How Does the Holy Spirit Lead?
by Herschel E. Patton
via Guardian of Truth XXXV: 8, pp. 237, 239, April 14, 1991
Obviously, the Holy Spirit does lead certain ones. "Sons of God" are thus led. "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God" (Romans 8:14). Jesus was "led up of the Spirit" into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1). Paul and his companions were being led on their journey by the Holy Spirit when they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, "having been forbidden of the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia," and when "they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit of Jesus suffered them not" (Acts 16:6-7). The Holy Spirit led Peter to the house of Cornelius, and Philip was led by the Holy Spirit to the eunuch.
No one denies the fact that the Holy Spirit leads or guides. Many, however, differ on the matter of how he leads. Some believe and teach that the Holy Spirit acts miraculously in leading to salvation and sanctification, without means or instrumentality. These fail to recognize a difference in ordinary and miraculous manifestations. They want to make every action of the Spirit toward the sinner or saint to be miraculous. Some who claim to be Christians feel that the Holy Spirit dwells in them personally and leads them to speak in tongues, heal, make utterances (preach) as the Spirit gives it to them, and even directs them in various experiences in life. One told of the Holy Spirit leading him to a parking space when he sorely needed one. Some seem to feel that the Holy Spirit in them serves as a radar beep leading, guiding, and warning always. We need to look to the Bible and see what it reveals about the leading of Deity.
Each member of the Godhead is said to lead just as each is said to dwell in us. Learning how Deity leads and dwells in us should clear up the confusion in the minds of many about the "how."
Some speak of the dispensations of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. They are referring to the times when God spoke directly with men or led by direct contact when Christ was here on earth and after Christ ascended and sent the Holy Spirit. Looking at how God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit led during these periods should help answer the question of this article.
God led Noah to build an ark wherein he and his family were saved from the flood (Hebrews 11:7). The Genesis account tells us that God "said unto Noah . . . make thee an ark of gopher wood . . . and this is the fashion which thou shalt make it" (Genesis 6:13-16). "And Noah did according to all that the Lord commanded him" (Genesis 7:5). How did God lead Noah to build the ark? He spoke to him in a language Noah understood, giving detailed instructions, and Noah followed (did) all that God commanded.
God led Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees. How? Abraham received instructions from God and his faith resulted in obedience (Hebrews 11:8-9; Romans 10:17; Genesis 12:1-4). God led Abraham by speaking to him and Abraham obeyed.
God led Israel out of Egyptian bondage, and through the wilderness (Deuteronomy 8:14-15; 29:4-5). In doing this he used the instrumentality of Moses and Aaron. "Thou leadest thy people like a flock, by the hand of Moses and Aaron" (Psalms 77:20). He confirmed his leadership and his appointed agents by many miracles (plagues, parting waters, pillar of cloud and fire, etc.). God led them by choosing and equipping Moses who spoke God's will to the people and they obeyed.
Christ made disciples by teaching instruction. He commanded and they obeyed (John 1:43). No mysterious or supernatural power possessed the individuals to make them follow Jesus. Miraculous proof that Jesus was from God, and was God, was given to induce faith in the individual to accept the instruction Jesus gave and to follow him. People became followers of Christ by being taught -- hearing, learning, and coming (John 6:44-45). Jesus led people by speaking the truth to them (taught in a way that they could understand) and they followed him. This is the same way that God led Abraham and Israel in their day.
The Spirit's Leading
We have already pointed out that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by divine instruction and led Paul in his journeys by divine instruction. The word of God teaches that the Holy Spirit leads sons of God today (Romans 8:14). Does he do it differently from other examples of the leading of Deity? A careful study of Scripture shows that the Holy Spirit, an intelligent speaking person, also speaks to people and they hear and obey.
There were different manifestations of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 12:4-7). The apostles were promised baptism of the Holy Spirit for revelation and confirmation of the word of truth (Acts 1:5; John 14:26; 16:13-15; I Corinthians 2:12-13; Mark 16:20). There were "gifts of the Spirit" (miraculous powers) used in revealing and confirming truth (I Corinthians 12:1-11,28) that were bestowed on certain ones by the laying on of an apostle's hands (Acts 8:17-18; 19:6). These gifts of the Spirit were temporary and would vanish away when maturity (complete, finished revelation and confirmation of truth) was reached (I Corinthians 13:8-10).
The Holy Spirit led three thousand souls to be saved on Pentecost. How? The Holy Spirit came to the apostles with miraculous demonstrations, giving proof that these men were truly messengers of God. Peter spoke, "as the Holy Spirit gave utterance." Many were convicted by the truth spoken and asked, "What shall we do?" The Holy Spirit, speaking through Peter, said, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). Thus about three thousand were led by the Holy Spirit to salvation, when they heard, believed, and did just what the Holy Spirit said for them to do.
This is exactly how the Holy Spirit leads Christians today. Redeemed people need the leading of the Spirit in living the Christian life as much as they did in coming to Christ. In leading, guiding, and edifying the Christian, the Spirit uses the instrumentality of truth -- the revealed, confirmed word of truth. The word of God is said to be the "sword (instrument) of the Spirit" (Ephesians 6:17).
The Holy Spirit "speaks expressly" (I Timothy 4:1-2) giving instruction, warnings, exhortations through the New Testament. The Holy Spirit has never laid aside the agency of truth, substituting fleshly feelings, emotions, or imaginations, in the guidance of Christians. Sons of God are led by the Spirit of God as they hear the Spirit revealed message of truth, believe, and obey it. This is the way that Christians "walk after the Spirit," "mind the things of the Spirit," are "in the Spirit," "live in the Spirit," and are "led by the Spirit" (Romans 8:1,4,5,9,13,14).
Deity has always led by the agent or agency of revealed, confirmed truth (God's will) being made known to man, coupled with man's faith and obedience. The leading of Deity never overrides the will (free moral agency) of man, so that he cannot choose to do or not do the will of God.