It is hard to overstate the importance of the role which the Holy Spirit is to play in the lives of the saints of God. Two verses give us some idea of how vital it is to have the Spirit, and to be led by the Spirit.
We read, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” (Romans 8:9; ESV) And, “All who are led by the Spirit of God, are sons of God.” (Romans 8:14)
If you have the Spirit in you, and are led by that Spirit you belong to God and are a son of God. If the Spirit is not leading you, you do not belong to God and are not a child of God. There is no in-between state here. Obviously, for those who care about their relationship with God, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and His guidance is of paramount importance.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of heat and confusion over what it means to have the Spirit in one’s life. Many, it would seem, argue or rationalize from a reverse sort of reasoning. They want to belong to God. They want to be His child. They believe they are, therefore the Spirit must be present. But such wishful thinking leads to paradoxical and problematic situations. Just to use an obvious example: One man claims the Spirit of God led him to believe the world will end on July the 2nd. A second man says that the Spirit of God led him to believe the world will end on July the 11th. They obviously can’t both be right. And, as the dates pass, it becomes obvious they were both wrong. So which man was led by the Spirit?
God is not a God of confusion. (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:33) He is not going to be sending His followers different messages. Furthermore, God does not lie. If He says a thing, then it happens. We can reasonably conclude there are various people who claim to be led by the Spirit who are either lying or are deluded. Which is why the Bible counsels us, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (John 4:1; ESV)
Just because a person claims the Spirit has told them a certain thing does not mean we should believe them. Likewise, just because we ourselves might feel that the Spirit is telling us a certain thing does not mean that we are correct.
Part of the problem is that there has arisen an idea in the minds of many which is contrary to what the Bible actually says. Quite a few people want the Spirit to nudge and guide them through their feelings, but there is no indication that the Spirit has ever really done this. In the Bible, what we find is that the Spirit, when it gives guidance, does so through Words.
Notice what the Bible says about this: “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21; ESV) Yes, the Spirit of God compelled the prophets, but He did so to the production of speech, with words. Consider also, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets.” (Hebrews 1:1; ESV) Again, when God provided guidance and direction through His prophets He did so with speech. There are many passages in which the prophets declare the, “Word of the Lord.” There are none in which they speak about the “softly felt Feeling of the Lord.”
Which makes quite a bit of sense. Feelings are ambiguous, subject to misunderstanding, self-desire, and mood-swings. Words are concrete, subject to analysis and verification. We can test words to see if they are in conformance to what we already know God has said.
When Moses was instructing the Israelites concerning how to test the prophets (Deuteronomy 13, and 18) he instructed Israel to focus on their words: did they conform to the truth of God’s revealed word, and did their predictions come to pass. God’s Spirit was never going to be wrong, and He was never going to start contradicting Himself, or leading men into sinful behavior.
We have the Words of the Spirit recorded for us in the Bible. As we listen to those Words, and put them into practice in our lives, we can know that we are following the guidance of the Spirit. We are being led by the Spirit through those words. When our feelings begin telling us to go in a different direction than what the Words of the Spirit are telling us, we can know that the feelings are our own. But if we follow those Words those Words will guide us right, and teach us how to truly live as children of God.
If you wish to hear the Words of the Spirit of, the church of Christ invites you to study God’s word with us, and worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. If you have any questions, including subjects you might like to see addressed, please share them with us through our website: chapelhillchurchofchrist.org
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.