Saturday, July 13, 2024

Led of the Spirit

by Michael Alford

Church life is a funny thing if you pay attention. There is a term that was bandied about in the charismatic/Pentecostal churches of the 1970’s and 1980’s. That term was ‘Spirit led’ or some variation thereof. The idea as it was presented was that the God’s Spirit speaks to a man through a sort of intuition and tells him what is expected of him. The phraseology used when explaining how a decision was made was that “God spoke to me” or “the Spirit led me”. Some people claimed to have this discernment down to the level of being able to grasp God’s will about what to eat for breakfast or what shirt to wear that day.

Scores of messages were preached that emphasized the idea of being ‘Spirit led’. Where the application of this became really interesting and, in my opinion, damaging, was in church services. It was a common thesis that services where not to be structured things with a clearly stated agenda and purpose. Instead , church services were to be this open-ended spontaneous affair where the ‘Spirit led’ (typically the moderating pastor) were to wait and listen for God to tell them what to do next. Maybe they would sing another song, maybe Brother So-and-So would testify, maybe it would be time to preach or maybe the congregation would simply sit there, basking in this intangible presence that the ‘Spirit-led’ claimed was in the building.

Once the preaching started, the Spirit-led baton would be passed on to whoever was preaching. That gave him enormous liberty since his revelations were, by their very nature, extra-biblical. He could say pretty much whatever he wanted, and often did, while claiming that the Spirit of God had instructed him to do so. Often his experience in the ministry was touted as his credentials as to being able to hear God’s voice so well. The meetings were loud, long, and emotional, with good people caught up in the hysteria.

I give you the background because that spirit has migrated from one end of the church spectrum to the other, and is increasingly common in independent Bible-believing churches.

In practice, it’s similar to what might happen when my my wife dispatches me to the Chinese restaurant to get some food. She knows I’m clueless and forgetful so she writes down what I am supposed to get. While standing in line, and gazing up at the menu, with a hand-written note in my grip, I could decide get something completely different. It’s not that her entree is unavailable, it’s that I discern, based off of our years of marriage, that I am at liberty to substitute the thing she did want for the thing she might possibly want. Now, maybe I get it right, maybe I get it wrong. Maybe I get it wrong but she’s a good sport and eats it anyway. Regardless, I cannot claim that I did not have instruction. That is exactly what happened back then, and it’s exactly what is happening now.

Even though the phrases used are Bible phrases, they are divorced from the Bible definition, and have been reshaped and reformed into something that is eerily reminiscent of idolatry. The golden calf of modern Christianity is our feelings and perceptions about what God wants as opposed to what God actually wrote down. After all, the Bible does say “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”

The solution, as always, is simple. The cure for error is truth; define words according to the Bible and then apply them as such. Once it’s defined, we can see if the modern use of the word matches up, and by doing so we can “prove all things.; hold fast that which is good.”

In Matthew 4:1, the Bible says “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil”. The parallel passage in Luke says “And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,”.  Jesus, as God manifest in the flesh, had no need to try to figure out what God was thinking, since whatever Jesus was thinking was what God was thinking. If being led of the Spirit or being full of the Holy Ghost was some sort of divine GPS, I wonder why Jesus would need it. There is nothing in this passage that indicates that Jesus was waiting on some sort of nudge or prompt to decide what to do next, or that Jesus used this insight to conduct a church service in accordance with God’s will. The modern use of the term fails this initial Bible test.

Romans 8:14 says “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”. The cross-reference to John 1:12 defines New Testament ‘sons of God’ as people who have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. There is nothing in the passage to indicate that God has set aside a certain class or group of men and given them insight or discernment above anyone else. Romans 8 does not give you the wiggle room to set up any sort of spiritual dictatorship based off the fact that you are an ‘old man of God’. Being led of the Spirit is part and parcel of being saved. It is not the result of being ‘called to preach’ or receiving some sort of secondary anointing. The modern use of this term fails the second Bible test.

Galatians 5:8 is the last use of the term when it says “But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.” The context of Galatians 5 meshes with the sentiment expressed in Romans in that the law, though righteous, could not enable a man to live righteously. It could only condemn him when he failed. The law, in and of itself, did nothing to help anyone obey it. It was informative, not reformative in nature. The same way a speed limit sign tells you what the law is, but does nothing to control your vehicle, the law showed a man his shortcoming before God, but could not help a man live according to its dictates.

Galatians 5 is a contrast between what the law could not do contrasted with what the Spirit of God can do in the life of the believer. You can have victory over the sin that binds you. You can live successfully for God. You can rebuild the shattered mess you’ve made. That ability is available to everyone that is saved. The biblical definition of being Spirit led is a man who is able, with God’s help, to walk in the John 10:10 life. It is not not some mystical ability to read the whispers of God in hunches and chill bumps. The modern use of the term fails the third Biblical test, and can be confidently repented of and discarded.

Now, you are certainly at liberty to continue on in your well-intentioned error. I’m not your dad, and I’m certainly not the church police. But the fact that we have so readily consumed the sort of error that previous generations would have laughed while claiming to love the truth is a sign of how far we’ve fallen. Either way, you are now like the clueless husband in the Chinese restaurant. You have instruction, will you act on it?

by Michael Alford

Originally published at


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  1. If I couldn’t get a specific leading or impression from God as to what to preach, I’d quit and get a job selling used cars. “Decently and in order” is all the Bible required for a church service and is the pastor’s PRIMARY administrative duty (as opposed to his ministerial duty). Shutting out the leading of God’s Spirit is SIN.

  2. There appears to be an assumption that God is communicating with every saved individual. If there is no seeking of personal righteousness by the individual God is not leading that person and therefore not communicating with them. No bible, no seperation, no soulwinning equals no leading of the spirit. A person doing those things with the right intent of heart will know God’s spirit in a leading way.

    • That’s an interesting perspective. I would be interested to hear what you think the spiritual baseline has to be before God communicates with one of his children, according to scripture. How much Bible, how much separation, how much soul-winning?
      See, I don’t think being Spirit led is about communication at all, at least not from what I have gathered from the scriptures. I think we are misrepresenting it in our church services.

  3. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth; for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak; and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me; for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. John 16:13-14. How will the Spirit of truth do this? The answer is found in II Timothy 3:16-17: All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. The Spirit ALWAYS leads according to what God’s word says, not by feelings or opinions, and he always glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ. Put simply, if it does not line up with God’s word, then it is not of God, no matter how appealing or right it seems to be. The contemporary mega church movement with it’s new version bibles, lax doctrine, dress, and moral standards, and worldly musicians and music styles are a good example of not being led by the Spirit.


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