“LED BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD?”
In the first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis, God takes us from the creation of the universe, and all that herein is, to the creation of the first man and woman. Then He takes us from the placing of the man into the Garden of Eden to the placing of another man, Jacob, and his family, in Egypt. In the years between the time periods covered by the first book of the Bible, Genesis, and the second book of the Bible, Exodus, Jacob’s family has grown into a nation and has been enslaved. The books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua provide for us the history and details related to Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage and their entrance into and their settlement in the Promised Land. In the book of Judges we find the Israelites in a situation unlike they have experienced since they flourished and became a nation. Whereas, they had once been under the rule of Pharaoh, and then under the leadership of God’s men, Moses and Joshua, from the death of Joshua the Israelites found themselves dealing more directly with God than with any man who ruled over them or who represented God. It is true that God did raise up judges from time to time to deliver His people from their various oppressors, but by and large the people drifted spiritually. The situation was so bad that two different verses in the book of Judges make this comment about the conduct of God’s people: “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” They could not have done that even under Pharaoh. And what seemed right in their own eyes? To one man, what seemed right was idolatry. To another man, what seemed right was polygamy. To another man, what seemed right was intermarriage with the nations. Just about everything a man wanted to do he could justify because, to him, it seemed like the right thing to do. So, in effect, their attitude was, “Let your conscience be your guide,” but their consciences were seared.
In our day we have Christians, as opposed to Israelites, who claim to be very different than the Jews were during the times of the Judges. Whereas the Jews had no king, so every man did that which was right in his own eyes, so-called Christians these days are supposedly indwelt by the Holy Spirit, Who they say leads them and guides them and lives right inside them. The Jews during the times of the Judges were a lawless people. There was a law, the Law of God, the Law of Moses, given on Mount Sinai. But there was no king to enforce the Law, so every person basically did what he wanted to do. What guidance do so-called Christians have these days? How is a Christian these days supposed to know what to do, which direction to take, what decision to make? The most common answer that would come from self-identified evangelicals would be somehow related to the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
To phrase it another way, many evangelical Christians, as well as many fundamentalist Christians, would say that the way to avoid behaving like the Jews did during the times of the Judges, the way to avoid doing that which is right in your own eyes, is to submit to the Holy Spirit’s leadership, to be led by the Holy Spirit of God. For one person it could be an impression on the heart made by the Spirit of God to verify that it was God’s will for you to marry a certain man. Another person would know which of two jobs offers to take because of the guidance given by the Holy Spirit. Jack Hyles, 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.
Many would say that seeking God’s direction for such things trivializes the search for God’s direction in one’s life, but that for serious matters and important things God’s will is to be searched out and can be found when the Holy Spirit of God works by means of “the still small voice, inner voice, inward pressure, inward urging, guiding impulse, inner impression,” or some other similar thing. What would be the Scriptural justification for seeking such guidance for your life? Romans 8.14. Please turn to that verse. When you have found Romans 8.14, please stand and we will read that verse together: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” Galatians 5.18 is a similar verse: “But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.” But due to constraints of time today, we will concentrate on the verse that is most frequently used to claim that the Spirit of God leads Christians by means of “the still small voice, inner voice, inward pressure, inward urging, guiding impulse, inner impression,” or some other similar thing.
May 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? What I want to address during this exposition time is whether or not the Spirit of God 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 He does.
“This verse is often quoted as proof of the idea that the Holy Spirit leads believers through inner impressions into the ideal will of God. The word ‘led’ certainly looks like guidance, and the Agent of leading is the Holy Spirit. The context, however, deals a death blow to such an understanding of this passage. Negatively, there are three considerations: First, the context is not dealing with daily decision making in nonmoral areas. Second, neither the verse itself nor the near context give any indication that the means of the leading is by inward ‘impressions.’ Furthermore, there is no hint that the goal of the leading is directed toward the individual will of God . . . The word ‘led’ is a common, nontechnical word which does not in itself indicate either the goal or the means of the leading.”
“What the apostle Paul is discussing in this passage is righteous living. The answers to the problems of slavery to sin (raised in Romans 7:7-25) are given in chapter 8:1-17. The issue in question is not anything like the choice between two possible home sites or the decision to buy a new suit. The issue is set forth in a series of vivid, mutually exclusive contrasts: good versus evil (7:19); the law of sin and death versus the law of the Spirit of life (8:2); life according to the flesh versus life according to the Spirit (8:5); being hostile to God versus pleasing God (8:7-8); being in the flesh versus being in the Spirit (8:8-9); being indwelt by the Spirit versus not having the Spirit of Christ (8:9); and, finally, living according to the Spirit versus putting to death the deeds of the body (8:13, which is the immediate context). What Paul is talking about is experiential conformity to the moral will of God.”
“In this context, ‘being led by the Spirit of God’ is another way of describing life ‘according to the Spirit’ in which the Christian is ‘putting to death the deeds of the body.’ The leading is guidance into the moral will of God to do what is pleasing to Him. Obedience to that will would be impossible apart from the life-changing presence and empowering of the Holy Spirit (8:6,13). While the means of the Spirit’s leading is not emphasized, the goal of His direction is the clearly revealed, moral will of God (7:12, 14, 22; 8:3-4).” Beloved, “Romans 8:14 must not be interpreted apart from its context. Even considered alone, the verse would not prove guidance through inner impressions indicating an individual will of God. But in context, the meaning is transparent: Sons of God are those who are led by the Holy Spirit to put to death the deeds of the flesh and accomplish the moral will of God.”
So you see, from what Paul tells us in Romans 8.14, to be led by the Spirit of God is not in any way similar to receiving specific and individual guidance from God regarding what route to drive to work, which of two Christian men a Christian woman should marry, what course of study to pursue in college, or even how much money to give to missions. Thus, when answering the question “What is it to be led of the Spirit?” it can be answered that whatever it is, it is not what most professing Christians think it is. In fact, it is the general and nonspecific-to-individuals guidance that God provides to every Christian to be a good and godly Christian, to eschew evil, and to submit to God’s known will as it is revealed in Scripture.
The next question is “How does the Spirit lead in this way?”
In about two months I will have been the pastor of this church for eighteen years. Over the course of my term as your pastor I have held views that are decidedly different than other pastors I know, decidedly different than the founding pastor of this church. Among those differences that I have with most other pastors, there is the subject of being led by the Holy Spirit of God. While most pastors teach more or less about how “God led me to do this” or “God led me to do that,” you have not in my eighteen years here heard me voice such statements, with two exceptions: I do believe the Spirit of God dealt with me in an individual and specific way to make known to me my calling into the gospel ministry. I do also believe the Spirit of God dealt with me in an individual and specific way to make known to me His will that I become the pastor of this Church.
Those are the only two times in my life that I am certain the Spirit of God led me in the fashion most people think the Spirit of God leads men. I am not aware of any other times in my life when I have been so led of God, as people would say, and I do not think the Word of God advises or commands Christians to seek God’s direction for living in this fashion. I did not seek God’s calling into the gospel ministry. I did not seek this pastorate. On both occasions I was at the time very happy where I was, doing what I was doing. However, doing God’s will and serving Him would not have occasioned my entering the ministry or becoming the pastor of this church. Therefore, without my seeking specific guidance from God, God provided it on two occasions.
My understanding of Romans 8.14, as well as my understanding of Galatians 5.18, different than preachers you have recently heard, convinces me that the modern day concept of being led by the Holy Spirit is a terrible distortion of what God means in the Bible by being led by the Spirit. To further convince you that to be led by the Spirit does not mean God will use His Spirit to decide for you which person to marry, which job to take, which direction to drive to work, which tie to wear, how much to give to missions, and other such decisions that are not decisions between right and wrong, between good and evil, but are options that God intends you to make decisions about, I will lay before you two very simple considerations:
First, THERE ARE THE EXPERIENCES OF THE APOSTLE PAUL
Please keep in mind, as we review these extraordinary experiences of Paul, that he served as an apostle of Jesus Christ for approximately thirty years, and that during that time he was without doubt the most spiritual and anointed Christian who walked the face of the earth. It would be surprising to find a mature Christian who would claim that anyone was more familiar with the filling and the personal ministry of the Holy Spirit than was Paul. That said, ponder these few experiences Paul had with the Holy Spirit:
First, there is Acts 16.6: “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.” Consider this: Paul and his party were of a mind to travel in a certain direction to preach God’s Word and plant churches. But the Spirit of God forbade it. Now, at first glance this might seem to support the notion that the Holy Spirit would normally lead Paul to head in one direction rather than another. But if that was the usual case, would not Paul have sought and gotten the Spirit’s direction when he first set out? If so, why the change in direction?
Next, there is Acts 16.7: “After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not.” In this verse we read that Paul and his party attempted to go into Bithynia. But somehow the Spirit of God would not allow them to proceed. Again, we have a verse that, at first glance, seems to support the notion that the Spirit of God normally provides directions for Paul to travel. But wait! If the Spirit of God had normally provided what some would call “leading,” why did Paul and his party attempt to head in one direction and find that the Spirit did not permit them to go where they had intended to go?
Third, there is Acts 16.9-10: “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.” This night vision culminates a series of divine interventions that radically altered the course and direction of Paul’s life and ministry. Had the Spirit of God not intervened these three times Paul and the gospel effort would have headed east. After the Spirit’s interventions the main thrust of Paul’s efforts were west, into what we know today as Europe. But rather than substantiate the claim that the Spirit of God normally works by a series of impressions or nudges or still small voices, these three occasions show that the opposite is the case. Had Paul and his party normally been led and guided by the Spirit of God regarding which city to go to next, which region to preach in next, which province to evangelize next, these three unusual divine interventions would not have occurred. What these three unusual divine interventions show us is that Paul and his party typically decided, using their best judgment and the facts available to them, where to travel to and preach the gospel, but that God had a specific goal and destination for Paul apart from His usual dealings with men. Thus, what we have with these three closely related incidents is an example of the fact that while the Spirit of God may deal with a servant of God in an unusual and exceptional way to make His will specifically known, that is not the pattern with most Christians.
Fourth, Acts 18.9-10: “Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city.” Run out of Thessalonica after three weeks, run out of Berea after only a couple of weeks, then an unreceptive crowd in Athens, Paul now finds himself in Corinth. I think he is shaken and discouraged. He does not yet know that the church plant in Thessalonica took root and was flourishing. Things have been moving too fast for him to know what is going on. He is close to the limits of his ability to endure and deal with adversity. Then comes this great encouragement from the Lord. Paul is now reassured. He is comforted. All will be well. Divine intervention to make sure Paul did not come apart, to bolster him.
Fifth, there is Acts chapter 27. No need to read from this chapter, except to say that as Paul was being transported to Rome by a Roman centurion a terrible storm threatened the lives of those aboard ship. To give Paul assurance that he would reach Rome safely, to prevent the centurion from killing his prisoner when the ship would later be beached, and to give specific instructions that would save his life during the time of the shipwreck, Paul testified that he had been visited by an angel. Thus, in the course of some thirty years of faithful and spiritual service to the Savior, Paul had really had only three what you might call episodes in which intervention was needful to provide specific direction for the conduct of his life and ministry. The first episode was to make sure Paul traveled westward instead of eastward, literally changing the course of human history. The second episode was to make sure the apostle of Jesus Christ was able to continue functioning and that he did not break down from discouragement. The third episode was to keep Paul alive, making sure he reached Rome.
“Lord, which suit should I wear today?” “Father, which route should I drive home?” “I need the Spirit’s guidance to know how much money I should set aside each week to give to missions.” There is no indication in the life of the apostle Paul that such detailed decision making was routinely made for him by the Holy Spirit. Neither is there anything in the Bible that suggests such point by point guidance is provided for any other Christian. This is not to say that the Spirit of God does not retain the sovereign right to intervene in the normal decision making processes of the Christian life to make known His specific will. This happened three times with Paul. It may happen with you. But it is entirely possible that a spiritual Christian could live out his life without such episode occurring. Paul’s life was most unusual. He was, after all, an apostle of Jesus Christ. He was also sovereignly chosen by God to play an important role in the advance of the gospel to the west. Thus, to direct him westward, to prevent complete discouragement during a time of great trial, and to keep him alive until he completed his mission, God intervened in unusual ways.
Then, THERE IS THE EXHORTATION OF JAMES
James 1.5 provides the most compelling argument against the notion that the Spirit of God ordinarily leads by means of “the still small voice, inner voice, inward pressure, inward urging, guiding impulse, inner impression,” or some other similar thing. The verse 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.” God gives wisdom.
First, let us determine what wisdom is. The Greek word that is used here, sophia, refers to “the capacity to understand and act accordingly.” Stated another way, wisdom is “the understanding and practical skill that was necessary to live life to God’s glory.”
Second, how do you get this wisdom? From James 1.5, we see that one way to get this wisdom is to pray and ask God for it. Had we the time, I could show you that such wisdom can also be acquired through a study of God’s Word, through the experiences of the Christian life, and through the preaching of God’s Word. But it is important to note here that wisdom is given by God.
The final question, before I begin to conclude this message, is why does God give wisdom? Think about that, my friend, because this question is vital to this issue of what the leadership of the Holy Spirit really is. Are you ready for the answers? First, God gives Christians wisdom so that they will know how to make their own decisions. Does that not make sense? I mean, why would anyone need wisdom unless and until he needed to make his own decisions. God gives wisdom to His children so that His children can make the decisions about life and service and ministry that God wants them to make, and that He would make for them if He made all their decisions for them. Second, God gives wisdom because He does not make your decisions for you. Grab that thought. The reason God gives wisdom, the reason Christians need wisdom, is because God will not decide for you which woman to marry, which man to marry, how much to give to missions, which major to pursue in college. Hello? If the Holy Spirit provided moment by moment leadership in the way most so-called Christians imagine, there would be no need for wisdom. That God gives wisdom proves that being led by the Spirit is not what most people think it is or hope it is, because they do not want to be responsible to God for their decisions.
Allow me to restate several things before leaving you with an important thought: First, the Holy Spirit does lead and guide Christians, but He only rarely leads and guides Christians in the way most so-called Christians think He does typically and normally leads. The Holy Spirit is quite capable of intervening in the normal decision making processes of anyone’s life, and providing specific directions and instructions, such as we saw happen on several occasions with Paul. But that does not normally happen to very many Christians or very often in any Christian’s life. What typically happens in the lives of most Christians is that when they are converted they have a real appetite for God’s Word, for preaching, and for fellowship with other Christians. From reading and studying God’s Word, and from the pointed instruction and application of God’s Word during preaching, and from observing God’s Word being lived out and obeyed in the lives of Christian friends, plus the wisdom that is acquired from God throughout life by various means, the will of God for Christians is known to them. Is it a matter of right and wrong? Hello? No problem. Scripture has spoken. Amen? Are there nuances in the gray areas? God’s Word is chock full of advice and counsel for handling such matters. But with regard to investing in the stock market versus buying real estate, God’s plan is for you to seek wisdom and then make as responsible a decision as you know how. And the same is true for your education, for the amount of your offerings above the tithe, for your missions giving, which car to buy, which store to shop in, and so on.
Does this profoundly disturb you? Do you feel like you are less watched over and protected by God than you thought you were? The fact is, you are simply more responsible than you previously thought you were. God is perfectly able to intervene with specific guidance if He chooses to do so. But His obvious desire is for His children to grow in grace and in knowledge and in wisdom, learning how to make good and God-honoring decisions. Are you one who thought the Holy Spirit nudged you to do this or that, to give this amount or that amount, to choose this or that? If so, then you have identified yourself to yourself as a person whose life is built on opinion, on feelings, on subjective reality instead of objective and verifiable truth. It may be that you have made the same mistake with regard to your conversion that you have made with regard to your decision making and this issue of being led by the Spirit.
My advice is for you to give the matter some serious thought, and then make a wise decision. What would be a wise decision? I would encourage you to come and talk to me. This matter is too important to be left to amateurs, to be left to those who have not given the subject the attention it deserves, to those who are obviously mistaken in their opinions on the matter.
Consider what I have said. Think over what I have shown you from the Bible. I am confident that you will find it profitable to come and speak to me about your conversion experience, or your need for a real conversion experience.
 Judges 17.6; 21.25
 According to a statement he made in a Pastor’s School at First Baptist Church, Hammond, Indiana that I attended.
 Gary Friesen, Decision Making & the Will of God, (Portland, Oregon: Multnomah Press, 1980), page 130.
 Ibid., pages 137-138.
 Ibid., page 138.
 Acts 27.23-24
 Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), page 934.
 See footnote for James 1.5, John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997), page 1926.