This is an anxiety-laden topic. Many verses inform us that we are led or guided by the Spirit, like “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). Likewise, Psalm 23 promises that “He guides me in paths of righteousness.” Although these promises are comforting, they also raise the uncomfortable question, “How can I be sure that I am being led by the Spirit?”
Most of us would answer that He guides us through the Word:
- Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)
Others would add that in order to understand the Word, we must practice it:
- But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:14)
However, there are many decisions that Scripture does not fully address:
- What career or job should I pursue?
- What ministry should I get involved in?
- Who should I marry?
The list is endless and also stress-producing. It should not be surprising that views vary. Here are three:
- POPULAR: This view emphasizes that God has a plan for our lives, and we need to discover it through Bible study, circumstances, Spirit promptings, and sage advice. However, this view still leaves us with the uncertainty that perhaps we haven’t heart the Spirit correctly and are taking ourselves out of His will.
- CHARISMATIC/PENTECOSTAL: This view is very similar to the first. However, it also includes seeking God’s leading through supernatural leadings, gifts of the Spirit, words of knowledge, and even dream analysis.
- PROVIDENTIAL: This view is substantially different from the first two. First, it emphasizes the fact that God has a detailed plan for our lives:
· Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. (Matthew 10:28-30)
Jesus not only claimed that God knows the number of hairs on our head; He has even ordained them, along with the number of days we will live (Psalm 139:16). Consequently, even the deeds that we are to perform have been decided:
- For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph. 2:10)
This Providential View also stresses the fact that we don’t have to discover God’s plan for our lives – His leading – since He seldom reveals it to us. Instead, we can have confidence that God is still able to guide us infallibly by His Spirit.
Admittedly, this doesn’t make complete sense. After all, how could God possibly be guiding us as we are making our freewill decisions! It seems impossible that the two could possibly go together. However, they do! God guides our footsteps all the time, even when we are unaware of it:
- In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. (Proverbs 16:9)
- A man's steps are directed by the LORD. How then can anyone understand his own way? (Proverbs 20:24)
Here is something even more amazing about our God. He is able to infallibly direct those who don’t even want His guidance:
- The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases. (Proverbs 21:1)
There are just so many examples of our Lord bringing heathen nations to just the right place and just the right time that He determines in order to accomplish His will. If He can do this with those who don’t want Him, how much more can He guide those who are His friends and are seeking His guidance!
This is not only biblical, but this understanding also enables us to trust God and to get our attention off ourselves and our doubts about discerning the Spirit’s leading. Instead, knowing that God is fully able to lead us, even without our being aware of this, gives us peace.
Meanwhile, there are others who are unbiblically confident about the leading or “anointing of the Spirit.” They claim that we if are led by the Spirit, we do not need Scripture, teachers, pastors, or any other assistance. They usually appeal to these verses:
- They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. (1 John 2:19-20)
- I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you [through Scripture?] about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit--just as it has taught you, remain in him. (1 John 2:26-27)
Some mistakenly conclude that if we are anointed by the Spirit, we will not “need anyone to teach” us anything. However, it seems that the application of this concept is limited. In fact, the language is hyperbolic – exaggerated - as Scripture often is. And we realize this. We know not to literally pluck out our eyes as a remedy to sinning. Likewise, we should also know that the “anointing” will not literally “teach you about all things.” That would make us omniscient, and only God is omniscient.
How then must we understand “all things?” It might be limited to the knowledge about “remaining in Him” and about those trying to “lead you astray.” It certainly didn’t mean that they didn’t need teachers or Scripture. Instead, John insisted that the Christian life wasn’t a matter of the Spirit alone but also of Apostolic teaching:
- Whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. (1 John 4:6)
If the anointing of the Spirit alone was adequate, why then would there be any need to “listen to us!” Instead, some could retort, “I have the Spirit. I don’t need to listen to you!” Besides, John would not have had any reason at all to even write to this church!
Jesus had taught something curiously similar:
- When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice. (John 10:4-5) … My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28)
The Spirit is able to keep Jesus’ sheep. He imparted to them the assurance that Jesus was their Savior. This didn’t mean that they had absolute knowledge and that they didn’t require the teaching of their Lord, but simply this – they knew who had the Words of life. In this sense, we need no one to teach us.
Similarly, John wrote that epistle so that his readers would know that they had eternal life:
- I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13)
Clearly, the anointing was able to lead the chosen to the right teachers, but, by itself, was not enough to impart the right teachings. It had to be accompanied by Scripture and apostolic teaching.
Also, Scripture and apostolic teaching were not adequate. The Jews had Scripture. However, without the Spirit’s work, the things of God would remain foolishness (1 Cor. 2:14) to them:
- But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains un-lifted, because it is removed in Christ. 15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; 16 but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:14-18)
The Gospel had to be preached in order to produce faith (Romans 10:14). However, for this to be effective, the veil had to be lifted by the Spirit. Consequently, the Apostle Paul referred to the new believers as both his letter and the letter of the Spirit:
- You are our letter…clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart. (2 Cor. 3:2-3)
The entire New Testament affirms both – the teaching of both the Spirit and of the Church. Paul argued that God purposely provided teachers:
- So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Eph. 4:11-13)
If the anointing had been enough, there would have been no need for teachers. However, the Spirit has gifted us variably for the up-building of His Church.