All that we know about ultimate truth and about God has been revealed to us mainly through the revelatory work of the Spirit. When Paul was questioned about his message in 1 Corinthians he explained “but God revealed it to us by his Spirit (1 Cor 2:10). Later he reiterated, “the things which I write to you are the commands of the Lord” (1 Cor 14:37). The Spirit revealed the revelation of God’s Word and His will to the apostles and prophets who were then “carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 pet 1:21) resulting in the precise record of the revelations for the inspired Word of God.
Guided into all truth
In John 14-16 Jesus told his disciples on the eve before his crucifixion that the coming Spirit would “guide you [them] into all truth” (John 16:13). This was an encouragement to the Apostles that the Spirit would cause them to remember what Jesus had taught and additional truths for the church to come. This was not a general promise to all believers, but the assurance that what the Apostles would write under inspiration would be “all truth” that we are to learn from the biblical text. This is not a promise for all believers of all ages to be miraculously led into biblical truth. Rather it was an assurance that the apostles and prophets would accurately give us the “foundation” on which the church would be based (Eph 2:20). We learn His words as from His lips that are recorded precisely in the biblical text.
Conviction of sin
The Holy Spirit reveals the Father to the mind and heart of men. He does “not speak of himself” (Jn 15:13 KJV), but “will testify of” Jesus (Jn 15:26) and “will glorify” Jesus (Jn 16:14), rather than glorifying himself. The Spirit did not originate the divine message, rather He clarified and reiterated the message from Jesus and the Father (Jn 16:14, “he will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you”).
What the Spirit passed to the apostles was given to us by their inspired biblical texts as the very words of Jesus (1 Cor 14:37).
The present day working of the Spirit in the world begins with convicting sinners of their guilty condition before a holy God: “When he has come, He will convict the world of its sin” (Jn 16:8). This is part of the power of the gospel (Rom 1:16). When a person is asked “Are you a sinner?” or “a good person?” and responds, “I’m not a sinner, though I may have made a few mistakes,” etc., one can know the Spirit has not begun his convicting work in this sinner’s heart.
John wrote, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn 1:8). Before the gospel can be understood the sinner must recognize his sinfulness. This is the work of the Spirit in the unbeliever. Paul wrote, “the law was our tutor [paidagogos, from which we get the word pedagogy] to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal 3:24). The Spirit uses the OT law on the conscience of the unsaved to reveal his sinfulness and guilt requiring a Savior and unmerited forgiveness. This awareness of sin is how the Spirit leads a sinner to come to Christ in the gospel.
Paul wrote, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him” (Col 2:6). As the Spirit brought conviction of sin through understanding His Word and you responded in faith believing it to be true, so live your life letting the Spirit guide you to understand all the commands in the Word, then respond by faith in living obedience to each one. Paul added, “as you have received instruction from us about how you must live and please God (as you are in fact living) that you do so more and more” (1 Thes 4:1 NET). Keep learning more commands to obey.
“Listen to counsel and receive instruction that you may be wise in your latter days” (Prov 19:20). Just as we listened to God’s Word about salvation and responded in faith, so we must continually learn from God’s Word about how to live to “please God” and respond in obedience. This is how the Spirit led us to Christ and leads us to walk with Him now.
Guidance of the Spirit
The convicting power of the Spirit will indicate to us when we transgress or “miss the mark” of obeying his “instructions.” This is not a transgression of some new material or “freshly revealed” will of God, but rather when we willingly or ignorantly violate His revealed will in His commands He will give us a sense of guilt. Before coming to know Christ we could pretty much sin with impunity, but not now.
This conviction can be unpleasant, so the natural tendency is to “quench the Spirit” (1 Thes 5:19), convincing ourselves how to ignore His conviction. When His Word is ignored, we can not expect that He will hear our prayers (1 Pet 3:7), or give any direction in our lives.
Gary Meadors wrote, “The Spirit’s role in guidance is to do an internal work that correlates with God’s Word rather than going beyond that Word with extra-biblical communication. If we do not absorb God’s Word into our reasoning process, we rob the Spirit of what He needs to do His work of conviction and persuasion” (Gary T. Meadors, Decision Making God’s Way, Grand Rapids, Baker Books: 2003, p. 175).
Led of the Spirit
Too many expect God to tell us every decision we need to make everyday, so we seek for visions, voices, signs or a word from God for today. This kind of revelation is supposed to reveal to us what He wants us to do now. With no such revelation we can flounder or do nothing. This miraculous intervention can occur at critical moments, but is never sought nor is necessary. God does not tell us the future. He expects us to know how to live daily and integrate His global purposes into our plans. If we have truly given Him our lives, then He will keep us on His schedule through the guidance of His Word and His Spirit’s conviction.
Paul wrote, “Because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Rom 8:14). In this context we are instructed to follow the Spirit’s leading concerning the works of the flesh and leave them behind. To be led of the Spirit means to walk in the light (instructions) of what the Spirit has already given to the church in the Word of God. There is no hint of the Spirit telling us the future in this “leading.”
The same focus is seen in Gal 5:18 how the Spirit leads us away from the works of the flesh to the obedience of Christ’s commands for daily living. Making Him some sort of living horoscope is nowhere suggested in the Bible.
“Walk in the Spirit” (Gal 5:16, 25) is a similar phrase that refers not to a mystical communication of new instructions, but a commitment to obey the instructions concerning the flesh (5:19-21, 26) and to walk in obedience to all the commands of the Spirit given in the recorded Word of God (Gal 5:22-24).
The proof of genuine conversion is being “led by the Spirit” (Gal 5:18) where the Spirit convicts and motivates believers to live in harmony with the divine standards in attitude and actions for His kingdom.
Three lessons from the Gospels
- No longer servants but friends (John 15:15). Jesus told His disciples their new relationship in the kingdom, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” Servants have to be told everything they have to do; friends know each other such a way that they meet each others needs or interests without having to be told. Jesus wants us to always act on the principles and objectives God has already revealed to us in His Word. Any act of obedience to His Word is the will of God. We are His “friends” if we commit to knowing all He has told us to obey, then commit to fulfilling His revealed will.
- The unprofitable servant (Luke 17:10). Jesus described the unprofitable servant as one who had to be told what to do, saying, “So likewise you when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’” The unprofitableness has to do with the lack of personal initiative to anticipate the master’s desires, and waiting to be told what to do, but nothing more. Christ gives us general global directives then expects us to commit to making it happen.
- The parable of the talents (Matt 25:14-28). A talent was an ancient unit of mass equal to 26 kg or 57.2 lbs of silver (@ $23/oz this gives an approximate value of $21,000 today, but adjusted for inflation it is a fortune). A talent was equal to 6,000 drachmae. A skilled worker was paid one drachma (Geek) or denarius (Roman) per day’s labor (see Matt 18:24; 20:2, 13). Thus it would take a common laborer 100 weeks to earn one talent.
In the parable the master had great confidence in the three servants in Matthew 25, giving them a significant capital in silver to invest for him. What is lacking from the story is whether there was any special or ongoing instruction. This seems left out for the sake of the story. The lesson illustrates that the master has given each a special opportunity to take initiatives for the absent master, trusting him to recompense or reward them for their labor. Trusting the master’s character two of the three did their best, but the third was apathetic, fearful of failure, distrustful of whether it would be worth risking everything so he decided to do nothing. This was not a good decision. If this is how Christ is operating today, He expects us to know Him and trust Him well enough to be willing to pour out our lives for His purpose.
Unfortunately the Bible does not give us any secret access to the future plans God has for each of us; however, He does have a plan: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord” (Jer 29:11), but just as He did not reveal them to Israel, nor does He tell us beforehand what we are to do. He has chosen to keep it a secret (Deut 29:29), which we will only discover as we walk through it.
Paul wrote, “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10). As we walk in obedience according to how we have been made, taking initiatives for His glory (nor ours), for His honor (not ours) and for His purposes (not ours), we find ourselves fulfilling His purpose and will for our lives. May this be our passion and goal in life.