Led by the Spirit
In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 34b of 83

“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Romans 8:12-14).

[We saw in the first instalment of this study, that in general the Holy Spirit does not today lead us by (1) speaking to us audibly, nor (2) by dreams and visions, nor (3) by feelings and intuition. We continue in this study by considering how He leads us. JJL]

2.  How?

What does the Scripture teach about the leading of the Spirit?

In the first place, to be led by the Spirit is to be guided in a particular way of life. Elsewhere in the Scriptures, this way is known as the old paths, the good way (Jer 6:16), the way of life (Prov 10:17; Jer 21:8), the way of righteousness (Prov 8:20); the narrow way (Mt 7:14), the way of holiness (Isa 35:8), the way everlasting (Ps 139:24), and the way of cross-bearing (Mk 10:21).

In our present context, it is spoken of as the way of the Spirit or the way of Mortification. Essentially all these are one and the same way. When the apostle Paul says that the sons of God are led by the Spirit of God, He is saying that the sons of God are constantly being led by the Spirit in this way. The Greek present tense that Paul uses in this verse makes it very clear. The Holy Spirit does not lead occasionally. He does not leave the sons of God alone and then lead them at major junctions in their life. No, no, He leads them constantly in the way of life everlasting.

But remember: this way is but one of the multitudes of ways of life in the world. It is not only narrow, but has many junctions. And every junction is labelled: “This is the way.” Satan is the father of deceit. He is trying his very best to make every byway look like the way to heaven, when in reality they lead to destruction.

Indeed, sometimes, these byways of Satan look more like the way of life than the way of life itself! It is not always easy to distinguish which is the correct way! And sometimes it is very tempting to take the byways because the everlasting way is the way of cross-bearing and self-denial.

You know how it is like. Some years ago, I went jogging with my brother along the forested road behind NUS. We knew that the road would make a loop. But it was the first time we took the route. We were jogging for quite a while and were quite tired when we came to fork. The road branched into two: one went uphill and the other went downhill.

We slowed down for a while as we approached the fork to decide which path to take. But it did not take long for us to decide. Which one did we take? Downhill of course! We were tired! But then it wasn’t long before we discovered that it was a dead end and we had to run all the way back again! If only we had someone to guide us, we would not have to suffer the pain of having to run an additional 100 metres uphill!

So it is in the case in the way of life everlasting. There is always the temptation to take the easy way though it is the way of death. This is why we need the Holy Spirit’s guidance. But how does the Spirit lead?

Let us consider first: What does the Spirit use to lead us? What tools does He have?

Well, principally two things: The Bible and the Church.

In the first place, remember that the Spirit always leads with a road map or a street directory. The road map or street directory is the Bible.

Some years ago I was driving in Malaysia with my family. We had a map and my wife was the navigator as usual. There were no GPS or Google Maps in those days. In any case, somewhere in Malaysia, we drove outside the area covered by the map. What happened then? We got terribly lost. The road signs were of no help. At first, I would still ask my wife whenever we reached a junction: Left or right? After a while, I realised that her guesses were as good as mine. We were hopelessly lost. We learnt an important lesson: You need a good map when driving somewhere unfamiliar.

We need a map too in our Christian walk. God the Holy Spirit has chosen to lead us with a map.

What is the map of the Spirit? It is the Bible. The Psalmist says:

·        “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Ps 119:105).

·        “O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles” (Ps 43:3).

The holy hill and the tabernacles of God are metaphors of heaven. O send out thy light and thy truth which is thy Word and lead me to my heavenly home.

The apostle Paul puts it this way:

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim 3:16-17).

The Holy Spirit leads us with Holy Scriptures as our road map.

But secondly, we must remember that the Spirit also lead us with and by the Church.

We are not only the temple of the Holy Spirit individually. We are also the temple of the Holy Spirit corporately.

The apostle Paul speaks about our bodies as being the temple of the Holy Spirit individually in 1 Corinthians 6:19:

“What? know ye not [he says] that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” (1Cor 6:19)

But writing to the church as a whole, he also says:

“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you” (1 Cor 3:16; cf. 2 Cor 6:16).

The Holy Spirit, in other words, dwells not only in the individual believer, but in the church organically. This being the case, we must understand that the Holy Spirit does not only lead us individually. He guides the whole church as a body.

Indeed, in some ways, He guides us individually only as members of the church. This is why He uses the church to instruct us. The church is the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1Tm 3:15) says the apostle. 

Thus we must never become conceited and decide to do things our own way. We must serve the Lord as members of the church. We must thank God for the church and work with the church as a body. We must never despise the providence of God by refusing to make use of the means of grace appointed by God through the church.

So the Scripture and the Church are the means by which the Spirit leads us. But how does He lead us?

Well, the Scripture teaches us that He leads us from within. In particular, He does three things within us:

First, He changes our nature by giving us a new heart and indwells us. We all had, as it were, pigs’ hearts. We love to wallow in sin. But God has transformed our pig’s hearts into sheep’s hearts. In this way, He makes us more conscious of the need to keep ourselves clean. He makes us hate mud and creepy crawlies. In other words, He makes us more sensible of indwelling sin and sharpens our conscience so that it becomes more sensitive. In the words of Paul, He works in us both to will and to do of God’s good pleasure (Phil 2:13). Or as David suggests in Psalm 110:3, He makes us willing to obey God lovingly: “Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power.” 

Not only so, but secondly, He opens our eyes so that we understand what we read from the Scriptures (Eph 1:18).

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:14—

“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

What does the Holy Spirit do to our understanding? The unregenerate will not accept the truths that are in the Word of God. He views them as foolishness. Indeed, he cannot properly understand the truth. He may understand to a degree, but his understanding is that of a child.

Give a six year old a book on human psychology. He can read it. He can understand some sentences, but he cannot make sense out of it. He cannot properly understand it. Psychology can only be understood with age and experience. Likewise spiritual things can only be understood by one who has been born again and has the Spirit of God indwelling him.

Moreover, thirdly, the Holy Spirit also brings to remembrance the things that we have read or heard earlier (Jn 14:26). He does not speak to us like someone calling on the phone, but He does, as it were, play back the voice-mail in our memory. In this way He brings precepts and warnings in our minds; He presses home the claims and promises of Christ; and He reminds us that Christ died for our sin so that we will spare no effort in dying to sin—striving against it (Heb 11:4), confessing it (1 Jn 1:9), and forsaking it (Prov 28:13).

How does the Holy Spirit leads from within? By changing our hearts, opening our eyes and improving our spiritual memory. In this way He makes us not only competent users of His road map, but willing users.

He makes us want to take up our cross and follow Christ according to His way whatever the cost may be. Put it in another way: Because of the Spirit’s work in us, (1) we love the truth and desire to obey it; (2) we understand the truth when we read it; and (3) we can follow the truth even when we do not have the Bible in our hands. This is how the Holy Spirit leads from within.

But we must understand that the Holy Spirit does not lead by force. He leads us as a counsellor would. We are “not driven as beasts, but led as rational creatures, drawn with the cords of a man and the bands of love” says Matthew Henry.

The Spirit leads us gently and persuasively. He does not force us to where we do not want to go. He does not take over the steering wheel. He guides us, but it is ultimately our decisions.

I think of how my wife guides me when I am driving somewhere unfamiliar. Now I usually follow her instructions quite closely. But there are occasions when my wife would tell me: “turn right in front.” But I would look at the turning in front and I say in my heart: “This cannot be the turn, so I drive on.” Then she would say: “Why did you not turn there?” and I would say: “Oh, I thought you meant the next turn.” Or she would say: “Turn left at the next junction” and when I reach the next junction, I promptly turn right! Why? Because I heard what I wanted to hear!

This is what happens in our Christian walk too. And sometimes the Holy Spirit will intentionally let us choose the wrong way.

If we get over confident and conceited, He may let us go out of the way of life in order that we may be humbled.

This was what happened to David. David had become complacent and self-sufficient. The Spirit chose not to keep him from sinking into adultery, murder and deceit.

This was what happened to Peter. Peter had become conceited. The Spirit chose not to restrain him from denying the Lord three times.

But thank God the Holy Spirit does not leave the children of God. And He will always lead them back to the right path—by way of repentance.

This is the privilege of the sons of God. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”

But what should be our response?…

…to be Continued Next Issue

—JJ Lim