirit actually stopped him from doing what he had decided on his own to do.
5C. But the evidence shows that in the life of the great apostle Paul, except on those momentous occasions where the course of history hinged on the outcome of specific decisions he made, God worked through him as he made his own decisions. And even on those occasions when God intervened into Paul’s decision making processes, He did not do so by means of inner impressions or promptings, but by means of some external supernatural revelation.
4B. Thus, though our text does teach that the Spirit of God leads Christians, He does so by means of Scriptural truth that the believer comes to understand, and within the context that the Christian life is lived in obedience to the objective truth of the Word of God. Thus, “that ministry of the Spirit in which He guides the believer through personal impressions and inner peace with the heart to reveal God’s individual will” is not a Scriptural understanding of how the Spirit provides leadership for a Christian.
3A. Finally, DEBUNKING THE MYSTICAL VIEW OF THE SPIRIT’S LEADING
1B. There have been times when God spoke directly to men. I do not dispute that such things have occurred. Neither do I dispute that God actually leads His children, or that the Spirit of God actually leads Christians. What I dispute is the commonly held notion that the Spirit of God provides inward impressions and promptings to believers to enable them know which street to drive down, to know which skirt to wear, to know which job offer to accept, to know which house to make an offer on, or to know who you should marry.
2B. The idea that the Spirit of God provides direct guidance to individual Christians by means of inward impressions, and by means of promptings that God has imparted to one person and no one else, is mysticism. Let me read from an article by Dr. Peter Masters, the pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, England, so you will see what is wrong with mysticism:
A dictionary will tell us that a mystic is a person who tries to achieve union with deity by techniques of contemplation or self-surrender. Also a mystic believes that it is possible to know facts or truths hidden from ordinary understanding. Like the clairvoyant, he often claims to have an ability to perceive things which are ‘out of sight’, and cannot be discovered by the ordinary operation of the human mind. It is sad to see how all this has stolen into Christianity.
To look at it another way, mysticism is something which is entirely internal. If I am a mystic, I do not get my information from outside myself, as I would if reading the Bible or watching a scientific experiment. I ‘perceive’ things entirely within myself.
Take, for example, Moses and the burning bush. He saw something - a great sight, an amazing miracle. He observed it. He did not produce this idea within his own brain. When he drew near, he heard the voice of God clearly sounding from that bush. A lucid, audible revelation, accompanied by a visible reality, came to his senses from outside himself, and he understood, grasped and believed it.
That is the opposite of mysticism. Mystical ideas are hatched entirely within me. I dream them up by an entirely internal process. They are the product of my imagination.
3B. Say you get an impression, a prompting, a sense of direction. Or, say you suddenly feel that you have been persuaded of the necessity of some course of action. Upon what basis can the claim be made that the Spirit of God provided leadership at that point? How do you know the impulse or the persuasion comes from the Holy Spirit? Why could it not have come from an angel, or a demon, or even the devil himself? Why do you think the apostle John wrote First John 4.1? “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God.” And how do you try the spirits? We are told in the Bible how to try the spirits, or how to test the spirits. My friend, you need something more reliable than some feeling about what you should do. You need something far more authoritative than personal persuasion that you should pursue a certain course of action.
4B. Turn to Hebrews 11.1. We know that God normally and typically deals with people through faith, and not by means of some internal impression or feeling. The phrase “The just shall live by faith” is found three times in the New Testament; Romans 1.17, Galatians 3.11 and Hebrews 10.38. So, living by faith is God’s plan for His people. But what is it to live by faith? Hebrews 11.1 provides some insight: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
5B. From this verse in God’s Word we can see that whatever else faith is, it is not something you can see. Thus, faith is not connected to your senses. By extension, faith is not something you can hear, smell, feel, or taste either. What is faith? Faith is trust. And for the Christian who already trusts Christ, faith is trusting the Word of God.
6B. Thus, we know that internal impressions and promptings are not the usual and typical way God deals with His people. That’s mysticism and mysticism is not Bible Christianity. But neither is the Christian to live his life according to what he sees, or hears, or smells, or tastes, or touches. Walking by sight is the opposite of walking by faith, and God definitely wants us to walk by faith.
1. The subject that we are addressing this morning is vast. The sacred cow that we are slaughtering is an old familiar friend to many professing Christians, despite how unscriptural and dishonoring to God it is.
2. Yet we have seen some evidence that shows that while the Spirit of God does lead Christians, He does not do so by means of inner impressions, promptings, and what I have called supernatural nudges.
3. But we have also seen that though we are to live by faith and do His blessed will, faith is not associated with sight, sound, taste, touch and smell.
4. This can be quite perplexing for some people, who wonder . . . If I am not to rely on what is inside me, and I am not to rely on what I can perceive outside me, what am I to rely on for God’s will and direction in my life? How does the Spirit of God lead me if He does not impress me internally and does not want me to rely on my senses outwardly?
5. The Word of God, the Bible. When you go home today, sit down and read the 119th Psalm. When you do you will see by what means the Spirit of God leads the children of God.
6. Now, before this morning’s sermon, brother Isenberger comes to lead us as we stand to sing.
1. Our text is Romans 8.14, which reads, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”
2. I maintain that the Holy Spirit of God does lead Christians, but that He typically does not lead Christians by means of supernatural nudges, impressions, promptings, inner impulses, and such things as that.
3. I am not denying that a person will have feelings that he ought to do certain things, convictions that it is God’s will that he pursue a course of action. Neither do I deny that God departs from His normal course when He calls a man to the gospel ministry.
4. I am only asserting that the Spirit of God does not make the will of God known for a Christian so that he will know what car to buy, what major to pursue in college, what person to marry, or what tie to wear, by means of what I call the “supernatural nudge.”
5. I maintain that God’s will is determined by a careful study of God’s Word, added to a spiritual willingness to submit to God’s will, and culminating with a decision based upon your best wisdom at the time as you seek to glorify God in your life.
6. Three items for your consideration as you ponder the sacred cow I am attempting to kill this morning, in an effort to return the responsibility for people’s decisions back to themselves, where such responsibility belongs, rather than trying to blame God for foolish decisions, and for hypocritically trying to justify sinful behavior by claiming that God led you to do it:
1A. First, CONSIDER THE HOLY SPIRIT’S PROHIBITIONS OF PAUL
1B. In Acts 16.6-7 we read these words: “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, After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not.”
2B. My friends, these two verses are usually cited as proof to support the claim that the Holy Spirit typically leads Christians by impressing them with His will by means of an inner impulse, or what I have referred to as a “supernatural nudge.”
3B. While these two verses very clearly show that the Holy Spirit can do such a thing any time He chooses, these two verses also provide evidence that the Holy Spirit typically does not do such a thing, and Paul did not usually expect such a thing. Several things to notice in these two verses:
1C. First, there is no evidence anywhere in the Bible that Paul ever asked the Spirit of God to influence his direction of travel by means of any prompting. On the contrary, Acts 16.7, where it reads “they assayed to go to Bithynia,” clearly shows that Paul and his party were on their way to Bithynia because they thought it was a good idea. It was their choice to head that direction.
2C. Second, Paul and his party were initially planning on traveling to Asia, which was due west of their location, but were in some way (we do not know how) forbidden by the Holy Spirit. Then, when they decided to head north, the Spirit suffered them not. Stopped from going west and then stopped from turning back to the east, they ended up in the northwest portion of what is now the Turkish peninsula. In other words, divine intervention occurred only when Paul’s decisions would have taken them away from where God wanted them to be for Paul to get his Macedonian vision, followed by his journey into Europe.
3C. Folks, if Paul had typically been “led by the Spirit,” in the fashion most think of it today, the Holy Spirit would not have twice stopped him, he would have known exactly where to go. Thus, it seems that the intervention of the Spirit of God into Paul’s decision making processes only happened when Paul’s decisions would have resulted in his missionary journey heading east when God wanted the gospel taken to the west and into Europe.
4B. If you insist on Paul depending upon the “supernatural nudges” of the Holy Spirit as a routine habit of life, then you are left with two bad consequences of such thinking. Either the Holy Spirit led Paul to head one direction during his morning prayers and seeking the Spirit’s directions for the day, and then, changed His mind . . . twice, or Paul twice had clear direction from the Spirit’s leading but chose to disobey until he was forcibly stopped by the Holy Spirit.
5B. I think my understanding is better, that Paul typically exercised his own informed and consecrated judgment about where he would go, but in this single instance the stakes were so high, and Paul was heading in a direction so contrary to what God wanted for the spread of the gospel, that the Spirit turned him around. Unusual. Unique. Not something you can expect to happen to you.
2A. Next, CONSIDER THE ENTIRE SUBJECT OF WISDOM
1B. If southern California Christians are right, and the Spirit of God provides specific impressions and promptings for everyday decision making, what role is wisdom supposed to play in a Christian’s life? Consider this subject of wisdom. Wisdom has to do with making decisions. Yet Christians who are always told by God what to do don’t need to make wise decisions. They just need to pray and ask for direction and wait for an impression, so they can say, “God told me to do this.”
2B. What is wrong with this picture? What is wrong with this picture is that God wants you to be wise. You are commanded to pray for wisdom, challenged to seek wisdom, and encouraged to use wisdom. James 1.5 reads, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”
3B. So, we are directed to pray for wisdom, told that God gives wisdom, yet there is no need for wisdom since we can just ask the Holy Spirit for some type of leading or impression and won’t have to make any decisions ourselves? There is a conflict between what most Christians think about the leading of the Holy Spirit and what the Bible teaches about wisdom.
4B. Colossians 3.16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom.” “Walk in wisdom,” Colossians 4.5. Acts 6.3: “Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.” Folks, the first deacons were chosen, in part, because they had wisdom, enabling them to make good decisions.
5B. To restate, then, wisdom is not necessary to someone whose decisions are made for him, whose directions in life are pointed out to him by impressions and bits of information given only to him. But if God’s plan is for you to make your own decisions, and to either enjoy the benefits of good decisions or the consequences of bad decisions, then you need wisdom and will be encouraged in God’s Word to seek wisdom. That is exactly what we see in Scripture, proving that the Spirit of God does not lead in the fashion so many professing Christians think He does. Rather, He leads through the Word that He inspired.
3A. Finally, CONSIDER THE MATTER OF CHRISTIAN MATURITY
1B. 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.
2B. 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?
3B. 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.
1. 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.
2. If you 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.
3. 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 Christians to pray for illumination so they might understand God’s Word better when studying, submit to God’s plan whereby pastors equip them for the work of the ministry, and exercise wisdom and judgment in making decisions that you hope will glorify God.
4. 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 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. And over the course of several weeks, with me doing nothing to move events along, that is exactly what God did.
5. 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.
6. Thus, 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 to embark on some parachurch ministry that stands apart from your local church.
7. Be sure and read the 119th Psalm when you go home today, to see how God uses His Word to lead and guide His people.
New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes &
Noble Books, 1996), page 1689.
 Matthew 17.5; Acts
18.9-10; Acts 13.2
 John Murray, The
Epistle To The Romans, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans
Publishing Co., 1990), page 295.
 James D. G. Dunn, Word Biblical Commentary Romans
1-8, (Waco, Texas: Word Publishers, 1998), page 459.
 Robert Haldane, Commentary
on Romans, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1992), page
Hendricksen, Exposition of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, (Grand
Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1990), page 256.
 See footnote for
Romans 8.14 from John MacArthur, The
MacArthur Study Bible, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997),
 Garry Friesen with
J. Robin Maxson, Decision
Making & the Will of God, (Portland, Oregon: Multnomah
Press, 1980), page 53.
 From an article he wrote in Sword and Trowel titled “The precise nature of Communion with God and what it feels like”.