Does the Holy Spirit lead us?
This article looks at these issues and explains how to be Spirit-led and what part the Bible plays in this.
We look at how to be led by the Holy Spirit and not quench the Spirit.
1. What does it mean to be led by the Holy Spirit?
From the Bible, we can see that if we are Christians then we will be led by the Spirit of God:
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”Romans 8:14 ESV
What areas do we expect God to lead us in, every simple task or just the huge life-changing choices?
I’ve been in a meeting and the speaker said that she would ask the Lord what breakfast cereal to have and so it would carry on like that through the day.
That sounds incredibly spiritual, but I believe the Lord has given us the minds to make decisions.
We make these decisions under the umbrella of committing our lives to the Lord and that we want to do His will.
A high profile, internationally known preacher writing about being led by the Spirit of God gives the example of a Christian Texan multimillionaire who prayed on what to invest in and what not to invest and the preacher said:
“Every single time, he made the right choice. Following the inward witness gave him special insight into the supernatural and how to become financially prosperous.” 1
God will bless our lives and at other times He will steer us through dark valleys, but overall He blesses us so that our needs are met, but not all our wants.
To suggest that God’s leading and this was the only example of being led, is to make us prosperous with riches is very wrong.
Remember what the Lord said to Ananias when he was sending him to Saul, whose name had just been changed to Paul, did God promise riches or something else:
Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”Acts 9:15-16 ESV
2. What is the Holy Spirit’s role?
So, what is it like to be truly led by the Holy Spirit? Let’s first see the Holy Spirit’s role with us:
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship** of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”2 Corinthians 13:14 ESV
The word translated as fellowship** here is κοινωνία (koinōnia) ‘participation, fellowship, the close association between persons’
The Holy Spirit is close to us, we are together and Jesus describes Him as our Helper. Also:
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. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.John 16:13-14 ESV
The Holy Spirit will guide us into (biblical) truth and His motive is to glorify Jesus Christ.
But you will receive power** when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses*** in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”Acts 1:8 ESV
The word translated as power*** is δύναμις (dunamis) meaning ‘power, ability, miracle’. The word is sometimes used just to describe the power that is exerted when giving money in that it can change and help people (2 Corinthians 8:3). But it is mainly used in the power that is exerted within miracles or healing.
The word translated as witnesses*** is μάρτυς (martus) meaning ‘witness, testimony, martyr’.
So the Holy Spirit’s role is to give the power to enable Jesus’ followers to be his witnesses, whether that is through extra boldness or by healings and miracles.
The Bible does not say anything about the Holy Spirit’s role in making us rich or to glorify particular religious leaders.
3. How to be led by the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit from conversion starts the process of guiding and teaching us and from then on God will want us to work very closely with Him and to be led by Him.
The most important and most reliable source of guidance for us comes from the Bible where the Holy Spirit brings alive a particular verse to steer our decision:
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”Psalm 119:105 ESV
The Bible is able to shed light on what direction our life needs to take.
Another way to be led by the Holy Spirit is by an inner feeling that can guide us.
Our conscience should be able to help us make good decisions, but our conscience can be damaged or corrupted, so it needs time to be washed by the Word of God, the Bible.
The apostle Paul wrote about Jesus washing his church, his bride, with the word and he said: “that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (Ephesians 5:26).
Our conscience needs washing and correcting so that it lines up with the Bible.
When our conscience has been put in line with the Bible then the Holy Spirit can work with that to give an inner voice:
I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit”Romans 9:1 ESV
So here we can see that we are led by our conscience with the Holy Spirit by confirming our thoughts or making us feel uneasy with the decision that we are about to make.
This can be called an inner witness or an inner knowing where the Holy Spirit can transmit some knowledge or a sense of peace to guide us.
At times we can experience a real roadblock where everything seems to be going against us.
This could be Satan trying to stop us, or it could be the Holy Spirit leading us around the thing which is in front of us.
Here, in the verse below, we see Paul, Silas and Timothy being blocked, but they are actually being led by the Spirit to go to a different country:
And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.”Acts 16:6-7 ESV
Another way the Holy Spirit can guide His people is through visions, dreams and prophecy:
And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams;Acts 2:17-18 ESV
even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.”
These things are prone to be abused so they, as with all the Holy Spirit’s leading, need to be checked out with the Bible.
4. Can we grieve the Holy Spirit by not surrendering or letting go?
In church prayer meetings or services where strange manifestations are taking place, such as shrieking, crying, howling, falling over, etc, some people will tell others to let go and stop resisting the Holy Spirit.
I have heard leaders say things like; do not be afraid, open yourself up, whatever comes into your mind do it – speak it out, it may seem stupid but just do it.
I have been told to stop resisting the Holy Spirit because I, and someone else, were the only two left standing in a meeting.
Is it possible to grieve the Holy Spirit by doing, or not doing, this?
Any true Christian will not want to grieve the Holy Spirit and we just want to be obedient to Him:
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”Ephesians 4:30 ESV
What does ‘grieve the Holy Spirit’ actually mean?
The answer is found in the verses that surround the above verse.
It shows us the things that we should not be doing, like stealing, corrupt talk, bitterness, anger, slander, etc and these are the things that grieve the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is our Helper to help us with our sanctification, which means He is actively helping us to clean our act up.
When we resist this process then we grieve the Holy Spirit.
God will not want us to resist Him, quench Him, grieve Him, or rebel against Him.
Here is a verse that sums these thoughts up by saying that we should not quench the Holy Spirit, we should stop the evil in our lives and be open to prophecies, but we need to test all things to see if they are of God:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.1 Thessalonians 5:17-22 ESV
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.”
So, if we resist God by not turning from our sin, then we will grieve the Holy Spirit.
But it is not possible to grieve the Spirit by not going with the flow of a meeting where strange manifestations are taking place – we are allowed, even told, to test what is happening.
If we have an inner witness that this is not right for us to join in, then biblically we have every right to not do those things.
It would be wrong to pretend to go along with it purely out of peer pressure.
5. What is right, to be Bible-based or Spirit-led?
Without a doubt, the work of the Holy Spirit is extremely important:
Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”John 3:6 NIV
But the Bible (the Scriptures – the Word of God) is also extremely important:
and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.2 Timothy 3:15-17 NIV
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
And the two together, the Holy Spirit and the Bible, have an inseparable relationship, for we are told:
Take the… sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”Ephesians 6:17 NIV
We should never have one without the other:
- A church that is Bible-based without the Spirit is legalistic and lifeless.
- A church with the Spirit but without the Bible is wild, unrestrained and weird.
It is like the two wings of a bird – a one-winged bird cannot fly and live a normal life.