Led By The Spirit

Mike Willis
Dayton, Ohio

No one can deny that the Holy Spirit leads God's children. Paul wrote, "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God" (Rom. 8:14). "But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law" (Gal. 5:18). The direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit is something which should be desired and followed by all of God's children.

God Led Miraculously

As one contemplates the idea of being directed or led by the Spirit of God, he remembers the manner in which God led the children of Israel during their wandering in the wilderness. "And the Lord went before them in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night" (Ex. 13:21). As the children of Israel marched from Egyptian bondage to the promised land of Canaan, the Lord directed their travels by means of the cloud and fire.

The temptations and problems which Israel faced under the direction of God were not without purpose. "And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no" (Deut. 8:2). This was the manner in which God led the nation of Israel. However, the Lord did not always lead His nation or particular individuals in a miraculous manner. This guidance and direction was not the ordinary means God used in directing His children.

From time to time, God miraculously directed men. God miraculously directed Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). On the second missionary journey, Paul and his companions wanted to preach in Bithynia, but the Holy Spirit did not allow them (Acts 16:6). Soon thereafter, Paul had a vision in the night in which a Macedonian pleaded with him, "Come over into Macedonia, and help us" (Acts 16:9). The Holy Spirit was miraculously directing Paul's preaching journey. This miraculous direction was not God's ordinary means of directing men's lives.

God Led Providentially

God also leads men providentially. The providential leading of God is implied from several statements of Scripture. Jesus taught us to pray, "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" (Matt. 6:13). The psalmist praised God saying, "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters" (Psa. 23:2). Both of these verses indicate that God providentially directs my life. God works in a manner which cannot be observed in the providential direction of men's lives.

God Leads Through His Word

Another way in which God leads His people is through His revealed word. The psalmist prayed, "O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me" (Psa. 43:3). "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path" (Psa. 119:105). Through the revealed word of God, we learn what pleases and displeases God.

The Holy Spirit revealed the Scriptures to us. He searched the mind of God and revealed His mind to us (1 Cor. 2:10-13). The writers of both the Old and New Testaments wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:20-21; 1 Tim. 3:16-17). As one reads and follows the revelation given to us by the Spirit through inspiration, he is being led by the Spirit.

This is clearly the method by which the Spirit did th work of leading in Galatians 5. Read the following verses.

This I say then, Walk in the Spirt, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:16-21).

The one who is led by the Spirit does not follow the lusts of the flesh. Instead, he pursues the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).

Modern Ideas Of The Leading Of The Spirit

When one reads much of the modern literature re ing the work of the Holy Spirit, he is introduced to the oncept that the Holy Spirit personally directs men miracu usly today. Typical of such a concept is the following":

It is natural, therefore, that in the leading of God's child, the Holy Spirit will use the Scriptures He has Himself inspired. These Scriptures were given to train and direct God's people. They are still the principle instrument He uses. He will guide through circumstances, through the counsel of Christian friends, through the worship of a believing fellowship, through the inspired utterance of a preacher, and through many other ways. But the classic mode of direction is still through the holy Scriptures (William Fitch, The Ministry of the Holy Spirit, p. 159).

While recognizing that the primary means through which the Holy Spirit leads man is through the revealed word, the author quoted above believes that the Lord miraculously directs his life. Later, he wrote, "Sometimes the Holy Spirit will prompt you to speak words you could never have imagined. At other times, He will guide you to prepare the ways in which you can best begin a conversation about Christ" (p. 208). A few pages later, this preacher told how the Spirit told him that he should move from the church with which he was laboring:

Yet after eleven years in Glasgow, by the strange intuition of the Spirit we began to sense that the time might have come for us to be moving on. We committed everything to God and waited. One Sunday night I drove my assistant to his home and we sat and talked for a while when we reached his residence. I told him then of the incipient thoughts that were rising in our minds about possibly not being there much longer and I was surprised to hear him say: "That is exactly how I am feeling. As I have prayed for you I have felt that the time was drawing near for your departure." The next morning when I picked up my mail the first letter that caught my eye was from Knox Church, Toronto. It contained an invitation to cross the Atlantic and preach with the possibility of being called. Surprised? Yes and no (pp. 219-220).

There are several things wrong with these ideas. Please consider the following:

1. The thoughts of man become the words of God. Any strong intuition that a person has becomes the commandment of God for him. However, the mind of man is not the word of God (Prov. 16:25; Isa. 55:8-9).

2. A man has no means of determining when God speaks to someone else. If God communicates His will in this way, how am I to determine that God has truly spoken. Jim Jones asserted that God spoke to him. Oral Roberts reported that God spoke to him giving him instructions to write to various people to tell them to send him $25 per month. How do I know whether or not God actually spoke to these people? If he speaks to me in this fashion, perhaps He also spoke to them in this manner. In the New Testament era, inspired men confirmed their message by bonafide miracles. These miracles authenticated the message. What authenticates the message today?

3. Every man becomes a law to himself. Once one has taken the position that God speaks directly to individuals in the leading of the Holy Spirit, every man's intuitions, thoughts, and strong opinions become the word of God the law of God - to him. The conclusion which results from this doctrine is religious subjectivism with no objective stand to determine right and wrong.


God's will is communicated to us in the Bible. He leads us by the word. I have found direction from the Bible to guide me in my marriage relationship, rearing my children, my business affairs, my work as a gospel preacher, my relationship to our civil government, how to pray, moral decisions, dealing with my neighbors, and other areas of my life. I am deeply indebted to God for the direction He has provided in my life.

Nevertheless, in the twenty-four years I have been a Christian and the eighteen years that I have been preaching, I have never had a single occasion in which God audibly spoke to me. He did not audibly speak to me when I became a Christian or when I decided to preach. In the period of trial in my life, not once has He given me a vision or an inspired dream. He never told me when to move to work with another church, miraculously directed me to a contact to whom I taught the gospel, or otherwise gave me miraculous direction in my life which might be compared to the manner in which God directed and guided Israel in her wilderness wanderings or the manner in which He directed Paul in Acts 16. God leads men through His word.

Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 3, pp. 66, 88-89
February 2, 1984