During those days, as we learn from the book of Judges, there were many wicked abominations committed by the Israelites. The sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord (Jdg 2:11). They provoked the Lord to anger by forsaking Him and following other gods, the gods of the people around them (Jdg 2:12). They turned quickly aside from the way in which their fathers had walked in obeying the commandments of the Lord (Jdg 2:17). They acted corruptly and played the harlot. There was idolatry (Jdg 8:27,33; 17:5; 18:30), mass murder (Jdg 9:5), robbery (Jdg 9:25; 17:2; 18:17), harlotry (Jdg 11:1; 16:1; 19:2), homosexuality (19:22), violent, group rape (Jdg 19:25-27), and deceit. They did not remember the Lord their God (Jdg 8:37). Therefore, the Lord's anger burned against them (Jdg 2:14). He gave them into the hands of their enemies, and no longer drove them out before them. The hand of the Lord was against them to do evil, so that they were severely distressed (Jdg 2:15).
A certain cycle repeated itself over and over during those days. Because of their sin, God allowed their enemies to oppress them. Then they would eventually cry out to God for help. The Lord would hear their cry and raise up a deliverer, who would deliver them from the hands of their enemies and be their judge for a period of time. But then they would eventually forget the Lord, they would not listen to their judges (Jdg 2:17), they did not listen to the Lord's voice (Jdg 2:20), and they would not abandon their practices or their stubborn ways (Jdg 2:19). They would return to their evil ways. This would result in another cycle of sin, oppression, repentance, and deliverance. And so this cycle was repeated over and over throughout this period when everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
Unfortunately, it seems that this is what the situation has devolved into in the Church, where "everyone" does what is right in his own eyes. They often do so under the guise of being “led by the Spirit.” For example, we even have Christians who say God told them to divorce their wife and marry another woman. One pastor even thought he could do so and remain in his role as pastor of the church, which he tried to do until the board of elders removed him. It's no wonder so many Christians have become oppressed.
Therefore, I'd like to take a moment today to put some definition around what it means to be “led by the Spirit” according to Scripture. It comes from the apostle Paul's letter to the Romans, in which he wrote: "For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God." (Rom 8:14, NIV). That's one of the evidences that we are sons of God, or "children" of God, as the NIV puts it. So what does it mean to be led by the Spirit? In order to further explain this, let's look at several biblical expressions that mean essentially the same thing, beginning with those in the immediate context of Romans 8.
Living in Accordance with the Spirit
One biblical expression that means the same thing as "led by the Spirit" is to be "living in accordance with the Spirit," as Paul wrote when he said, "Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires." (Rom 8:5, NIV). That means to be led by the Spirit is to live in accordance with the Spirit, having our minds set on what He desires.
To live in accordance with the Spirit is also synonymous with walking according to the Spirit, which is another expression Paul used in this same passage when he wrote, "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit." (Rom 8:1, NKJV). The Greek word for "walk" in this verse is "peripateō", meaning "to tread all around, that is, walk at large; figuratively to live, deport oneself, follow, go, be occupied with, walk (about)." The Greek word for "according to" is "katah" which here means "according to or after".
There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk according to the Spirit -- in other words, live according to the Spirit. This is set is contrast to walking or living according to the flesh or sinful nature, in which case the promise of "no condemnation" does not apply. The Greek word "katah" in verse 1 is the same word Paul used in verse 5, which I have just mentioned a moment ago. In verse 1, Paul referred to those who "walk (live) according to the Spirit," and in verse 5 he referred to those who live "according to the Spirit," which means exactly the same thing. While the English translations may use different words in the translation, they mean the same thing.
Controlled by the Spirit
Another expression that means the same thing as "led by the Spirit" is to be "controlled by the Spirit," as Paul wrote when he said, "The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace." (Rom 8:6, NIV). The 1978 version of the NIV says, "The mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace." That means our minds must be controlled or governed by the Spirit, if we are to be led by Him.
Governed by the Law of the Spirit
Since we know that to be "led by the Spirit" is to be "governed by the Spirit," I want to show you how that is synonymous with being governed by "the law of the Spirit." As Paul wrote, "...through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death." (Rom 8:2, NIV). That means the same as what he said in Rom 8:6 in the same passage, that our minds must be governed by the Spirit, if we are to be led by Him. When we are governed by the law of the Spirit, it sets us free from the law of sin and death.
Submitted to God's Law
Now that we have established the fact that being led by the Spirit is synonymous with our minds being controlled or governed by the Spirit, as well as the law of the Spirit, I want to prove to you how that is closely related to "submitting to God's law." We will approach it from the opposite angle, by looking at what one cannot do, whose mind is governed (controlled) by the sinful nature. "The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so." (Rom 8:7, NIV). That means that anyone controlled by the sinful nature does not and cannot submit to God's law, because they are hostile to God, which is obviously a negative thing.
Conversely, if we are led by the Spirit, we will certainly be submitted to God's law. This is not the same as being "under the law," which is another expression Paul used in his epistle to the Galatians, when he wrote, "But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law." (Gal 5:18, NIV). If we are led by the Spirit, we are not under the law of Moses, but we will be subjected to the law of the Spirit, which is God's law, or the law of Christ. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "...I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law..." (1 Cor 9:21, NIV). (See The Law of Christ and The Spirit's Law of Life).
Submitted to God's Righteousness
Having established the fact that those who are led by the Spirit are submitted to God's law, let us turn our attention to another expression that is closely related to "submitting to God's law" (if not synonymous with it), which is to "submit to God's righteousness." Paul wrote, "Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness" (Rom 10:3, NIV). That means that anyone seeking to establish their own righteousness does not submit to God's righteousness, but if we are led by the Spirit, we will certainly be submitted to God's righteousness. We will walk in the way of righteousness. This is a righteousness that comes from Him and is by faith.
Walking by the Spirit
One more thing I would like to say relates back to my first point that to be "led by the Spirit" is to live according to the Spirit. Paul wrote to the Galatians, "Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit" (Gal 5:25, NIV). Another version has it, "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit" (NASB).
Those who walk by the Spirit cannot fulfill their fleshly desires. Paul wrote, "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh" (Gal 5:16). The reason for this is that the Spirit and flesh are in opposition to each other as if set in battle array against one another. "For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please" (Gal 5:17). The desires of the flesh and the Spirit are contrary to one another and are in conflict with one another.
Those who walk by the Spirit will produce the fruit of the Spirit, which is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law" (Gal 5:22-23). On the other hand, "The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Gal 5:19-21).
If we are led by the Spirit, we will walk by the Spirit, which means to keep in step with Him. We will do what He desires, not what the flesh desires. We will not do whatever we please. We will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it.
Having the Mind of Christ
Moreover, to be "led by the Spirit" is to have the mind of Christ. For the Spirit knows the thoughts of God. Paul said, "For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God." (1Co 2:11).
He also said, “For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ” (1Co 2:16). Therefore, as the Spirit leads us, controlling our minds, He gives us the mind of Christ, enabling us to know the very thoughts of God in each situation.
Responding to His Promptings
Finally, we are not like the Israelites during the time of the judges who had no king. We have a King and His name is the Lord Jesus Christ. He has sent us His Holy Spirit to help us abide by the ways and decrees of His Kingdom. If we are led by the Spirit, we are responding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit moment by moment. These promptings are His bidding, commands, mandates, or directives. To be led requires a leader. You cannot be led by the Holy Spirit unless He is the Leader of your life.
The Lordship of Christ must be absolute. Nothing less will do. As the Scripture says, "See to it that you do not refuse Him who speaks" (Heb 12:25). And if you hear His voice today, do not harden your heart (Heb 3:15). His promptings are not ideas or suggestions to be considered. They are directives to be followed and dictates to be obeyed.
The Holy Spirit will always lead you in paths of holiness, righteousness, and truth. He will always lead you to do what pleases the Lord and agrees with Scripture. He will always lead you in the straight and narrow path, which is the will of God, the ways of God, and the Word of God. He will never lead you to do what your flesh desires, nor any thing that is sinful, or that contradicts Scripture. He will lead you to obey God’s commands. He will lead you to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus. He will lead you to follow in the steps of Christ and put His Words into practice. He will lead you to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. He will always lead you to walk in the light, not in the darkness. He will always lead you to keep the demands of the New Covenant, never to violate them.
Putting it All Together
As we have seen in God's Word, there are several expressions that all speak of the same thing. To be led by the Spirit of God is to live in accordance with the Spirit, to walk by the Spirit, to be controlled by the Spirit, to be governed by the law of the Spirit, to be submitted to God's law, to be submitted to God's righteousness, and to have the mind of Christ. The benefits of this for us who do so are that we will be set free from the law of sin and death to experience life and peace. We will bear the fruit of the Spirit. There will be no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk by the Spirit, not according to the flesh, for they will inherit eternal life.
Hopefully this has helped put some definition around the expression "led by the Spirit" for you. Now by God's grace, may we, who are children of God, be Spirit-baptized, Spirit-filled, Spirit-led, Spirit-controlled, Spirit-governed, and Spirit-directed.
See Led by the Spirit - Part II
Attribution notice: Most Scriptures taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®, unless otherwise noted. Most other Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. "Receiving the Spirit" painting © 2012 Danny Hahlbohm, all rights reserved by the artist.
Author's note: If you enjoyed this post, I also recommend reading Led by the Spirit - Part II, The Ways of Life, The Way, Will, and Word of God, The Law of Christ, The Spirit's Law of Life, Obedience by the Spirit, Sins That Will Keep You From Heaven, The Straight and Narrow Path, The Wardrobe of the Saints, Faith Works!, Fruit in Every Season, Practicing Your Righteousness, Is Practical Righteousness a Lost Truth?, Righteous Deeds and White Robes, The Voice That Changed Everything, Covenant Prayer, Whatever You Do, Do All Like This, and Law of Love in the New Testament.
You may also like the other posts in this blog available through the Main Directory for this blog, such as Baptized with the Spirit, Holy Fire Baptism, The Holy Spirit Speaks, The Holy Trinity, and The Spirit without Limit. You may also access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."
Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus. Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?
“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15). He preached that we must repent and believe.
Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International. He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org