Being Led By The Holy Spirit

Throughout history God has led people to do certain things or to go to certain places. The Father led Noah to build the ark (Heb. 11:7), led Abraham out of Ur (Gen. 12:1; Heb. 11:8,9), led Israel out of Egypt (Deut. 8:15; 29:5; Psa. 77:20), etc. When Christ was on the earth he led his disciples by teaching them (Mt. 20:17-19), led others in the same way (Jn. 6:44,45), led by example (1Pet. 2:21).

We see also the Holy Spirit leading people like how he led Christ into the wilderness,

[Luk 4:1 ESV] 1 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness…

The HS led the apostles in some special ways:

HS led Paul, [Act 16:6-7 ESV] 6 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.

HS led Peter, [Act 10:19-20 ESV] 19 And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.”

HS led Philip, [Act 8:29 ESV] And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.”

Perhaps the most significant “leading” the HS did for the Apostles and Prophets was in revelation. The HS “led” the prophets to speak Christ’s inspired words. 

[Jhn 16:12-14 ESV] 12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

  • “Carried” vs. “Led”

There lies a difficulty in understanding what it means for the HS to lead us today. We know the HS led the Apostles and Prophets like it says in 2 Peter 1:21.

[2Pe 1:21 ESV] 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

The Greek for the term “carried/moved” (φερόμενοι G5342) implies the Holy Spirit was the actor, and the prophets were the passive object. The Spirit picked them up and put them in a new location but not physically, in their minds. 

The Spirit guided them into all truth, like Jesus said in John 16. Many of these truths were not already in their minds. Jesus said he had more things to teach them but couldn’t (v12). There were lessons that the Apostles needed to learn but wouldn’t learn from Jesus. These lessons would be taught to the Apostles by the Spirit in place of Jesus. 

This means that the Spirit would take these ideas and place them into the Apostles’ minds. In this way, the Spirit would take their minds and carry them to where they needed to go. 

[1Co 2:11-12 ESV] 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.

Notice what Paul says there, the Spirit knows the thoughts of God and the Spirit gives the thoughts of God to Paul the Apostle. Paul did not have to arrive at a conclusion, the Spirit gave it to him. The Apostles did not make up these doctrines; they were given to them by the Spirit. The thoughts and the truths were placed into their minds so they could speak them or write them down.

Is this how people are led by the Holy Spirit? Paul says of all Christians, 

[Rom 8:14 ESV] 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

Peter says of prophets, 

[2Pe 1:21 ESV] 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

The key to the discussion of what it means to be led by the Spirit is determining the difference, if there is any, in these two passages. What is the difference between being led by the Spirit and being carried/moved by the Spirit? Are they the same? 

Many denominational Christians conflate these two. They suggest that we as Christians are moved by the Spirit in the way that the prophets were moved by the Spirit in being told where to evangelize or what to say. 

2 Peter 1:21 is in the context of prophecy which can be trusted and is written by eyewitnesses of Jesus’ majesty. That prophecy is produced apart from mankind’s design, not by “the will of man.” It was produced through men but by the work of the Holy Spirit. Again, the word for “carried/moved” implies the Holy Spirit was the actor, and the prophets were the passive object. 

Romans 8:14 is in the context of living a life in the life of Christ, free from sin and death. In this chapter walking by the Spirit (v4) is the same as being led by the Spirit (v14) and the same as living by the Spirit (v13). As opposed to the concept of being “carried” or “moved” by the Spirit, Paul here says we are “led” by the Spirit. The word for “led” is much more passive (ὅσοι G3745). It can mean “lead, guide, direct; of an animal: to lead by laying hold of, and this way to bring to the point of destination.” 

This word is often used for leading animals. If you’ve ever led an animal you know that it isn’t always smooth sailing. If the animal fights against you, it makes things very difficult and at times impossible. 

There is a big difference in these terms; notice the difference between the Spirit picking someone up and taking them, and the Spirit leading and guiding someone. The first is more forceful while the second is more cooperative. The Holy Spirit carries the Apostles’ minds where they needed to go for revelation while the Holy Spirit leads our minds to where they need to go for living by faith. 

  • Impulses

I have had many conversations with people where they believed that the Holy Spirit guided them to an action or the Spirit placed within their minds an idea. Without exception, people’s stories always involve impulses. People have these impulses to act or impulsive thoughts and they interpret these as the Holy Spirit working in their lives. 

I knew one friend and we were talking about the Holy Spirit. He said the other day he did what he called a work inspired by the Spirit. He was paying the landscapers for mowing the lawn. It was like $20 and he said the Spirit told him to give them the $100 bill in his wallet. IHe believed the Spirit movied him to do it.

Just like that, he had an impulse of generosity and he interpreted it as the Holy Spirit moving him. 

Many people today focus on their impulses and emotions, thinking that those impulses and emotions are the Spirit communicating to them. False teachers will encourage people to seek these emotions. They will encourage people to pray until they feel “the Holy Spirit touching them.” Their followers will constantly be looking for these deep emotions and when they fail to feel them they think they are not connected to God. 

I have spoken to more than one person about their prayer-life who were dissatisfied with their emotions. They lacked a feeling in their heart and they wanted to know what they were doing wrong. I myself have fallen into this trap. 

And in this way, people worship the feeling of God more than God himself.

People think these emotional experiences and impulses are the work of the Spirit. But non-Christians have them too. Throughout history people have been convincing them that their emotional experiences and impulses were products of idols, pagan gods, spirits, forces, and anything else they can think of.

 In this way, they become more dependent on and follow their impulses and emotions. 

[Pro 14:12/16:25 ESV] There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.

These impulses and emotions are products of ourselves and products of our heart, not of God. 

[Jer 17:9 ESV] The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

Like God spoke to Israel in Numbers 15:38-39, we are not to follow our hearts or eyes. We are instead to remember the Lord’s commandments and do them. 

Paul did not say faith comes by emotional experiences. He said that faith comes from hearing the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17). 

This is also the logical conclusion. It makes no sense that the Lord inspires people today. 

  • If God does inspire people directly through the Holy Spirit, then why do so many groups of Christians all claim to have the Holy Spirit and yet disagree with each other? Is the Holy Spirit making them contradict each other? Certainly not. 
  • If some of these Christians do not have the Holy Spirit, then why? If you say because they are not open to the Spirit’s working, then are we to judge the hearts of these people?
  • If the Spirit “moves” people to obey God then why does God say the HS is given to those who obey? (Acts 5:32)
  • If the Spirit “moves” people to obey God then what of the power to choose? Jesus implies that it is up to the choice of people to obey or not, is he contradicting the Spirit? (Mat 23:37; Luke 9:23). 
  • The Leading Word

2 Peter 1:21 tells us that the Spirit “moved” the prophets to produce Scripture and the Holy Spirit uses that very Scriptures to “lead” us non-prophet Christians. 

The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God as his instrument, 

[Eph 6:17 ESV] …the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God… 

Paul did not say faith comes by emotional experiences. He said that faith comes from hearing the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17). 

Romans 8 is key to understanding how to walk in the Spirit. 

[Rom 8:1-2 ESV] 1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus [KJV, who walk not according to the flesh (but according to the Spirit)]. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

This passage concerns the lifestyle of a person who has been saved, someone who is already in Christ Jesus. We are free from the law of sin and death, that is if we sin we die–that law no longer applies to the saved. Instead, we are now bound to the law of the Spirit of life, that is, if we live by the Spirit, we have life. This passage reveals to us what it means to live by the Spirit. 

[Rom 8:3-4 ESV] 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

V3-4 explains V2. That which is required for each of us is done so by Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. We are freed from the law of sin and death through Christ’s sacrifice and placed under the law of the Spirit of life. Those who have received the sacrifice and passed on that requirement are described as those “who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

V5 begins to explain what it means to walk according to the Spirit. 

[Rom 8:5 ESV] 5 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 set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

Walking by the Spirit requires a way of thinking. Walking by the Spirit requires us to think on the things of the Spirit. *I could ask the question, what are the things of the Spirit? Instead, let me ask this, where do you find the things of the Spirit? In God’s Word. The word of God is the Spirit’s sword, his instrument. To think on the contents of scripture is to think of the things of the Spirit, which is part of walking by the Spirit. 

See the difference between the Apostles’ and us. The HS injected into the Apostles’ minds the truths they needed to know. With us, we inject the truths in our own minds by learning God’s word and the Holy Spirit works with the truths in our minds. The more of God’s word in your mind and the more you think on it, the more the HS can do in your life. (Not just know, but be actively setting. your mind on it.)

You’ll notice in this chapter we are to fight against our flesh, that is both our material selves and our sinful desires. The flesh is everything about you that is not like God, from the fact that you are flesh and bones to your desires to sin. Paul gives the picture in v16 that our spirit works alongside the Holy Spirit. 

[Rom 8:6-8 ESV] 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Setting the mind on the Spirit produces life and peace. By implication, the mind set on the Spirit submits to God’s law. How can you submit to God’s law if you do not know it? To set the mind on the things of the Spirit is not just thinking about God’s law, but also submitting to it. Setting your mind on the things of the Spirit includes submission to God’s law. Walking by the Spirit includes submission to God’s law. 

[Rom 8:9-11 ESV] 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

The Spirit is a sign of salvation and belonging to Christ. The Spirit is a source of renewal and resurrection. We have life in our spirit because of the Spirit. By the Holy Spirit our bodies will be resurrected. 

[Rom 8:12 ESV] 12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.

We are debtors to the Holy Spirit to live according to the Spirit. We owe the Spirit for renewing us and ought to live according to how the Spirit prescribes. 

[Rom 8:13 ESV] 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.

The deeds of the body are sin that it desires. Our weak human nature and our sinful desires must be counteracted. We must cease those acts of weakness and sin. The cessation of the deeds of the flesh are done by the Holy Spirit. This is repentance. A mind set on the things of the Spirit will repent and stop sinning. Walking by the Spirit includes repentance. 

[Rom 8:14 ESV] 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

This is the subject we are talking about, being led by the Spirit. 

[Rom 8:15 ESV] 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

In verse 15 we see the Spirit works in our communication to God, which is in our worship, our praise, and our prayers. A mind set on the things of the Spirit will cry out to God, will worship God. Walking by the Spirit includes crying out to God in worship, praise, and prayer. And of course, God’s word reveals to us who the God is that deserves worship and how to worship God. 

Romans 8 defines walking by the Spirit. You cannot walk by the Spirit without study of God’s word. 

  • To walk by the Spirit is to set your mind on the things of the Spirit, which are found in God’s word
  • To walk by the Spirit is to submit to God’s law, which is found in God’s word
  • To walk by the Spirit is to repent of sin, and God’s word reveals what sin is 
  • To walk by the Spirit is to worship God, and God’s word reveals who he is and how to worship him 

The simple truth is that we are dependent on God’s word for all things. We would not even know what living by the Spirit or who the Spirit is without God’s word. 

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