Led by the Spirit
What it is not

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 34a of 83


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

In our previous study from verses 12-14, we were reminded that because of what God has done, is doing, and will do for us in our salvation in Christ, we are debtors unto Him. We are debtors not to live after the flesh but to mortify the deeds of the body.

What is it to mortify the deeds of the body? It is to kill all the hateful sins that arise out of our old man. It’s like cockroaches, worms and maggots crawling from your old man to you. I trust you understand that this illustration is not only for the children that they may grasp something of what we are saying. but it is also for adults that we may appreciate something of how hateful the deeds of the body should be for us.

We all have instant reaction against these horrible critters. I am sure many of you would have had experience of having a flying cockroach land on you. I am sure you would have jumped and maybe screamed.

But what is your reaction to sin when it crawls out of your old man unto you? Some of us, I fear, are indifferent to them. Some of us are keeping them as pets and feeding them. If that’s you, I’m sure you will have many excuses to keep them on you. Perhaps you have received loving admonishment because your brethren have seen the cockroaches feeding on you, but you have ignored their warnings. You pretend they do not exist or you try to hide their existence under a blanket of excuses.

Oh how often I wish that the horrible things that crawl out of my old man are painted with glaring luminous orange so that I would not be blinded to them. But Satan has a way of disguising them so that they appear either like metachromatic octopuses that are hidden from sight or like pretty butterflies that look good on us.

But thanks be to God, although we are myopic and sometimes almost blind because of the influence of the old man, we are not left to grope in the dark alone.

For as we saw previously, though mortification is the duty of the Christian, we are not left alone in the task. We must mortify the deeds of the body through the Spirit (v. 13).

And as we saw, “through the Spirit” means that we are enabled, strengthened and led by the Spirit. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” says the apostle (v. 14).

What the apostle is saying is that those who are led by the Spirit will mortify the deeds of their body. The sons of God will mortify the deeds of the body, because the sons of God are led by the Spirit of God.

We are justified in Christ so that we may be adopted as the sons and daughters of God. But God does not only adopt us, He causes us grow to be more and more like Him.

When a man and woman adopts a child, they can never make the child share their nature. The child will always,—by nature,—be someone else’s child. They may bring up the child as one of their own, but the child will be genetically different, look different, and often have temperaments that are totally different from his adoptive parents.

But God in the process of adopting us as His sons and daughters, not only justified us in Christ, but also gives us a new birth and sends His Spirit to dwell in us and to lead us. In this way He makes us more and more like our elder Brother, the only begotten Son of God.

He makes us more and more like Christ, not only by changing us from within, but by leading us with His Spirit.

But what is it to be led by the Spirit of God? Well, in view of the many errors related to this subject, it is essential for us to begin by disabusing our minds of some common errors of what it means to be led by the Spirit.

1. What It’s Not

What are some false notions about the leading of the Spirit?

Some believe that the Holy Spirit guides by speaking directly in a still small voice today. But how many of us can claim to have heard the voice of the Holy Spirit? Is being led by the Spirit a privilege only reserved for a few special saints?

The fact is that the Word of God suggests that the Bible is complete and sufficient. See for example 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and Revelation 22:18-19.

Yes, the Lord did say, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now” (Jn 16:12). But what is the context of that passage? It is the Lord’s instruction to the apostles. The apostles would be used by the Lord to write the inspired Scriptures. Our Lord Jesus did not reveal everything that they needed to know. He left some things for the Holy Spirit to instruct them.

Has God given us everything that we need to know for our salvation? Yes!

·     The apostle Peter reminds us that our Lord has by His “divine power… given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Pet 1:3).

·     The apostle Paul tells us that the Scripture, given by inspiration, is sufficient to make a “perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim 3:16-17).

·     Jude tells us that the faith has been delivered unto us once for all (Jude 3).

The Holy Spirit does not normally lead by speaking directly today. He does not reveal new doctrine, he does not reveal new direction. In terms of the Christian life and doctrine, there is nothing new, but what is false!

What about dreams and visions?

Well, it is true that occasionally during certain periods in the long history of the Old Testament, God did lead His people by dreams and visions. But that was because the people were living in a day of shadows. Christ had not come. The Scriptures was not complete. The writer of Hebrews suggests this contrast in the opening verses of his letter (Heb 1:1-2).

Yes, God did also reveal through dreams and visions during the early days of the New Testament Church. The apostle Paul, for example, was called to minister in Macedonia through the vision of a Macedonian man. But remember that that was during the days when the New Testament was not yet completed. So dreams and visions, along with signs, wonders, miracles and other gifts of the Holy Spirit were given by God to bear witness to the preaching of the apostles. You read that in Hebrews 2:3-4. All these miraculous gifts essentially ceased when the New Testament was completed (1 Cor 13:8-10).

For all intends and purposes, God does not lead us by dreams today. Now, this is especially important for us to know because many professing Christians and even ministers have claimed to have been led by God through dreams. I even heard one minister who spent a large part of his ministry attacking the Charismatic movement, suggesting that God was leading him through a dream he had.

Brethren, let us be careful not to claim dreams and visions as coming from God. In the Law of God under the old covenant, the dreamer of dreams who led the people astray were to be stoned (Dt 13:1-5, cf. 18:20-22). Over and over again the Scripture warns against false prophets claiming to have receive some special dreams from God (Jer 23:25-32; 29:8-9; Zec 10:2 etc). It is a wonder that so many today still claim that God has spoken to them through dreams.

Dreams are very interesting. It is true that God may by His providence so appoint that we have a certain dream that provokes us to think about something that may help us in our decision making process. But remember God does not ordinarily lead by dreams today. You can quite safely take your dreams as products of your overactive imaginations. If you want to tell someone about your dreams, that is fine. But do not imagine the Spirit of Christ will lead you through dreams. Do not make any decisions based on your dreams or anyone else’s dreams.

The same is true for visions. God does not lead through visions today. I am convinced that the visions that many people report seeing today are simply hallucination or lies.

What about feelings and intuitions? Many conservative Christians do not believe that God speak today by direct revelation or by vision and dreams, but they nevertheless believe that the Holy Spirit leads them by creating certain feelings and intuitions in their hearts. You know that this is the thinking of someone, if he decides if something is God’s will by how he feels in his heart.

But this is wrong. If the Holy Spirit leads by feelings and intuition, we can never be sure if He is leading us. How do you know that the feeling and intuition that have did not because you had too much coffee or too little sleep? How do you know it is planted by the Holy Spirit? How do you know that it is not planted by the devil?

The fact is: feelings and intuitive are very subjective and can be very deceptive.  “The heart is deceitful above all things” says Jeremiah (Jer 17:9).

Solomon says:

“There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov 14:12).

“He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool” (Prov 28:26).

No, no, God is not a God of confusion, but a God of order. He does not lead us in such subjective ways.

So it is apparent that the apostle Paul does not mean to say that the Spirit lead us by (1) speaking to us audibly, or (2) by dreams and visions or (3) by feelings and intuition.

How then does He lead us?

…to be Continued Next Issue

—JJ Lim