The Leading of the Holy Spirit
By Dr. Brian Dennert
Have you ever stated that you were “led” by the Holy Spirit to do something? I know I have used this expression many times in my life to describe what led me to a certain action or decision. I recently read through Warfield on the Christian Life by Fred G. Zaspel (Crossway Books, 2012), a book in which the author examines what the theologian B. B. (Benjamin Breckinridge) Warfield (1851-1921), a longtime professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, thought and wrote in a variety of areas concerning Christian doctrine and practice [note: don’t you always seem smarter if you go by your initials!]. A spot that caught my eye was when Zaspel noted that Warfield said that the idea of being “led” by the Holy Spirit “has been much spoken of” but “seems to be little understood,” so Warfield sought to discuss this idea (pages 91-93).
Warfield notes that the only passages that really use this language of the “leading” of the Holy Spirit are Romans 8:14 (“all who are led by the Spirit are sons of God”) and Galatians 5:18 (“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law”). Two important points that Warfield notes in these passages is that there is a link between being a child of God and being led by the Spirit – being led by the Spirit is the mark of a Christian, not just of an extra-spiritual Christian – and that the purpose of the leading of the Holy Spirit is to help us overcome sin, as Romans 8:12 speaks about the Spirit putting to death the misdeeds of the sinful nature. The Holy Spirit leads us into godliness, not just in big moments or big activities but in the little by little moments of our life. When you desire to say no to sin – that is the Spirit leading you! When you desire to say yes to following God’s way in your life, that is the Spirit leading you! This “leading” happens in every area of life and in all sorts of moments of life. In fact, the language used of “leading” here is not one who offers suggestions but one who is in control – the Spirit controls us in a way that we overcome sin. We need this control of the Spirit to put to death sin in our bodies.
Does this mean that we can never talk about the Spirit “leading” us to take a certain job, speak to someone, or some activity like that? I don’t think it totally rules it out, but it makes me realize that whatever I say the Spirit is “leading” me to do should be something that causes me to overcome sin in my life – or perhaps helps others overcome sin in my life. I can never say that I am lead by the Spirit to do something that is sin, as that is the exact opposite of the leading of the Spirit! Now, it might sound a bit odd to have to make that statement, but trust me – people will say that the Spirit “led” them to do something that is actually sinful (they then use this to justify their sin!). The Spirit compels us – pushing and pulling us to follow God’s ways rather than the way of sin!
Let us thank God for the gift of the Spirit to lead us and to “follow the leader” in our lives, moving us into living like the sons and daughters of God that we are through Christ.
Questions about the Bible or theology – e-mail Pastor Brian at Theology@wearefaith.org