(Romans 8:14) “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”
One of the privileges of every child of God is to be regularly led by the Holy Spirit. In the Bible the LORD has always led and guided His people. In the Old Testament we read where the LORD gave His Holy Spirit to the Israelite nation to lead and to guide them on their way to the Promised Land. He was with them all of the time. As Nehemiah wrote concerning the LORD’s care for Israel; “You, in Your great compassion, Did not forsake them in the wilderness; The pillar of cloud did not leave them by day, To guide them on their way, Nor the pillar of fire by night, to light for them the way in which they were to go. “You gave Your good Spirit to instruct them, Your manna You did not withhold from their mouth, And You gave them water for their thirst”(Nehemiah 9:19-20).
The Holy Spirit only had the very best in mind for the LORD’S people. He is a good Spirit and has only our best interests at heart. Sometimes He refines us like silver or gold through allowing us to pass through the furnace of affliction yet even in these things He is still in control. When the pillar of cloud moved the people moved. When it stopped moving the people stopped. It was a day by day and night by night walk with the LORD.
In the book of Acts the believers were constantly led by the Holy Spirit, not only as individuals but as groups. Sometimes he spoke to individuals but at other times to more than one at the same time. The early Church believers walked and communed with the Holy Spirit and He led and guided them in all of their activities and endeavours. In this study we will look at the second mark of the Normal Christian Church.
They were a Spirit Led Church.
1. They were led as a group:
a. The Holy Spirit chose men for Christian service and Ministry:
(Acts 13:1-2) “Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.”
The Holy Spirit is the one who chooses and equips a believer for ministry and service. Sometimes there will be some-time between the initial call and the actual fulfilment of that call. This was the case with Paul and Barnabas, especially in Paul’s case. After he had been saved and filled with the Spirit he preached at Damascus and in the end had to be let down from the wall of the city in a basket and then went to Arabia for 14 years where the Lord trained him personally. After that time he returned to Jerusalem.
Them we find him at Antioch exercising a regular ministry in the body of the Messiah. While he was exercising a regular ministry there the Holy Spirit spoke to a group of prophets and teachers to send Paul and Barnabas out on their missionary calling. The Holy Spirit sent them out not men. The prophets and teachers at Antioch were the instruments through which the Spirit spoke to the whole Church at Antioch. Whether it is the exercising of spiritual gifts within the local fellowship or fulfilling God’s call to full-time service it must always come through the Holy Spirit of God.
Also notice it was the Holy Spirit who did the calling and provided the gifting needed but it was a call recognised by the whole fellowship. Paul and Barnabas did not call themselves or decide what gifts they would like to have. Also notice that while the prophets and teachers were worshipping the LORD and fasting that they heard from the Holy Spirit and even after this they prayed and fasted some more before they laid hands on Paul and Barnabas and sent them on their way.
b. The Holy Spirit led the Church Leaders when they had to make important decisions:
(Acts 15:28-29) “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.”
When the Church leaders in Jerusalem wrote their letter to the Gentile believers with instructions on how they should conduct themselves they were not divided or different in their interpretation of God’s will but their wills were in-tune with the will of the Holy Spirit. Not only was it good to them and to the Holy Spirit but if we look in verse 25 they were of one mind in their decision.
There was nothing vague or ambiguous about God’s leading. It was very clear. We are not told if they were praying and fasting but one thing is clear for when they said it seemed good to us and to the Holy Spirit it would suggest that they were intimately acquainted with Him. The only Bible they had at that time was the Old Testament and the New Testament was still being written. Today of course we have the completed Canon of scripture and this is the LORD’S guide book for His people. If we are not being obedient to what He has already said to do in the Bible then we cannot expect any further guidance from Him.
Whenever there is a decision to be made on behalf of the fellowship the leaders must hear from the Holy Spirit. Mostly He will speak through the Bible but there are occasions where the LORD will speak through certain prophets and teachers in the fellowship but even then they will not go beyond what is already written.
There will be no new revelation as such but only a deeper understanding of what the LORD has already said in His word the Bible. Prayer and fasting is certain situations will sharpen the spiritual senses of those leaders who are exercising these spiritual disciples on behalf of the fellowship. Sometimes guidance will not always come straight away but through perseverance and obedience to the Holy Spirit and to the Word of God the guidance needed will come.
2. They were led as individuals:
a. Peter was led by the Holy Spirit:
(Acts 10:19-20) “While Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. But get up, go downstairs and accompany them without misgivings, for I have sent them Myself.”
Peter had been praying and became hungry but then fell into a trance and there he saw a sheet being lowered by four corners full of all kinds of animals and birds that were ceremonially unclean for Jews to eat and was told by the LORD to kill and to eat them. Of course this was repugnant to him as a Jewish person. In reality it was showing Peter his inbred disposition to not associate with Gentiles. However, the Lord had other plans and wanted Peter to see that the LORD loved the Gentiles and wanted to save them as much as He did the Jews.
Well Peter was obedient to the Holy Spirit and did what the Lord wanted him to do even though he did not like it. In the end he came to see the grace of God poured out on the Gentiles in the same way it had been poured out on the Jews. God made no difference between them, purifying their hearts by faith. Not only were the Gentiles gathered at the Household of Cornelius blessed but Peter was also blessed. Blessing always comes with obedience! Sometimes the Holy Spirit will ask us to do something that we do not feel like doing or feel inadequate to do it but we must do it anyway and then everyone will be blessed. Peter was having his regular devotional time with the lord. It was customary for Jewish believers to pray three times a day. (Psalm 55:16-17)
b. Phillip the Evangelist was led by the Holy Spirit:
(Acts 8:29) “Then the Spirit said to Phillip. “Go up and join this chariot.”
Phillip was experiencing a great revival among the Samaritans, a race of people despised by the Jews. Many were coming to a saving faith in Jesus and the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit was evident as people were healed of sickness and set free from demons. The Word had been preached with signs following. There was much joy in the whole city. When the Apostles at Jerusalem had heard that the Samaritans had received the word of God they had sent Peter and John to pray over them to be baptised with the Holy Spirit.
It was obviously a work of the Holy Spirit. Even though there was great power and joy among the people Phillip was open to the LORD’S guidance. He was told by an angel to go to a road in the desert and to wait there for further instructions. It was not long before an Ethiopian Official from the Court of Ethiopia came along in his chariot and was engaged in reading the prophet Isaiah.
At this time the Holy Spirit told Phillip to go up and to join the official in his chariot and then Phillip explained the gospel to him using the Word of God. That man was soundly saved and baptised and went on his way rejoicing and as far as we know the first black man to be saved and probably the man who introduced the whole Ethiopian nation to the Lord Jesus. Phillip was obedient whether he was found in the midst of a great revival or when ministering to a solitary person in the backside of the desert.
Even among the euphoria of revival blessing he could still hear the voice of the Holy Spirit leading him to lead someone to faith in Jesus in the desert. Whether he was in the midst of many or in a one to one situation Phillip was open to the Holy Spirit at all times and in all circumstances.
c. Paul the Apostle was led by the Holy Spirit:
(Acts 16:6-9) “They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.”
There will be times when the Holy Spirit will make it clear that we are not to say or do something that may be well intentioned and even right to do but the timing is wrong. Paul and his companions had planned to go in one direction but the Holy Spirit had plans to go in another direction. It was vitally important for Paul and his companions to obey the voice of the Holy Spirit. After he had a vision of a Macedonian man calling on him to come and to help them Paul and the others were obedient to the LORD concluding that God had called them to preach the Gospel at Macedonia. The people of Asia were not ready yet but the people of Macedonia were and so the Holy Spirit sent Paul and his companions to them instead.
Whenever we are seeking to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading we must also be ready to not say and act if He forbids us. Sometimes we may be well-intentioned when speaking to someone but if we have not been led by the Spirit to speak to them then our words will carry no power or conviction.
I am sure all of us have experienced this at one time or another when seeking to witness to someone that was not ready to receive our message. Every day we need to ask the blessed Holy Spirit to lead and to guide us in the way we speak and act towards the people that we will come into contact with. If we are not being led moment by moment by the Holy Spirit then our witness, testimony and service for the Lord will be hampered and ineffective.
The success of the early Church didn’t mean that they were any better or more spiritual than we are today. They too were human beings and open to mistakes. Even Paul and Peter sometimes missed it but they were continuously open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all things and gave Him permission to work in and through them. Only as we are led moment by moment by the blessed Holy Spirit will He enable us to do all of God’s will. At times it will be very difficult to obey because we have to contend with the world, the flesh and the Devil and may even find ourselves in a dangerous situation but in the end doing God’s will always proves to be good, acceptable and perfect and the sweetest thing in all the world to do.
In Romans 12:1-2 we read what the Apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Rome; “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
We are tri-partite beings made in the image of God who is Triune in nature. We have a spirit and a soul and live in a body. The Holy Spirit wants to get hold of our bodies. We have a spiritual outlaw out there working around the clock to disable us spiritually. Our fleshly bodily appetites and desires are the last thing we find hard to overcome.
Paul writing to the Galatians tells us this when he wrote; “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire (lusts) against the Spirit, and the Spirit (lusts) against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law… Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16-18, 24-25).
Notice what it says in the text; “so that you may not do the things that you please.” Some have suggested that according to this text a believer cannot overcome the desires of the flesh and that as long as they live in these human bodies they will always be subject to sinning. They say that there are two natures in the believer working against each other and that in this life we cannot overcome sinful tendencies and committing sins.
However, is this really what Paul is saying here? When he says; “that you may not do the things that you please” in the original Greek text he is saying that even though it is extremely hard to overcome the flesh it is not impossible to the believer in Jesus. The old nature can be rendered powerless by the Holy Spirit. It does not mean that the believer is no longer capable of sinning but it does mean that the believer, though sorely tempted, does not have to sin. The unsaved person has no choice in the matter as they are slaves to sin, but the saved believer does have the chose and the power of the Holy Spirit to empower them to choose not to sin.
As an example of this principle consider a balloon filled with oxygen. It will stay afloat for some time but eventually fall to the ground because of the downward pull of gravity because the law of gravity is stronger than the law of lift. However, if the balloon is filled with Helium it will fly upwards and not be pulled down again by the law of gravity. The law of lift is stronger than the law of gravity. The sinful nature is like the law of gravity.
Religion, good works, morality, keeping rules and regulations with good intentions are like the oxygen in the balloon in that they may allow a sinner to resist temptation for a time but because the law of sin is more powerful in them than the law of religion, morality, good works and human effort inevitably they will automatically fall into sin. They do not have the Holy Spirit in them.
As it is written; “If a man does not have the Spirit of Christ he does not belong to Christ.” The sinner is dominated and controlled by the sinful nature. They have to sin! It is in their nature to sin. They cannot help but sin. You know you can dress up a pig and even outwardly wash it but it will go back to the mud because of its inbred filthy nature. It cannot help itself. By birth and by nature it is a pig. There would have to be a radical change in its nature!
On the other hand the helium in the balloon is like the Holy Spirit living in the believer. Through His power the believer can resist and overcome the downward pull of the sinful nature. The law of lift in the Holy Spirit is more powerful than the law of the downward gravitational pull of the sinful nature. Born again believers have a choice, they do not have to sin. We are told in the Bible that; “the reason the Son of God was revealed was so that He might destroy the works of the Devil.” The works of the Devil is all sin and rebellion against God.
For the born again believer the power of the Blood of Jesus is applied to their heart and mind by the Holy Spirit so that their conscious deep down on the inside is “purged from dead works to serve the Living God.” This is how we are led by the Spirit! Through Him we are empowered to keep God’s commandments and statutes. It is not something we achieve in ourselves but something He achieves in us as we yield moment by moment to His control by faith.
As followers of the Lord Jesus we know that our spiritual wrestling match is not with flesh and blood but with wicked spirits in high places. The secret to overcoming Satan and his cohorts in the spiritual realm is to walk under the guidance of the Holy Spirit moment by moment and by trusting the LORD to keep us. We breathe in the word and exhale it by the way we think, speak and act every day. We need to be like those who have gone before “who through faith and patience inherited the promises of God” which are “yes and amen in Jesus!”
At times we will be assaulted by demonic pressure and sometimes we will suffer depression, discouragement and adversity from others who do not have faith, however, the main thing the devil will try to do is to get at us through the flesh. If Satan can succeed in getting us to speak, to think or to act in the flesh then inevitably it will lead us to sin.
However if we do sin “we have an advocate with the Father Jesus Christ the righteous One” to intercede with God for us and we have this assurance that “if we confess our sins then God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” But continuously sinning and confessing is not the normal Christian life. Did not the Angel say to Mary about the Lord Jesus that “He will save His people from their sins” not in them!
Paul also wrote these words; “So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Romans 8:12-14). God’s will is that we are regularly led by the Holy Spirit. So then if God gets hold of our bodies then He gets the contents as well! In the end God’s will is always, good, acceptable and perfect!